Feature

Five Genres I’d Like To Hear K-Pop Embrace

K-pop tends to latch onto certain trends and drive them into the ground, whether they’re applicable to a song or not. But, global music is wide and varied, and the industry is at its best and most creative when it embraces that buffet of choices — both old and new.

(* the content of this feature has been edited from the original, which made needless, negative generalizations) 


1. Techno Rock

I’ve been calling for this one for years. Techno was never very mainstream in the States, but it made a huge impact in Japan during the mid-to-late 90’s, often accompanied by rock guitar to craft a compelling, bombastic brew. Korea also embraced techno in the 90’s, though the “rock” part of the equation was often lacking. Outside of Japan and several European markets, this genre’s never really gotten its due. Too often it was regarded as the sound of novelty acts. But, techno is ready for a reinvention, and K-pop could use the jolt of high-energy arrangements and stadium-ready choruses.




2. 80’s Pop

I don’t care whether you want to call it synthpop, synthwave, new wave, post-disco, or just straight-forward 80’s nostalgia. I’ll gladly take it all! The beauty of 80’s synths is their texture – bright and colorful and exciting. Too often, K-pop is relying on darker sounds, which may result in striking visual concepts but rarely crafts songs that bring joy to the listener. Of all the genres mentioned in this feature, I really do think 80’s synth/retro is where we’re heading. Global trends bear this out, and this summer in K-pop has already seen its share of retro fare.



3. Jackson-style Funk

I’m a little biased because my music taste spawned largely from Michael and Janet Jackson. I consider their work to be the pinnacle of pop in every way. It’s long been a strong influence on K-pop, particularly for SM Entertainment. But, that influence has waned over the past few years. I’d love to hear more echoes of the work they (and their contemporaries) helped popularize. Some New Jack Swing here, a burst of funk there — layers upon layers of rhythm, all anchored by an insistent snare that never drops out for some jarring half-time breakdown. But what really made the work of the Jacksons incredible was their ability to live within the music. Every vocal tic and flourish added to the groove. I want more idols to attack their music like this. It’s what made groups like SHINee so excellent.



4. Trance

Trance is one of my favorite EDM sub-genres, mostly because I love its euphoric nature. “Euphoric” isn’t a word I get to use nearly often enough when it comes to K-pop anymore. With trance, the key is layering sounds on top of each other, repeated like waves in a hypnotic structure that creates a sense of build and suspense. Tether this to a more traditional pop structure and you’ve got the ingredients for something quite compelling. With all the emphasis on stop/start arrangements and musical diversions, this generation of K-pop rarely lets a song build unencumbered. An influx of trance inspiration would help make that a more common approach.



5. Industrial

If we must go down a darker path, let’s do it in style. Industrial music has so much potential to capitalize on K-pop’s concept-heavy style. And, its lurching grooves even compliment what’s happening in so many idol tracks nowadays. But, I think it draws from a more interesting sound palette. Industrial’s heavy electronic backbeat is also a great support for robust melody and choruses. Sprinkle in some rap over the top, and you’ve got the seeds for really interesting, inventive material.


52 thoughts on “Five Genres I’d Like To Hear K-Pop Embrace

      • Something that just came to my mind: Do you know the genre “Glitch”? That would be also really interesting and special if a group would tackle this genre in my opinion. In case you don’t know this genre check out the electronic music group “The Glitch Mob” (very fitting name 😉 ). Some song recommendations: “We Can Make the World Stop”, “Fortune Days” and “We Swarm” (the last one has a great momentum build up).

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  1. I’d welcome all of these. Maybe not trance. Personally, it has a tendency to be annoying and I don’t really know why. But some Techno Rock or Industrial stuff would be pretty cool. I could see NCT doing Industrial stuff.

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    • I feel like the instrumental in NCT 127’s Chain is basically industrial! I personally love all the clings and clangs haha. I wouldn’t mind more “noise” music as long the production remains inventive.

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  2. I am biased towards any New Wave, so yes to Depeche Mode. “Strangelove” is the dark song they should all strive to emulate. Also, any Vince Clarke while we are at it, whether early Depeche Mode or Yaz/Yazoo or Erasure.

    And New Order.

    We are also way overdue for Stock-Aiken-Waterman flattery. Think Rick Astley – Banarama – Dead or Alive.

