With the Internet and modern social networking culture making real-time access and exposure possible, overnight stardom happens in ways never imagined 20 years ago. The unparalleled popularity of PSY and “Gangnam Style” has given us a preview of things to come. K-pop falls under the same mash-up of genre as boy band music –bubblegum, pop ballad, electronic, R&B, rap, and hiphop. Perhaps the huge difference in the two is only in the speed and accessibility by which K-pop is reaching its audiences throughout the globe.
Korean popular culture is now being exported to the world primarily in the form of K-pop. It has now exceeded anything that Korea had to offer the world because K-pop had found a strong foothold in the West, thanks to teenagers and young adults who are now looking to the East for their entertainment. K-pop has the advantage of reaching more and more people through mobile platforms. That, more than anything could account for Korea’s first ever musical chart-topper in the UK happening in 2012—“Gangnam Style,” you guessed it right.
The Korean music industry is benefiting from the rapidity by which the Internet allows for music to be distributed, and not just in Korea and Asia but in Europe, North America, and even North Africa. When the songs of Big Bang, Shinee, SNSD, TVXQ, and Super Junior are uploaded in YouTube and shared via other social networking platforms, it reaches way beyond the influences of radio which had an important role to play in the rise of popularity of boy bands in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
A vocal group composed of young, talented and good-looking males is the definition of a boy band. The term was coined in the ‘90s. The fact that the boys do not sing and dance or play musical instruments in their performances make the word “band” a misnomer, but nobody minded. The first commercially successful boy ban dwas the New Kids on the Block which experienced never before seen global popularity in the late ‘80s. It was formed in 1984 by a music producer after auditioning very young teen-age boys who had singing and dancing talents. Even before the NKOTB, many popular vocal groups have become popular, but since the songs that they perform were mostly R&B, it was not until the NKOTB’s pop-dance tracks that a boy band ruled radio, sales and the charts.
The boy band revolution soon crossed the Atlantic to United Kingdom where Take That dominated the charts, every single making it to number one except for one. In the USA, the mid-‘90s saw the former dominance of gospel inspired African-American/Latino boy bands (Boyz II Men, All-4-One) soon gave way to N’SYNC, 98 Degrees, and Backstreet Boys, who holds the record as the bestselling boy band of all time. The ’90s was the decade of boy bands because many other groups were formed and became successful in their own right.
Despite the negative criticisms that both K-pop artists and ‘90s boy bands have received and continue to face, there is no doubt that despite the over-the-top pop packaging and the endless attempts at keeping up with trends, genuine talent is at the core. After all, no one gets away for long with just a pretty face and no substance to back it up.