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K-pop, Korean pop music, has gained traction with American students despite a language barrier.

K-pop gains international popularity through YouTube

Korean pop music has a strong visual and group aspect that draws a different crowd than American music.

Zachary Hughes began listening to K-pop in an unusual way.

“I got hit by a car actually, and in the ambulance there was a K-pop song that one of the ambulance people was playing,” Hughes said. “It was really weird because (after the accident) I always had a lot of stress with listening to Korean music because it was a really bad time when I got hit.”

However, he liked the music and continued to explore the genre despite the initial negative experience. He also said other K-pop fans who are a part of the Korean Language Association, “shoved it down (his) throat,” but he enjoyed it.

“If you play random K-pop songs, I’ll be like, ‘Aw yeah, I don’t know what this is but it’s awesome,' ” Hughes said.

K-pop stands for Korean pop music and is quite similar to American pop music, but it is performed in a different language, Allison Paxton, the secretary of Korean Language Association and a freshman studying graphic design, said.

Most artists in the K-pop genre are groups that can be a draw for listeners because they are different from a lot of American pop artists, Joung Hee Krzic, a professor in the linguistics department and the adviser of Korean Language Association, said. However, there are a few popular solo K-pop artists.

“I think that’s the most interesting thing about K-pop is that there’s so many different styles, themes and types of K-pop groups and artists,” Paxton said. “They reach out to all different types of people in all different types of ways.”

To start listening to K-pop, Paxton suggested beginning with bigger groups such as Super Junior, SNSD (Girls’ Generation), 2NE1, Big Bang and EXO.

However, it often is misinterpreted that K-pop represents all Korean music, Paxton said. Several kinds of Korean bands experiment with other genres that are not considered to be K-pop.

“We also have solo artists,” Paxton said. “A lot of the pop singers also sing ballads or slower songs, too, to show off their vocal ranges.”

Each group has a certain style and fashion to go along with its overall look, Paxton said, but the style is not costume-like. Some groups even have a different visual style to go along with each of their albums, she added.

“It’s kind of like Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’ video,” Melanie Potraz, the vice president of the Korean Language Association and a sophomore studying anthropology, said. “It’s intense and she has a lot of ridiculous outfits, but it’s not like a costume.”

Some of the bands, such as EXO, have a “boyish” kind of look in their videos, Potraz said, while some groups have a “bad boy” look with leather jackets and greased-back hair.

When it comes to girl groups, a group called AOA has done a couple music videos with school uniform outfits. Potraz said they are usually portrayed as “cutesy.”

Paxton discovered K-pop after her freshman year of high school when her friend showed her a music video of K-pop group Super Junior.

“It was like nothing I’d ever seen before because it was a choreographed dance with, I think there were 13 members at the time who were all very attractive, singing in a language I didn’t know,” Paxton said. “I was very confused on what it was.”

Over time, Paxton became infatuated with K-pop, which eventually spurred her interest in Korean culture and language.

Even though most K-pop bands are based out of Korea, many tour around the globe for fans everywhere to see. Paxton was able to see the band EXO in Chicago this year.

Paxton said fan groups of particular K-pop artist mirror the dress and style of the bands.

“It makes it easier to get to know the character of the artist that way because they’ll do different special events, and that’s sort of different from over here,” Paxton said.

Because the Korean Language Association recently became an official organization at OU, it is hard to tell exactly how many people are fans of Korean language and K-pop, Paxton said. She said she believes the organization will help entice other students on campus who are K-pop fans to come together.

Krzic was “shocked” at the popularity of K-pop artists among American students. She first noticed the large popularity when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” went viral in 2012. After that, she noticed a lot of her students had a large interest in K-pop.

“I got interested in the language first and I saw K-pop as a tool to learn and learn how to pronounce things,” Potraz said.

The first band she listened to was EXO, and she said she never thought she would ever become as interested in the genre as she ended up being.

“I think the people are more engaging,” Potraz said. “The singers are more involved with their fan bases.”

YouTube plays a big role in the success of K-pop, Krzic said, which varies from the way American pop becomes popular.

“Well like Psy, he didn’t make it in Korea at first and then he put it on YouTube and that’s how he got famous,” Hughes said. “The people in the United States really like him.”

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Originally, K-pop groups promoted mostly in Asian countries, but they have started to come to the United States and attempt to learn English, as well, Paxton said.

“Don’t be shut down by the fact it’s in Korean,” Paxton said. “There are subtitles and you can look it up. The lyrics can touch you just as much as American music — if not more — because sometimes, American lyrics, you don’t want to understand.”



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