We Need To Talk About K-Pop

K-Pop is a global sensation—and even that might be an understatement. It’s a commercial music force, with music blending the genres of hip-hop, rap, electronica, dance, pop, and so much more. Today, K-Pop idols are at the forefront of beloved luxury and streetwear brands, from chic Celine to classic Dior to the beloved Bottega Veneta. For the SS23 season, the iconic K-Pop star JENO from NCT opened Peter Do’s NYFW showcase. 

Beyond the western fashion industry, K-Pop artists go big with their styling each comeback. Every new music video is an eclectic blend of styles with an array of influences. While most artists are styled in extravagant twists on regular streetwear, several others are more avant-garde. The silhouettes are playful, the colours bold. Stage performances with layered tulle dresses and music videos with dramatic ball gowns are a common sight in K-Pop. One thing’s for sure: K-Pop fashion is always pushing boundaries.  

Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable K-Pop concept images in recent history.

Aespa’s Savage

The concept photos for aespa’s 2021 EP, Savage, are a breathtaking exploration of digital elements in the editorial space. Centering the idea of AE, which are digital versions of the girls themselves, each aespa photoshoot blurs the gap between real and virtual, and between the girls and their avatars. Their concept has a sci-fi undertone to it, and is ultimately what sets the group apart from many others in the industry.

The stylist, Kim Wook, used streetwear favourites such as sleek cropped blazers, biker trousers, faux fur leg warmers, fringes, corsetry, and more for the shoot. The garments thus had a futuristic look to them, which Kim emphasized with the use of sharp metallic jewelry. Moreover, the images of each aespa member—Karina, Ning Ning, Winter, and Giselle—are threaded together by stylistic and digital elements such as dragon scales, stark chrome, and fierce angles.

What makes the styling of aespa’s Savage so note-worthy, however, is the fact that it isn’t just an exploration of the group’s style. It acts as an extension of their music. Savage explores aespa’s fear of turning into machines. The production has a metallic, almost cyber-core quality to it; the lyrics are harsh, fierce, and unforgiving—a theme that is overtly reflected in the concept images. 

Itzy’s Loco

ITZY’s Loco is a flourish of eclectic styles, patterns, and colours. With design elements such as patchwork, cut-outs, and plaid, the looks are stylistically reminiscent of high-end upcycled clothing.

, We Need To Talk About K-Pop, Liminul Magazine

, We Need To Talk About K-Pop, Liminul Magazine

Denim is fused with various plaid patterns in a pair of flared trousers. A corset dress blends various floral-printed pieces in a stunning mosaic, complete with black lace and exquisite boning. AREA’s pink heart cut-out blazer, which went viral in 2021, also makes an appearance. Graphic tees are spiced up with crystal bra-shaped body jewelry. In performance videos, skater skirts are paired with cut-out tights and tulle layers underneath. The biker jackets paired with these skirts are a rainbow of colours, reminiscent of oil spills on asphalt roadways.

, We Need To Talk About K-Pop, Liminul Magazine

Everything about the Loco editorials and music videos is loud, bold, and fun—which works with the theme of the song: being confident about your desires, and unabashedly going after them, even if they drive you ‘crazy’. 

Taeyong’s Shalala

TAEYONG’s Shalala is the epitome of maximalism in K-Pop. The debut EP featured six series of concept images. The first, titled ‘Code: Collector’, features the artist in a green-and-black puffer jumpsuit, complete with headwear. The accessories—which range from layered silver chain-link necklaces to green and red braces to coloured wires as rings—add to the playful, maximalist concept. A later concept series, titled ‘Code: Thorn’, was an anti-minimalist twist on a relatively sleek silhouette and material. Taeyong wears a black set with a cut-out top and a thick leather cape. The flared leather trousers feature fabric manipulations that allow for a classic silhouette and material to stand out.

The concept imagery itself places Taeyong as a model for an editorial shoot, rather than a K-Pop star preparing for his debut. The angles, colours, lighting, and poses showcase his style, the set design, and the theme of his music. This fresh perspective on concept imagery is ultimately what makes this photoshoot so visually striking.

Le Sserafim’s Eve, Psyche, and the Bluebeard’s Wife

The visuals of Le Sserafim’s beloved single, Eve, Psyche, and the Bluebeard’s Wife are just as addicting as the song itself. The song is an ode to the women who boldly reached for their desires, and were later condemned for it. It celebrates the idea of being yourself regardless of society’s expectations of—and reactions to—you. 

The group’s modern twist on the theme incorporates classic street style, blending athletic-chic with bold slogans like ‘BACK OFF!’. Loose-fitting jackets, ripped baggy jeans, and off-shoulder tops complement the lyrics of the song—which condemns society’s standards, and celebrates the notion of doing things for fun. Although understated, the styling emanates a languid, effortless style that brims with confidence. 

EXO’s Obsession

EXO’s electric, dream-like style in their concept photos—and music video—for Obsession is a fierce collision of cropped leather jackets, striking heterochromatic contact lenses, ops-style gear, and more. The group remixes classic streetwear pieces with a darker edge. There’s sleek leather, baggy utility vests, and hoodies patched over with pieces of denim. 

The two conflicting styles represent the narrative of the music video: a fight between EXO and their doppelgangers. As such, the audience is dropped into a hazy, almost dream-like arena where the battle occurs. The stylistic choices therefore evoke a fever-dream like state; realism is far from the goal, resulting in the concept images having an intense editorial feel. With the coloured leather blazers, liberal piercings, stylish hair extensions, fierce make-up, shredded denim, and more, there’s plenty of reasons why Obsession is a fan-favourite when it comes to EXO’s fashion.

K-Pop has undoubtedly changed the way we perceive fashion in conjunction with music. Beyond the visual appeal, it’s a dynamic way for audiences to engage with the themes of an album. After all—in the K-Pop industry, the sky’s the limit when it comes to fashion.

, We Need To Talk About K-Pop, Liminul MagazineSimren Jaswani is an editorial intern at Liminul Magazine and a Fashion Student at Toronto Metropolitan University.