You will probably had to have been living under a rock for the last month or so if you have not managed to come across K-pop singer PSY’s summer smash single ‘Gangnam Style’.

After gaining over 20 million hits on YouTube just a short while after it was uploaded – beating American superstar Justin Bieber’s new single on the video-sharing site in the process – the track has done quite well for itself to say the least!

The song and music video managed to jump over Western borders, gaining quite a following from celebrities like T-Pain, Josh Groban and Robbie Williams. This then pushed many British news outlets to grasp onto the story and spread the phenomenon.

Most Journalists took the role of the perplexed onlooker here, simply laying out the facts and giving the video link for readers to take what they may from it. Whilst there were other reports that presented their own opinions about it; an example of this would be Sky News stating it as a single that pokes fun at “the country’s bland K-pop genre”.

I was extremely happy to see PSY featured in the national news, even if he did not gain a main coverage spot on any of institutions’ channels. Like many British K-pop fans, I am always excited to see anything K-pop-related shown on UK media platforms and I think PSYis a singer that is particularly deserving of this. He has a knack for producing happy and bouncy songs without making them annoying or cheesy. However, my excitement on this occasion was ever so slightly tinged by cynicism.

This was mainly brought on by how these UK Journalists approached the subject. The words that some used in the articles were often a little bit mean in their nature. Many were quick to point out PSY’s weight and his lack of international success despite having a career that spans ten years. I found myself continuously pursing my lips whilst reading or listening to some of the reports.

It was not that the writers were heartlessly scathing or anything, and most of PSY’s fans know that the singer himself would be the first to laugh along with anyone making fun of him – as he does it so openly himself throughout his own work. Although this is true, I still felt that some of the articles focussed too much on the poking fun. It sometimes came across a little bit like them saying: “Haha, look at this crazy, funny Asian guy – look, he’s famous even though he’s chubby and sings stupid songs! Those Asians are insane!”
It was not only what aspects the articles focussed on that made me feel this way, but also the simple fact that Sky News chose to include it in their ‘Strange News’ segment rather than anywhere else.

Some people reading this may be thinking that I am being over-sensitive here, I also think that I am – but this small feeling of injustice that I felt on PSY’s behalf got me thinking about the real potential of success for K-pop in the UK.

Many mistakes and misinterpretations have been made in UK news coverage of K-pop, from names of groups to the messages behind the songs. To an extent, this is excusable because K-pop is something completely new and foreign to most British people (and I’m sure I’m not the only non-Korean K-pop fan that has taken a message from a video to only later find out that it was something else entirely to what I initially interpreted!). Nevertheless, I have noticed that at least one mistake has been made in about 80% of coverage on the subject. It almost makes it seem like some of the writers do not see it as something that is worth taking seriously. Surely, if you are going to cover a subject that you do not know a lot about, you would do some more research before writing? Journalists jobs are indeed pressured and very stressful, but these K-pop articles have always been very small in their size, so it annoys me a little that some writers have not taken the time to double check – after all, a way to access the internet is never very far from one’s fingertips in this day and age.

When 2NE1’s single‘I Love You’ was featured on Radio One’s Review Show with Edith Bowman. It received a mixed bag of reactions from the listeners. Many remarks were made regarding the fact that people couldn’t understand the language and this was of no surprise to me, but I was still slightly surprised at the sheer high level of an issue it created for people. Listening to their comments took me back to a time when I showed my friend a Super Junior music video – I was sitting smiling, waiting for her to comment their dancing skills, or even how many members there are. She simply proceeded to say: “How do you know what they are saying?”

There are many music theorists that have studied in great depth how people listen to music. It has become clear that people focus on many different aspects of songs – some people focus on the lyrics, while others the beat or rhythm. Before getting into K-pop, I would have firmly placed myself in the ‘lyric’segment, but now I have realised how much importance I must also place in the music behind them. Having said this, without thinking, I also seem to spend a lot of time looking up the English translations of K-pop song lyrics. In short, I personally am of the opinion that not being able to understand the language that a song is sung in does not – and should not – pose a large issue for listeners.

I may be a bit sore about these small things simply because I am a biased K-pop fan (that is quite likely), but it is obvious that the genre has received a lot of interest on an international scale. I do think that the tides of the Hallyu wave can be felt coming in stronger and stronger on our shores as time goes on. It is also undeniable that the genre has been – and will be – faced with a lot of obstacles as it proceeds to hammer away at the bricks of Western walls.

What can be said for the success of K-pop on a mainstream scale is by no means certain. Personally, I can see it as something that may continue to enjoy a somewhat cult international following, with perhaps a few acts breaking through. But I cannot see this happening unless the artists release songs in English and have an adequate enough grasp on the language to suffice for promotional activities.  This is because I think that language difference is, unfortunately, one of the most monstrous of all the obstacles standing in the way of K-pop success in the Western mainstream.

One also hopes that these artists will not change their ways too much in order to fit the Western mould. I hope I speak for some other K-pop fans when I say that I would rather artists maintain their unique flavours rather than abandon them completely in order to smooth out the differences in music styles.

The one thing I reallydo hope for K-pop to achieve is to help boost mutual cultural understanding in the world and to encourage people to have a more open mind about the media that they consume – it has certainly helped me in this respect!

As always, have your say on this topic.
Give us your opinion on the potential of Hallyu Wave success in light of PSY’s recent single making a mark!

[Image Source: Google Images].


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I love writing (especially about K-Pop) and am trying to improve my skills with every post!