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The rise of k-pop, and what it reveals about society and culture.

Initially a musical subculture popular in South Korea during the 1990s, Korean Pop, or K-pop, has transformed into a global cultural phenomenon.

Characterized by catchy hooks, polished choreography, grandiose live performances, and impeccably produced music videos, K-pop — including music by groups like BTS and BLACKPINK — now frequently tops the Billboard charts, attracts a fiercely dedicated online following, and generates billions of dollars.

Yale sociologist Grace Kao, who became fascinated with the music after watching a 2019 performance by BTS on Saturday Night Live, now studies the subgenres of K-pop and its cultural, sociological, and political effects.

Kao, the IBM Professor of Sociology and professor of ethnicity, race, and migration in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Center on Empirical Research in Stratification and Inequality (CERSI), recently spoke with Yale News about the kinds of research her interest in K-pop has prompted, why the genre’s rise has been important to so many Asian Americans, and why she urges today’s students to become familiar with various musical genres.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

You have said that watching BTS on Saturday Night Live changed your view of K-pop. How did that performance transform your interest in K-pop from a personal one into an academic one?

Grace Kao: I saw that performance, and it stayed in the back of my mind. Then, when we were on lockdown because of COVID, being stuck at home set the stage for having time to watch more K-pop videos. At first, I was just watching them for fun. I knew K-pop was something important, but I didn’t know anything about it. I thought “I should educate myself on this.” My current research collaborator, Wonseok Lee [an ethnomusicologist and a musician at Washington University], and a Yale graduate student, Meera Choi, who’s Korean, offered guidance.

I’ve always been interested in race and ethnicity and Asian Americans. I knew in my gut that K-pop was important, but it was hard to figure out exactly how I could work on it, since I’m a quantitative sociologist. What's fun about being a researcher and being in academia is that we can learn new things and push ourselves. I think that’s the best part of this job.

Grace Kao recommends this playlist to get started.

When I started working on it, I tried to learn without having a clear research question. Then, along with my collaborator, Lee, we started thinking about papers that we could work on together. I was also able to take first-semester Korean, so now I can read Korean, and Choi and I can begin working on different research papers.

What kinds of research are you doing?

Kao: One paper is about the link between ’80s synth-pop and very current K-pop. Others have argued that K-pop borrows heavily from American Black music — R&B, hip hop, and so forth. And it’s true, but we’re arguing that K-pop has links to all these different genres because the production is much faster. We also finished another paper looking at the links between New Wave synth-pop to Japanese city pop [which was also popular in the 1980s] and a Korean version of city pop. And we’re probably going to start a reggae paper next.

In another project, with two data scientists we’re looking at Twitter data related to a 2021 BTS tweet that happened about a week after a gunman in Atlanta murdered eight women, including six of Asian descent. The tweet, which was about #StopAsianHate, or #StopAAPIHate, was the most retweeted tweet of the year. Everyone in that world knows that K-pop is extremely influential, but there are moments now where it seems like it’s ripe for political action because fans are already really organized. We’re looking at how the conversation about the shootings before and after they tweeted changed. The analysis involves millions of tweets, so it's very data intensive work.

Last March you gave a talk on campus in which you talked about the role of K-pop in “transformative possibilities for Asian Americans.” What is an example of those possibilities?

Kao: Partly it’s just visibility. The SNL performance by BTS was really important for people. Especially people my age, we had never seen a bunch of East Asian people on the stage singing in a non-English, non-Western language. I knew that was an important moment regardless of whether or not you like the music or the performance.

I think during COVID, BTS made Asian faces more visible. They were on the cover of Time magazine, every major publication. They were everywhere. But it also brought up questions of xenophobia. People were making fun of them because of how they looked. At the time there was also the extra baggage that comes with being Asian. But any time BTS were attacked, because their fandom is so big and so passionate, their fans would jump on anyone who did anything to them. Then journalists would cover it, and suddenly there were all these stories about how you shouldn’t be racist against Asians.

Many of us who study Asian Americans have observed over time that it often seems acceptable for people to make fun of Asian things. Just by virtue of the fact that it’s [BTS], that their fans are protecting them, and that that gets elevated to the news is a big deal. President Biden invited them to the White House. These are all things I would have had trouble imagining even just five years ago.

You teach a first-year seminar, “Race and Place in British New Wave, K-pop, and Beyond,” which focuses on the emphasis on aesthetics in both genres’ popularity. What understanding do you hope students walk away with?

Kao: I want students to take pop culture very seriously. Sometimes pop music seems not serious, but so many people consume it that it can have pervasive and serious consequences on how people see folks of different race, ethnic, gender, and national identities.

Another thing I wanted students to learn about is genres of music. Students today like music, but they consume it very differently than people did when in college. We listened to the radio or watched MTV, so we were fed something from a DJ or from actual people who were programming the content. You’d end up listening to a lot of music that you didn’t like, but you’d also have a better sense of genres than students now. Today students consume music through Spotify or YouTube and so forth, which use algorithms to give you songs that are similar to the songs you liked, but not necessarily from the same genre. Students can have diverse and wide-ranging experiences with music, but I found that they have trouble identifying that any particular song is part of a genre. So I feel like it’s important for them to listen to a lot of music.

I want them to consume it because sometimes we think we can comment on things that we don’t know anything about. We don’t actually consume it. I think it’s important for students to walk away knowing something about these genres and to be able to identify them: this is a reggae song, this is a ska song, this is synth-pop, et cetera.

What K-pop groups are you currently into?

Kao: Besides BTS, I enjoy listening to groups such as SEVENTEEN, ENHYPEN, NewJeans, Super Junior, and new group TRENDZ.

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korean pop essay

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How K-pop became a global phenomenon

No country takes its fluffy pop music more seriously than South Korea.

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They call it Hallyu, the Korean wave: the idea that South Korean pop culture has grown in prominence to become a major driver of global culture, seen in everything from Korean dramas on Netflix to Korean skincare regimens dominating the cosmetics industry to delicious Korean tacos on your favorite local menu. And at the heart of Hallyu is the ever-growing popularity of K-pop — short, of course, for Korean pop music.

K-pop has become a truly global phenomenon thanks to its distinctive blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography and production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers who spend years in grueling studio systems learning to sing and dance in synchronized perfection.

Hallyu has been building for two decades , but K-pop in particular has become increasingly visible to global audiences in the past five to 10 years. South Korean artists have hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart at least eight times since the Wonder Girls first cracked it in 2009 with their crossover hit “Nobody” — released in four different languages, including English — and the export of K-pop has ballooned South Korea’s music industry to an impressive $5 billion industry .

