Are we living in a Kpopcore world?

Like obscenity, K-pop isn’t easily definable but you know it when you see it. It’s because of this that I think everyone should stop trying say where K-pop is an industry, genre, culture, or something else.

Kpopcore, your time has come.

For anyone not in the know, a core, as per this handy Mashable definition, is internet slang for a grouped vibe, usually applied to audio-visual content: “In the modern internet age, the -core suffix is used to describe shared ideas of culture, genres, or aesthetics and groups them all into one set category.”

If that doesn’t sound like K-pop in a nutshell, I don’t know what it is.

This is probably obvious to others, but it hit me that K-pop is most easily explained as a “core” when I was watching the “What the K” episode of TVING’s K-pop Generation docuseries, available on Viki in the US. Everyone was trying to explain what K-pop is or isn’t, and how important Koreanness to it is or isn’t, sharing their thoughts on what this thing, this entity, this feeling, this music is actually or is actually not. (I happen to be featured in the ep, but talking about something different, spoiler!)

One aspect, if you ask many people, about Korean popular music that is distinct is ppong, a type of rhythmic soul derived from earlier popular Korean music, namely trot. “Ppong is a concept that simultaneously exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time,” claims Weverse Magazine in an interview with producer 250 (he co-wrote some of New Jeans songs) about the release of his album Ppong, through which he tried to create music around this vague, but intense, idea of what ppong is and is not. “250 concluded that ppong is ‘a feeling of needing to dance even if you’re sad.’ PPONG is a lonely work.”

I’m not sure if ppong and Kpopcore are the same thing, but I think ppong is another term out there to describe what we’re listening to without really saying it when we’re talking about what K-pop is so I wanted to highlight it.

Trying to define K-pop, or really any music format, is something as ephemeral as a feeling to someone who has never felt it, or a color to someone who has never experienced it. We can try, and as a music writer heaven knows I’ve tried, but the feeling itself cannot be explained until you’ve experienced it. That’s why two K-pop songs can sound incredibly different, but still feel related; they’re part of the same core at heart.

Now, is K-pop synonymous with Kpopcore? I don’t think so, though they’re part of the whole. But I think when we’re seeing acts or industries take inspiration from K-pop and looking for a name for them, because heaven only knows why humanity demands labels for everything, Kpopcore can be an answer here.

Japanese, K-pop-feeling girl group XG

JYP’s Japanese girl group NiziU, Avex’s Japanese, Korean-produced, English-singing hitmakers XG, even Hong Kong boy band Mirror… When you see a music video by Megan Trainor or a Tiktok dance trend take off and these all feel like K-pop but aren’t, but Kpopcore can be a quick catchall that fits.

I asked on Twitter what people think of Kpopcore, and only two people responded, one sharing Fifty Fifty’s Cupid as an example, and the other saying “Kpop abs” (love you both!) There aren’t a whole lot of tweets containing the word, and when I google, only defunct IG accounts show up.

@tamarwrites tweet: What does kpopcore mean to you, dated March 19, 2023, 10:47PM EST

Does this really matter? No. Someone’s going to come into the comments and be like, this is dumb Tamar! Core’s aren’t created or determined this way. That’s fine. But I feel like it is important to know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about complex things.

And a note…Speaking of complex things, I wrote this before a certain newscycle hit yesterday. Being Jewish and someone who covers K-pop professionally, I feel like I should be writing and publishing something about it, but tbh the past day has been rough if you’ve been reading what people are actually saying, and I decided to publish the earlier kpopcore edition I had written. I wrote something yesterday about the topic and it felt futile to engage with, so ultimately deleted it. May write something later. We shall see, I guess.

What I’m listening to

Aside from the earworm that is Kai’s Rover, nothing new really caught my ear recently that makes me want to put it on repeat for days, which kind of bums me out.

Any recs? I’d love to discover something new! Please share in the comments if you have any recent faves.

Although not much new musically has been resonating, I have recently got into podcasts! It’s a K-pop Thing is a really fun one by some friends of mine that I’ve been checking out, which blends interviews with K-pop acts, journalism, and fan perspective. Alexis and Theresa are great, and the first few episodes were really engaging. I’m excited to see where it’ll go with future episodes, and hope more people will take a listen.

What I’m reading

Axie Oh’s XOXO is the upcoming book for that book club I launched a few weeks ago. I’ve been kinda wallowing in melodrama and the dark news places of the internet, so between this and watching The Mandalorian and Ted Lasso, I’m enjoying a break from day-to-day dreariness.

What I’m working on

Shoutout to Music Journalism Insider, a great newsletter that gave my piece on K-pop fan labor a nod in the most recent edition.

I did a quick piece for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore of some street fashion looks at Seoul Fashion week from Instagram. I went to SFW back in March 2013 back when I was a little itty bitty college student studying abroad in Seoul, and it was tiny, at least to my eyes. I don’t remember what show I attended or what celebs were there, but I do remember that I was only like three rows back and tickets were either free or cost under $50 USD. Really amazing to see how far SFW’s come, with South Korean designers getting global attention.

On TikTok, I’m still trying to figure out the best approach to K-pop newstelling, and I decided to take a break and have some fun by making a quick video the other day about the five questions people tend to ask me when they hear about what I do for a living. Hope you enjoy, and if you have any tips re how to TikTok, please hit your girl up because I need help, obviously!

@tamartoks5 questions people ask when they hear I am a #journalist covering #kpop.

Tiktok failed to load.

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