Why K-pop groups are going sci-fi

Tamar Herman, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jun 17 2021 11:48 AM

Why K-pop groups are going sci-fi 1
The K-pop genre has recently seen plenty of science-fiction fuelled material, such as Aespa's music video for 'Next Level.' Photo: Twitter/@aespa_official

K-pop stars often experiment with creative concepts and narratives. In recent weeks, the genre has been full of futuristic, science-fiction-fuelled material from many of the biggest groups.

Storytelling across different mediums is used by K-pop acts to captivate their audiences and, as the industry grows and becomes more popular across the globe, artists and their companies are constantly finding new ways to up their levels of engagement.

Aliens and space come up once in a while in K-pop music videos, and there are many songs based around similar themes. This year, it feels like every other group is looking beyond pandemic-ridden Earth towards extraterrestrial and fantastical concepts for inspiration.

Music videos are the prime forum for these cinematic sci-fi takes. Since the start of May, many K-pop releases like Tomorrow X Together (TXT)’s Magic, Oh My Girl’s Dun Dun Dance and Save from NCT 127 with Amoeba Culture have featured spaceships and space-opera-style plots.

Meanwhile, Everglow’s First and TXT’s concept trailer for their The Chaos Chapter: Freeze album have featured the groups wielding supernatural powers.

Two anniversary concerts in June by BTS, celebrating the band’s bond with their fans over the past eight years, also took an out-of-this-world turn.

Titled “Sowoozoo” (“little universe” in Korean and a nod to their 2019 song Mikrokosmos), the online events featured videos where the septet encountered vehicle trouble on an otherworldly planet.

Some sci-fi instances in K-pop incorporate ongoing storylines throughout a band’s career, while others explore the concept for a one-off moment of fictive fun.

Exo returned in May with their single and album Don’t Stop the Feeling. The band has always incorporated science fiction into their narrative ever since their first single in 2012, and their latest song’s music video and related content has the members in retro space-age looks.

Don’t Fight the Feeling is said to be the musical sequel to their 2017 single Power, which had a music video in which the members battle against a machine on another planet.

The band’s label mates, Aespa, made their mark on the scene in 2020 with their debut single Black Mamba and returned in May with Next Level.

Both of the girl group’s songs make up the centrepiece of South Korean media company SM Entertainment’s attempt to create a cross-roster creative universe like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, dubbed the SMCU.

Many SM bands have been adding elements of sci-fi world building and storytelling into their content as of late, but Aespa – a girl group with avatar counterparts that the human members interact with on various forms of media – are the current focal point.

As well as sci-fi, general supernatural elements are popular among K-pop groups, too. Enhypen, for instance, features vampires throughout their releases.

Music is only one realm within South Korea’s entertainment world that’s seeing a lot of love for science fiction and genre content.

While fantasy and supernatural creatures often appear in K-dramas and films, sci-fi is less prominent. This year and 2020, however, saw a handful of otherworldly space- and time-travel-fuelled K-dramas, while this year also saw the success of Space Sweepers, which is considered South Korea’s first space opera blockbuster film. The movie reportedly reached 26 million Netflix household viewers in the first month of its release. In May, it was announced that a sequel is in the works, coinciding with many of these K-pop releases.

Science fiction books have also surged in popularity in recent years, including Kim Cho-yeop’s 2019 bestselling short stories collection If We Can’t Go at the Speed of Light. An increasing number of Korean sci-fi books, including Tower by Bae Myung-hoon, have even been translated into English for overseas audiences in recent years.

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