The most-viewed music video by South Korean hip-hop duo XXX is a black and white animated story of a commercial plane ride gone horribly wrong. In deadpan images, and to the soundtrack of the group’s jagged, thumping beats, a comely flight attendant turns into a monster and a typical airline meal suddenly becomes overrun with vermin. The video contains no bright lights, flashy costumes or even any images of the group. As such, it is a fitting introduction to XXX, a group that is making waves in South Korea and overseas with a sound and aesthetic that differ sharply from most of their country’s acts. The BTS story: how K-pop’s superstar boy band conquered the world The duo, composed of rapper Ximya (born Kim Dong-hyun in 1995) and producer FRNK (born Park Jin-soo in 1993), released its latest album, “Second Language”, in February, a minimalist collection of 10 headphone-rattling tracks featuring snide rhymes in both English and Korean. The group has received recognition from some prominent voices, with The New York Times describing it as “far more confrontational” than the “determinedly poppy, perfectly groomed and eager to please” mainstream of South Korean music . Despite the buzz, the duo say they are unhappy about the politics of the music industry in their home country, where style is sometimes prioritised over substance. “What makes me kind of angry is how when you try to make a breakthrough in the Korean music industry, it’s not important to be a good musician,” Ximya said, in an interview in the windowless underground room where the group make their music, days before they left for the United States to perform at the SXSW festival. “It’s important that you be a good entertainer. You’ve got to be on TV shows and take these entertainment interviews, stuff that’s not really related to music.” “Artists don’t produce the music they want, they produce something that they think the label might want,” he added. XXX are making music at a time when young South Koreans are frustrated. Their country is beset by worsening air pollution , an unforgiving job market where only those with elite credentials can get ahead, and a housing market where even modest dwellings come with whopping price tags. “The younger generation in Korea is worried about how they’re gonna make money and it’s really hard to afford a house or a car here and it’s even harder to get a job,” Ximya said. “If you’re not accepted to a good university, society makes you think that you can’t get a job, that you’re a failure.” Support for the current government of President Moon Jae-in is lowest among people in their 20s, and particularly low among men in that age group. “This generation of South Korean men are suffering more than previous generations. It is highly possible that the reason for this is the process of a privileged group losing its advantage,” Hong Sung-soo, a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, wrote in a recent column. XXX’s lyrics are not explicitly political, but instead bubble with a latent sense of generalised frustration. Nowadays most South Korean musical acts avoid lyrics that are political or activist in nature. “Starting in the early 1990s, after South Korea’s democratisation, there hasn’t been much music related to social issues,” said Jungwon Kim, chief editor of HipHopLE. “At that time, South Korea became more open to outside cultural influences and it became unnatural for artists to speak about issues that were seen as political.” XXX are operating at a time when hip hop has reached unprecedented mainstream prominence in South Korea, due in large part to Show Me the Money - a competitive reality television show launched, according to one of the founders, “to let people know that there is more than just idol dance music in Korea.” Most of the rappers that have made their names on the show have focused on conventional hip-hop themes of wealth and success. As such, Korean hip hop has been accused of being a derivative form of American music. Other critics point out that, like XXX, there is plenty to Korean hip hop that isn’t on TV. “There is a spectrum of styles and there are artists who try to keep up with the latest trends in the United States , and those who try to do things that are more uniquely Korean,” said Kim Bong-hyun, a South Korean hip-hop critic. “Artists naturally absorb outside influences, and that isn’t necessarily mimicry.” How K-pop gets away with cultural appropriation – of R&B, hip hop and bubblegum pop XXX are an especially interesting listen if you, like Ximya, are fluent in both English and Korean, as the rapper melds his rhymes by combining sounds in the two languages, stringing together multisyllabic bars that play on the nuances of the two languages. “Switching back and forth between languages has long been a technique Korean rappers use to distinguish themselves, and XXX have proven to be particularly good at it,” said Um Haekyung, a senior lecturer in the department of music at the University of Liverpool. On “Ooh Ah,” which comes across as subtle mockery of conventional notions of success, Ximya sounds resigned to the rat race, rapping, “I was never the one, never the classy moneymaker. I’m done with stats and numbers,” along with a Korean phrase that translates (politely) as “I’m a fool for music.” Ximya partly grew up in the United States, and was set to attend university there before he changed his mind. “I paid for the first semester so I could write that I’m a college dropout,” he said. He is now at an age where most parents expect their kids to have settled into a stable career, and be thinking about starting a family. Do his folks ever pressure him to give up this music stuff and do something more predictable? “I think my parents feel like it’s too late for me to do anything else,” he said.