Now, with South Korea hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang at a moment of extremely heightened geopolitical tensions , K-pop has taken on a whole new kind of sociopolitical significance, as South Korea proudly displays its best-known export before the world.

How did K-pop become a $5 billion global industry?

korean pop essay

Vox explore K-pop’s elaborate music videos, adoring fans, and killer choreography for our Netflix series Explained .

Watch now on Netflix.

What the Winter Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies told us about K-pop (and vice versa)

During the Olympic opening ceremonies on February 9, 2018, athletes marched in the Parade of Nations to the accompaniment of a select group of K-pop hits , each playing into the image South Korea wants to present right now: one of a country that’s a fully integrated part of the global culture.

The Parade of Nations songs all have significant international and digital presences, and each advertises the cross-cultural fluency of K-pop. Twice’s “Likey” is a huge recent hit for the group, and recently made it to 100 million views on YouTube faster than any other song by a K-pop girl group. (The video prominently features the girls on a fun field trip to Vancouver, marketing the idea that they’re at home all over the world.) Big Bang’s “Fantastic Baby” was one of the first K-pop hits to make inroads in American culture and was featured on Glee’ s K-pop episode along with “Gangnam Style,” which also played during the Parade of Nations.

Psy’s ubiquitous 2012 hit is part doofy comedy and part clear-eyed satire, made by a musician who’s part of a wave of South Korean musicians who’ve studied at American music schools. “Gangnam Style” spent five years racking up more than 3 billion views on YouTube, reigning as the most-viewed video in the platform’s history before being dethroned in 2017.

As a whole, these songs and performers show us that K-pop stars can excel at everything from singing to comedy to rap to dance to social commentary. And their fun, singable melodies make it clear that the South Korean music industry has perfected the pop production machine into an effervescent assembly line of ridiculously catchy tunes sung by ridiculously talented people in ridiculously splashy videos. When Red Velvet sing, “Bet you wanna (bet you wanna) dance like this” in their single “Red Flavor,” they’re sending a message to the world that South Korea is modern but wholesome, colorful, inviting, and fun.

And at the Olympics closing ceremonies, we saw live performances from two more K-pop icons: solo artist CL, formerly a member of the powerhouse girl group 2NE1, and multi-national band Exo. CL’s appearance was a testament to her success in achieving one of the holy grails for K-Pop — a crossover into US fame, or at least onto the Billboard Hot 100. CL has landed on the list twice since 2015.

Exo, meanwhile, is arguably one of the two or three biggest K-Pop successes going right now. The band was a perfect fit for the Olympics — they’re multilingual and were formed with the intention of performing in Mandarin and Japanese as well as South Korea. And for several years, Exo was split into two subgroups, one performing mainly in Korea and one mainly in China. All of this made them a great choice to serve as a symbolic transition between nations, as Tokyo gets ready to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, followed by Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022.

Prominently missing from the live performance roster at the Olympics was the most popular K-pop band in the universe at the moment: BTS. BTS became an uncontested US phenomenon in 2017, with two songs hitting the Billboard Hot 100, a huge performance at the American Music Awards, a New Year’s Eve performance in Times Square, and a remix of their latest single, “Mic Drop,” done by Steve Aoki. If it’s possible to ascribe a tipping point to a “wave” that seems to be endless, BTS might be it; it certainly seems that the all-boy group has gone as far as a South Korean band can go in terms of making inroads into American culture — they recently graced the cover of American Billboard magazine. But while the band was missing from the Olympics, their song “DNA” — the other of their pair of 2017 hits — did at least play during the opening ceremonies, much to the delight of fans.

None of this is accidental. K-pop has become the international face of South Korea thanks to an extremely regimented, coordinated production system. More than any other international music industry, K-pop has been strategically designed to earworm its way into your brain — and to elevate South Korea and its culture onto the world stage.

How did we get here? Through a combination of global political changes, savvy corporatization and media management, and a heck of a lot of raw talent being ground through a very powerful stardom mill.

K-pop began in 1992 with one electric hip-hop performance

K-pop as we know it wouldn’t exist without democracy and television — specifically, South Korea’s reformation of its democratic government in 1987, with its accompanying modernization and lightening of censorship, and the effect this change had on television.

Prior to the establishment of the nation’s Sixth Republic , there were only two broadcast networks in the country, and they largely controlled what music South Koreans listened to; singers and musicians weren’t much more than tools of the networks. Networks introduced the public to musical stars primarily through weekend music talent shows. Radio existed but, like the TV networks, was under tight state control. Independent music production didn’t really exist, and rock music was controversial and subject to banning ; musicians and songs were primarily introduced to the public through the medium of the televised talent show, and radio served as little more than a subsidiary platform for entertainers who succeeded on those weekend TV competitions.

Before the liberalization of South Korean media in the late ‘80s, the music produced by broadcast networks was primarily either slow ballads or “trot,” a Lawrence Welk-ish fusion of traditional music with old pop standards. After 1987, though, the country’s radio broadcasting expanded rapidly, and South Koreans became more regularly exposed to more varieties of music from outside the country, including contemporary American music.

But TV was still the country’s dominant, centralized form of media: As of 1992, national TV networks had penetrated above 99 percent of South Korean homes, and viewership was highest on the weekends, when the talent shows took place. These televised talent shows were crucial in introducing music groups to South Korean audiences; they still have an enormous cultural impact and remain the single biggest factor in a South Korean band’s success.

As Moonrok editor Hannah Waitt points out in her excellent series on the history of K-pop, K-pop is unusual as a genre because it has a definitive start date, thanks to a band called Seo Taiji and Boys. Seo Taiji had previously been a member of the South Korean heavy metal band Sinawe , which was itself a brief but hugely influential part of the development of Korean rock music in the late ‘80s. After the band broke up, he turned to hip-hop and recruited two stellar South Korean dancers, Yang Hyun-suk and Lee Juno, to join him as backups in a group dubbed Seo Taiji and Boys. On April 11, 1992, they performed their single “Nan Arayo (I Know)” on a talent show:

Not only did the Boys not win the talent show, but the judges gave the band the lowest score of the evening. But immediately after the song debuted, “I Know” went on to top South Korea’s singles charts for a record-smashing 17 weeks, which would stand for more than 15 years as the longest No. 1 streak in the country’s history.

“I Know” represented the first time modern American-style pop music had been fused with South Korean culture. Seo Taiji and Boys were innovators who challenged norms around musical styles, song topics, fashion, and censorship. They sang about teen angst and the social pressure to succeed within a grueling education system, and insisted on creating their own music and writing their own songs outside of the manufactured network environment.

