The place I hear pop songs most frequently is in stores, though I’m not sure if that’s just because it’s where I’m most frequently found. The group I’ve heard most often during my shopping trips is Beast - as I said in a previous post, both "Midnight" and "아름다운 밤이야" (It’s A Beautiful Night) get lots of play. Orange Caramel’s "Lipstick" and Kara’s "Pandora" are also strong contenders.
"Gangnam Style" is also everywhere - obviously, though I’ve heard quite a few stories from foreigners teaching English here who’ve received e-mails from home asking “Have you heard of this song???” But it’s everywhere in a way that seems more democratic or more part of the public than the implied imposition of shopping music. Unlike the songs I’ve heard in stores, I’ve heard “Gangnam Style” mostly in snippets - someone’s ringtone, or a clip playing in the metro, or the video playing without sound at a rest stop souvenir stand. And “X style” is a popular snowclone both in conversation and in advertising. (X is usually a place, though in most ads it’s a brand.)
Other “pop in the wild” anecdotes, by song:
- A nice R&B remix of ZE:A’s “후유증” (Aftermath) surprised me in a cafe. (The original song itself is fairly popular in stores.)
- I heard Super Junior’s "Spy" for the first time while shopping and I actually liked it a lot, though it doesn’t sound so great on this second listen I’m doing as I type. NU’EST’s "Action" also sounded a lot better to me in public than when I had sat down and listened to it, at least until the unnecessary dubstep breakdown, which remains unnecessary.
- BTOB’s "Wow" also gets played pretty often in stores, but it sounds just as good on its own as in public.
- Indie group Busker Busker remains popular; I hear both "벚꽃 엔딩" (Cherry Blossom Ending) and "정말로 사랑한다면" (If You Really Love Me) a lot. I heard a group jam of the latter on Jungjang-no in Gwangju, where a few guys were playing guitars, djembe (?), and melodica in the square.
- Songs that have come up as a result of conversation are Secret’s "Shy Boy" (which a Korean friend sang the chorus of while we were talking about shy people) and Miss A’s "Bad Girl Good Girl".
- According to my friend, in some gay clubs they play American dance music in the first half of the night and K-pop in the second half. When certain songs come on, many people in the crowd do the choreographed moves, though it’s spontaneous and not like a line dance.
- While taking the lift to Namsan, a tour guide on the elevator with us started playing Sistar’s "Alone" on her phone speakers before she walked out. Similarly, I encountered a couple on a mountain in Suncheon playing "Loving U" over the boy’s phone speakers as they walked.
- At the Buso Fortress (near Buyeo), a group of girls on a school trip started singing Teen Top’s "To You" from “ireokke na honja” through the rap, all in unison.
- In Jeonju, I woke up at 2:30 AM to a crowd of people singing Big Bang’s "Haru Haru" to a backing track with a keyboard playing the melody, something like crowd karaoke, I imagine. They also sang Wonder Girls’ "Be My Baby" before retiring for the night.