In our continuing desire to encourage those planning events to include music from other cultures – especially when they know there will be a significant number of guests from other cultures present – we’d like to give you a basic introduction in how to include Korean pop music (often referred to as “K-pop”) at your event. K-pop is a fun, generally upbeat but very wide-ranging genre in its sound, and in the past decade it has been growing in its exposure to American audiences and it has even broken into the American Billboard pop charts.
When many think of Korean music – especially if they have no exposure to what modern Korean pop music sounds like, stereotypes from movies and television may make them think of cartoonishly traditional music – somehow there’s the sound of soothing pipes, or mystical drum rhythms, right? Well, no. In fact, not at all, thankfully. Korean pop music couldn’t be further from a sound that’s seen as stereotypically, traditionally “Asian.” While the styles of modern Korean pop are varied, it’s a quite accessible genre – often being very catchy and danceable, and at times the lyrics even are partially sung in English. And while K-pop is commonly used as a term to include straight-ahead pop groups (Wonder Girls, pictured at top) and artists with an R & B-influenced sound (the singer Rain, pictured furthest below) or a hip-hop-influenced sound (the group DJ Doc, pictured at middle), the K-pop mood in general feels like a nicer, slightly warmer version of today’s American pop music genres. A derisive stereotype I’ve heard at times among those who have a bit of familiarity with K-pop is that it tends to all sound like too-sugary bubblegum pop, but today that’s not accurate at all. K-pop isn’t all overly sweet, but it is often a bit more friendly-sounding - snotty diva or coarse, ego-consumed rapper personas don’t seem as prevalent as they are on the current American charts.
This background info is all to reassure you of one thing – you shouldn’t hesitate to include Korean pop at an event where it’s requested, or where you think it might work! In our experience, this is especially true if you’re having an event with younger Korean guests – approximately those between the ages of 20 and 40. Whether it’s a half-Korean wedding reception or a corporate party where many of the employees are of a Korean background, including some K-pop will definitely raise the energy of the event to a higher level. We’ve found at events where we’ve DJ-ed K-pop for Korean guests that that the younger crowd always appreciates it, especially toward the end of the event, when they’ve had a few drinks and we pull out some K-pop from a decade or a decade-and-a-half ago and take them on a refreshing nostalgia sing-a-long trip. As a plus, often younger guests who have Chinese or Japanese backgrounds likely will recognize some of the bigger K-pop hits from now and the past ten or so years, as K-pop artists are often marketed to China and Japan.
It’s understandable to be a bit intimidated, though, by the prospect of including music that is not well-known in the
So, how do find out the right kind of artists and songs? First, simply ask your guests if they’d like a few K-pop songs and/or for some names of artists they like. Also, make sure to ask your DJ how familiar they are with the Korean music and what they would suggest that works for younger Korean guests. And, of course, it’s always quick and easy to do a little on-line research yourself on who the hot groups are in the world of Korean music today. And while this music is sometimes not available to users of the American iTunes store, in our experience, if asked, guests wanting this music at their event will know where to find it and provide you with it.
Here’s some examples of K-pop that we often spin: The first song is a 2007 hit by the Wonder Girls, “Tell Me,” an example of a Korean pop song that is fun, danceable and very accessible to American ears, featuring a dash of an ’80s retro freestyle sound. Next is “Run to You” by hip-hop group DJ Doc, an insanely catchy party anthem from the late ‘90s that now and then sounds like it could be could be the Asian cousin of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Last is a tune from 2008 by Korean superstar Rain called “Rainism,” a song that’s both edgy and smooth, and at times echoes Justin Timberlake and newer Kanye West.
Rain – Rainism