By the time Seo Taiji and Boys officially disbanded in 1996, they had changed South Korea’s musical and performance landscape, paving the way for other artists to be even more experimental and break even more boundaries — and for music studios to quickly step in and take over, forming an entire new studio system from the remnants of the broadcast-centered system.

Between 1995 and 1998, three powerhouse music studios appeared: SM Entertainment (often referred to as SM Town) in 1995; JYP Entertainment in 1997; and YG Entertainment in 1998, created by one of the members of Seo Taiji and Boys, Yang Hyun-suk. Together, these studios began deliberately cultivating what would become known as idol groups.

The first idol group in South Korea appeared on the scene in 1996, when SM founder Lee Soo-man created a group called H.O.T. by assembling five singers and dancers who represented what he believed teens wanted to see from a modern pop group.

H.O.T. shared traits with today’s idol groups: a combination of singing, dancing, and rapping, and disparate personalities united through music. In 1999, the band was chosen to perform in a major benefit concert with Michael Jackson, in part because of their potential to become international pop stars — an indication that even in the ’90s, the industry was attuned to K-pop’s potential for global success.

That potential can be seen in the studios’ eager promotion of multilingual artists like BoA , who made her public debut at the age of 13 in 2000 and in the ensuing years has become one of South Korea’s best-known exports thanks to a brand built on raw talent and multicultural positivity.

All the while, K-pop as a whole was building its own brand, one based on flash, style, and a whole lot of quality.

Don’t ask what makes a K-pop song. Ask what makes a K-pop performer.

There are three things that make K-pop such a visible and unique contributor to the realm of pop music: exceptionally high-quality performance (especially dancing), an extremely polished aesthetic, and an “in-house” method of studio production that churns out musical hits the way assembly lines churn out cars.

No song more perfectly embodies these characteristics than Girls’ Generation’s 2009 hit “Gee,” a breakout success that came at a moment when K-pop was starting to turn heads internationally due to a number of recent milestone hits — notably Big Bang’s “Haru, Haru,” Wonder Girls’ “Nobody,” and Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra.” “Gee” was a viral internet earworm , breaking out of typical K-pop fan spaces and putting Girls’ Generation within striking distance of US fame.

The combination of cheeky, colorful concept, clever choreography, cute girls, and catchy songwriting makes “Gee” the quintessential K-pop song: It’s fun, infectious, and memorable — and it was all but algorithmically produced by a studio machine responsible for delivering perfect singing, perfect dancing, perfect videos, and perfect entertainment. The then-nine members of Girls’ Generation were factory-assembled into the picture-perfect, male-gaze-ready dolls you see in the song’s music video via extreme studio oversight and years of hard work from each woman — a combined 52 years of training in total, beginning in their childhoods.

Through highly competitive auditions, starting around ages 10 to 12, music studios induct talented children into the K-pop regimen. The children attend special schools where they take specialized singing and dancing lessons ; they learn how to moderate their public behavior and prepare for life as a pop star; they spend hours in daily rehearsals and perform in weekend music shows as well as special group performances. Through these performances, lucky kids can gain fan followings before they even officially “debut.” And when they’re old enough, if they’re really one of the lucky few, the studios will place them into an idol group or even, occasionally, launch them as a solo artist.

Once an idol group has been trained to perfection, the studios generate pop songs for them, market them, put them on TV, send them on tour, and determine when they’ll next make their “comeback” — a term that usually signals a band’s latest album release, generally accompanied by huge fanfare, special TV appearances, and a totally new thematic concept.

Because of the control they exert over their artists, South Korean music studios are directly responsible for shaping the global image of K-pop as a genre. But the industry is notoriously exploitative , and studio life is grueling to the point that it can easily cross over to abusive ; performers are regularly signed to long-term contracts, known as “slave contracts,” when they are still children, which closely dictate their private behavior, dating life, and public conduct.

The studios are also a breeding ground for predatory behavior and harassment from studio executives. In recent years, increasing public attention to these problems has given rise to change; in 2017, multiple studios agreed to significant contract reform . Still, as the recent suicide of Shinee artist Kim Jong-hyun revealed, the pressures of studio culture are rarely made public and can take a serious toll on those who grow up within the system.

Despite all this, the cloistered life of a K-pop star is coveted by thousands of South Korean teens and preteens — so much so that walk-in auditions to scout kids for the studio programs are frequently held in South Korea and New York.

In addition to studio auditions, a wave of new TV audition shows have sprung up in the past few years, giving unknowns a chance to be discovered and build a fan base. Often called idol shows or survival shows, these audition shows are comparable to American Idol and X-Factor. Competitors on these shows can make it big on their own or be grouped up — like the recently debuted group JBJ (short for the fan-dubbed moniker “Just Be Joyful”), consisting of boys who competed in the talent show Produce 101 Season 2 last year and then got put in a temporary group after fans started making composite Instagram photos of them all together. The band only has a seven-month contract; enjoy it while it lasts!

korean pop essay

These TV-sponsored idol shows have caused pushback from the studios, which see them as producing immature talent — and, of course, cutting into studio profits. That’s because a K-pop group’s success is directly tied to its live TV performances. Today there are numerous talent shows, along with many more variety shows and well-known chart TV countdown shows like Inkigayo and M Countdown, which factor into how successful — and therefore bankable — a K-pop idol or idol group is seen to be. Winning a weekend music show or weekly chart countdown remains one of the highest honors an artist or musical group can attain in the South Korean music industry.

Because of this dependence on live performance shows, a song’s performance elements — how easy it is to sing live, how easy it is for an audience to pick up and sing along with, the impact of its choreography, its costuming — are all crucial to its success. Groups routinely go all-out for their performances: Witness After-School learning to perform an entire drumline sequence for live performances of their single “Bang!” as well as pretty much every live performance mentioned here .

All of this emphasis on live performances make fans an extremely active part of the experience. K-pop fans have perfected the art of the fan chant , in which fans in live studio audiences and live performances will shout alternate fan chants over the musical intros to songs, and sometimes as a counterpoint to choruses, as a show of unity and support.

This collectivity has helped ensure that K-pop fan bases both at home and abroad are absolutely massive, and intense to a degree that’s hard to overstate. Fans intensely support their favorite group members, and many fans go out of their way to make sure their favorite idols look and dress the part of world-class performers . K-Con, the largest US K-pop convention, has grown exponentially over the years and now includes both Los Angeles and New York.

(There are also anti-fans who target band members — most notoriously an anti who attempted to poison a member of DBSK in 2006. But the less said about them, the better.)

You might expect that in the face of all this external pressure, K-pop groups would be largely dysfunctional messes. Instead, modern-day K-pop appears to be a seamless, gorgeous, well-oiled machine — complete with a few glaring contradictions that make it all the more fascinating.

