Kpop – Shinee


Kpop is in export overdrive. Non-Korean fans can now see bands like SHINee perform LIVE…

As a teenager, in amongst listening to bands like Crass, Poison Girls, Levellers, Wonder Stuff and L7, I was also bouncing about to a different kind of beat. A Kpop beat.

South Korean pop music (commonly referred to as “Kpop”, or “K-pop” because no-one can agree on the spelling and it’s one of the few instances where spelling doesn’t really matter) started to become a “phenomenon” in the early 90’s. I remember being at a school and hearing these bands for the first time in all their cartoonish glory. The beginnings of modern Kpop was like nothing I’d ever witnessed before. Managing to somehow sound simultaneously dated and futuristic, it was all so exotic to this gawky little Irish schoolgirl among the trendy and affluent Korean students.

Kpop ticked all the boxes. The hair was massive, the guys were cute (if you were a tween, anyway), and the dance routines were awesome. However, I merely flirted with the genre back then. Over the last few years I rediscovered it all over again after randomly hearing an old song by the band “H.O.T”, who were the first Koreans (aside from Seo Taiji & Boys- see links below) I ever heard rap. Christ, the nostalgia almost made me nosebleed.

A cursory google revealed that time had indeed moved on, and those teen heartthrobs I remembered being all fresh faced and pinned on our walls were now considered pop ‘veterans’ (Wow, way to make me feel old, Korea…). These veteran Kpop stars were either on judging panels for TV talent shows or having comebacks after their inevitable stint of national service.

You can imagine my joy when I discovered that Kpop had not just carried on, but had thrived and spawned a whole new generation of awesome?

A little more research revealed that H.O.T’s management company, SM Entertainment, had debuted another batch of new bands with great Kpop tunes: Bombastic boybands, adorably cute and gutsy girlgroups with wicked dance routines… the industry was bigger than ever before.

Kpop is getting Western…

Unashamedly Americanised compared to their Japanese contemporaries, Korean artists clearly aimed to find the balance between proudly exporting their own popular culture whilst still appealing and translating to a mass overseas market. Well, it seems to have worked, as not only are Korean companies managing to hawk their best boy and girl groups over to Japan for lucrative deals, but now SM Entertainment have launched their first European showcase shows in Paris in June to an amazing reception.

Fans turned up in their droves in a terrifying mass of squeals, excitement and synchronised dance routines to support the artists they’d only ever previously been able to stream via the internet. As if that wasn’t enough, a Korean boyband on SM Entertainment’s roster announced that on the 19th June, they were to visit London. My 14-year-old self totally pissed her pants.

SHINee (pronounced “Shiny”) are a 5-piece all singing all dancing Kpop boy band primped and styled to a ludicrously pretty metrosexual spectacle of pure win. They are flippin’ HUGE in their homeland and arrived in my humble town of London to perform a small exclusive concert at Abbey Road studios for a group of Japanese competition winners to mark their first release in Japan.

Despite being ineligible to attend the actual show, it didn’t stop us hanging around the studios like a hoard of excitable rainbow coloured cattle. I caught up with some fellow fans outside the studios on the day and my other half managed to take a few hundred pictures whilst we both lapped up the atmosphere on this landmark day for Kpop.

I soon bumped into a couple of excitable 18 year old fans called Noelle and Ladan. They wore brightly coloured hijabs, huge smiles, and were more than happy to enthuse to me about K pop and why they love it.

Like me, they were hopeful that this would be the start of more Kpop band appearances in the future. “This is just a glimpse of what could happen in events to come,” gushed Ladan, “See this, and then times it by ten and that’s what you’re gonna get!” she gestured to the excitable, banner waving, crowd behind us that spread out along Abbey Road.

It was clear that the fans now felt validated somehow – Like their long-distance support and commitment to their Korean pop idols after spending years watching them in Asian dramas and learning the choruses to every song (in Korean, no less!) had finally paid off.

But what made Kpop artists so special and particularly screamworthy? What did they have that trumped their Western counterparts?

Their management clearly understood the phenomenon of the fangirl.

“You get to see more of what they are really like backstage… a bit of their day to day lives… and feel you can connect with them,” Noelle explained, “With British and American bands you don’t necessarily know how they feel about their fans or what they are really like. But when the Koreans come, you give them all your support because you know they’ll always appreciate it!”

Noelle then asked me how I first got into Kpop, clearly sussing that I’m not a second generation Kpopper and am older than them.

“…By listening to H.O.T’s first album in 1996,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could. Her jaw dropped: “Omigod!”

Far from feeling like an insult, the exclamation felt slightly reverential – similar to a teenage rock n roll fan when their mate’s dad tells them that they saw Jimi Hendrix in concert. Like, a bunch of times.

We left Noelle and her friends to enjoy the rest of the day, and I got a warm fuzzy feeling as I saw how fantastic the first UK reception to Kpop looked. I definitely felt proud to be a European Kpop fan that day.