View Full Version : K-pop tropes and expectations

05-27-2019, 11:54 PM
I'm writing something as a gift for a friend, and the main conceit is going to be that the main characters are members of a high fantasy version of a k-pop group. Problem is, I'm not familiar with the fandom of any k-pop groups, and while researching individual groups was doable, researching the genre (or marketing sector) as a whole has been rough.

So I was wondering if anyone could give me a rough idea of the tropes that a person who likes k-pop might like to see used in a fantasy group (called k-scop in the story for reasons). Or also, any tropes that I should maybe avoid? Any guidance would be incredibly helpful. Thanks!

05-28-2019, 06:55 AM
What's K-pop?

05-28-2019, 09:56 AM
MaeZe: Korean pop music. There's also J-pop (Japanese pop music). Gangnam Style by Psy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0) is the most well known K-pop song outside of Korea and among people who don't follow K-pop - if you're not familiar with the song, bear in mind that it has a lot of elements of parody. The singer is making fun of rich Koreans: "Oppa Gangham Style" = Oppa has Gangham style = Oppa dresses in the fashion of the rich people in the Gangham district. The boy band BTS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BTS_(band)) is also well known worldwide - though my 12 year old daughter who's into Manga and Anime and is familiar with K-pop says that BTS isn't very good (obviously just her opinion).

Lissibith: Not sure how you would have a fantasy version of K-pop. A fantasy society that has its own style of music, a music industry and bands/groups with lots of fans is one thing. But specifically K-pop as opposed to other pop music - how would that work? Are you replicating Korean culture in a fantasy setting? That can be problematic (i.e. cultural appropriation and all the issues that go with it). If you mean the specific style of music - how do you convey any particular style of music in a fantasy setting? In other words, how is this a fantasy version of K-pop, as opposed to any kind of popular music with a large following?

It's not clear from your post if you are writing this commercially or not - what you mean as "a gift" - if this is something you're writing just for one friend as a gift and it's not going to be published or have any need for commercial success then you can probably make a fantasy version of your friend's favourite band and write it like the kind of fan fiction where the reader can put themselves in the story. But it's hard to give advice without more specific information about where you're going with it.

05-28-2019, 06:59 PM
Certainly. It's not a fantasy Korea, and it is just a gift, wholly noncommercial. I just want to make sure she enjoys it. :) Since she likes a lot of K-pop but doesn't have one "favorite" group, I would prefer not to parody one specific group -- especially since I'm personally uncomfortable using real people in fiction, however far removed.

I guess what I'm looking for is like, if it was a fantasy rock group, there would be long hair, and maybe a lot of black clothing depending on the group, and non-fans complaining it's too loud or violent.

Or if it was a fantasy western boy band, they'd have carefully attractive aesthetics, and a segment of the population would be dismissive of the music, and the fanbase would probably have a lot of ladies.

It may be that there's no generalized tropes like that for K-pop, which is perfectly fine. (Or they may just mirror the wider pop tropes for their genre, a la "boy bands" or "girl groups") It's just if there are, I wanted to be sure to work some of them in.

Cobalt Jade
05-28-2019, 07:21 PM
Go on over to Archiveofourown.com, look up the music fandom, and type in kpop. You'll see hundreds of fanfics about various groups.

05-28-2019, 09:40 PM
Tropes in K-pop:

"sex sells"
"perfect" skin and hair
bleached, dyed, and tinted hair
similar (plastic surgery enhanced) faces and (slim) body types
sassy women / pretty boys, athletic and symbolic dancing
high fashion aesthetics that lean into popular punk styles
ETA: queerbaiting

You'll see symbols of wealth and allusions to Western fairy tales. Larger boy bands and intense dance numbers differentiates K-pop from Western pop.

Parodies can make for fun research.


05-29-2019, 04:46 AM
I paid more attention to J-pop than K-pop about 10-15 years ago, so I'm a bit dated in my impressions, but there's some overlap/similarity, and some other points of contrast. One of the things I noticed was that the bands tend to be much larger than US bands--- there might be 5, 7, 10, or more members. Some bands would even have a large super-group, where everyone's a member of Band A--- and then they'll have smaller sub-groups where members 1, 2, and 3 are part of Sub-Band B, and members 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are part of Sub-Band C, and so on. (Shuffle units.) You might look into whether shuffle units are in K-pop, although it's my impression they don't share well. ;)

Visuals are always important. There's so much attention to great hair, amazing costumes, and so on. So if you wanted to really catch the spirit, I'd probably make this kind of project into something illustrated. The sound is all over the place, depending on the type of music they do... ballads vs bubblegum pop vs rap or r&b vs eurodiscopop vs alt vs pop rock vs electronic dance vs whatever.