Modern K-pop is a bundle of colorful contradictions

Though government censorship of South Korean music has relaxed over time, it still exists, as does industry self-censorship in response to a range of controversial topics. South Korean social mores stigmatize everything from sexual references and innuendo to references to drugs and alcohol — as well as actual illicit behavior by idols — and addressing any of these subjects can cause a song to be arbitrarily banned from radio play and broadcast. Songs dealing with serious themes or thorny issues are largely off limits, queer identity is generally only addressed as subtext, and lyrics are usually scrubbed down to fluffy platitudes. Thematically, it’s often charming and innocent, bordering on adolescent.

Despite these limitations, K-pop has grown over time in its nuance and sophistication thanks to artists and studios who have often either risked censorship or relied on visual cues and subtext to fill in the gaps.

Case in point: the 2000 hit “Adult Ceremony” from singer and actor Park Ji-yoon, which marked the first time a K-pop hit successfully injected adult sexuality into fairly innocuous lyrics, representing a notable challenge to existing depictions of femininity in South Korean pop culture.

The women of K-pop are typically depicted as traditional versions of femininity. This usually manifests in one of several themes: adorable, shy schoolgirls who sing about giddy crushes; knowing, empowered women who need an “oppa” (a strong older male figure) to fulfill their fantasies; or knowing, empowered women who reject male validation , even as the studio tailors the group’s members for adult male consumption.

korean pop essay

An idol group’s image often changes from one album to the next, undergoing a total visual and tonal overhaul to introduce a new concept. However, there are a few girl groups — 2NE1 and f(x) spring most readily to mind — that have been marketed as breaking away from this gender-centric mode of performance; they’re packaged as rebels and mavericks regardless of what their album is about, even while they operate within the studio culture.

Yet the women of K-pop are also increasingly producing self-aware videos that navigate their own relationships to these rigid impositions. Witness Sunmi, a former member of Wonder Girls, tearing down her own carefully cultivated public image in her recent single “Heroine,” a song about a woman surviving a failed relationship. In the video, Sunmi transforms physically , growing more empowered and defiant as she faces the camera and finally confronts a billboard of herself.

If songs for women in K-pop break down along the “virgin/mature woman” divide, songs for men tend to break down along a “bad boy/sophisticated man” line. Occasionally they even break down in the same song — like Block B’s “Jackpot,” the video for which sees the band posing as wildly varied members of a renegade circus, uniting to kidnap actress Kim Sae-ron into a life of cheerful hedonism.

Male performance groups are generally permitted a broader range of topics than K-pop’s women: BTS notably sings about serious issues like teen social pressures, while many other boy bands feature a wide range of narrative concepts. But male entertainers get held to arguably even more exacting physical and technical standards than their female counterparts, with precision choreography — like Speed’s all-Heely dance routine below — being a huge part of the draw for male idol groups:

If you’re wondering whether co-ed bands coexist in these studio cultures, the answer is, not really. Most of the time , co-ed groups tend to be one-off pairings of members from different bands for one or two singles, or novelty acts that are quickly split into gendered subgroups. The most famous actual co-ed band is probably the brother-sister duo Akdong Musician, a pair of cute kids who made it big on an audition show; and even they get split up a lot to pair with other singers. (See the “Hi Suhyun” clip above, which features Lee Hi and the sisterly half of AM, Lee Su-hyun.)

It probably goes without saying that this traditional gender divide isn’t exactly fertile ground for queer idols to thrive. Despite a number of K-pop stars openly supporting LGBTQ rights, the industry aggressively markets homoeroticism in its videos but remains generally homophobic. But progress is happening here, too: South Korea’s first openly gay idol just appeared on the scene in early 2018. His name is Holland, and his first single debuted to a respectable 6.5 million views.

Hip-hop tends to be a dominant part of the K-pop sound, particularly among male groups, a trend that has opened up the genre to criticism for appropriation. South Korea grapples with a high degree of cultural racism, and recent popular groups have come under fire for donning blackface , appropriating Native American iconography , and much more . Still, K-pop has increasingly embraced diversity in recent years, with black members joining K-pop groups and duo Coco Avenue putting out a bilingual single in 2017.

Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention South Korea’s emergent indie music scene , which includes a thriving crop of independent rap, hip-hop, and, increasingly, R&B artists , as well as a host of grassroots artists who’ve made waves on SoundCloud .

Taking stock of all these changes and paradoxes, we might be able to extrapolate a bit about what the future of K-pop looks like: even more diverse, with an ever-increasing number of independent artists shaking up the studio scene, even though most of them will still have to play within the system’s rigid standards.

This gradual evolution suggests that part of the reason K-pop has been able to make international inroads in recent years is that it’s been able to push against its own rigid norms, through the use of modern themes and sophisticated subtexts, without sacrificing the incredibly polished packaging that makes it so innately compelling. That would seem to be a formula for continued global success — especially now that South Korea and its culture has the world’s attention. Hallyu may swell or subside, but the K-pop production machine goes ever on. And from here, the future looks fantastic, baby .

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How did K-Pop conquer the world?

BTS

Adapted from The Inquiry on BBC World Service

It is 1992, and three young men in a boy band are performing in a live television talent contest. The sound is new: Korean lyrics, Euro pop, African American hip-hop and rap. They dance in sync. The studio audience goes wild. The judges in their prim suits are less impressed. They reveal their scorecards. The band gets the lowest mark of the night, and is voted off the show

The judges couldn't have got it more wrong.

In the next few days the song I Know climbs to the top of the charts, and stays there for a record-smashing 17 weeks. That night the group, Seo Taeji and Boys, ignites a revolution. Korean pop or K-pop was born.

K-pop is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Bands like BTS and Blackpink are selling out in the US, UK and international stadiums within minutes. BTS is second only to Drake in international music sales. How did K-pop conquer the world? It’s a story with several parts.

BTS have become a global sensation (Credit: Getty Images)

BTS have become a global sensation (Credit: Getty Images)

The revolution will be televised

At the time, Bernie Cho was working at MTV. He says young Koreans were mostly listening to western music, and Korean music was aimed at their parents' generation. But that all started to change in 1992.

“It wasn't really an evolutionary process, it was very much a revolutionary process,” says Cho. Sao Taeji and Boys blew everyone away with that one performance on the TV talent show, broadcast live into millions of South Korean homes. The band opened the door to generations of younger Korean artists who were inspired to create music using influences from other parts of the world.

In the late 1990s, major artists like Clone also made it in China and Taiwan. The prize at that time was the Japanese music market, and breakthrough happened in 2002 when Korea and Japan both hosted the soccer World Cup.

