Fri. Jul 12th, 2024

Like most music industries, Kpop throughout the years has been dominated with song topics involving gained love, lost love, living large, expecting the best, and partying it up.

However, there have been many artists, for as long as internationally enjoyed music has existed, who wished to bring up serious topics. They want to raise beliefs, share emotion, and attempt to help the audience realize how very real many of these things are and why we shouldn’t simply “sweep them under the rug.” They want to show people why it is important to fight for what you believe in or how you wish to live your life.

For a long time, Kpop was incredibly bare when it came to topics that challenge the social norms. Whether it be something that goes against expectation, shows the true difficulty of certain aspects in life, or brings up topics that are considered taboo, singers just didn’t want to “bite the hand that fed them,” so to speak.

Popular groups like BTS (방탄소년단) have become known for breaking these boundaries when it comes to their songs’ content, even since the very beginning. However, despite what many people may think, they weren’t the first and they certainly aren’t alone! Let us give recognition to a few of the Korean artists that have been known to break social standards and raise up those hard-hitting topics that often get ignored.


B.A.P

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2012 was a big year for idol group debuts, but B.A.P was perhaps the most hard-hitting at the time. Coming on to the scene with the hardcore, rap-pulsed “Warrior,” the lyrics made a point in telling the young public that it was time to stand up and become a warrior for what you believe in. The themes of fighting and refusing to ignore what’s wrong in the world continued to be prevalent throughout their future songs and music videos, such as “Power,” “One Shot,” and “Badman.” Just after a long hiatus, B.A.P returned with the strong-willed “Young, Wild & Free.” Then, following the hiatus taken by leader Bang Yongguk due to his anxiety issues, they returned with “Wake Me Up,” a song which speaks of the hardships of depression and other mental issues, as well as encouraging people to create an “emotional revolution.”  Following this was “Honeymoon” which, on the opposite end, celebrates life and being alive and how coming from darker times helps you see the world in an all-new color.

“So many ties cover the truth
Putting a make on the fakes and saying
It’s only indifference, leaving the children alone one by one
There’s a crime but no criminal, does it even make sense?”

-“What The Hell” by B.A.P

Brown Eyed Girls

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The four-member female group Brown Eyed Girls (also referred to as B.E.G.) debuted way back in 2006 and were active up until just recently. “Sixth Sense,” one of their most popular songs, gives the story of starting a revolution and the rush that comes from fighting for what’s right. The music video mirrors the song with visuals of the band against an entire army who are under the control of a terrible dictator. Another incredible track from B.E.G., entitled “Cleansing Cream,” is about a girl conversing with her sister about being unable to forget a relationship. “Kill Bill” promoted female empowerment, “Brand New World” hints at seeing the world from outside the lines we are given, and even member Ga-In‘s song “Fxxk You” talks of a faltering relationship whilst being forced into romantic and sexual acts that are unwanted. The intense music video became a big deal due to its artistic, yet relentlessness, mirroring of this theme.

“Where do you think you’re putting those bad hands?
With polished words, you put me up and put me down.
Fxxk U, don’t want it now
I don’t wanna lay down next to you as if it’s natural.”

-“Fxxk You” by Gain

BTS

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BTS debuted in 2013 with the song “No More Dream,” which represented the idea that the young generation is expected to follow the ideals and plans of the adults above them and never allowed to have their own dreams or passion. “N.O” continued this theme by showing the focus on children being told to study harder and harder, leaving unrealistic expectations of being “first” or otherwise being considered a failure. With additional songs like “Spine Breaker” (also known as “Back Breaker”) and “Silver Spoon,” BTS takes on the topic of materialism and what is most important in life. Of course, there have been many more, including the ever-popular “cyphers” by the group’s rap line. RM, Suga, and J-Hope have also done their part in spreading messages throughout their own solo promotions.

“Then how do you explain my unhappiness?
There’s no conversation topics beside studying
Outside, there are so many kids like me, living the life of a puppet
Who will take responsibility?”

