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KPOP Storylines – More Than Just Music

Illustration of the K-POP group, AESPA

There is no doubt that KPOP is a very captivating music genre. Whether it’s the powerful vocals, mesmerizing dance routines, the colorful hair or stylish clothes – it’s so easy to fall in love with KPOP. One of the most fascinating elements of the genre that charm fans is the rich and intriguing lores that many acts introduce through their music.

A lore is a storyline that artists build via their music videos, songs, and sometimes other clips, which fans use to theorize what the next chapter might be. Some people love them, some people hate them, but they are undeniably fascinating.

So let’s dive right into these KPOP lores. 

How & Why They Work

As any fan with a bit of common sense would tell you, KPOP is an extremely oversaturated industry and has been for a long time. Since new groups constantly pop up, it’s vital for them to have something that makes them stand out. Sadly, music isn’t always enough, so having a particular concept is the quickest, most effective way to leave a long-lasting impression on the audience.

Another big reason why storylines are so popular among new artists is that the way fans consume KPOP content has largely changed over the years. Obviously, music is still a big component (duh),

but the industry has now shifted focus, and KPOP has become more than just music.

Whereas older artists can benefit from the nostalgia their fans might have towards them that keeps them tied to the hip, newer idols struggle to create impactful fan-group relationships.

An old-time trick that’s still used to attract and maintain fans is fanservice, where the members play ‘pretend-boyfriend/girlfriend’ for the day. However, lately KPOP companies are beginning to notice that’s not enough to keep a strong fanbase, especially with the recent wave of new volatile fans that has hit the industry. Therefore, complex storylines and backstories are the new go-to.

But why do they work?’, you might ask. Well, mainly because they tap into the most vulnerable aspect of the audience – curiosity. Fans become intrigued by a particular storyline, and then feel the need to know more, so they stick around comeback after comeback to piece together the clues hidden in music videos and songs. Furthermore, it ensures that fans never get bored of the group, because even times without content from the artist can be spent imagining various plotlines.  

Though, lores are certainly not loved by everyone. Plenty of fans claim they are overly complicated and tend to overshadow the group’s music, and that they rather limit an artist’s creative production, as all comebacks have to fit one specific concept. Moreover, many say that storylines aren’t inherently a bad idea, but the execution from the companies is sloppy and usually half-assed.

But enough chit-chat for now – let’s hear the real deal!

EXO & the EXOPLANETS

Truth be told, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who did it first, mainly because each fandom seems to think their favorite group was the first one to come up with a lore, but the majority of the roads trace back to EXO. Debuted in 2012 under SM Entertainment, EXO managed to set themselves apart right off the bat, not just thanks to their powerful vocals and impressive dance skills – the real icing on the cake was their unique and peculiar concept.

Their debut music video – MAMA (2012) – contains a lengthy explanation of the group’s concept. In a nutshell – the EXO members are aliens from EXOPLANETS, who have lost their memories after landing on Earth. They all have individual superpowers, ranging from teleportation to controlling water, and are divided into two units – EXO-K (Korean unit) and EXO-M (Chinese unit) – belonging to parallel universes. Sounds complicated, right? Well, believe it or not, it’s by far not the most complicated storyline in the bunch…

LOONA – the LOONAVERSE

LOONA is a 12-member girl group under BlockBerry Creative, whose journey began in 2016, with one member, in turn, debuting every month with a music video and a mini album. Moreover, every member has a representative color and animal, which you see in their respective videos. Additionally, three subunits debuted before the group was complete – LOONA 1/3 (with the first 4 members), ODD EYE CIRCLE (with members 6, 7, and 8), and yyxy (with the last four girls).

It goes without saying that the LOONAVERSE is extremely complex. The theories encompass all content which the company released specifically for the continuation of the lore, so there is a lot of material to go through.

The LOONAVERSE is a universe that exists on a möbius strip. The members of LOONA 1/3 reside on Earth and represent “normal” realistic girls (well, sort of – one of them *might* be a cyborg). ODD EYE CIRCLE lives in a sort of hell between earth and space (aka the Middle Earth), and have supernatural characteristics (e.g., an eye with a glowing neon color). Lastly, yyxy inhabit a ‘utopia’, known as ‘Edenism’, that is beyond Earth and the Middle Earth. They decide to escape their ‘Eden’ in order to discover themselves, after realizing Edenism is not actually a good place. Then due to an unknown plot hole, all the girls eventually meet together, as shown in the High Hi music video, and begin their journey as 12.

Complicated, isn’t it? The above is merely a brief summary, phrased simply enough so that anyone can follow along. The real deal is even more entangled, as the videos contain a magnitude of small details and easter eggs for anyone who wishes to go deeper. But as I mentioned before, there are storylines even more intricate than this one…

*To find out more about the LOONAVERSE, watch this video.

SM Culture Universe, aka KWANGYA

SM Entertainment has always been a pioneer in the KPOP industry, having debuted some iconic artists like Girls Generation, H.O.T., BoA, and EXO (remember them?). Thus, it should come as no surprise that SM was the first company to go beyond creating a storyline for a specific group.

Instead, they created a storyline for the whole company.

Needless to say, it has an intricate and hard-to-follow plot, with a distinct vocabulary of made-up words you need to memorize to stay ahead of the story. But do not fear – I am here to give you a brief hitchhiker’s guide to the SM Universe, aka KWANGYA (광야: Gwang-ya, i.e. wilderness).

Our story begins in the real world, where the members of aespa live with their AIs – Æ – with whom they are in contact through SYNK. One day, the Æ gets hacked by the villain Black Mamba, and goes in the FLAT, a place between Earth and KWANGYA. The Black Mamba wants to take over KWANGYA, a futuristic world where Æ lives, so they must be stopped. aespa has to open the P.O.S (i.e., a doorway to enter KWANGYA from Earth) and help Æ. They can do so with the help of NÆVIS (i.e., an Æ who can open the P.O.S). The mission is to defeat the Black Mamba, free Æ and reach the KOSMO.

Moreover, all the other SM artists appear to be tied to this universe. The groups Girls Generation, SHINEE, Super Junior, EXO, and Red Velvet are the “five lights and goddess of sound” and probably reside in KOSMO. The group NCT appears to be connected as well, and is probably going to help aespa in their quest to free KWANGYA from the Black Mamba.

Tell me this doesn’t sound exactly like a Marvel movie, only with more singing and dancing… (The ‘Glee version’ of the Avengers, if I may).

*To find out more about the SM UNIVERSE, watch this & this video.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, storylines have now become an indispensable part of KPOP, and it’s safe to say that they are here to stay. Theorizing concepts for the various lores can be lots of fun, and it’s a harmless thing to do as you are streaming your fave’s music video. And hey – if storylines aren’t your cup of tea, at least the music is still pretty good! 

Cover Image: Kimberley Scribe

Edited by: Anna Rauxloh

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