Most Americans only know Kpop because of Psy, but for those of us that discovered Kpop before him, we know there is so much more. The first Kpop artist I started listening to was Rain (internationally known singer, dancer, and actor from Korea). His Kdrama, Runaway Plan B, was also my first Kdrama. Rain, I blame you for my addiction to all things Korean. Anyways, many people find it strange that someone would listen to music when they don't know the words, but funnily they don't find it odd that people all over the world listen to American music and don't know English.
A quick background of the Kpop world—In Korea, much like the old Hollywood studio system, young people are recruited and put under contract and spend many years training. They get singing, dancing, instrument, and language training. You’ll find many Kpop artists who are multi-lingual. The band members are put together by the label and they live together in dorms, which can be great if you get along with all your members. There used to be a five year expiration date on Kpop bands, but no longer. The big three major entertainment labels in South Korea are—YG, SM, and JYP. You will often hear them referred to as the YG family or the SM family. Psy, Big Bang, and 2NE1 are part of the YG label aka family. Shinee, Girls Generation, and Super Junior are part of SM. 2PM, and MBLAQ are part of JYP.
An odd bit of info to be aware of—in South Korea when an artist comes out with a new song or album it’s termed a comeback, even if it hasn’t been that long since they last released something. It’s odd to Americans who are used to that term meaning someone who has been out of the industry for a long time. Here’s a fact you might want to know—South Korean males have a two year military requirement, and even celebrities have to do it. They are allowed to postpone up to two times, and then they have to enlist. Most Korean celebrities wait till they are in their mid to late twenties. Rain will finish his enlistment July 2013.
Believe it or not many Americans and non-Koreans are listening to Kpop. Why? Speaking in a general sense, Kpop is usually very upbeat and fun. The videos can be very colorful, sexy, fun, theatrical, and/or have great dance routines. Honestly I rarely look up the English subtitles or English lyrics unless it’s a band I really like. If you’re wondering where Kpop fans watch the videos, it’s no surprise, YouTube of course. Kpop is so popular that it’s pretty easy to find the music video you’re interested in with English subs if you want them.
Kpop fans are intensely passionate and loyal, and I think a part of that is the fact that Korean celebrity’s lives are much publicized. Take for instance my favorite band Big Bang. From their very beginning YG filmed a documentary of their recruitment and training all the way to their debut, and it doesn’t stop there. There is behind-the-scenes videos, videos where they are followed around in their daily schedule, videos of their tours and music videos, etc. In a way that you don’t see in America, you get the feeling you know your favorite band or actor, and so feel more involved with them. On the good side of that you have fans that become evangelists for your art: passionate, loyal and eager to help with their favorite’s success. On the negative there are the crazy fans that will stalk their obsession in a truly frightening way, although stalker fans are definitely not unique to Korea.
For many, the Kpop male style may take getting used to. Not only do most male kpop groups wear makeup, most noticeably eye-makeup, they can also, depending on the group, have very fashion forward style or androgynous style. One last thing to be aware of--in Korea it is very common to be physically affectionate with the same sex, it may look odd to some Americans who aren't used to it, but after some time, you'll find yourself impressed with their comfort in showing affection to their friends so publicly.
So are you curious to try out Kpop and don’t know where to start. I can help you with that. Obviously I am going to be biased to my own favorite groups, but I think I will make a whole separate post for that.