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    • As Kpop is in a lull, I’ve been getting into 80’s pop and one band I’ve been really into is New Order/Joy Division. I can imagine SM entertainment can incorporate something New Order-esque to their repertoire, but more-so along the lines of the album of Brotherhood. I can even imagine Day6 could do something along the lines of New Order too. Who knows?

      I saw another comment here that mentioned that Sunmi can do something like Running Up that Hill and after listening to Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love album, I can say that Sunmi could definitely venture off that route for her if she wants to continue off the momentum of Porappippam. One can only hope!

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  3. While they are at it, can they also expand what their songs are about? Anything other than love and loss. I know anything outside of =feelings= could be considered to be the third rail for kpop, but half of the songs I love have strong opinions, freely expressed.

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    • That’s a very ambitious wish. Kpop idols have to stay as vanilla as possible for marketing purposes and other than love and feelings I don’t see much that they can sing about that doesn’t end up being slightly opinionated and thus dividing listeners and not hitting the most common denominator. This isn’t new and I’m sure everyone is already aware.

      I, too, would like them to expand more to other subjects but they’d have to be more involved in the song writing or even concept planning and I don’t see that happening right now. I’d rather have only a few select groups more invested in their craft than 200 groups of which 190 churn out the same songs over and over. But honestly, as long as they keep the music fun I’m up for either deeper or shallower topics. It’s not really a deal breaker for me.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think Seventeen does this decently in many of their songs- they’re not very specific, but often touch on the struggles of life, working hard and taking time to rest. It’s like a friendly encouragement for fans.

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    • As far as I can tell, and I listen to a lot of kpop but not all kpop, I don’t think there are any good examples in SVT or BTS or almost anyone else’s discography for what I meant. Perhaps in some early TVXQ.

      I mean that in kpop, as it is, there is so much concern about not offending anyone’s sensibilities that the songs are always about feelings, love, loss, life’s challenges, perhaps boasting, perhaps some fun silly dance songs, and not much else, as Kpopmastered mentions above. No agency would take any risk in this direction.

      For every a-ha “Take On Me”, which I will admit was the first single I ever bought in my life, when we talk about retro times there were so many songs that were about death and despair and destruction, sex drugs rock’n’roll and government and faith and religion and the sacred and profane and profanity, and AIDS, and the cold war. Not social justice (that was more 60’s than 80’s), but raw and biting social commentary.

      These weren’t b-sides but charting promoted singles in the US or UK or both.

      Genesis “Land of Confusion” would not be made in kpop. Police “Synchronicity II” – real Jung, not watered down Jung. Sting “Russians”, about the cold war. “Der Kommissar” about being stalked by the secret police. All the anti-apartheid songs, Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, “Sun City”. New Order “True Faith” and U2 “Bad” about losing friends to drug addiction. Grandmaster Flash “White Lines”, more drugs. Fun fact: Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA” is actually a war protest song, go on, go read the lyrics, it isn’t patriotic at all.

      Heck, every single U2 song ever up until about 1987-88ish is About Something. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” about the Troubles. Or these brilliant lyrics about MLK Jr “Early morning, April 4, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last they took your life, they could not take your pride” from U2 Pride.

      And certainly kpop will never have Nena “99 Luftballons”, in which nuclear war starts when a child’s balloons float over the border in the cold war. Written and sung by West Germans about their very real cold war going on right then and there. The song hit #2 on the Billboard charts. (“Rock Me Amadeus” also in German, hit #1 on the Billboard US charts, a little rap ditty about Mozart. It happens to repeat the line “Rock Me Amadeus” some 80 or 120 times or more, but it is still a great song.)

      Third rail for kpop. Ain’t happening.

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      • AkMu “Dinosaur” came to mind late last night. Its about the Repo man coming to their house when they were kids, told from the child’s perspective. Good song. I had a car-full of girl scouts screaming DINOSAUR and the high whoops late one rainy night on the way home from a camping trip which adds to the fondness.

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      • Yeah, I get what you mean. You want something more personal, or with more of an opinion/message and less generic. Although Svt and BTS do not just write love/loss songs, their lyrics do stay relatively vague and general. It makes sense because 1) they can’t risk offense and 2) generic is also more widely relatable.
        It can make for very samey and less impactful songs for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I feel as though you’ve switched up the criteria a little– from just “songs that aren’t only about love or loss” to songs with a clear political message, and also not just b-sides! I certainly agree that in this area, kpop is lacking, and probably will continue to be.

