As K-pop artists headline festivals and K-pop tracks take over the charts, its power to build communities and drive change could be the perfect ally for the climate movement.

4 August 2023

Despite being a massive pop fan as a kid, and being fortunate to be a kid as New Wave and the New Romantics smashed in with a fresh take on pop that led me from Adam Ant to Numan to the Human League and OMD and Ultravox, once I became an indie kid, that 80’s orthodoxy straight jacket meant I didn’t really interact with pop again until University.

More than that, the snobbish dismissal of pop that came with being an 80’s indie kid, that weird Morrissey thing of loving 60’s pop whilst denying contemporary pop, stuck with me for years after..

Lately, I have been part of a re-education program around a specific area of pop music.

Until recently, all K-Pop meant to me was squeaky clean Ken doll boys doing bad N-Sync impressions to standardised pop. Thanks to the efforts of my daughter I am now aware that K-Pop means everything from hard techno inspired beats to dirty basslines, bubblegum pop singalongs to nu-rave crescendos, crunching breaks to smooth soul swing. And that (for me and her) the female groups generally do it better. Mind…blown.

I’m especially fond of one track, Le Sserafim’s brilliantly titled ‘Eve, Psyche, and the Bluebeard’s Wife’, a remix of which from Rina Sayawama dropped this week. It’s likely to be massive.

Ok, so what has this got to do with the climate thing you ask?

Well, in the first instance, the continued rise of K-Pop and its seemingly endless ability to reimagine and combine multiple strands of music could stand as a metaphor for how the creative climate community might want to approach our work going forward. Avoiding getting stuck in a messaging rut seems top of the ‘to do’ list for climate communicators to my mind

The skill of the K-pop creators to realise complete productions that embody audio, visual, and social offers a template for how to get noticed and cut through in our oversated world.

The ability of what appears to be music for entertainment to contain, in the case of female acts like Le Sserafim, Itzy, Black Pink, and others, pointed comments on everyday chauvinism, perceived correct behaviour for women, and unrealistic beauty standards could act as inspiration for how we message around the climate and biodiversity crisis.

And the reality of a music that, most of the time, carries that message in a language that is not understood by a huge amount of its fans, yet still carries its message globally, points a way forward for a global communication challenge that requires collaborative messaging.

To do all this with a sense of joy at being alive…well, that’s the cherry on top.

But, most of all, what fascinates and excites me most about the K-Pop world that my daughter has invited me into is the sense of joy, excitement, and community that it creates. Not just in creating fans, which it does exceedingly well but, through its perceived values, in creating activists. We’ve had some contact with KPop4Planet whose ‘No K-pop on a dead planet' campaign has delivered real results in South East Asia. We’ve seen first hand how a Black Pink audience relates to our message on site at Hyde Park. And we know that the major K-pop companies are aware of the issues through their actions to date.

The values and ethics that lie at the heart of the fandom match with those of the climate movement. It’s something we strive to replicate in our groups across the world, to build, develop, and maintain a community joined by their love of music and their belief in a better world. I look forward to welcoming more K-pop artists and companies into the MDE community and hope for a MDE South Korea that can harness this incredible power to make a real difference through music.

So, in an effort to indoctrinate you as well (and maybe indulge the DJ in me) have a go at this.

Le Sserafim- ‘Eve, Psyche and the Bluebeard’s Wife’.