If K-pop and Afro-Pop Had a Baby This is What it Might Sound Like

The track ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ by the K-pop boy band BTS sounds a little like it has Afrobeats influence. A little or a lot, I’m not quite sure.

Even to me, this suggestion was weird at first. But then I thought about it and was like, why not? Why does this song sound so different to what BTS has done before? (BTS is short for Bangtan Sonyeondan or Bulletproof Boy Scouts – I know. Too much, right?) For those who don’t know, K-pop is a worldwide phenomenon. The South Korean wave of pop culture products that include film, television and music known as Hallyu encompasses what K-pop is. It’s hard to describe the appeal, especially if you’re not a teenager or in your early twenties like BTS are, but for those who love it they’ll tell you it is quite addictive and just hella fun.

I listened closely to ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ not because it’s even their best, but because it sounds so much like some African pop music we’ve definitely heard before. With the MV released just days ago and standing at over 13 million views, I gave it a listen and gobbled up the artistic visuals.

 I could hear that it has Afrobeats in its conceptual style, and I couldn’t recover from the feeling this is something I never even thought possible. If we rewind back to circa 2012 and even 2013 we might just hear something like this song. Did the K-pop gods really produce a song by one of their best teen dream acts that sounds like anything the Afro-pop gods would easily produce? I’m so shook. Can you vosho or azonto to this song? Perhaps not, but you can sway along and wiggle your hips nicely and watch as the boys’ smooth moves give the the song an edge. Would Yemi Alade or even Babes Wodumo want to collaborate with these cuties? I’m not so sure, but I find it intriguing that the best of both worlds could possibly, finally get together some day. K-pop is notorious for being the magpie of music, and with call outs for appropriation sometimes coming from black American and African K-pop fans, it would be interesting to see what Africans think if more K-pop acts started to adopt Afrobeats in their repertoire. Maybe it won’t actually add up to that just yet, but hey, one can hope. The choreo in this video is in the same vein as what they’ve been doing all year, but the sound? So different. I’m not complaining. This is the music version of a baby I perhaps didn’t know I wanted and now it’s here and I love it.

Watch ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’:

This is the first K-pop song where I’ve actually had to think about the possibility of an African context. They do mention “chocolate cheeks” but hey, we won’t go there with that. Most of what you hear in K-pop is very Ameri-centric, with US pop, R&B and hip-hop definite and easily discernible influencers. It’s just mostly sung in Korean, but if you translate the lyrics and get down to the beat, it’s like listening to pop music anywhere as far as depth or content, but perhaps sometimes with a hidden little extra addictive side to it. Not everything sounds good, and you never know what you’ll love or hate, and as with any music you have to sift and find what works for you and your squad. When it comes to K-pop, it’s pretty clear there is a formula and it works and brings in beaucoup bucks for stars and the management companies. Just so you know, there are several groups just in South Africa dedicated to the love and adoration of K-pop, with BTS also featuring quite heavily (and merchandise with fave group members’ names being worn). They have meet-ups and also super fun dance classes (try dancing to BTS’ Fire –  great exercise for your thighs, you can hip thrust as much as you want without seeming creepy, and you’ll be in danger of loving K-pop).

BTS during the filming of the Fire MV

BTS during the filming of the Fire MV

You can check out some of BTS’ other videos and tell me if you can’t hear just what a departure ‘Blood Sweat & Tears is from their earlier stuff.

Billboard is calling this sound “tropical house melodies” which I initially read as meaning that sometimes they can’t give credit where credit is due, but I have to also admit I spotted a more “island” vibe when I first heard the song, before pinning it more firmly in West Africa.

Billboard describes the song as “whirring, tropical house melodies resting upon pounding beats” – isn’t that the description for Afrobeats?

So with “Wings” the South Korean septet that have some of the best performance trailers on the planet even managed to knock Solange’s “A Seat At The Table” off the top of the iTunes album chart, huh? These bad cute boys, I may not be able to forgive them.

So now you know. K-pop music videos can have lots of perfect choreo, “tropical house melodies”, young guys wearing a ton of makeup and hair product, lots of louche and luxe clothing, Louis Seize-style furniture, Baroque touches, European art inspiration plus a little Nietzsche thrown in too. And a reading of Herman Hesse that’s reminiscent of Lemonade. 



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