[OP-ED] The Aesthetics of K-POP

James Ryu, Feb. 1, 2017, 10:19 a.m.

The Korean pop music phenomenon is, and has been, in the echelon of global recognition, catapulting itself into top 100 singles and leaving its stamp in its respective cultural history. By simultaneously emulating and progressing American music, the supercharged sensation bullied its way to the top of the musical food chain.

K-POP adapts and underpins the haughty paradigm of Western culture, which is showcased by didactic choreography, quantized melodies, and impeccable production; the snappy hi-hats and industrial synths form an artificially symbiotic relationship with the modulated voices. The sultry singing combined with seductive rapping makes the sound equivalent to audible candy. The audio is as victorious as the record sales it produces. K-POP demands attention and imposes authority through the airwaves. 

Its maximalist style matches the overtly colorful and gaudy, but not cheap, music videos that may be as important as the music. A neon texture permeates throughout the majority of K-pop music videos. The visuals resonate with the ‘80s music scene in the States, but they are much more refined and polished, boasting a modern perfection. The diverse color palettes clash and blend to create a sense of grandiosity in fashion and setting – the perfect counterpart to the saturated music.

K-POP not only adapts the American aesthetics in terms of fashion and backdrop, but it exults physical attributes from overseas as well. A Korean star with mossy-green, steel gray, or cobalt blue eyes is not as abnormal as it is ubiquitous in the cultural scene, multi-colored eyes becoming a staple in performances and music videos. This is neither a slight nor a judgment call, but framing beauty in a Western sphere is quite an alarming sight to see.

Plastic surgery in Korea seems to be predicated upon an American standard rather than perceiving appeal and allure in its own angle. This ideology invades the K-POP world. There are multiple instances from watching a single music video that highlight the apparent: double eyelids, non-brown eyes, legs that look like taut parentheses, and accentuated jawlines. Although not all music videos adopt this style, there are enough to safely call them the majority.

The vibrant and futuristic aesthetics, both audibly and visually, are appropriate for the fast-paced, short-term attention span demographic that K-pop appeals to – the millennial generation. The music signifies the jarring, abrupt social evolution in Korea, and it represents a generational chasm between new and old. The aesthetics of K-pop intensifies, embodies, and metaphysically manifests the polarizing product of Korea fifty years ago and Korea in the present day.

After the Korean War, the country was a torn civilization engulfed with war-weary men and women. This then paved the way for traditional values: being a stoic worker, saving one’s money, and keeping one’s sexuality at bay. However, it is unfair to say that the last value is still in full effect. Since the 1960s, Korea became more open to expressive sexuality. This is extremely palpable in the Korean music scene nowadays. However, underlying vestiges of traditional Korean culture seem to demarcate the length of shorts and crop tops. The most evident difference in American and Korean visuals is the intensity and severity of sexuality. Howver, this does not take away from the burgeoning cultural progress, and therefore sexual advancement, that Korea is continually adapting to, uplifting visible expression in great stride. Women in K-POP should not treated as sexual objects, but rather sexual subjects. The disparity allows these cultural figureheads and music scene queens lead the conquest instead of being stifled by dampening patriarchal chains. The rebellious music playfully deconstructs a concrete construct with heavy flirting. batty and shadowy eyes, and hourglass hips. If there is one overlap in the musical Venn diagram that K-POP and American pop music share, it is the unapologetic and unabashed sexual appeal that is proudly stitched into their sleeves.

The Western Hemisphere has dominated the Korean music industry, directly and indirectly, globalizing musical affairs in all nations aside from Korea. However, the K-POP takeover represents much more than merely hard-hitting sounds and platinum albums. The genre holds a cobra clutch in the cultural strata that wires in the new and confuses the old. The disparity is apparent, but not with negative connotation. K-POP embodies a new wave of progress that deviates away from the chord progressions in song. Women possess clout in the music industry, which helps deviate away from the traditional role of women in Korea, and the exponentially growing technology is concurrent with the music. The Korean Wave is now superseding the American invasion that swept the country. 

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