The 3 Things That Make K-Pop Different From Western Music, According To A Former SM Entertainment Employee

ITZY’s “ICY” is a great example of #2.

K-Pop is a genre that’s exploding in popularity. Although it’s also a type of “pop” music, it has notable differences from music released by Western artists. Michelle Cho, an A&R (Artist and Repertoire) specialist who worked in SM Entertainment for three years, explained the differences between the two in an interview with ReacttotheK.

Michelle Cho | ReacttotheK/YouTube

1. The Number Of Singers

The most obvious thing that makes K-Pop unique is the number of singers who participate in a track. Most American or English singers are soloists while K-Pop artists are usually in groups. It follows that there are various vocals and styles that come from these people.

| ReacttotheK/YouTube

K-Pop often refers to idol music which has many members of different voice colors, different roles, and different styles. So if we had ten people, four of them would be rappers, two of them would have really high-pitched voices and whatnot.

— Michelle Cho

Because of the numerous members, the producers have to create a song that fits everyone’s style. As an A&R specialist who has worked with the likes of SHINee and f(x), Michelle has this concern in the forefront of her mind. A&R employees are in charge of an artist’s musical direction and they communicate with the sound engineers “the artist’s requests…their own opinion on how the mix should be revised.”

So you have to make sure that all of these different people are orchestrated nicely together in a song. You have to, in a way, create different sections with different styles or different parts so they all work nicely and work in harmony. While the Western music, in my understanding, is that they are often solo singers. They don’t need to worry about creating various and different sections to show different colors, because they prefer to keep it steady.

— Michelle Cho

2. The Preferences Of The Public

Now, how exactly do they account for the different members’ styles in a song? The producers put variations that are not commonly seen in Western music. Michelle pointed out that the preferences of the public are big factors that they consider when switching up the parts.

Koreans tend to get bored really easily so we have to keep on giving them something new. One thing I noticed is that we hate listening (I don’t know, maybe the music industry people are just saying this) but we hate listening to the same part over and over again. We definitely want variation happening in the second verse instead of having the first verse repeated in the second verse.

— Michelle Cho

In ITZY‘s “ICY,” for instance, Chaeryoung‘s first verse has a different melody from Lia‘s second verse.

Another option that songwriters go for is to add rap to the latter half of the song to make it more interesting.

If we’re going to keep the pre-chorus the same, add rap parts there so it comes out as a refreshing part.

— Michelle Cho

3. The Choreography

And finally, what makes K-Pop different from Western music is their emphasis on the overall performance. Producers need to think of the bigger picture of how the song will be shown on stage.

And third, because K-Pop is music that is not only listened to but also to watch the performance of, that aspect is exceptionally important. That is why we need sections like a dance break.

— Michelle Cho

With its multitude of singers, adaptive music based on the preferences of the public, and tracks with choreographies in mind, it’s no wonder K-Pop is so unique and well-loved!

For more insider information, check out the full video below.