Of all the genres in music, it’s safe to say K-pop is one of the most inherently visual. Taking cues from multiple cultures, spanning all continents, the genre can sometimes yield some truly magnificent music and music videos.
However, with that comes the assertion of many non-Korean artists, particularly those who are very Anglo and very “Western” (in all the ways that could mean), that they should have a shot at some of the fame afforded by the bright, lucrative K-pop industry, an industry that’s rapidly becoming a viable contender in the pop market in North America and Europe.
With that comes a whole new set of issues, the foremost being a lack of respect: most directly the assumption that it’s a genre that can be easily duplicated with a lot of flash and craziness, never mind that what genuinely separates it from other pop music is the “K” — that is, the genre is almost exclusively written and performed in Korean.
With artists like Chad Future and rumored groups with all Western, all white members, there’s a case to be made that K-pop in and of itself isn’t a genre to be respected and is, in fact, a commodity that’s easily duplicated by anyone with a big enough bank account and big enough Savior Complex to pull it off.
That being said, there are so many artists who both musically and visually have such a keen love for their craft and an alternative view on what pop music is and could be, I believe, the ones who could adopt K-pop and give it the respect it deserves.
Many, including some of our own readers, are prone to believe K-pop isn’t worth the insight; however, I think it bears some consideration. Which artists could possibly see K-pop as a legitimate art form and give it a new spin, certainly the same visual impressiveness? Now bearing in mind this would require them to at least learn enough Korean to pen a track, the following artists could actually give it a shot, paying homage to a pop subgenre that’s making its way into a worldwide consciousness.
As always I have a couple ground rules:
1. No one that’s no longer with us. There are some artists who’ve passed on who would’ve loved to sink their teeth into K-pop; however, without them around to even tickle the possibility, there’s really no point to add them, yes? That’s why as much as I’d love to add Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes to the list, unfortunately for all of us, there’s not a chance for her to make that wish a reality.
2. They must be currently active in some fashion and, if with groups, must be complete. So if they’ve not been active for the past five years, then no dice.
Now without any further gilding of the lily, I give you my list of artists and groups (in alphabetical order) who I think could give K-pop the respect it deserves as a viable form of pop music.
1. André 3000
As half of one of the most innovative and creatively avant garde acts in hip-hop, Andre Benjamin, known more commonly by his stage name André 3000, has reshaped the way people envision hip-hop and its connection to pop music. He’s helped usher in an era in which people can be flamboyant, creative and wild and stray completely from the path of what rap should be, pushing the limits of what it could be.
With his mindbending lyricism and his stratospheric flow, no one can deny that he’s one in million when it comes to the image of hip-hop. Thus, I think with his eye on things unique and certainly out of mainstream Western consciousness, his interpretation of K-pop would not only be respectful, but also add new dimension to the genre.
There’s no denying that Björk has been one of the most nuanced and evolutionary artists in music history. She’s a pixie of a woman with a big voice, a big heart and a big mind meant to mold and create sounds and images that always challenge, provoke and, at times, confuse. She’s always believed what she makes is pop music, pared down to its most primal elements. It has to be impressive, has to grab your attention and has to have that “X factor” that keeps you coming back for more.
For the better part of 25 years, Björk has done that almost better than anybody. Her signature Icelandic ad libbing and scatting in her songs makes a point that many people have made before: as long as it touches you in some way, language is arbitrary. Her interpretation of pop is perfect for K-pop, a genre that derives much of its composition from Western influences while still maintaining something uniquely and proudly Korean, much in the same way Björk’s music is proudly Icelandic.
3. Daft Punk
Pop music’s true space cowboys, the duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have created some of the most awe-inspiring music taken straight from the farthest reaches of the solar system. Their 2013 sensation Random Access Memories pretty much created pop music anew. With a nuanced reimagining of dance music, the group of musicians has repeatedly reinvented the genre and given listeners and viewers alike something to feast on.
Their visual album Discovery, set to an anime story of an alien pop band, is indicative of the type of full-sensory experience they offer fans. Their love of experimentation and certainly their affinity for dance music make them prime candidates for a K-pop smash. Their lyrics are usually quite simple unless they’re collaborating with another artist, but there’s no doubt in my mind they’d be willing to try their hand at the musicality of the Korean language to frame their interplanetary music.
