Why I get Annoyed with the Word “K-Pop” When Used with BTS
I have noticed that it is annoying for a lot of people (including me) when most of the media keep using the word “K-Pop” with South Korean boy group BTS. They also go as far as saying “First K-pop Act” or “First K-Pop Group” whenever BTS achieves something. This isn’t the first time that the term has been used with BTS. Whenever there is news related to BTS, the label “K-Pop” is always attached on all media headlines.
The word itself is not the problem and never was. The actual problem lies in the history behind it and the overuse of the word. The way the word has been used creates a negative perception for me and others because it shows a lack of understanding regarding the term and the depth of the subject matter. It has reached to the point that a lot of people don’t want the word to be associated with BTS.
Now, let me explain why I personally get annoyed when BTS is labeled with the word “K-Pop”. But first, let me give you a slight outlook on the music scene in South Korea.
South Korean Music isn’t Only K-Pop
K-Pop (or South Korean pop) is described as a mixture of audio, visual and other elements like music, visuals, fashion, choreography, fan service etc. K-Pop is considered the “popular music” in South Korea which targets mostly the younger audience. Some people don’t associate K-Pop with music, rather they call it only an industry. It is a very profitable industry throughout not only South Korea but Asian countries.
One thing must be cleared here is that South Korea music does not only consist of K-Pop. There are many genres of Korean music which involve rock, heavy metal, ballad, hip-hop, and classical music. They are mainstream genres loved by the public and have no connection with K-Pop. I can’t go into the details of South Korean music culture, but you can easily find explanations online which will easily give you a glimpse of the vast variety of the genres in South Korea.
OK, we got multiple music genres in South Korea so why the focus is only on K-Pop? The main issue here is that they are not as marketed in the international scene as compared to K-Pop. They are not well documented in international media and not given the full attention they deserve. A lot of money, marketing strategies, services and promotions are involved in K-Pop which sideline those music genres.
Researchers need to understand the whole music culture in South Korea before writing anything related to the genres over there.
Controversies Surrounding K-Pop
The public in South Korea prefers the other music genres over K-Pop because of the nature of K-Pop being “manufactured” and they don’t consider K-Pop real music. Even the international media, public and critics consider K-Pop as “unoriginal” and complain about the meaningless English phrases used in the songs. There are also issues inside the K-Pop scene such as slave contracts, corruption, exploitation, lack of freedom in creativity, cultural appropriation etc. which further turn off music critics and the public (there are many articles about these issues online which you can read e.g. 1, 2, 3).
BTS is Beyond K-Pop
As we got a glimpse of the South Korean music, let’s talk about BTS. While BTS debuted as a hip hop and pop group coming from a K-Pop industry, the achievements that BTS has achieved is beyond K-Pop.
Music and Concept
First of all, we must understand BTS in terms of artistry.
Quality of music reflects an artist’s personality and proficiency. BTS is known to create genuine themes, explore different genres and take inspiration from every small moment in their lives. Also, BTS’s music triggers all kinds of emotions like sadness, happiness, optimism, anger, love, hope, passion etc. When you listen to the music, you feel something in your heart and soul. You listen and read the message and feelings the lyrics convey. It’s rare to find this kind of charm in K-Pop music. Due to this, BTS’s music is loved by all age groups.
Their genuine concepts, the depth in their lyrics, the individuality in their personalities, the freedom to express, and the focus on the beauty of the music rather than the looks completely remove them from the stereotypical K-Pop.
Secondly, we check their achievements. If we review the records made by BTS, those records are something that both K-pop acts and the artists from other genres didn’t achieve. When we say, “first K-Pop”, it gives an impression that this record was achieved only within the K-Pop category and might have been achieved in the other South Korean music genres. But we know that’s not the case as no one from the other music genres reached this level of success. So instead of saying “first K-pop Group”, writing it as “First Korean Artist” gives an accurate description of the achievements saying that none of the South Korean artists achieved this feat.
But this doesn’t end here. BTS made records that even Asian and non-English artists around the world haven’t accomplished so far. Let’s bring a simple example here by using Billboard 200.
BTS’s Achievements are also Beyond Non-English Music
When BTS got their first #1 in Billboard 200 with Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’, this was a historical moment, because BTS was the first Act to achieve this from an Asian based language album (not just Korean). From this Billboard article, it confirms that BTS is the 5th Act to get a #1 with a non-English Album. This shows an extraordinary feat since only 4 non-English albums got #1 so far before BTS (in 2006, Ancora was the last non-English album to get #1 before BTS entered the scene). When media writes “first K-Pop Group”, they not only disregard this legendary moment, they also decrease the impact and importance of this record.
But BTS didn’t stop there. On 24th August, BTS released their next album Love Yourself 結 ‘Answer’ and became the first non-English artists to get #1 twice in Billboard 200. This further screams a huge legendary achievement as this further shows that artists singing in other languages such as French, Irish, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, German, etc. haven’t achieved this yet. But sadly, few media outlets again labelled this as “first K-Pop Act” downplaying this historical success.
For people like me, it is disturbing because this minimizes the significance of the records and achievements made by BTS and the fandom ARMY. In simple words, it does not give the big picture of the impact to the audience.
Media journalists and writers need to research first before writing the records, historical background and other topics about BTS (or any other South Korean artist). They should think carefully before putting the “K-Pop” word with them. K-Pop does not represent the whole South Korean music culture and journalists should always first look in a detailed context. They need to realize that BTS’s talents and accomplishments are not restricted to a niche category.