-“N.O” by BTS

Epik High


Epik High
has been in the industry for quite a while. This rap, DJ trio has made a name for themselves by not only writing the typical, self-boasting rap tracks, but also exceeding expectations with songs like “Fan,” which depicts the frightening reality of a “super-fan” who has taken it too far. Their song “Everybody Hates Me” shows how easy it is for a celebrity to be hated and for seemingly no reason. This track was released following a hiatus taken by the group after two “controversies,” one of which was simply that haters didn’t believe member Tablo had graduated from Stanford, as he said he had. Of course, you can’t forget the old-school, hip-hop track “Lesson 5 (and all of the prior “Lessons”), which is a straight blow at current society, what the public doesn’t see, and what they should see. They speak of how one man’s positive could be considered another man’s negative, therefore negating any “correct” answer for most situations.

“One person’s nationalism is terrorism to a stranger
The answers just led to more problems in this mechanism
A demon in your computer, phone, and TV
Wherever you look, the cut up pieces of the truth are for sale
It’s easy”

-“Lesson 5” by Epik High

H.O.T


H.O.T
 was one of the hottest idol groups from the mid-to-late 1990’s. This was when the idea of idol groups had truly begun and wasn’t quite what it is now. H.O.T spoke through many songs about society’s ideals, expectations of young people, and why you should stand up and fight. These songs include “Warrior’s Descendant” and “We Are The Future,” the latter of which was also recently covered by Wanna One. The group— considered by many as the first idol group in Kpop history— is rumored to make a full, long-awaited comeback sometime this year, so check out the songs below, then look forward to that!

“We’re still in the shadows of the adults, we’re still not free,
They fuss and bother us with rules all days, of course we can’t do anything except get tired.
When are they gonna stop feeling satisfaction by forcing us to their ways?
One day goes by and another day goes by, we get more and more tired, feels like we’re gonna collapse.”

-“We Are The Future” by H.O.T

Akdong Musician


Akdong Musician
(also known as AKMU for short) is an incredibly talented, brother-sister duo who has made their mark within mainstream Kpop by creating some of the most unusual music within recent times. They were also expected to get plastic surgery in order to “fit” the visual expectations of celebrities, but they refused. Some of their music also echoes their ideals and struggles against what is considered social standards. In “DINOSAUR,” they speak about growing up with a large family in a small house and how, when they were young, what scared them was a “dinosaur.” Many fans have concluded that the dinosaur represents things such as an angry neighbor, some sort of abuse, or even panic attacks. Another interpretation suggests that these imaginary dinosaurs were simple fears in comparison to the harsh world they live in now. “Melted” is another beautiful song that played on the Korean words for ice and adult. They sound nearly the same and through the lyrics, AKMU was asking why the “ice” is so cold. If only adults weren’t so cold and harsh and demanding, perhaps a happier song would have come from the young, composing duo.

“I wish the cold in the world of adults would be gone too
I wish the frozen love will melt away now
I leave the darkness that finds my heart
Even the cold shadow that covers the night starts to harden.”

-“Melted” by Akdong Musician

Yoon Mirae


Yoon Mirae
is an incredible singer and rapper who is also of mixed raced. Being born from a Korean mother and an African-American father, Yoon Mirae has spoken before about the hardships she received by growing up in an environment that thought of black people as “dirty” or “unapproachable.” Her song “Black Happiness” is a rap anthem where Mirae explains how proud she is to be herself and realizes there is no use in hating the world, despite how much the world might hate you. Her incredible song “Get It In,” featuring her husband and fellow musician Tiger JK (Drunken Tiger/Seo Jungkwan), speaks of the issues in the world and not choosing to simply get over them. Instead, she encourages everyone to realize they are capable to fight for what is right.

“My skin was dark from my past
People used to point at me
Even at my mom and even at my dad who was black and in the army
People whisper behind my back.”
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-“Black Happiness” by Tasha/Yoon Mirae
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Sunny Hill


Sunny Hill
was an incredibly underrated group who promoted between the years of 2007 and 2017. Once the group was well into their career and gained some standing by the year 2011, their music took a change for the positive. “Grasshopper Song” is a re-telling of Aesop’s Fable which depicts how a hard-working ant lives longer than the lazy grasshopper. But this music video begs the question of whether or not all that constant work makes the ant happy in the end. “Princess and Prince Charming (Is The White Horse Coming?)” has lyrics and a matching music video that complain about being judged by how you look and what you own. “Pray” depicts how quickly people treat each other as though they are monsters, often because of physical looks. “Midnight Circus” became a big hit due to its busy circus-themed video, and the not-so-hidden lyrics showing how idol groups get treated and how they feel like puppets in a world much bigger than themselves.

