Did you know that in years gone by, music was widely considered an intellectual pursuit? Music was meant to edify; to challenge you; to make you think. Artists wrote poetry set to music. They would strive to inspire their audiences with the beauty of their words.
In American pop culture, the trend has taken a wrong turn somewhere.
A very wrong turn.
Now, I’m not here to pretend Kpop is akin to classical music; that BigBang is Bach or BTS is Beethoven. But when your competition is entirely dependent on barely coherent lyrics and sex-drenched videos, it’s refreshing when someone comes along and raises the bar.
When I first found Kpop, I’d already turned off the radio in my car. My kids had reached an age where they were constantly asking “What’s this song about?” There are only so many ways you can skirt the answer when, song after song, the answer is the same: sex. I like a good dance song as much as the next person. I love to whip and nae nae to an infectious beat. But I’m a married mom of three so club hook-up culture doesn’t really speak to me anymore.
I was beginning to think I was simply to old for pop music. Then I found BTS. It was great music that was fun to listen to! And bonus! I didn’t have to worry about my kids hearing terrible lyrics because, even if the song was terrible, it was all in Korean anyway.
But I was curious so I looked up what the songs were about — and they weren’t terrible. They were actually pretty good. Take BTS’s song, Dope.
I stay up all night to work, every day
While you’re playing in the club, yeah
So, don’t play and listen every day.
Um. That’s kind of the opposite of every rap song I’ve heard recently. And it’s something I can say to my kids. “You want to be awesome like BTS? Then listen to their advice and work hard.”
Shortly after Dope had me smiling like a dope (sorry, couldn’t resist), I found Baepsae (Silver Spoon). A little taste of the song for you doubters and disbelievers:
At my part time job, it’s “all for experience”.*
At school, there’s the teachers.
My superiors use violence.
In the media they go on about “the generation that’s given up.”
Not only did the lyrics not suck, but they inspired me. I did a bunch of research on cultural issues relevant to the youth of South Korea so I could better understand the concerns being addressed in the song.
You guys. I researched. Another culture. FOR FUN. Because of Kpop.
But what has been BTS’s crowning achievement on my cultural Kpop journey? I mean, I know they’re not done with me yet, but when Blood, Sweat and Tears came out, those boys motivated me (and thousands of others) to go read the classic novel Demian by Herman Hess so I could decode the music video.
In interviews, Rap Monster made it clear Demian was the inspiration for Blood, Sweat and Tears. When was the last time an American pop star cited a book — ANY book — as the inspiration for a song? And no, you can’t count the one time Ludacris rap-read Llama Llama Red Pajama.
Let’s review for a minute: After watching an Ariana Grande video, I need to take a shower and bleach my eyes. After watching a BTS video, I’m inspired to embark on a journey of learning and self-discovery. (Full disclosure: I teach myself the dance first, then I go off on the learning journey.)
Whenever someone sneers at Kpop because, “don’t those guys wear make-up?” and “Aren’t they just glorified peacocks?”, I get all twitchy. Maybe Kpop isn’t for you. That’s cool. But please don’t pretend that when you’re cranking the top 40 in your car, you’re musical taste is above mine.
So if you’re a fellow fan like me, or if this post has convinced you to give BTS a try, click the video below to see one of my all-time favorites from this talented group.