4. FKA Twigs
Okay. So this woman’s voice and her entire visual persona is sugar, spice and everything fierce and nasty. The soft prettiness of her voice belies her lyrical toughness and the images she sets them to. She’s the type of raw and unapologetic artist that could give K-pop a few thousand volts of electricity, the likes of which the genre probably hasn’t really seen since artists such as the ever-evolving Lee Jung-hyun and the earliest days of BoA and Kahi.
She’s powerful and frightening, a combination that K-pop may need. To know her music and her videos is to either be confused or fearful of her or to want to adorn the ground she walks on with kisses and tears. That sounds a bit like the idols fangirls and boys worship, yes? And what an idol she’d be.
Without a doubt one of the most charismatic, nuanced voices in pop music today, this Kiwi vocalist is equal parts soul, R&B and dramatic pop. While she errs on the more soul and blues side, her R&B-infused pop leaves room for some truly exceptional music videos that are both awe-inspiring and full of visual images that remain imprinted on a viewer’s psyche long after the final frame.
She’s an artist who could take K-pop and put some meat on its bones. Add a layer of soul and vocal power to the watery tones of Korean. and her fondness for the likes of Jeff Buckley, Mary J. Blige, TLC and other artists of a generation of “’90s Babies,” you’ve got an artist who is the sum of all of her influences and more, much in the same way K-pop tends to accumulate influences and create its core pop sound.
6. Little Mix
Honestly, when I first saw them, I thought of them as the British Miss A. I hadn’t heard anything so infectiously pop since the Spice Girls, especially when it came to the ladies. They’ve got the vocal fortitude and visual appeal to actually pull off a K-pop concept with some integrity and genuine energy. They dance hard and with authority, while still maintaining powerful and impressive harmonies and group unity. And let’s not forget that they have already dipped their toes in the water, with a Korean version of “Wings.”
7. Nicki Minaj
Barring my actual thoughts on Nicki, there’s no doubt that she has a visual grandness that makes her prime for K-pop. Having already dabbled at least superficially in the genre with her video for “Check It Out,” her collaboration with Will.i.am, she has something that millions of people are drawn to much in the same way people are inexplicably drawn to a genre performed in a language they’re unfamiliar with. Whether it’s her brazenness, her flamboyant visual style, or her representation of female anatomy in the spirit of womanhood, you can’t deny her appeal. She has a respect for people that many fail to see or even mention.
Whether or not I actually believe her some poster child for feminism, I do recognize her as a positive person who really just wants things to sparkle and make people smile. She does that in a way that’s very similar to the effect K-pop has on millions of people all over the world. If she truly wanted to, I think she’d embrace the Korean language and create some music and MVs on par with her K-pop counterparts.
8. Spice Girls
Not much can be said about this group, one of the best-selling (if not, the best selling) female groups of all time. Before Little Mix, there was the Spice Girls. These five women really redefined pop music in the ’90s. With everything being about boy groups, especially in Britain and the US, this quintet of neighborhood girls was singular in their solidarity and definitely had a message that anyone can get behind.
They represented something very positive that for a singular moment in the mid-late ’90s gave millions of girls and boys something exceptional to believe in: that no matter who they were, what they wanted to be, they could achieve that with a little bit of positive energy and a whole lot of ambition.
Barring how the years between the eventual departure of Geri Halliwell (known by her stage persona Ginger Spice) and their reunion tour with all five women present and accounted for, the group itself has a love of every culture and anything that brought some sunlight to the world. And who doesn’t want to get behind that? With their flash, unique identities and their infectious pop songs, I think if there’s one girl group that could epitomize everything K-pop, it’s the Spice Girls.
Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, as with any of my lists. But when I sat down and thought long and hard about it, these are the artists who instantly popped in my head being able to bring something genuine to K-pop, giving it the respect that some of these “artists” who want a slice of the K-pop pie lack. Which artists or groups do you see trying their hand at the ever-growing genre and handling it with dignity?