“Korean Pop vs. Chinese Pop” by Taylor-Anne Adkins

Posted: January 2, 2013 in Vol. 2: Fall Essays 2012

koreaWithin recent years, a transition in the entertainment industry has swept in from across the pond.  This new phenomenon is known as Asian pop culture.  Derived from Western pop, this music type is in a genre all its own, primarily because Asian pop reflects the exotic vibe from foreign cultures, or at least that is what one would think.  Artists on everyone’s playlist include Korean pop’s Mr. Mr., T-Ara, Teen top and Flash Back.  Less well-known artists from China are Jay Chou, Hit 5, Lee-Hom Wang and F.I.R.  As the force of Asian pop progresses, we will see a global effect that will reshape humanity.  Music aficionados who are aware of Asian pop culture tend to favor Korean pop the greatest, although Chinese pop is better and should be most favored.

As clearly exemplified in the Asia-Pacific realm, K-pop (Korean pop) is seen as a dominant, secondary innovation, which improves on American pop origins. “Having taken Asia by storm over the past decade with bubblegum hooks and dance moves staged with military precision, K-pop in recent years has garnered a small but growing fan base among teenagers in parts of Europe and America” (France-Presse, 2012).  The vibe of the music is the advantage of K-pop.  According to the professional singer G. NA, “It’s very melodious, very easy to sing along to” (Lindvall, 2011).  But the integrity of K-pop ends there.  Whether on stage or a music video, ridiculous antics are featured.  These silly acts appeal to down-to-earth, frivolous personalities, commonly characterized by teenagers.

Of course, the general public is bombarded by the energetic explosion of modern Korean pop music.  Accordingly, it is simple to understand why the youth regards them with increased admiration over the mildness of C-pop (Chinese pop).  Korean pop stars use marketing and advertising practices much better than Chinese artists; thereby, contributing to their fandom.  Sandy Monteiro, the president of UMG International, a music production and management company in Korea, believes that part of the success amongst Korean singers is their promotion abroad. Yet, K-pop will never achieve its maximum height, since the public is very judgmental of the lyrics and the singers speaking in different languages (Lindvall, 2011a).  Although K-pop has effectively gained supporters, it mainly caters to the younger generation with all its wild and crazy dance moves, and with lyrics that are really vacuous in meaning.  If K-pop was more original like C-pop, the artists could appeal to a wider range of fans.  Instead, they are more like copycats.

In addition, it is China’s leaders like Hu Jintao, the current president of China believes that business ventures should be centered on developing cultural products that can draw the interest of the Chinese and meet the “growing spiritual and cultural demands of the people” (Wong, 2012). He does not believe pop culture does this. However, by observing such music talents as Jay Chou and Hit 5 in videos, the appearance of Chinese identity is clearly displayed with ancient ceremonial attire worn by these and other artists.  “Mr. Hu did not did not address the widespread assertion by Chinese artists and intellectuals that state censorship is what prevents artists and their works from reaching their full potential” (Wong, 2012).  He should not speak about what the people should want in their music since his ideas do not reflect our modern, high-tech age of quality music.

Ultimately, C-pop should be the most favored music, when compared to its Asian counterparts, especially K-pop, since K-pop endorses a tawdry copy of Western pop.  According to the Hong Kong University Press, “Transcultural hybridity is one of the most significant aspects of contemporary South Korean popular culture in the postmodern era and it is the main driving force behind its overseas popularity” (Jung, 2010).  Although K-pop is more accessible to an entire world-wide audience, this is only a commercial initiative.  Local radio stations dedicate a specified station solely to K-pop.  Why not C-pop?  A lack of marketing and advertising in the Chinese economy inhibit them from expanding.  This is a problem.  If there were more exposure to the public, undoubtedly C-pop would be a big competitor in the global marketplace.  While Chinese artists are restrained in their contributions to culture, the youth must then opt for other entertainers from foreign states, one of them being South Korea (MacLeod, 2012).  By discouraging Chinese pop culture, Chinese nationals pine for music with a modern twist, driving them to spend their time and money on the Korean economy.  Ultimately, Chinese music fans paying money to foreign competitors hurts China’s economy.  To address this, politics and business modes in China call for a change.

