BTS and Blackpink
The K-Pop groups, BTS (left) and Blackpink (right). Despite the language barrier, many fans can't get enough of K-pop's catchy tunes and electrifying performances. Image Credit: BigHit official and Instagram/@blackpink

Always wondered why tweens this generation like a type of music they most probably don’t understand the language of, such as K-pop, Jpop, Cpop, Ppop, etc.

What makes them like the music? What’s in it that attracts them?

K-pop is a good starting point with its massive global fan base, especially in the UAE. I am a tween fan too, but when I was asked, why my friends and I like this genre of music, I was a bit perplexed.

Despite the language barrier, many fans can't get enough of K-pop's catchy tunes and electrifying performances. However, wait a minute, if they don't even understand the lyrics, why bother, right?

I decided to find out by speaking to tweens and teens in the UAE. Their responses resonate and probably display the changing world of global music.

So what exactly is K-pop?

It is a musical genre from Korea encompassing a variety of styles and influences, and part of the global Hallyu Wave.

They are essentially catchy pop songs with rock influences, highly choreographed dances with slick music videos. Comparing their cultural power with 1990s era boybands would be unfair.

J-pop or Japanese pop of the 1990s emulated the popular bands of the West with some local flavours, but started getting overshadowed by K-pop in the 2000s. This was largely due to the global reach of YouTube and the Korean authorities’ concerted efforts to popularise the nation’s culture by investing in local talent. Then came the breakthrough Gangnam Style by Psy, with more than three billion video views, and the world started paying attention to K-pop.

Today the Korean BTS a.k.a. ‘Bangtan Sonyeondan’ or the Bulletproof Boyscouts is probably the most popular pop group, globally, with millions of followers.

Tweens and teens give the many reasons for the appeal

For 13-year-old Dubai-based Pakistani school student Ayfer Alman, the answer lies in the image projected by K-pop groups. She says, “I think it’s probably the looks and fashion sense of the K-pop stars. Even though I can’t understand, there are a few songs, which have an English version, so I like the lyrics, too.”

Ten-year-old Krisha Pahalajrai, an Indian expat agrees, “I only like it because of the fashion and how their [artists] vocal skills are good.”

I only like it because of the fashion and how their [artists] vocal skills are good..

- Krisha Pahalajrai, Dubai

Mia, a 12-year-old Chinese expat from the UAE says, “I just take it as my source of happiness, but also the choreography is super cool and attractive.”

A sentiment shared by 14-year-old Munisa Bakhodirova. The Dubai-based Uzbek national says, “Well I like many things about K-pop but what makes it interesting for me is that the choreography and the music video editing is attractive, the idols’ personalities are funny. I don’t know Hangeul but just because I don’t understand doesn’t mean I don’t have ears, the beat in the music is really catchy.”

Vidhee Parashar, a 12-year-old Indian expat based in Dubai adds, “I mean I like K-pop because I’m the type of person who listens to music for the beats, not the lyrics. I love K-pop because most of the songs have a good rhythm, which makes me feel confident.”

I mean I like K-pop because I’m the type of person who listens to music for the beats, not the lyrics. I love K-pop because most of the songs have a good rhythm, which makes me feel confident...

- Vidhee Parashar, Dubai

Aisha Sultana Farooqi, a 13-year-old Russian-Indian, says, “It’s nice to listen too! The idols are also very funny, so it’s fun to watch their chaotic moments’ compilation. It makes me happy!”

I guess that what it boils down to, who doesn’t love the epic moments of their ‘biases’ or artists we follow – even if we might struggle with the understanding of the language – the music brings joy, happiness and laughter. And K-pop seems to do that for my generation of listeners.

What do the experts say?

Dr Tessy Augustine, a pediatrician at Aster Hospital, says, “There are a few reasons why children may like listening and enjoying music from other countries despite the language barrier. The best reason to explain this would be that most international songs have, especially K-pop …appealing rhythms and energetic beats. It sets a good mood and attracts the mind.”

Dr Urmimala Sinha, clinical psychologist at Bridges Speech Center and Better Life Clinic in Dubai, says, “Music brings people together and has been linked to creating both social and familial bonds. …the lyrics don’t need to be understood to enjoy it. Additionally, listening to music from different cultures and languages is a great way to learn and gain appreciation for other cultures.

There are a few reasons why children may like listening and enjoying music from other countries despite the language barrier. The best reason to explain this would be that most international songs have, especially K-pop …appealing rhythms and energetic beats. It sets a good mood and attracts the mind

- Tessy Augustine, pediatrician at Aster Hospital

“Listening to music in different languages such as K-pop also helps in language acquisition and comprehension - a great way to learn new languages as well.”

As per a recent report published in the American National Library of Medicine, “The mental well-being of adolescents is significantly influenced by music through mechanisms such as the facilitation of emotional expression and regulation, fortification of social bonds and the sense of belonging, as well as the fostering of creativity and cognitive development.

“Music, as an immersive and broad artistic medium, plays a pivotal role in the lives of adolescents.”

Zeenat Bhayat, a teacher of psychology based in Dubai, explains, “K-pop is a common ground, because music is universal. So, a lot of the teenagers who are listening to K-pop now, aren’t actually listening to the lyrics. They listen because they enjoy the beat and also being a teenager or tween, there is a certain melody that you are attracted to in terms of music.”

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.