        BUT– BUT!!!! What if I told you that there is a song that immediately popped to mind for me that is about EXACTLY one of the topics you mentioned: losing a friend to drug abuse? And what if I told you this song was written by a member of BTS, who might actually be pictured in my own icon….? That’s right…!!!!

        …It’s “Dear My Friend” from Suga’s mixtape D-2 that came out in March. Of course, this is hardly a title track, but it is a hugely popular mixtape from a member of the most popular boy group in the world.

        Another thing that’s interesting about this song is that Yoongi repurposed some of his lyrics from “Spring Day” (2017) (or maybe he originally wrote them for this song; I think that’s more likely). You can hear them at about 1:57 in this track. To your point, “Spring Day” is a huge mainstream #1 hit and it is, of course, much more vague in its subject matter. Because of this inclusion, we can infer now that “Spring Day” was, for Yoongi at least, about losing his friend to drug addiction as well, but he couldn’t include that specific material in their #1 hit song because that’s not the kind of industry that they operate within.

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        • .
          Yes, like this! This is About Something.

          This song isn’t my personal style at all, but that said, this song has real raw experience at its core. In a way it is like Pink’s “Who Knew” which broaches the same topic about one of her childhood friends.

          The difference is that in the US pop market, Pink can release her song as a promoted single with MV and radio play and sell 1.7 million copies (real copies, not streaming – the song predates streaming), while in the kpop market Suga’s gets relegated to B-side on his alter ego mix tape with a 3rd party lyric video.

          So can you imagine if Suga, not Agust D, would be able to release a song like this for realz.

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          • re: your last point I WOULD LIVE FOR THAT!!!! lol. Yoongi/Suga is my ult and unlike a lot of his stans, I was never too into the “Agust D” concept, mostly because it obviously is an “alter ego” as you’ve said. And I wish he could release this type of music “as himself,” but because of how the industry works, it’s almost like he has to adopt this other persona in order to release material that is more “genuine.” Actually, one of the first things that really attracted me to him was this song “The Last” from his first mixtape in 2016, where he very frankly speaks about his depression and suicidal thoughts.

            I mean, the song itself is not really to my taste (neither is “Dear My Friend” incidentally, I prefer his louder/faster/more upbeat stuff) but I was really moved to see an idol speaking about mental health in that way.

            (Incidentally I also can’t stand “Who Knew” lol. And based on my Google of P!nk’s lyrics, they are actually quite vague. I bet she was very candid in interviews about the backstory of that song, which is an obvious difference from the culture in S.Korea etc. But I think maybe the main issue here is that personal details are not very catchy and snappy and don’t work super well in a mainstream pop song for that reason. That’s why Yoongi used his “Is it you who changed or is it me” lyrics for Spring Day but didn’t include the following lyrics which are like “WHY DID YOU NOT CALL ME BACK ON MAY 15TH 2004… SO JARED IF YOURE LISTENING–“)

            That being said, Yoongi has explored themes like this in his work with BTS (and to some extent the rest of the group has too), even if they are more on the “vague” side than the Agust D material. To me the obvious example here is “Interlude: Shadow” which was promoted as a comeback trailer. It also SCHLAPPPPSSS!!!!!! In my opinion lol

            I think he’s obviously talking about his own mental health struggle, losing his identity and becoming a greedy monster due to fame etc. I mean just because he’s not reading out his diary entries doesn’t mean it’s all fluff. I think their single “Black Swan” was the same way. It’s a big-budget pop hit that’s about the fear of falling out of love with music and the ego death that’d come with that as a musician.

            I don’t mean to say that BTS are necessarily an exception in this way btw, I’m just not really qualified to speak on anyone else’s discography to this extent. I guess my overall point is just that I don’t think it’s entirely true that mainstream kpop is all style and little to no lyrical substance, because the most popular kpop act in existence right now released an album earlier this year that was themed entirely around Jungian psychoanalysis lol.

            Also, the first generation of kpop was all about political statements to a certain extent– especially Seo Taiji & The Boys, and H.O.T. with “Warrior’s Descendent.” BTS are definitely in conversation with them even now. Their early stuff, especially, fit right into the kind of “downtrodden young people rise up” political statement those big big sunbaes used to have…

            Sorry for my long ass comments lol! I just think this is interesting.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Italo disco please! Dua Lipa’s Physical has just proved that it certainly can be adapted to 2020 charts-friendly songs.