One plan for the industry as a surefire solution to their struggle is to come in contact with other foreign music producers and expose them to their music; they could help fund C-pop artists to bring them to their country and share their culture through their music. Overall, C-pop shows the human experience from the Chinese perspective, which is what its fans are acknowledging and expressing when they go to their concerts or like them on their YouTube accounts.  This support for the industry would benefit everyone, because it would be showing that Chinese pop music can bring us all together around a common interest in true, Asian pop culture, untainted by outside influences.

When viewing such programs as SBS Songs and KBS Music Bank, every performer is remarkably young, catering solely to the period of non-age.  But what happens to the significance of such young at heart melodies, when one faces reality in adulthood?  Reminisce at the way they jammed to “my song” or turn away at the nonsense of juvenile imagination, saying, “Why did I think that song was so great?”  Surely, as we age, our perception of surroundings heightens, so our attitudes change along with it.  Thus, K-pop flourishes with the young demographic, because they have a sense in them to be rebellious, wild, exciting and purely fun.  However, once the unavoidable hands of time bring on responsibilities, one must let go of immaturity, including K-pop songs symbolizing immaturity.  This is where C-pop comes in, as it is directed at a wider range of audience, given the extensive age difference of music artists.

Unlike the sensibility of C-pop music, K-pop is very confusing.  The topics sung in Chinese pop music are relevant to the real world: relationships with parents, references to love lives, fighting for beliefs, and overcoming personal struggles.  All of these themes are found among esteemed performers in Chinese pop culture.  For instance, Hit-5’s Loving You in Every Second articulates how deep down inside, a couple is fated to be together.  The singer declares that he will prove their inevitable inseparability by writing about it to his lover.  He is determined to block all the negative comments about his feeling towards her, and pleads with his girl to embrace fated their mutual affection.  This characteristic enables C-pop to be relatable to listeners, since these are experiences everyone can share on a fairly equal level.  Oppositely, K-pop songs focus on trivial occurrences.  G-Dragon’s Get Your Crayon continuously repeats the song title in the chorus.  “A few English words are added to create meaningless song titles” (Lindvall, 2011b).  Speaking such random thoughts is something one would never, in one’s right mind, do.  This song leaves an impression of so what?  What am I going to do with a crayon?  Thus, it is easier to get the meaning of a song when it tells a story (anecdote), as in C-pop.

Besides the questionable reasoning behind K-pop music lyrics, the choreography can often be too close for comfort.  In Mr. Mr.’s Who’s that Girl, this boy band dances in a very risqué manner.  All of the members touch their bodies as if they are in heat.  They even appear to give the impression of a peculiar type of personality, as they hold up their cloaks to cover their faces, only revealing their eyes.  How creepy is that?  It is this sexual physicality amongst K-pop idols that demean their personae, with seemingly lewd intentions toward the onlooking viewers.  Almost not fit for TV, it would be appropriate to rate K-pop as PG-13.  In contrast, Chinese pop dance routines are quite innocent.  Rainie Yang, for instance, might not dance at all in most of her onstage performances/videos, similar to other Chinese pop artists.  However, refraining from such dancing connects these singers to their viewers with lyrics that make a lot more sense and melodies that create beautiful sounds to the ear.  If you add crazy dance steps to the music, it sort of distracts the audience from what one is trying to get across in ones’s song.  This defeats the whole purpose of trying to reach out to fans and relaying a message.

Unlike Chinese pop artists, K-pop stars Epik High and Big Star incorporate foreign coiffures, such as the faux hawk and dread extensions.  Typical amongst the countless bands that have come and gone over the years, these artists are noticeable from miles away and appear as if is they are not proud of who they are and their natural looks.  With this superficial transformation, K-pop luminaries presume tacky mirroring of American and European groups.  If music aficionados feel they should admire these attributes, why not settle for non-Korean music icons, the original source of the so-called “beauty” concept.  After all, Chinese singers reflect a comfort in their individuality of distinct facial features, by showing the public their real selves, not the standardized clones of flawless, model-like Caucasian people.