It wasn't really an evolutionary process, it was very much a revolutionary process – Bernie Cho

“Something happened that really caught us off guard,” says Cho. The so-called "Queen of K-pop" BoA topped the charts in Japan many times over. “It was such a rare occurrence and an inspirational achievement,” says Cho. “She really helped open the eyes and ears and ambitions for a lot of people in the music industry to say, ‘Hey, if she can do it, maybe we can do it, too’."

From 2008, bigger forces meant that K-pop's reach extended well beyond an Asian fan base. Unlike in China and Japan, where they use home grown social media, Korean companies embraced international ones – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – and K-pop began to become available on international music platforms.

Oppan Gangnam style (Credit: Getty Images)

Oppan Gangnam style (Credit: Getty Images)

“Fans overseas, if they saw it, heard it, liked it, wanted it, could immediately cross-over to another site, and either download that music, purchase that music or stream that music,” says Cho. “There was a perfect storm of international marketing and promotions connecting with international sales and streaming.”

That perfect storm culminated in, well we have to mention it, Psy and Gangnam Style in 2012. “[Psy] completely shattered the mould and the myth in terms of what it takes to get to number one, not only in the US market but worldwide. Psy was not a Korean version of a big pop star. Psy was Korea's version of Psy, and it turns out that's what the world wanted.”

Psy was not a Korean version of a big pop star. Psy was Korea's version of Psy, and it turns out that's what the world wanted – Bernie Cho

It showed that you could be big and not sing entirely in English or be in vogue. The power of the music video transcended language. Just one of the official videos of Gangnam Style on YouTube had well over three billion views, the largest number of hits of any video at that time.

Recruitment regime

Today, Korean music producers are experts at manufacturing incredibly successful products. “K-pop is a product not just made for Korea or made in Korea, but made by Korea,” says Cho.

If K-pop is like a popular selling product, then how is it put together? Hannah Waite was at college in America looking for a subject to research. In the early hours of that morning, she stumbled across it.

“I came across a K-pop video that someone else posted and was blown away by the production value of it, the colours, the sounds. Everything was just so overwhelming,” says Waite. “I remember when I first started researching this whole phenomenon, people were like, ‘This is a flash in the pan. It's going to be like the Macarena’, you know where it's like a one hit and then it's done, and it just sort of goes away and remains regional.”

This was nothing like the Macarena. When Waite started looking, she couldn't find anything in English online. So, she started her own website called Moon-ROK, giving information on K-pop news and entertainment. The first day the site went live in 2014, it crashed.

People were like, ‘This is a flash in the pan. It's going to be like the Macarena’ – Hannah Waite

“We weren't prepared for 15,000 people to come to the site overnight,” says Waite. “We didn't even have the server capacity to actually host that many people.”

Waite started delving deep into the origins of the bands. As in the West, the pop groups were manufactured. But in South Korea, it was taken to extremes. It was far more targeted. Children were spotted and recruited. “They start these kids out at a very young age,” she says. “You could be anywhere from age 10 to 14 and you could get recruited simply because a rep from the agency saw you at the mall and thought that you look gorgeous.”

Blackpink became the first female K-pop group to play at Coachella (Credit: Getty Images)

Blackpink became the first female K-pop group to play at Coachella (Credit: Getty Images)

There is, says Waite, a specific formula and a set of conditions for creating a K-pop star. There are three main agencies with up to 200 trainees each. There are other smaller ones out there too. All K-pop bands come through this system. The recruits either stay at home or live in dorms. They live by a tight regime.

“You wake up, probably 5am. You train for a bit, whether that's choreography classes, vocal lessons. You sort of have a personalised schedule based on what your role in the group is,” says Waite. “Then they go to school until about 3pm, head back to the entertainment company where they do more lessons until about 11pm. In Seoul, the trains shut down at midnight, so they get on that last train, they go home, sleep for five hours and do it again.”

Bear in mind, these budding stars haven't even debuted yet. And when they do, they can have even earlier starts. Waits says sometimes the trainees are existing on up to two hours' sleep a night. Once you drop that first single and have your first performance, the clock is then ticking down again, she says, to when you become irrelevant. “Right behind you, there is a group of hungrier, more ambitious, younger kids that's looking to dethrone you as the next big thing,” says Waite. “So, you run yourself ragged to make sure that you're getting every penny out of it.”

Over the past few years, there's been an increase in K-pop stars admitting to having mental health issues. There was a high-profile suicide in 2017: Jonghyun, lead singer of one of the biggest groups SHINee, took his own life at the age of 27 , and a note believed to have been sent by him to a friend spoke of his struggles with depression and fame. Another well-known star T.O.P. overdosed on anxiety medications .

Tributes to Kim Jong-Hyun, the 27-year-old lead singer of SHINee (Credit: Getty Images)

Tributes to Kim Jong-Hyun, the 27-year-old lead singer of SHINee (Credit: Getty Images)

K-pop stars used to be bound by 13-year contracts. This term has been legally reduced to seven years. “That was actually the result of a couple of K-pop stars stepping out and saying these contracts are ridiculous: ‘I sleep two hours a night. I don't want to go to these shows. But if I don't show up, I get fined and I'm trapped until I'm essentially 30-years old, because these contracts are so long’,” says Waite. “They coined the term ‘slave contract’.”

Korean wave

But, the more K-pop has become more successful, the more the establishment has become interested.

“South Korean business leaders and political leaders were figuring out that they needed to expand into other areas,” says Yung Lee, Professor of Sociology at University of California, Berkeley, who has written about K-pop. “The only thing young people especially were talking about was either South Korean drama or South Korean popular music.”

Right behind you, there is a group of hungrier, more ambitious, younger kids that's looking to dethrone you as the next big thing. So, you run yourself ragged to make sure that you're getting every penny out of it – Hannah Waite

The government started to back the music industry, giving it tax breaks. They gave money to academics to enhance the popularity of the genre, and foreign embassies were promoting the groups. It worked and brought in big business. But, as Lee points out, that wasn't all.

“The impact, of course, it not in terms of money, but in terms of its popularity and expanding the South Korean influence or soft power abroad.”

There's even a word to describe this wave of Korean culture: Hallyu. And K-pop became central to lots of other profitable industries like the beauty business.

BTS mania hits the US (Credit: Getty Images)

BTS mania hits the US (Credit: Getty Images)

“For example, cosmetics and plastic surgery and other elements of the beauty industry really rely on K-pop, especially to promote this image that if you use these South Korean products and service that you will become attractive, cool, great looking just like these K-pop stars,” says Lee. “The vast majority, I think, of young South Koreans get some form of intervention either in your face or your body. So, it’s something that's really changing South Korea, and not always for better, I'm afraid.”