When listening to people discussing the differences/relative merits of J-pop vs K-pop, one of the things that gets brought up is that the Japanese tend to be shorter than the Koreans, so the Japanese women end up taking more of the cute girl path in general, whereas the K-pop women are more mature. K-pop strives very hard to be international, whereas J-pop is much more rigid/less adventurous in trying to cover new territory--- but still manages to be far more weird. Likewise, the Japanese don't think that idols = artists, and they're okay with watching an idol develop over the course of a few years. On the other hand, there's a tremendously high bar for the K-pop artists--

“There are even idols (https://www.scmp.com/culture/music/article/2153915/why-japanese-pop-idol-trainees-are-no-match-south-korean-rivals) who sing while preparing noodles at restaurants in Japan. They are entertainers close to the fans, rather than artists with high levels of proficiency. According to their standards, Korean idols are overqualified,” says Lee, adding that South Korea’s lack of a diversified music market gave rise to the K-pop idol trend.
“To stand out in this single-function market, idols need to dance as good as professional dancers, sing as good as professional singers, be as good-looking as fashion models and even be able to write songs.”

So, not quite a trope, but a feature of a K-pop group is going to be they're a highly-trained, highly-professional, highly-polished group of achievers. None of them is going to be an ordinary, unmotivated slacker... they're all going to be insanely driven, insanely high achievers.

Later on, from a related article--

Debut is elusive, unlike in Japan where it is easier for idols to get a start and then can hone their skills and work on their appeal with the fans. Miyu Takeuchi said it wasn’t a difficult decision to leave a 10-year career with a top idol band AKB48 back home in Japan to sign with the K-pop agency Mystic Entertainment in March as a trainee.Even with her experience, she has seven hours of vocal training a day and two-hour dance lessons twice a week, plus early morning Korean lessons. She is not allowed to have a boyfriend but she says she has no regrets, despite the fact there is no guarantee she will make it.
“I don’t know how long my training period will be, but it has to reach a point where my coaches and management company say: ‘Miyu, you are a professional!’”

Apart from that-- some MV tropes can be found here (https://www.allkpop.com/article/2019/02/male-kpop-groups-mv-tropes), here (https://www.reddit.com/r/kpop/comments/a1mjgn/tropes_usually_found_in_kpop_videos_needed_for/), here (https://www.koreaboo.com/lists/kpop-concepts-top-10/). But it's not really trope-y, in the way that, say, a country music artist needs a belt buckle, a cowboy hat, and a song about their dog and a bad breakup. K-pop artists are more customized, down to the last details, to be a cohesive, super-personalized unit--

From another article--

The stars are entirely manufactured, and their content doubly so. Ryan Jhun, a South Korean music producer with his own production company, walked Quartz through the birth of a K-pop song:

"Usually we get a lead from the company, and based on that, we take about two weeks to a month to write a song, and deliver the record for the specific artist. It’s like making customized clothes for the artist. Creating everything as a package. If you listen to it, as a mathematical formula, it’s very eclectic: there’s pop, EDM, hip-hop. If [the song] is for an idol group, it needs to have tons of different color. There is someone who is the rapper, someone who is the soft vocalist … we put everything together."

South Korean entertainment companies meticulously design the entire culture around K-pop with specific images and aesthetics in mind; idols are singled out by talent-seeking agents when they’re barely teenagers and are put through a factory-like training process in which they learn etiquette and proper idol behavior that can take entire years. BTS, for instance—a seven-member male group that performed at KCON NY this year—is the product not of some haphazard teenage garage band fumbling, as you might initially believe, but a rigid two-year recruitment and establishment process.

Take a look at the individuals comprising K-pop’s girl and boy bands (big group acts like Seventeen, BIGBANG, Girls’ Generation, and EXO are vastly more popular than solo artists in the genre), and you’ll notice each member is a perfect complement to the others in every way: height, hair color, “personality.”

If Western radio’s Top 40 hits are already pretty synthetic, then K-pop is the ultimate distillation of that artificiality—a formulaic, paint-the-numbers approach to music that resembles an assembly line more than a genuine process of music discovery and production. K-pop is just like Max Martin, the Swedish hitmaker responsible for the success of Taylor Swift and Britney Spears—only on an industrialized scale. It’s One Direction, to the extreme.

Soo--- think about insanely talented, attractive people with perfect hair and fabulous outfits who form a perfect, functional group--- and give them an adventure that requires a certain amount of singing and dancing, and you'll be fine. :)

05-29-2019, 07:08 PM
Thank you all so much! This is fascinating, and incredibly helpful. The super focused and personalized stuff was something I had been seeing in my reading, but hadn't really realized I was seeing it until you pointed it out since it wasn't set out explicitly - more just part of the overall background the writers expected readers would know already. I really appreciate the help!