Even though Chinese pop culture has not fully developed its market, C-pop is the hidden, better form of Asian pop culture compared to K-pop.  So, it would be beneficial for the Chinese music industry to be more liberal in their business practices, since this is their only weakness.  If Korean singers are able to promote their music to Chinese fans, why don’t Chinese singers do so as well?  The future of China will be largely determined by how its culture progresses, and since C-pop is vital to this process, we must start picking up our head phones immediately and listen to it.

Works Cited

Fisher, M. (2012, August 23).  Gangnam Style Dissected: The Subversive Message within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation.  The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/gangnam-style-dissected-the-subversive-message-within-south-koreas-music-video-sensation/261462/

France-Presse, A. (2012, November 25).  Psy, the Wacky Korean Singer Who Made YouTube History. http://www.ndtv.com/article/people/psy-the-wacky-korean-singer-who-made-youtube-history-296983

Jung, S. (2010).  TransAsia Screen Cultures: Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption.    (p. 177).  Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press http://site.ebrary.com/lib/uhwestoahu/docDetail.action?docID=10515996&p00=asian popculture. eBook.

Lindvall, H. (2011a, April 20).  Behind the Music: What is K-pop and why are the Swedish Getting Involved?  The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2011/apr/20/k-pop-sweden-pelle-lidell

Lindvall, H. (2011b, April 20).  K-pop: How South Korea turned Round its Music Scene. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2011/apr/20/k-pop-south-korea-music-market

MacLeod, C. (2012, January 11).  China Strikes at West Through Pop Culture Wars. USA Today  http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-01-10/china-video-games/52483442/1

Seabrook, J. (2012, October 08).  Factory Girls: Cultural Technology and the Making of K-pop. The New Yorker, 1-8. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/08/121008fa_fact_seabrook?currentPage=1

Wong, E. (2012, January 06).  China’s President Lashes Out at Western Culture.  The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/world/asia/chinas-president-pushes-back-against-western-culture.html?_r=0

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 100: Composition I

  1. anto says:

    k pop is so much better than c pop , cpop is just a copy , they copy everything they see
    they are just jelaus

  2. Isabelle says:

    I really agree with u, i like c pop WAY more than k pop even though im korean 🙂

  3. Eric Sung says:

    Strictly from a musician point of view, C-pop in general is terrible in comparison to K-pop (And I’m chinese). Although it borrows many motifs and melodic structures from the west, K-pop often has very good and unique interpretations, and sometimes innovations of western rhythm & harmonic / melodic use.

    C-pop however is often repetitive in its musical structure, sticking to the same over-used / rehashed pentatonic scales for its melodic lines (melodic structures of c-pop has been the same since the 80’s / 90’s with out much change). Majority of the songs released are simply bad copies of the older works either in the west, korea, japan, or even old chinese songs.

    Also, most of c-pop, particularly the ballads, either lack sufficient emotion or is over the top. Majority of the performing artists lack the singing chops or the emotional dynamics to perform anything worth noting. The majority of the industry is completely image driven, with a bunch of talentless “artists” are really just in it to be on talk shows and ads. These the singers are often off key and lack dynamic range when you hear them in concerts.

    Obviously C-pop is not all bad. There are amazing exceptions of course, such as Jay Chou who is a brilliant songwriter / composer and has incredibly original songs. The older C-pop guys like Jacky Cheung have incredible (i dare say nearly incomparable) performance skills and should not be ignored either.

    As with anything are are no absolutes, there is certainly great talent & beautiful musical works in C-pop. But overall C-pop is not favored nor is it successful overseas simply because of the quality of work is sub-par. No amount of advertising / marketing will make it successful.

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