It's resulted, he believes, in a cultural amnesia to traditional Korean society. “It's really accelerated in the last couple of decades, and K-pop is part of the process of the massive change in South Korean society,” says Lee.

With that change and the emergence of some serious scandals, the worry is that it could tarnish brand Korea. And that could post a dilemma for the government.

“What can they do? They began to ride this horse, and so they're almost stuck with it now, and they invested so much prestige about South Korean in K-pop,” says Lee. “So, they had no choice at this point but to keep on investing, to keep on trying to flog this horse that they've ridden on.”

So, how did K-pop conquer the world? Clever design and brilliant marketing. But there's more to a K-pop band. It's an expression of Korean culture, and the government has been more than happy to capitalise on its success.

However, the constituent parts to the K-pop product are people, some as young as 10. They may have to endure so-called ‘slave contracts’ and arduous daily regimes. At its darkest, K-pop culture stands accused of scandals. Not a side of South Korea the government wants to advertise. All this may not be affecting music sales. But it's a heavy price of conquering the world.

This originally appeared on BBC World Service’s The Inquiry . For more episodes of The Inquiry, please visit the progamme’s site . 

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List . A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Music, Culture, Capital, Future and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.  

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The reasons why kpop is so popular among teenagers.

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The Rise of Korean Wave and Kpop in The West

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The Development of K-Pop and Its Influence on Other Countries

Introduction Kpop has developed to be the South Korean government’s showcase to the world. Stating that Kpop is one of its many “perfect” examples. However, Kpop is not all it has been made out to be, with labor abuse, past government censorship, and maldistribution of…

The Reasons of the Popularity of K-Pop

South Korea is well-known for beautiful places, delicious foods and modern technology. However when people talk about South Korea, they will mention about K-pop as well. K-pop is an abbreviation of Korean pop, according from an encyclopedia, K-pop “is a genre of popular music originating…

Bts, One of the Most Famous K-Pop Groups

Introduction BTS, also known as bangtan sonyeondan or bulletproof boy scouts, is currently the biggest boy group in the world. They are a kpop group that has had a breakthrough all over the world. The band consists of seven members: Leader and rapper:Kim Namjoon, commonly…

Factors that Influence the Success of K-Pop Industry

Recently K-pop -Korean pop- has been dominating western music charts. It’s only natural that people have started comparing K-pop with western pop. Though these two genres fall under the pop category, they are completely different. I will be discussing the similarities and differences between the…

The Way that Bts Managed to Change the Music Industry

From a rookie boy group struggling to have a spot in broadcasts and variety shows, to international superstars selling millions of copies of their albums worldwide, BTS (also known as Beyond the Scene) captured the world’s attention with their heart wrenching struggles to achieve their…

Loss of a Friendship as Described in Bts' Song Spring Day

BTS, an abbreviation for ‘Bangtan Sonyeondan’, also known as Bangtan Boys, is a seven-member Korean boy-band that debuted in 2013. BTS is highly known to be very versatile in the sense that they are capable of indulging in many different genres of music, ranging from…

The Influence of Korean Wave and K Pop on Culture of Thailand

Introduction In 2018, I went back to Thailand for a couple of months. It had been five years since I had been back, and during my time there, I noticed how much Bangkok has evolved and changed. Previous trips to Thailand were filled with memories…

Impacts of K Pop Wave to Young Generation in Vietnam

Despite being second only to US-UK pop, Korean Pop or Kpop is sill the leading force of Hallyu in Vietnam. It was initially imported into Vietnam in 1990s and started booming and spreading in 2000s with outstanding boyband groups namely TVXQ, Super Junior, BigBang,…Owing to…

Business Characteristic of Korean Pop-Music

The growing visible presence of Korean businesses in Latin America meant a need for better trade relations, which resulted in the strengthening of the Korea–Latin America relationship in the 1990s and into the 2000s.One of the many ways that Korea can increase its relation with…

Kpop: the Billion Dollar Industry

It may come as a surprise to know that the ever growing Korean music industry is estimated to be worth $5 billion, so how exactly has the kpop industry grown so big. In the 1990s, the korean music scene wasn’t how we know it now….

Parasocial Interaction and Fandom in Korea

Regardless of age, there are more and more people attracted to consuming media, which has affected their behaviors and mental processes. Parasocial interaction and fandom of Korean wave has been extremely famous and popular among teenagers and even middle-aged people. K-pop has been influencing the…

The Rise of Kpop: the Analysis of Idols and Their Social Media

Introduction In this revolutionary era of technology, global media that originates from foreign countries are able to reach mass populations of people they could not before. Fanbases can consist of millions of people from dozens of countries that don’t even speak the same language. The…

Kpop Fandom Participation: a Subculture of Adoration and Belonging

Introduction Subcultures are when individuals join specific groups to collectively carry out certain activities that deviates from mainstream culture or society (Grinnell College, n.d.). Whereas the term ‘scene’, is often used to — particularly in the context of music — capture the relationships between members,…

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Nao Niitsu practices dancing to K-pop.

The K-pop wannabes – a photo essay

An estimated 1 million wannabe stars of K-pop, from South Korea, Japan and beyond, are hoping to get a taste of fame by competing in auditions for talent agencies, which take on a select few as trainees

Photography by Kim Hong-Ji and Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters. Reporting by Ju-min Park

Y uuka Hasumi put high school in Japan on hold and flew to South Korea in February to try to become a K-pop star, even if that meant long hours of vocal and dance training, no privacy, no boyfriend, and no phone. Hasumi, 17, joined Acopia school, a prep school in Seoul offering young people from Japan a shot at K-pop stardom, teaching them the dance moves, the songs and the language.

Yuuka Hasumi attends a Korean language class in Seoul, South Korea

Yuuka Hasumi attends a Korean language class in Seoul, South Korea

She is one of an estimated 1 million K-pop star wannabes, from South Korea and beyond, hoping to succeed at highly competitive auditions held by major talent agencies, which will take on a select few as “trainees”.

“It is tough,” Hasumi says in Japanese, drenched in sweat from a dance lesson she attended with her 15-year-old friend Yuho Wakamatsu, also from Japan .

Yuuka Hasumi and Ibuki Ito, who want to become K-pop stars, perform at an Acopia School party in Seoul, South Korea.

Yuuka Hasumi and Ibuki Ito perform at an Acopia school party in Seoul. Below: Hasumi shops after class

Hasumi shops after class

A microphone and speakers at a street performance in the Hongdae area of Seoul; Hasumi promotes her Instagram account during the performance

Yuho Wakamatsu who also wants to become a K-pop star, takes photographs of Hasumi during a training session in Seoul

Yuho Wakamatsu takes photographs of Hasumi during a training session

“Going through strict training and taking my skill to a higher level to a perfect stage, I think that’s when it is good to make a debut,” she says.