    I’d also kill for more of those throbbing synth songs in the vein of Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. There are a lot of successful examples in western pop (Taylor Swift’s Style, Ariana Grande’s Love Me Harder…) but I just can think of one k-pop song that matches that description (U&I by BoA).

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  5. 80s nostalgia retro concepts have honestly been my favorite part of kpop this year! Retro love by Boyhood, Count 1,2 by TOO, Pporappimppam (did I spell that right?) by Sunmi, and 1-Billion views by Exo-sc have all been breathes of fresh air compared to the bland waves of trap heavy songs.

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  6. I can get behind the 80’s pop and the Jackson funk. It’s interesting, despite not living through that era, I really REALLY like it. My friends think I’m weird and say that those kinds of music is outdated, and say “trap music is THEEEE JAM!” while doing those silly hand gestures when listening to it.

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  7. Yes to 80’s pop and Jackson-style funk. Despite being born in the 2000s I’m such a sucker for that type of music. Anything retro is my weakness.

    Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but dubstep seems to be making a comeback in K-pop.

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    • Man I feel this so hard. I think I would just keel over. My biggest delulu Kpop fantasy is Dreamcatcher one day hitting the mainstream and starting a heavy guitar driven trend.

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  8. The first three are the best!
    I hope 2021 might consume anyone of these!

    And I agree on Trance to!

    Or if maybe there is another genre then I’ll take it!

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  9. Yes please, trap music needs to take step back. If I hear the same old trap beats one more time.. I’m also hoping for a resurgence of pop in mainstream music over at the western hemisphere. The pop & R&B ladies are releasing some of this years best albums. For those of you who haven’t listened to Rina Sawayama yet, please do. You won’t regret it!

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    • YES! Rina Sawayama!!!
      I completely fell in love with her music this year. She’s incredible!!!
      Cyber Stockholm Syndrome instantly became one of my favorite songs ever.

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  10. Sorry, commenting again because I NEED to thank you for including Techno Rock here! Until today I did not know this genre existed, now I think it might just be my favourite genre of music. ever. The pool bit boys are certainly going to stick around on my playlist.

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    • Well, you’ve got a LOT to listen to, my friend! Start with anything produced by Daisuke Asakura, including my favorite 90’s J-pop legend T.M.Revolution. (Also, both of Pool Bit Boys’ albums are pure gold. I’ll be forever angry that their career was so short)

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      • Thanks for the recommendations! This is the kind of music I just never find on my own somehow. What a shame about the Pool Bit Boys … I absolutely love everything I’ve listened to from them.

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        • Not that you asked specifically, but you showed interest… and that’s enough for me!

          Here’s a starter list of some of my absolute favorite songs of this era/genre. There’s so much more than this, but if I were making a killer playlist it would look something like this:

          Ayumi Hamasaki – Boys & Girls
          Ayumi Hamasaki – Fly High
          Every Little Thing – Dear My Friend
          Every Little Thing – Feel My Heart
          Every Little Thing – Future World
          Favorite Blue – True Gate
          Iceman – Dark Half (Touch Your Darkness)
          Iceman – What’s Wrong?
          m.o.v.e. – Rage Your Dream
          Mad Soldiers’ Laboratory – Time In My Heart
          Namie Amuro – Body Feels Exit
          Nanase Aikawa – Love
          Pool Bit Boys – Fantastic Sign
          Pool Bit Boys – Lunatic Treasure
          Pool Bit Boys – Spiral
          Pool Bit Boys – Sunshine
          Pool Bit Boys – Wingbeat
          T.M.Revolution – Black Or White
          T.M.Revolution – Burnin’ X-Mas
          T.M.Revolution – Fragile
          T.M.Revolution – High Pressure
          T.M.Revolution – Hot Limit
          T.M.Revolution – Wild Rush
          TRF – Masquerade
          V6 – Be Yourself!!
          V6 – Puzzle
          V6 – Take Me Higher
          V6 – To Be Free

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          • Awesome, thank you so much! I wouldn’t have asked assuming you’re pretty busy already- much appreciated 😀 I already have all those Pool Bit Boys songs in my playlist haha.

