Let’s talk K-pop
K-pop is the genre that is capturing the world by storm, creating a global phenomenon by influencing many around the world and dominating global music charts like Billboard’s Hot 100. But what is K-pop? K-pop is a popular genre originating from South Korea, given the shorter version of the name Korean pop. Having influences from different genres around the world like hip hop, pop, R&B, and many more, it brings its own uniqueness like you’ve never seen before.
How did it all start and reach its modern form? Before the reformation of South Korea’s democratic government in 1987, the K-pop that we see and listen to today did not exist. The reformation of the government acceleratedmodernisation and decreased the amount of censorship within the country which, in turn, impacted a change in the media – specifically on television. Despite all this, it wasn’t until the liberalization of South Korean media in the late 80’s that broadcasting stations developed their networks, allowing more variations of music coming from all over the world including contemporary American music. However, there were still constraints on the media including discouragement of independent music and certain genres like rock still creating controversy.
In 1992, a single called Nan Arayo (I know) by boy band Seo Taiji and Boys released on talent show MBC was the first step towards the modern version of K-pop, incorporating both South Korean culture and American pop music. While the group was not successful on MBC’S talent show, the single reached the top of Korea’s single charts, resulting in the longest number one streak in the country’s history. The boy band were seen as authentic innovators changing the Korean music industry. Even though they disbanded in 1996, they left a huge impact on the industry – paving the way for future artists, allowing them to be experimental and to challenge the traditional norms within the music industry.
K-pop’s first steps to becoming successful in the West
During the 2000s, there had been many attempts to bring the crossover between Eastern and Western music industries. This included girl groups like Wonder Girls touring with the Jonas Brothersand Girls Generationappearing on David Letterman’s Late Night program. Despite this effort, there was not much success due to the constant reminder to audiences about the dark side of K-pop, with journalists continuously discussing trainee systems, slave contracts, weight monitoring and no dating rules – all of which often resulted in suicides.
Where there was stronger management, there was a much higher possibility of a crossover of K-Pop and western music. One example is 2NE1: the band members were known as the queens of K-pop and CL, a member from the band, had a lot of potential. The media claimed she had all the makings of a true Korean star crossover, however, due to management it was wasted on bad decisions. Despite this, she was the first Korean artist to perform and make an appearance on the James Corden Late Show – an impressive milestone in normalising K-pop in Western countries.
By 2012, K-pop was slowly progressing amongst US and global audiences following YouTube hits like Gangnam Style by PSY. Under the same management as 2NE1, boy band BigBang paved the way for K-pop in the second generation. BigBang successfully reached the billboards charts with two albums in 2012 and 2016. What was impressive was the fact that neither BigBang nor 2NE1 had sung in English to reach this success – showing K-pop’s progression and how doors had opened in the US and global market.
Following this increasing success, K-con was introduced and held in the US in 2012. It attracted a few hundred fans and intrigued locals, enabling attendance numbers to grow to 125,000. K-pop’s domination in the West was cemented on October 6th 2017 by boy band BTS who were the first Korean to play a US Stadium in New York’s city field. Not only did their show sell out within minutes – arguably due to their success of the hit ‘Fake Love’ which reached 10thspot in Billboards US Hot 100 – but they also manged to obtain more than 35.9 million YouTube views in the first 24 hours.
BTS’ Western success
BTS debuted June 2013 but rose to prominent success globally in 2017. In November 2020, WSJ magazine awarded BTS the Innovators Award 2020 for globalising K-pop culture. The band continues to break boundaries including language barriers with their music and between their fans, with band member Suga stating we go beyond what language can convey. BTS continue to break records and were the first K-pop act to receive a Grammy Nomination – showing just how far K-pop has come.
With all these outstanding achievements and a substantial reputation, BTS are using their platform to promote and bring awareness to important issues. In 2018, they gave a speech in the UN General Assembly introducing and promoting Love Myself, a two-year, anti-violence campaign, in partnership with UNICEF. Furthermore, in 2020 the band partnered with UNICEF again to discuss the current global environment with COVID-19 and how we must continue as life goes on.
K-pop continues to rise as a genre globally and this success is breaking boundaries created within specific industries. Moreover, it’s showing the global progression of audiences who are learning about new cultures and genres. Would you ever consider listening to K-pop? Do you think that with K-pop taking the world by storm, that you might be a part of the future influence it has on the global community and music industry?