Paying up to $3,000 a month for training and board, 500 or so young Japanese people join Acopia each year. The school also fixes auditions for its candidates with talent management companies, which have been the driving force behind the “Korean-wave” pop culture that exploded on to the world stage in the past decade with acts such as the boyband BTS .

An influx of Japanese talent is reshaping the K-pop industry at a time of increasingly bitter political acrimony between the two countries, which has damaged diplomatic ties. Tensions rooted in Japan’s 1910-45 colonisation of Korea have risen again after South Korean court rulings against Japanese companies for forced labour, and amid a perception in Korea that Japan’s leadership has not adequately atoned for its colonial past.

Yuho Wakamatsu adjusts her makeup during a training session in Seoul

Wakamatsu adjusts her makeup

But the popularity of Korean culture and K-pop music is on the rise in Japan, with many fans and artists saying they are not bothered by diplomatic tensions. The willingness of Korean agencies to take on Japanese talent speaks to the strength of the ties between the two, according to one long-time observer. K-pop groups, and veteran Korean musicians, are selling out concert halls throughout Japan.

For schools and agencies, Japan’s music market – the second largest after the US’s – is a big prize and many have been on a campaign to recruit Japanese talent.

“It will be good if Japan and South Korea will get along through music,” Hasumi told Reuters during a break from a Korean language class.

A K-pop applicant performs at an audition in Tokyo

A K-pop applicant performs at an audition in Tokyo

Some Japanese transplants have already made it big. The three Japanese members of the girl band Twice helped make the group the second most popular act in Japan, after BTS. Their success has prompted JYP Entertainment, the South Korean agency behind Twice, to plan a group that will comprise only Japanese girls.

Agency officials are reluctant to discuss their success in Japan and the infusion of Japanese talent, wary of fuelling a politically charged backlash, according to industry sources.

There is no shortage of Japanese hopefuls willing to train under the watchful eye of the agencies, some having left successful careers at home to go in search of K-pop fame.

Nao Niitsu, a college freshman from Tokyo, who wants to be a K-pop star, and other Japanese children warm up for an audition at a park in Seoul

Nao Niitsu, from Tokyo, and other Japanese young people warm up for an audition at a park in Seoul

Nao Niitsu studies Korean in her room in Tokyo

Nao Niitsu studies Korean in her room in Tokyo; she looks at a BTS photobook

Nao Niitsu chooses her profile picture before an audition in Seoul

Choosing a profile picture before her audition in Seoul

“I’ve heard stories about no free time or not being able to do what I want. But, I think all of K-pop stars who are now performing have gone down the same road,” says Nao Niitsu, a 19-year-old college fresher from Tokyo.

During a visit to Seoul paid for by her mother, a diehard BTS fan Niitsu auditioned for 10 agencies and was accepted by five.

Nao Niitsu walks through Shin-Okubo district, known as Tokyo’s Korea Town

Niitsu walks through Shin-Ōkubo district, known as Tokyo’s Korea-town

Miyu Takeuchi says it was not a difficult decision to leave a 10-year career with the top Japanese idol band AKB48 to sign with the K-pop agency Mystic Entertainment in March as a trainee. Even with her experience, she has seven hours of vocal training a day and two-hour dance lessons twice a week, plus early-morning Korean lessons. She is not allowed to have a boyfriend but says she has no regrets, despite the fact there is no guarantee she will make it.

Miyu Takeuchi sings during a training session in Seoul, South Korea,

Miyu Takeuchi sings during a training session in Seoul

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My Reflection on K-pop

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korean pop essay

The Impact of Korean Pop on the Global Culture

Introduction.

Music has been an important part of culture throughout the centuries. Korean pop or K-pop is a term used to describe popular music performed by Korean bands or solo artists. It has become a global phenomenon, gaining widespread popularity outside Korea and affecting the global culture. Currently, K-pop is an industry gaining billions of dollars annually, and the biggest stars of K-pop, for instance, BTS or Blackpink, perform in the United States, Europe, and Asia. This paper aims to examine the phenomena of K-pop in the context of global culture, including the impact of K-pop on western culture and factors that made this music genre famous across the world.

The Development of K-Pop

One can argue that in recent years, Korean culture has been acknowledged and recognized globally. Romano cites examples of Korean TV series, skincare, and cuisine as the prime examples illustrating the interest that the global community displays towards Korea and its popular culture. Additionally, “K-pop is now a multi-billion-dollar industry,” which, according to Romero, brings record labels approximately $5 billion a year, and tickets to performances of the biggest K-pop stars sell out within minutes ( How did K-Pop Conquer the World? ). Therefore, currently, K-pop is recognized globally, and people across the world listen to the music produced by Korean artists.

An important aspect that signifies the global impact of K-pop and Korean culture on the global society is the fact that the phenomenon has its own term, and it has gained attention from scholars. Hallyu is a Japanese word, which can be translated into English as a “Korean wave” (Romano). This term, in particular, emerged as part of the global K-pop fascination, which began in Japan.

By examining the history of K-pop’s establishment, one can gain a better understanding of how this music became a cultural phenomenon. Jin and Yong argue that K-pop, as a global phenomenon, was established approximately 15 years ago (1277). The first performance that marked the establishment of K-pop culture occurred in 1992 on a talent show. The band Seo Taiji and Boys performed the song “I Know,” and although the band received the lowest score from the judges of the show, the song began to rapidly gain popularity ( How did K-Pop Conquer the World? ). Before this, music that incorporates lyrics in Korean was mostly popular among the older generations of Koreans, while the youth was fascinated with Western culture.

The World Cup of 2002 that was held by Japan and Korea also affected the development of K-pop. Korean artists, for example, Boa, were able to introduce their songs to the Japanese audience ( How did K-Pop Conquer the World? ). Many of them topped the hit charts, providing reassurance to other K-pop performances that their music can be appreciated outside Korea. The Asian market, therefore, became the first prominent stage of development in K-pop’s history, since people in Japan, Chiana, and Taiwan listened to this music.

Cheon argues that this is because K-pop incorporates the traditional values of Asian cultures combined with modernity, which is appealing to the younger audience in Asian cultures (113). Therefore, K-pop gained its initial popularity in the domestic market, attracting Koran youth, and expanded to other states in Asia.

Many European countries, especially those located in Eastern Europe, remained unfamiliar with the K-pop culture for many years. Cheong states that the change happened when PSY’s song “Gangnam Style” entered the European charts (114). Therefore, it appears that a single hit song helped K-pop attract the attention of the international audience to the entire genre since this happened with “I Know,” Boa’s songs, and “Gangnam Style.”

