How BTS’s Embrace of Korean Tradition Helped Them Blow Up

Although Ok-pop has been a world phenomenon for twenty years, debates concerning the exact definition of the time period “Ok-pop” are nonetheless raging. It’s tough to resolve as a result of it isn't at all times totally clear what's so Korean about Ok-pop. Ok-pop is Ok-pop as a result of it's music carried out by (principally) Korean artists, however what about past that? With “Idol,” the title monitor from BTS’s LOVE YOURSELF: 結 ‘Answer,’ BTS offers a solution of types. Although calling “Idol” conventional Korean music could be a stretch, it amply makes use of chuimsae [추임새], which suggests utilizing an additional exclamation between lyrics to attract out viewers response. (Some examples are the strains of “얼쑤 좋다” and 지화자 좋다” in “Idol”’s refrain.) Additionally, the music video for “Idol” incorporates a conventional Korean constructing, through which the boys of BTS dance within the conventional Korean silk coats.

BTS’s use of the standard Korean components, each in its music and in its visible presentation, is definitely a uncommon high quality. Since Ok-pop started its enlargement within the early 2000s, it has tried to mix into the native market. To that finish, the primary era of worldwide Ok-pop acts made no explicit effort to enchantment their Korean-ness, in an effort to broaden their attain. In the worldwide market, Ok-pop acts would launch songs in English, Chinese, or Japanese, and communicate the native language within the interviews, and they'd supply their music from main Swedish composers. This was a marked shift from the strategies of Seo Taiji and Boys [서태지와 아이들] — the group broadly considered the fountainhead of recent Ok-pop, who made a degree of incorporating features of Korean tradition of their music. “Hayeoga [하여가],” the title track of their second album in 1993, was a combination of Jamaican rap, heavy steel, and Korean conventional music. The title monitor from their subsequent album, “Dreaming of Balhae [발해를 꿈꾸며],” was a track calling for unification of the Korean Peninsula, with the music video shot on the former Communist Party headquarters close to the demilitarized zone.

The effort to infuse Korean cultural and musical traditions to Western pop music traces all the way in which again to the origin of pop music in Korea. In 1974, Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현], Korea’s “Godfather of Rock,” composed his iconic “Beauty [미인]” within the Korean pentatonic scale. Famed guitarist Kim Su-cheol [김수철] was the primary artist who constantly and systematically pursued the fusion between Korean music and Western pop, to a degree that he turned fashionable sufficient exterior of Korea to to showcase his music within the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. The development continues to this present day with Korea’s indie bands just like the Second Moon and Jambinai, whose rollicking, modernized rendition of Korean conventional music was featured within the closing ceremony for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

Nevertheless, Korea’s idol teams and hip-hop artists have been reluctant to include their Korean heritage into their music, the previous due to the considerations over worldwide marketability, the latter due to the considerations of presenting “genuine” hip-hop that hewed nearer to what American audiences acknowledge. Yet even they made sporadic makes an attempt to introduce conventional tradition into the music. In “Shangri-La [도원경],” the idol group VIXX utilized the instrument gayageum [가야금] for its music, and included Korean outfits and equipment for its music video. The rapper Nuck [넋업샨] explored the wedding between Korean tradition and hip-hop. His track, “Bulhandangga [불한당가],” a 2014 Korean Music Awards winner that was created with Naachal, P-Type, and MC Meta, was a superb fashionable tackle jeokbyeokga [적벽가], one of many traditional numbers in pansori [판소리], a type of narrative singing.

Yet all of those makes an attempt (besides maybe VIXX’s) weren't broadly heard exterior of the Korean home market. BTS’s incorporation of Korean tradition is available in a special context: They are a massively fashionable worldwide band going through a world viewers. “Idol” got here after BTS had already reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. At a degree the place most earlier worldwide Ok-pop idol acts would attempt to mix in deeper into the native market — as BOA did after topping Japan’s Oricon Singles chart in 2003 — BTS selected to double down on their Korean-ness. BTS appeared to comprehend that they couldn’t be like preexisting Ok-pop idols, nor may they be like American boy bands.

Prior to BTS’s large Stateside success, it appeared that Ok-pop’s localization technique had a ceiling within the U.S. market. Long after Ok-pop had already turn into a world sensation in the remainder of the world, U.S. radio stations resisted enjoying Ok-pop songs whatever the makes an attempt to enchantment particularly to the U.S. market. BTS was capable of go farther than the earlier Ok-pop acts by taking a special route: presenting an genuine illustration of themselves that grew with their followers. Yet they nonetheless proceed to face challenges within the U.S. market: structural limitations stop them from receiving comparable official recognition. BTS didn't obtain a single Grammy nomination on the finish of 2017. Jeff Benjamin, Ok-pop columnist for Billboard, advised BTS may maybe search a Grammy within the class of “World Music” — an enterprising thought, however not totally befitting the most well-liked boy band within the U.S. In this opposed setting, BTS’s flip towards Korean components is perhaps the correct path to beat the restrictions of the localization technique. (In truth, even the non-Korean elements of “Idol” are usually not all that Western, as they lean closely on gqom beats that originated from South Africa.) It can also be an announcement of confidence about their Korean identification, no matter what award committees might imagine.

Comparing the music movies for Seo Taiji’s “Hayeoga” and BTS’s “Idol” offers an attention-grabbing glimpse into the evolution of the connection between Ok-pop and U.S. popular culture prior to now quarter century. The music video for “Hayeoga” begins in a membership in Itaewon, a multicultural district in Seoul, with a gaggle of African-Americans displaying off their dance strikes to the locals. One Korean clubgoer, feeling dissed by the dancers, calls within the assist of Seo Taiji and Boys; the group showcase their very own strikes, gaining the respect of the dancers. In distinction, the music video for “Idol” options Nicki Minaj. But BTS just isn't looking for Nicki Minaj’s approval, neither is Minaj there to show BTS something. They are as a substitute engaged in an change, with Minaj liberally borrowing the Korean aesthetics in her section by placing up her lyrics in hangeul script. Even as Seo Taiji boldly intermixed Korean music with Western pop, he acknowledged that in 1993, the American music trade was the last word gatekeeper of worldwide success. In 2018, BTS is the world’s largest boy band and that's now not the case.