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  11. As a child of the golden age of ItaloDisco and Synthpop, grown up (over)listening to Den Harrow, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, I would love KPop to walk the path of 80’s Nostalgia.
    BUT we have to be honest: although korean producers seem to know very well how to deal with it brightly – the amazing When We Disco is just the latest proof – korean people don’t seem to be that much excited about it, and its marketing potential barely fit the quality of the productions. Think about Snuper, whose best title tracks were amazing tribute to the 80s but never really worked in terms of awareness and sales, or Boyfriend, whose synthpop masterpieces were not enough to give them a deserved place in history. Apart from very few exceptions, 80’s Nostalgia is not exactly the easiest way to hit the charts in Korea, and this could be the reason why lots of productions are hidden or unknown treasures (for example, I do *LOVE* WayV’s After Midnight, but who else gave it a f**k but me? I guess no one) rather than title tracks.

    Regarding industrial, I remember I wrote on a comment at the beginning of 2019 that to me it was the right direction to embrace the “good girl gone bad” concept, but it’s clear I failed the forecast. There are so many good acts KPop could inspire to (Blutengel, Apoptygma Berzerk, Funker Vogt, VNV Nation, Project Pitchfork just to mention some) but I suppose they’re not under any radar at all, unlike that annoying and disturbing preteen-emo-trap-edm that’s been filling tons of title tracks for the last two years.

    As we’ve always said, small companies and small groups would have nothing to lose but they’re not so keen on experimenting new styles or genres, while big companies of course are used to to produce only what’s effortlessly trending and selling on the largest scale.
    With that said, this summer brought us some unexpected surprises (the bombastic 1The9’s Bad Guy, SF9, Monsta X’s Reckless which has the same synth riff as Umberto Tozzi’s Gloria) and it looks like the new ep by Oneus and Dynamite by BTS can sign a new beginning in this unlucky 2020. Fingers crossed.

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    • “When we disco” did wind up in the Gaon top ten for downloads, as did Oh My Girl “Dolphin” which isn’t even being promoted. (Also Jessi Nunu nana, well, alright, ok, you go girl!)

      But generally speaking, yes. The Korean public have their own tastes. At least half of it is ballads, OST, and karoaoke favorites. Half of the other half is the usual big groups. That means that all of us here who listen to all this kpop every day are in a strange position: we are listening to the fringe sect of music from a foreign country in a foreign language. My sister when I give her the semi-annual “what’s new in kpop” revue, always turns to me, slurps her drink, and says, “so, um, remind me again why you don’t listen to, like, regular stuff”?

      To me the 80’s influences have some of the mechanics of the era’s sound down but none of the heart and soul down at all. So I vascillate from not giving a fig if anyone else tries it to just wishing they would try harder, and back.

      OK, why I really clicked reply: I care about Wayv! I bought the whole physical album for darling daughter who is taking Mandarin. She now has a lovely poster of Ten hanging up in her room. But “After Midnight” isn’t very 80’s to me; its mainstream 3rd gen to me.

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      • WayV’s album is really great. It’s eclectic without feeling disjointed, and packed with solid songs. If she’s looking for similar Mandarin-language acts, I’d recommend albums by ONER, R1SE, Wu Jiacheng, X-Nine and Nine Percent.

        And as far as 80’s pastiches go, I’m not picking. In fact, the cheesier the better for me.

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  12. Now I’m dreaming of Sunmi doing something like Running Up That Hill. Like she’s legit so emotive and charismatic, and has already given me that wistful sadness with Heroine.

    And I’ll die standing behind the idea that Luna should do new jack swing. Her voice is so POWERFUL and she’s such a great dancer. I’m crossing my fingers that with her new company she’ll move on from the boring ass ballads SM got her to release after Free Somebody.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, so you have JACOB from one of my comments up above, and I’ll add myself as well, saying yes to Kate Bush. I might argue Sunmi’s “Noir” is already half-way there.

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  13. Literally a day before you posted this I was suggesting to a friend that K-Pop should have more industrial influences. I even suggested the exact same NIN song as an example!! That kind of electronic-influenced industrial would be so exciting especially for groups like Dreamcatcher and VIXX. Influences from more EBM-y acts like Skinny Puppy, Front 242, and DAF would be awesome too. Industrial Hip Hop is also a thing so rap already has its place in the genre!!

    I also think Itzy should go down a punk/riot grrrl kind of route. Give a good justification for all that shouting!! Early Le Tigre, Cibo Matto, etc.

    I’ve been reading this site for a while, maybe I ought to become a commenter!

    Liked by 1 person

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