“This is like a prison without bars,
This is an entertaining party that fits everyone.
This is like a tragic comedy,
It’s like a gamble with no stage.”

-“Midnight Circus” by Sunny Hill

Kim Jonghyun

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The late Kim Jonghyun was the first Kpop idol to truly open up in detail about his struggle with depression. In both the novel he wrote and the song lyrics he shared, Jonghyun made his struggles plain in an attempt to shed light on depression and mental illness—two extremely taboo subjects in Korea. Songs like “Lonely” expressed his intense loneliness but how low self-esteem made him push people away. Tracks like “Maybe Tomorrow” tried to encourage people not to feel guilty for their depression and to just hold on for another day without blaming themselves, feelings he obviously struggled with too as evidenced by the track “Fireplace.” Knowing how he felt himself, many times he would dedicate lyrics to those who also struggled, trying to help them since he felt no one else would. This was shown the most through his lyrics for “Breathe”— a song he wrote for Lee Hi— that tell listeners they can make it through the hard times and that they’ve done well, a line that became most tragic when the suicide note released after his death expressed how he had just wanted to hear those same words himself.

“Someone please hold me, I’m exhausted from this world
Someone please wipe me, I’m drenched with tears
Someone please notice my struggles first
Please acknowledge the poor me
Please help me.”
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-Let Me Out” by Kim Jonghyun
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Jung Joon Young/Drug Restaurant

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Many people know Jung Joon Young as the quirky TV personality on the popular program “2 Days, 1 Night” or the rocker-vocal runner-up from “Superstar K.” His various projects with JJY Band (now known as Drug Restaurant), as well as his solo work, have led to some incredible music, much of which asks important questions. “Spotless Mind” depicts a man separated from his own mindset following a broken relationship, eventually falling into a state of anxiety that messes with his memory. “Teenager” shows Jung Joon Young struggling to come to terms with his new desk job that is supposed to be for the rest of his life. Feeling unfulfilled, he begins dreaming of living out his real passion: playing music. “Mistake” is an incredibly catchy Drug Restaurant track that reminds people that everyone is human in their own right— they make mistakes, and they shouldn’t be judged by those mistakes.

“My broken self is in this cruel darkness, trapped here alone
Why don’t you cuff me up. About to go crazy, a fearless liar
That was a mistake (mistake), who doesn’t make mistakes (mistakes)”

-“Mistake” by Drug Restaurant

G-Dragon

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G-Dragon is a world-famous figure not without controversy for his aggressive lyrics and braggadocio, as is common with rap music. However, as one of the most respected artists and songwriters of modern Kpop, he also uses his platform to address important topics. In fact, in an almost sense of self-degradation, he plays the villain in many of his songs, posing as society itself. Songs like “Gossip Man” talk about how society is so scared of rumors about themselves that they deflect attention by starting their own rumors through gossip. “Black” deals with depression about a relationship and how people would rather fake happiness with the wrong person than attempt living alone. “Crooked” talks about extreme depression, anxiety, and loneliness, while “Middle Fingers-Up” expresses anger and frustration with fake people who are obsessed with fame and money. G-Dragon has also tackled many societal issues in the songs he writes for BIGBANG, including the track “Dirty Money” which hides the lyrics of frustration within an upbeat pop tune.

