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Young Koreans are quick to recognize and respond to new trends. Although this trait has some merits, it also has downsides.
Coupled with materialism, peer pressure and showy consumption, many feel they need to possess certain trendy items, like sneakers, backpacks or high-end puffer jackets made by expensive brands, in order to “blend in” with their friends.
This phenomenon gave rise to the widely used slang term, “deunggol beureikeo (등골 브레이커),” which combines the Korean word for spine or backbone, “deunggol,” and the English word “breaker,” translating into “financial backbone breakers.”
Items coveted by these backbone breakers include US outdoor brand the North Face’s signature down jackets, which won the hearts of Korean teenagers in the 2000s and late 2010s. The love for North Face jackets more recently evolved into an interest in other high-end, but similar brands such as Canada Goose.
Electronic goods such as iPhones and iPads are also considered trendy among teens here, putting them on the list of backbone-breaker items.
The 2014 song "Spine Breaker" by K-pop juggernaut BTS offers a blunt critique of this culture among teens, featuring lyrics that can be roughly translated as follows:
"Even in the face of your parents' bent backbones, you are so coldhearted. You gripe about all your friends having things and about your parents needing to buy those things for you."