Music Monday: The Visual Aesthetic of Korean Pop

By Emily Stanton

MBLAQ at the 2012 K-POP World Festival.
MBLAQ at the 2012 K-POP World Festival.

Last year it was impossible to go three hours without hearing PSY’s “Gangnam Style” on Top 40 radio. For many Americans, this was the first time they heard South Korean music, but “Gangnam Style” only scratched the surface of what is Korean pop music. It’s more than music made in South Korea; it’s a subculture.

K-pop fans can be found globally, as evidenced by international Korean pop festivals. Popularity can be traced to the visual nature of the genre.

Music television in America is dead, but in South Korea music programming is very popular. Several programs – like M! Countdown, Music Bank and Inkigayo – are dedicated to music performances/videos. Idol groups and solo artists frequently make appearances on these shows, performing their newest single. Stars also appear on popular variety/talk shows.

K-pop music videos are a content powerhouse on YouTube, generating hundreds of millions of views. An international audience is gained through these videos. K-pop music videos are known for their production value. A lot of money and effort is put into these videos.

K-pop music videos heavily focus on fashion and dance.

Groups are known for their style shown in their music videos and performances. Fashion often is over the top and flamboyant. Crazy combinations and funky looks are common.


Each music video is also accompanied by a choreographed dance. When artists perform a certain song, live or on television, they do that particular dance. Fans learn their favorites. Groups often put out a dance version of a music video to make this easier.


Some stars treat their music videos like pieces of art, incorporating plots, symbolism or special effects. As seen with “Gangnam Style,” a popular music video will bring artist fame.


Emily Stanton is a co-host of K-pop radio show Seoulmates on You can tune in Mondays 3 to 5 p.m.


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