It was midnight when co-ed K-pop band K.A.R.D arrived at the Delhi airport. Though social media was not exactly set alight by their arrival, the fans who did turn up were die-hard, greeting the group, applying tilak onto their foreheads, gifting them sweets, and tweeting the whole process with #NamasteKARD.
K.A.R.D is the biggest K-pop group to play in India so far, with the ‘Play Your KARD Right
Tour’ organised by Pink Box events, spanning Delhi and Guwahati on July 12 and July 14 respectively.
The growing K-pop phenomenon in India is well-documented, owing its roots to the explosive 2012 hit that was PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’. In Manipur, the phenomena is older, dating to an erstwhile ban on Indian media that led the valley’s youth to turn to Korean culture. K-pop has since grown so popular that hundreds now take Korean classes in Delhi at the Korean Cultural Centre India (KCCI).
K.A.R.D., a band signed under DSP Media, is among the most successful co-ed groups in Korea. To understand why they are the way they are, it is important to understand the dynamics of the K-pop business.
Firstly, bands are more often created than found. Media organisations called agencies scout and recruit aspiring K-pop idols, schooling them in the varied arts of singing, dancing, acting, and fabdom at camps renowned for their strict regimes. K.A.R.D’s agency is DSP Media, who also have April, Heo Young-ji and A-Jax under their belt, as well as the now-disbanded Rainbow.
Once a band is made, they need a ‘concept’. These are simple themes that allow them to stylise their look, music, group dynamics and theme for a music video (commonly abbreviated to MV). Concepts range from ‘cute’ to ‘sexy’ as broad themes to ‘high school uniforms’ and ‘boy/girl next door’ to thematic looks like supernatural, fairytale and so on.
Despite the plethora of K-pop bands, co-ed outfits are rare in the industry. Being co-ed is a concept by itself, demanding that the band made creative decisions about how to distinguish the look and style of the boys and girls (or whether they should at all).
Though the band-members — J.Seph, BM, Somin and Jiwoo — are frequently ‘paired’ in their music videos, they are not involved romantically with each other, according to an interview they gave Billboard. This matters in the highly perception-based world of K-pop, where stalker/fans (ironically and unironically known as ‘stans’) can get possessive over their idols, losing interest when they find them in relationships.
K.A.R.D made their debut in December 2016 with the single ‘Oh Nana’. They later released ‘Don't Recall’ and ‘Rumour’, making a name for themselves in the reggaetón and dancehall space. As with many bands, they span and incorporate multiple genres, adding hip-hop into the mix when necessary and with plans for an ‘emotional R&B’ single soon.
K-pop stardom is all about the art of winning hearts. Bandmember JSeph won many an Indian 'dil' after an interview in 2017, where he sang the song ‘Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai’ from 2008’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
In a recent VLive — a popular Korean livestreaming service — the band mentioned Indian artists like Honey Singh. Eager Indian fans hope that they add to their desi arsenal with a full cover or some Bollywood dialogues.
K.A.R.D.’s India concert will be watched by many. If it succeeds, K-Pop fans can expect more big groups to take the desi stage.