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G-Dragon – K-pop's golden boy

How the child star G-Dragon is changing south Korean pop music, with the backing of the world's best fashion houses

K-pop – possibly the most exciting pop music in the world – discussed here in Bubble Pop! by hyperfan Edwina Mukasa every month. Shingihan!

Ji-yong Kwon, the 24-year-old otherwise known as G-Dragon, is one of the most powerful artists within the K-pop industry and the current King of K-pop. The leader of the biggest K-pop group around, BIGBANG, the 24-year-old G-Dragon has been in the industry for over 15 years, first as a trainee at age 8 for SM Entertainment, the most powerful Entertainment company in Korea. Years later, he moved to Hip-Hop centric YG Entertainment, the famed company behind artists like girl group 2NE1 and the world's favourite oppa, PSY. Despite coming from a music industry where manufactured pop is shamelessly widespread, G-Dragon manages to challenge our ideas of mass produced pop music with his contributions to many of current K-pop hits with BIGBANG’s “Bad Boy”, “Fantastic Baby”, and “Monster”. 

To start as a K-pop child star, most begin auditioning at an entertainment company. K-pop entertainment companies hold several lengthy singing auditions around Seoul and abroad in the constant hunt to find new talent. Children as young as 11 – if not younger – audition against thousands of other hopefuls for a chance to be a trainee. From then on they are treated as adults. As child prodigies, they are working towards being professionals so they train for hours on end in singing, dancing, in languages such as English or Japanese and acting.  The ultimate aim for companies is to create world-class artists and there is no room for error. The training lasts for on average for about five years until the entertainment company feel they are ready to ‘debut’ or launched as a band or a solo artist. 

All this caretaking makes G-Dragon’s innovations all the more significant. As a part of BIGBANG, his musical style originally targeted young female fans, but with his solo efforts his music reaches beyond different demographic groups. His music delivers an antidote for a generation of young, modern Koreans breaking away from Korean conventions.  G-Dragon’s latest singles, from 2012's One of A Kind EP show a more mature approach than his 2009 debut solo album Heartbreaker. Songs like “That XX” reveal a more slow, and pensive character in comparison to songs like “One of a Kind” and “Crayon”. 

Until about 5 years ago, K-pop stars weren’t celebrated for their producing contributions to their music because they were not particularly encouraged. It was widely known that most artists usually had a musical team behind them writing their songs. But now, thanks to artists like G-Dragon, more K-pop artists began to openly talk about their desire to be instrumental in their musical and were gaining respect and compliments for more than just their good looks and cool clothes. He’s allowed artists to have more of a say in their work, as he showed how much success could come out from being his self-produced, artistic distinctiveness. 

G-Dragon manages to re-work the sound of K-pop from being a mass-produced, cute-driven, clean-cut formula, to transforming it and making completely collaborative and unusual creations. He does this by experimenting with influences from American rap to using flashes of Middle Eastern, and traditional Korean sounds alongside long-time YG Entertainment producer Teddy Park. Rather than the cute love songs that dominate K-pop, he sings about being young, and the freedom and complications that come along with it, using direct and explicit language instead of the typical innuendo. 

K-pop would not be where it is now without its individual packaging style. Its art direction is as addictive, highly controlled and colourful as a packet of skittles. G-Dragon uses this to be as conspicuous as possible, within cute, demure even, Korean archetypes. Frequently dressed in gear by Balmain, Chrome Hearts, Jeremy Scott, Comme des Garçons and Givenchy, Nicola Formichetti is such a fan he asked him to soundtrack his Mugler show – you can check out his strongest ten looks in the gallery above. Musically,  Grimes provided one of her more fangirl moments on twitter, writing “G Dragon i love you "and “G-Dragon is definitely the pinnacle of pop for me”.

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