by Yuki Koh
Have you ever listened to something that compelled you to feel a certain way, despite not really understanding why? In this globalised world today, music genres spread like wildfire, even those with lyrics that we don’t understand.
Some music bridges gaps between different nationalities, races, cultures, and lives. They have become a uniting force in times of doubt, controversy, and conflict. This is because ultimately, music is an experience. These include K-pop and Reggaeton.
K-Pop: For economy and culture
K-Pop is just one example of an immensely popular music genre, despite many people not understanding the Korean language.
For some, it can be as simple as a feel-good factor. For one, songs from the K-Pop group BLACKPINK, are upbeat and fun to listen to. It puts you in a good mood and pumped to face the day. On the other hand, songs from the boy group BTS can also cover serious topics, varying from depression and mental health, to their struggles in being recognised for their music. In addition to being relatable, such music can actually be therapeutic and rejuvenating for many youths who feel misunderstood.
K-Pop has become a cultural inspiration to many, encouraging fans to actually learn the language. This has set off the hallyu wave, spreading Korean culture and entertainment all over the world. It’s also cited as a big influence for tourism to Korea – BTS alone accounted for one in every 13 tourists visiting South Korea, bringing in over $3.6 billion a year to the country’s economy.
Raggaeton: A bond beyond barriers
Reggaeton makes you dance. Quite literally. Apart from being a music genre, it is also a dance genre in itself. ‘Despacito’ not only spawned choreographies and dances all over the world, it brought together people from all walks of life, regardless of whether they understand Spanish or not.
Some Reggaeton songs were even involved in political agendas and crises. Songs with a political message are not necessarily bad, as their music can reconcile discourse and tension, creating room for discussion.
For example, songs like ‘Afilando Los Cuchillos’ (2019) became a hit, not just for its catchy Latino beats, but also for how heavily featured it was in political protests against the Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello. This song became a key push in ousting him from his position, and being the driving force of the protests. Even after ousting him, the song became popular worldwide, recognised not only for its political agenda, but also for how music, once again, united people. It’s pretty catchy too.
Opening our ears
Owing to language differences, some people may remain prejudiced against music they cannot understand because they fail to see how it can be meaningful – or infectiously dance-worthy – they can be. But to those who have opened their ears (and hearts) to genres like K-Pop and Reggaeton, they will find that music truly transcends geography and cultures.
Perhaps, in our bid to understand why these genres are popular in countries beyond Korea or the Hispanic world, we must realise that not everything needs to revolve around one language.