Concepts have a major part to play in the promotion cycles of K-pop groups and artists. While some groups choose to maintain a particular concept throughout their careers, others aim to show a variety of performing abilities by taking on different concepts for each promotion cycle. In a bid to make a group stand out in the saturated market, companies try to give their groups eye catching, unique concepts. However, when we compare groups, it can be hard to see any variety between them at all.
If you’re a fan of K-pop, you’ll definitely have noticed the trends in concepts and how some crop up more than others. An example of a concept frequently used would be the gang concept. Recent offenders include B.A.P, BTS and EXO; baggy clothing somewhat sports related, dark make up, even darker expressions… The list doesn’t stop there and it’s all these things that aim to give the feel of a gang set-up. Another popular concept is the girly concept, seen from groups like A Pink, Hello Venus and a younger Girls’ Generation. Dressed head to toe in adorable outfits, adorned with lace and plaid and pastel colours, these groups hit the jackpot on the ‘pretty’ image and shamelessly display as much aegyo as they can possibly muster. On the other hand, there are groups like 2NE1 and SHINee being dressed in clothing that is outrageously unwearable for the likes of you and me. The concepts are there, but they’re often a little more vague or not as straightforward as the above examples.
So how do these two options for companies differ? If the styling is played safer, using a concept that the public eye are used to, does this help the popularity of a group? Or can it be a deterrent, in that the concept may feel ‘boring’ and ‘overused’ to fans? In the same way it’s possible that totally unique styling, perhaps from a group like f(x), can be refreshing to look at and so draws attention to the group. However, this kind of individual style could also be hard for fans to connect with and might put them off.
When I was new to K-pop, I was oblivious to whether individuality was lacking or not from groups. Maybe I was blinded because of the huge difference in concepts between western pop and Korean pop, but all I noticed was just how sleek the videos looked. The production was incredible. Even more simple, cheaply done music videos had an aesthetic that I’d never previously been exposed to. Even concepts that I’m not such a fan of nowadays were exciting to me, because they were uncharted territory. Everything looked original.
Nowadays I have the ability to see more clearly; it’s easier to see who/what is being copied, and who is ‘breaking the mold’. But, does a concept define a group completely? Personally I feel a little washed out by the endless repeats of the gang style concept but when BTS recently debuted, their basketball vests and bling didn’t send me running. Their talent stood out to me above anything else and their songs were right up my street! Hence, it might be wrong to say that just because a certain concept isn’t your favourite, you will dislike every group who uses it.
Inevitably, concepts will always be re-used. If not exactly copied then recycled and spat out with a slight twist. Though, over the past few years, probably because of the sheer number of idol groups, we’ve seen a shift towards more creativity in K-pop. Bubblegum pop music that was once all about love has transformed into more meaningful songs and concepts. Groups who have promoted these different messages include NU’EST and Sunny Hill. You might wonder if such a strategy might be too ‘out there’ for regular pop, but Sunny Hill’s popularity grew after they released ‘Midnight Circus’, a song about being helpless under the control of others. Some of those groups who have stuck to more ‘pop’ related concepts have had a harder time gaining popularity, like a lot of groups who don’t seem to be able to stand out at the moment.
Is this going nowhere? I feel like this piece keeps going back and forth! I don’t want to ramble at you anymore… Let us know what you think in the comment section below; is individuality a good thing for a group to have in order to gain popularity? Or can it be a risk? Do you have any examples of your own? We want to hear your opinion, too!