Lose money, get money, sneaky ideas get you in trouble. Because of dirty money, society rots
Adults and children sell their dreams, There’s no difference, This world is just a pig’s treasure chest
How can a dream change this much? Where is the person that was happy with 100 won?
Money changes me, does it change us?
C
razy world, it’s too busy”

-“Dirty Money” by BIGBANG

Amber Liu

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Between the years of 2009 and 2016, Amber Liu was simply known to many as the tomboyish rapper from five-member SM Entertainment group, f(x). Over the last few years, Amber has been more free to create her own content, including some incredible music that breaks multiple boundaries surrounding Korean media. Her official solo debut track “Borders” depicts the feeling of not being the image of perfection that is expected of her and many others. “LIFELINE” is from her newest project “Rogue Rouge” and is accompanied with a beautiful music video that shows a male-male couple dancing together in a contemporary style, hinting at a gay relationship. Amber has always been open about her ideals in that it shouldn’t matter who you are, you should be able to fully love who you love, despite what the world tells you.

“I can fly higher without fear, even when I’m trapped in darkness
Any kind of scar is beautiful to me
I’m just happy, I’m happy to be myself.”

-“Beautiful” by Amber

Honorable Mentions

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Of course, there are many more artists that also break the limits of what society tries to enforce. Some songs also come from various other artists that have tackled tough issues, despite it not particularly being a running theme for the group itself.

Some of these honorable mentions and tracks include:

NU’EST – “FACE” (being bullied, and fighting back), g.o.d – “Road” (a track which deals with the unsure feeling of whether or not the path you are on is the right one), Time-Z – “Hurray For Idols” (a song about how idols are expected to be perfect for the public and live in sadness), Sechkies- “Drinking Problem” (a track which admits reliance on alcohol and the ensuring struggle to quit), Super Junior – “Don’t Don” (a song about reliance on money), Fat Cat – “Is Being Pretty Everything?” (a song about the visual expectations of females for relationships), 10cm – “Help” (a song talking about living with depression and a video that follows a homosexual couple, a divorced couple, and a man with an educational handicap), Holland – “Neverland” (a gay singer sharing about a loving, but taboo, relationship), VIXX – “I Don’t Want To Be An Idol” (a song about how difficult relationships are as an idol/celebrity), DJ DOC – “Dances With DOC” (a song about not conforming to society’s expectations for young kids/students), NELL – “The Day Before” (a song involving feeling depressed and an artistic video depicting someone’s suicide), Park Boram – “Beautiful” (song about having to starve herself for beauty and it being too much), HIGHLIGHT – “Plz Don’t Be Sad” and “Could Be Better” (multiple songs focusing on self-worth, self-focus, and self-love), MAMAMOO (multiple music videos with gay and androgynous themes), ANDA – “Touch” (a music video with heavy lesbian themes), MISS A – “I Don’t Need A Man” (a track about females not needing to rely on a man), Rainbow BLAXX – “Cha Cha” (a music video about the body expectations of female idols), Orange Caramel – “Catallena” (a song that talks about a vain society that loves beautiful, chic women, even when they’re unattractive inside), Topp Dogg – “Say It” (a song which talks about how simple and quiet the Kpop industry has been and how they will now be loud and not take any more hate), BIGBANG – “LOSER” (a song about feeling like you’re a loser and never worth anything by society’s standards), SISTAR and Giorgio Moroder – “One More Day” (a realistic but violent music video about a gay female in an abusive relationship), f(x) – “Red Light” (a song that complains about the South Korean government’s actions during the Sewol Ferry Incident), EXO – “Power” (an encouraging track which tells young people to unite through music in order to have a sense of community and power), etc.

On top of all of these artists (as well as some not listed), there are many more rap and hip-hop artists— whether mainstream or underground— that push the social boundaries through music as well. Perhaps we can expect a list of influential hip-hop artists in the near future!

Did you enjoy this list? Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comment section!

CaptainMal has been into Korean Entertainment for seven years now, since 2010. She travels to conventions in her area, showcasing her “K-pop Game Show’” and occasional Kpop cosplay. Although her favorite bands are INFINITE, Super Junior, and VIXX, she boasts a love for a huge variety of artists. Other than Kpop, CaptainMal loves Disney, 80’s rock, Daft Punk, Gaming, and Orange Juice.

Media: As Credited

One thought on “12 Kpop Artists Who Use Music To Regularly Challenge Society’s Ideals”
  1. The first Kpop group: Seo Taiji and Boys was know for their lyrics about society ect. In Korea this group is one of the most influential group in korean music history….

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