Pop goes the Korean beat for Desi buffs

K-pop, as South Korean pop is known, hits a high note among Indian teenagers at a time the genre has been censured back home for generalising beauty

Riddhi Chakraborty March 14, 2019 16:02:38 IST
Pop goes the Korean beat for Desi buffs
  • K-pop, as South Korean pop is known, hits a high note among Indian teenagers at a time the genre has been censured back home for generalising beauty

  • Most young urban Indians would tell you the journey starts as a search for sounds beyond unimaginative Bollywood remixes and saturated Western pop

  • Today, almost every major K-pop hit scales iTunes India’s charts

Beliebers and Barbz have competition coming from the Far East. K-pop, as fastpaced South Korean pop is known, is wooing the young and restless in India, thanks to its unique lexicon, and support on social-media and music-sharing platforms.

Although K-pop has been a rage globally for two decades, and hardcore fans have existed in India for nearly 10 years, the past year or so has seen an unprecedented rise in the genre’s popularity among the youth here. South Korean star PSY’s 2012 blockbuster Gangnam Style initiated most Indians to K-pop, but artistes such as BTS, Big Bang, EXO and BLACKPINK are now household names.

Pop goes the Korean beat for Desi buffs

BTS’s appearances at the Billboard Music Awards contributed to K-pop’s growth in India

Why is the K-pop explosion happening only now, particularly in urban India? Most young urban Indians would tell you the journey starts as a search for sounds beyond unimaginative Bollywood remixes and saturated Western pop.

“My classmates and I feel K-pop sounds supercool and fresh. The vocals and rap are great, and the overall aesthetics stand out,” says Mumbai-based student Rhea S.

K-pop’s current rage in India is noteworthy because it happens at a time the genre has drawn the South Korean government’s ire for an unrealistic generalising of teenage beauty. Music lovers, in turn, denounced the government’s stand as censorship bid.

Indian fans, though, are more driven by the sensory overload of the genre. It is a heady mix of high-fashion, fascinating storylines, choreography and snazzy visuals. The lyrics often deal with issues such as mental health and politics, which Indian musicians mostly avoid.

A lot of the current curiosity is credited to the seven-member band BTS, known for its club sounds, stellar choreography and powerful visuals. “Most K-pop listeners start with BTS — especially their blockbuster hit Idol — and then explore more,” says Dahlia George, a class XII student in Kerala.

BTS’s appearances at popular events including the Billboard Music Awards and The Ellen DeGeneres Show contributed to K-pop’s overall recognition in India. The band also graced the Time magazine cover and addressed the UN General Assembly last year. “The Indian media spoke about their UN address, which led to people taking them seriously,” says Rhea.

In India the genre first caught on in the Northeast in the early 2000s — a big reason being Manipur’s Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) banning Bollywood content in that state. “In our school assembly quiz we get BTS-related questions,” says Imphal school student Nilanjana Khaidem.

Today, almost every major K-pop hit scales iTunes India’s charts. Videos of the genre are regularly aired on our music channels. K-pop is here to stay.

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