Pyeongchang Games come with musical kick thanks to vast K-pop menu

PYEONCGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — The soundtrack to the Pyeongchang Olympics, in some ways, echoes the music that blares in arenas back home in Canada.

Fans are tapping their feet _ sometimes just to keep warm _ to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song,'' AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long,'' Village People's "YMCA,'' Blur's "Song 2,'' Los del Rio's "Macarena'' and "California Love'' by 2Pac (featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman).

Up at the mountain venues, it's little more high-charged with Linkin Park, Jay-Z and Audioslave.

But like the kimchi side dish that shows up on almost every Korean table, these Winter Games come with a musical kick _ K-pop.

And that includes far more than Psy's 2012 mega-hit "Gangnam Style,'' which held the record for YouTube's most watched clip for five years.

Everywhere you turn in South Korea, there is musical accompaniment. And the Korean pop menu is vast.

"We've been doing a little bit of shoulder shrugging to it and saying 'You know? This isn't bad,''' said curler Ben Hebert, a 34-year-old from Regina. "We're embracing the culture over here and we're happy.

"We're young at heart. We're down with it.''

Some Olympic athletes arrived in Korea ahead of the K-pop curve.

American snowboarder Chloe Kim, a gold medallist in halfpipe, said she listens to CL before competing. Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva opts for EXO.

The rest of us are trying to brush up.

"`I was doing laundry in the Olympic village with (sister) Chloe and we watched TV while waiting. I don't know what it was exactly, but there were pop dancers doing what seemed like lip sync with very elaborate choreographies,'' said Olympic silver medallist freestyle skier Justine Dufour-Lapointe, a 23-year-old from Montreal.

"We laughed a lot during the hour. It was very pop, very colourful. Their fashion is very colourful too and it is really fun to discover all that.''

Said luger Reid Watts: "I've heard it around, especially at our staging camp we had in Incheon just outside of Seoul before the Games. There's definitely a lot of that going on. It's good. It's good stuff. I like it.''

Is it on your iPod yet?

"Not yet, but who knows?'' said the 19-year-old from Whistler, B.C. "We'll see. I'll investigate more now that my races are over.''

Start doing your homework Reid. For those not in the know, the Korean genre is daunting.

Digging into K-pop is like falling into a musical rabbit hole. There are more than 50 million people in South Korea and it seems half of them are in boy or girl bands.

North America's boy band family tree _ New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC _ is like a Bonsai compared to the K-pop musical forest.

And K-pop doesn't scrimp on the size of its boy and girl bands.

EXO started with 12 members but is down to nine while BTS, Monsta X and iKon all have seven. Super Junior has peaked at as many 15. Confusingly, the group Seventeen has 13 members and Twice has nine.

BTS are the current K-pop heavyweights, with 12.6 million Twitter followers and more than two billion YouTube views. The band's name translates literally to ``Bulletproof Boy Scouts,'' although it announced last year its name would stand for Beyond the Scene in English.

BTS has turned its sights on North America with 2017 appearances on the Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards and "Ellen.'' They are well positioned, with group leader RM speaking excellent English _ he says he learned watching "Friends'' on DVD.

"I don't have a clue what they're saying, but it's pretty catchy,'' said figure skater Gabrielle Daleman, a 20-year-old from Newmarket, Ont.

BTS, whose other members are V, Suga, Jungkook, Jin, J-Hope and Jimin, may be a boy band but they are not afraid to tackle big issues.

"Littering a millennial-oriented message about societal woes throughout their discography, the group manages to frequently reference the struggles that young people go through and draw on their own experiences within South Korean youth culture,'' says Billboard.

Other bands are looking for a little love.

In "My Type,'' iKon _ the product of two reality TV shows _ sings the praises of the girl that has captured their heart.

"Your sneakers under your thin ankles, a perfect harmony with your denim skinny jeans. Under your slightly big cardigan, your falling long straight hair is so pretty.''

Good luck with that line, although it may be the English translation. But clearly it worked in Korea where "My Type'' was one of the best-selling singles of 2015.

Other K-pop acts to watch include Got7, Red Velvet, SHINee, Big Bang, Girls' Generation and f(x).

CL, born Lee Chae-rin, has gone from the girl group 2NE1 to a world star with English-language songs. Attending school in France and Japan, CL is well prepared for global domination. Her music is brassy, street-wise and crosses borders.

While it features a plethora of slinky girl groups and high-stepping, rapping boy bands, K-pop is hard to define. Often slickly produced and carefully constructed, it draws on rap, R&B among other genres.

And it also offers a snapshot of Korean culture _ what's hot or what will be.

For those wanting to delve a little more into the history of Korean music, try Seo Taiji and Boys. The Beastie Boys-like trio sold millions in the '90s. Singer-actor Rain offers a more R&B sound.

Then there's the all-woman Six Bomb, who made headlines in 2017 when they said they were undergoing cosmetic surgery _ which is popular in South Korea _ and using the procedures as art of their marketing strategy for their two-part single "Becoming Prettier.''

Olympic organizers made sure the soundtrack to the opening ceremonies was filled with K-pop. The British team, for example, entered to Twice's "Likey'' _ the video for which was filmed in Vancouver.

EXO and CL are slated to play live at the Games' closing ceremonies.


_ With files from Alexis Belanger-Champagne, Joshua Clipperton and Donna Spencer



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