‘Gangnam Style': How One Teen Immigrant Fell For K-Pop Music

How A Teen Immigrant Fell For 'Gangnam Style' and K-Pop Music
Close up portrait of a teenager's half face closing his eyes while listening to music with his headphones against a white background.
Close up portrait of a teenager's half face closing his eyes while listening to music with his headphones against a white background.

This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.

By Peter Chen

Before I moved to the U.S. four years ago, music was not a big part of my life. Back in China, I listened to pop music on the radio or TV. But because I didn’t have a computer or an iPod, I couldn’t discover new kinds of music, so I didn’t know very much about music from other countries.

One day in seventh grade, not long after I’d come to the U.S., my friend Vincent took out an MP3 player to listen to music during free time in gym class. The song was very exciting and different from other music I enjoyed.

The song reminded me of the music the ice cream trucks play, kind of like an electronic music box, with a fast beat. It made me feel like I was going back in time to when I was 5 or 6 years old in a theme park, playing the electric games or riding the roller coaster.

“Hey, what is this song?” I asked Vincent.

“It’s Korean music. It’s called K-pop. This song is ‘Oh,’ by Girls’ Generation. This is my favorite K-pop group. Do you like it?”

“Yeah, of course!” I said. “This song is completely different than the Chinese and English music that I listen to. Wow, can you tell me more about it?”

“Sure!” That’s how Vincent and I became closer and closer as friends as we shared K-pop and Chinese music (both of us are Chinese).

I went back home to watch the music video of “Oh.” A group of girls was singing and dancing together in unison. The video had a lot of pink color and every girl had a different emotion on her face. Sunny made an envious face. Taeyeon made an angry face. They were all so cute; it made me want to laugh. I was hooked.

A Cool Sound

K-pop is one of the really important things I’ve discovered in the U.S. It has helped me with many hard moments. My parents have to work long hours, so I have a lot of stress and adult responsibility here. I like to listen to K-pop music every time I have problems; it helps me relax and not give up.

K-pop is from Korea, but it is becoming hugely popular around the world, thanks to the Internet. People everywhere can watch YouTube videos and download the music using different apps, just like I did when I first listened to K-pop.

K-pop can have qualities of both Chinese music, which it is slow and romantic, and more fast-paced English-language music, like rap and hip-hop. But the beats of K-pop are really different from both and make you want to dance.

I spoke with Jussarang Lee, a journalist who covers arts and culture for the newspaper Korea Daily in New York, to learn more about K-pop. She told me that K-pop developed out of a music genre from the 1990s called kayo, which basically means, “pop song” in Korean.

Lee said that a lot of the K-pop groups were basically created by a few big Korean entertainment companies that hire choreographers to make the dances, and stylists to create a certain look for the members of each group. They engineer a certain sound that catches people’s attention and makes them want to dance.

“Those choreographers are the ones who make all the moves… it has to look cool and easy to follow. That’s what they try to focus on,” she said.

Transcending Language

In my opinion, the most important part of K-pop is the music video. There is usually really cool dancing to the rhythm of the music. Some videos have street dancing or break dancing, but sometimes I see styles of dance that I’ve never seen before—often in a group of people, which makes the dance look cooler. It amazes me how a human can dance such a beautiful movement.

It is common for Chinese teens in the U.S. to be fans of K-pop, too. I found out more people in our school like K-pop, and it helped me make new friends. We always share and talk about the new songs when they come out. Sometimes I try to learn how they dance when I’m watching the videos alone at home, or with my friends, who always like to dance like the K-pop stars in gym class. Sometimes my friends and I laugh at each other trying to imitate the moves.

The language is not a problem even if you don’t speak Korean. In a way, it makes the music more mysterious. Anyway, I think Korean sounds beautiful when it’s sung. You don’t have to know the language to love it.

Help Youth Communication's teen writers make their voices heard. Donate now. Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.

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