“K-Pop is a culture,” says rapper Chris Ang.
On September 28, “Dynamite” by K-Pop band BTS blew past Cardi B’s “WAP” and Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later,” reaching the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs chart. The feat was the third time the seven-member boy band from South Korea copped the coveted spot, gauged through a mixture of all-genre U.S. streaming, sales data, and radio airplay.
BTS is an acronym for “Bangtan Sonyeondan,” a Korean phrase that loosely translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts.”
“K-Pop is a culture,” said Chris Ang, a local rap artist and K-Pop event organizer. “It’s not just pop, it’s more like elements of pop, and it’s not entirely in the Korean dialect. 'Dynamite' is entirely in English. What makes K-Pop is the entire presentation of it: it’s like a spectacle, including the song, the dance, and the fashion.”
Last year, Ang, 29, trekked from his Paradise Hills home to Pasadena and attended the BTS World Tour: Love Yourself concert.
“What are key fashion cues in the K-Pop culture?” I asked.
“It involves a lot of color or color synchronization with other K-Pop members. A big signal of K-Pop would definitely be hair color.”
In portions of the near four-minute “Dynamite” music video, band member RM is harmonizing and disco dancing with bluish-platinum colored hair.
“Dude, RM is the leader of BTS who’s also fluent in English.”
“We never released a song before the official album release, or in English, and frankly, it wasn’t our plan either,” RM said in a Korea Herald interview. “But while recording for our upcoming album, we thought this track’s energy was so fun and fitting, and considering the ongoing situation around the world, we wanted to enjoy it as quickly as possible with as many people as possible.”
The video, packed with 70s text fonts, disco-attire, and John Travolta finger points fused with Michael Jackson kicks, reportedly became the quickest YouTube vid to reach 10 million views within 20 minutes of its August 20 upload. In the first 24 hours, the video pulled 101.1 million YouTube views setting a new Guinness World Record.
“K-Pop has somewhat of American influence, but with a more cutesy tone,” said Carissa T. from La Mesa. In 2016-2017, she attended Chung-Ang University and Korea University in Seoul, under the SDSU Exchange and Approved Independent programs.
“I didn’t know they took number one on Billboard, but that’s great. When I was a tween, I listened to K-Pop, and not many people here in the U.S. knew about it. So now that there is more exposure, that’s dynamite.”
“Dynamite,” which is 70s verbiage for how kids nowadays say “lit,” is a summation of what the boy band vocalizes atop the multiple instruments played by David Stewart, the song’s producer and writer. The 70s-swayed disco-pop single, with hints of soul and funk, was released on 7-inch vinyl and cassettes and immediately disappeared. On the secondary market, online scalpers resold the record and cassette combos for $75, a $60 markup from the initial $6.98 and $7.98 retail prices on BTS’s website.
“When I was studying abroad, K-Pop was super big in Korea, and there was a cult-following of bands there,” Carissa continued. “I saw foreigners who’d fly in, and were following K-Pop groups everywhere, and showed up in the airport when they’d arrive from a flight. It was kind of extreme.”
Before our shutdown, Ang would set up BTS fan meetups throughout our county that he coined as “K-Pop Random Play Dance.”
“It’s like a flash mob game for K-Pop fans, where you split two lines of people, creating an open square in the middle where we play the chorus of a K-Pop song and if you know the choreography of that song, you jump in and do the dance. If you don’t know it, stay back, and once the song ends, you form back up in the line.”
Some San Diego parents and grandparents are relieved at the prospect of their tweens jumping on the K-Pop bandwagon, rather than lip-synching to Cardi B, and Drake raps.
“BTS was originally supposed to be a pure rap group,” Ang explained, “and they transitioned over to the more pop sound. However, rap is still pretty heavily featured in their albums. Suga from BTS goes by Agust D when he does solo rap projects.”
“K-Pop is just the word that defines the entire genre. There’s sad emotional songs, really deep songs, songs that lean more into rap. Just 'cause there’s hardly any profanity in K-Pop, doesn’t mean the songs have any less raw energy or messages it’s trying to convey.”