Notably, the performance and music of Seo Taiji and Boys differed from the music presented by other bands. The main elements that distinguished their style were – “Korean lyrics, Euro-pop, African American hip-hop, and rap,” which signified a new sound of popular music ( How did K-Pop Conquer the World? ).

This signifies an essential element of K-pop music since this genre does not present music and themes that are only specific to the Korean culture. Instead, it uses elements of music from different cultures and genres. Romaro explains the appeal of K-pop as a result of a “blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography and production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers.” Thus, the unique strategy that K-pop record labels use allows them to appeal to the global audience by creating simple melodies and including elements of well-known genres.

K-Pop as Part of South Korea’s Strategic Vision

The context of K-Pop’s development and its significance concerning the global culture is connected to its popularity. One should note that the government of South Korea recognizes the opportunities brought by this music genre and aims to develop an image of a country, fully integrated into the global society (Romano). This approach to using music as part of the state’s strategy for development has accompanied South Korea for years.

Prior to 1987, there were only two broadcasting TV networks, controlled by the state (Romano). This lack of diversity meant that government officials had power over the music industry, using censorship to enforce their policy and control the state’s culture (Romano). Currently, the government supports K-pop, which results in a controversial practice of recruiting and promoting K-pop artists.

In general, contemporary music artists and bands receive support and guidance from a team of marketers and producers who make their image more recognizable. Articles by Romano, BBC, and Wang point out that K-pop stars are recruited at a young age. The auditions target children aged 10 to 12, aiming to find the ones who can sing and dance. Next, these children are placed into special schools, with particular attention to music lessons, dancing, and behavior in public (Romano).

These children perform and gain some following even before they receive a contract from a record label. Notably, not all of them are lucky enough to become a part of the so-called “idol group” or even solo artists. Such an approach to music production poses many questions since one can argue that the creative element can be lost. The groups perform songs written and chosen by the record-label specialists, who are also responsible for marketing the music to the general audience. Thus, performers have little control over the production process, when working on their albums.

Therefore, the popularity of K-pop signifies a shift in the way music is perceived by the audience. Other attributes, such as music videos and live performances, allow conveying the meaning of the song through visual representations, helping non-Korean speaking individuals enjoy the K-pop songs. This, of course, is attributed to the easy access to these videos through platforms such as Youtube and the ability to read the translation of the lyrics on online websites, gaining a full comprehension of a song’s meaning.

Therefore, the significance of the question is reflected in the fact that K-pop is listened to by the youth in Western countries. K-Pop has not been well-known globally or in the United States in particular, and one can argue that this genre impacts the music produced in other states due to its popularity. However, it is essential also to consider how K-pop shaped the attitudes towards Korean culture in general, which will be reviewed in the following paragraph.

Other Implications of K-pop and its Impact on the Global Community

The history of K-pop’s development suggests that the central aspect of success is the fact that multinational audiences were exposed to one song or artist, with the audience continuing to explore Korean music. However, this approach affects not only music produced by Korean artists, but also the recognition of Korean culture as a whole. According to Cheon, exposure to K-pop is “an important motivation for teenagers and young adults to start learning the Korean language and studying Korea” (114).

Institutions in the Westen countries and media also support the trend by offering courses that focus on Korean movies, cuisine, and by introducing Westerners to the culture. Notably, films by Kim Ki-Duk and Park Chan-wook became popular outside Asia.

Another critical question is how Korean music became popular if, despite some lyrics having English parts, the majority of the songs were performed in Korean, which listeners from America and Europe do not understand. In order to explain this, it is necessary to examine the rise of social media platforms, the Intenet in general, and video sharing services such as Youtube. Yoon states that fans in Canada usually become familiar with K-pop through social media (1).

Next, they become engaged in fan groups that usually work on translating text, which further enhances the engagement of these individuals and their fascination with the Korean culture. Jin and Yoon made similar conclusions, arguing that social media transformed the consumption of content in the context of transnational music (17). Therefore, K-pop’s popularity is also attributed to the specifics of contemporary media.

Overall, this paper explores how K-pop established itself as a prominent element of the global music and entertainment industries. The significance of K-pop as a cultural phenomenon is in its notable capability to expose the non-Korean audience to the culture and other components of art produced in Korea. The global fascination is connected to the fact that K-pop is a merger of the most popular genres in music, with the specific attributes of performance and lyrics written in Korean that fascinate the listeners. Additionally, even though K-pop incorporates elements of music that are present in Western countries, it also highlights the overall cultural heritage of Korea. In a globalized world, this means that individuals in different parts of the world learn about Korea and its traditions, merging Korean culture with that of their home states.

Annotated Bibliography

Cheon, Sang Yee. “The Global Impact Of South Korean Popular Culture: Hallyu Unbound.” Korean Studies , vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, pp. 113-114.

The author highlights the specifics of K-pop’s integration into the cultural landscape of societies in Asia, Europe, and America. This source helps to understand the complexity of K-pop’s development as a global cultural phenomenon. Also, the author presents the history of K-pop, including the song “Gangnam Style” by PSY that gained significant popularity outside Korea.

“ How did K-Pop Conquer the World? ” BBC , 2019. Web.

This article focuses on the profound aspects of K-pop, such as the mix of rap, Euro-pop, and African-American rhythms paired with Korean lyrics. The performances of K-pop artists are also an integral part of this cultural phenomenon, as groups usually dance in synch.

Jin, Dal Yong and Kyong Yoon. “The Social Mediascape of Transnational Korean Pop Culture: Hallyu 2.0 as Spreadable Media Practice.” New Media & Society , vol. 18, no. 7, 2016, pp. 1277–1292.

The authors argue that modern socio-cultural changes should be examined with a consideration of social media because it helps information sharing. Through interviews with K-pop fans in North America, the researchers collected evidence, which suggests that social media helped K-pop become a global phenomenon.

Romano, Aja. “ How K-Pop Became a Global Phenomenon. ” VOX . 2018. Web.

Romano wrote an article for Vox explaining the significance of Korean music to the global community since it became a significant driver of cultural development. The author explains that Korea has implemented a policy of supporting the development of its popular music, which prompted the popularity of its Korean artists globally.

Wang, Amy, and Amy Wang. “ How K-Pop Conquered The West. ” Rolling Stone . 2018. Web.

The article in Rolling Ston e magazine presents the author’s reflection on the topic of K-pop through the example of a group BTS. The author highlights the fact that music as a cultural phenomenon has transformed in the recent decade, with songs such as “Desacito” gaining recognition worldwide and not only in the home countries of the performers.

Yoon, Kyong. “Transnational Fandom in the Making: K-Pop Fans in Vancouver.” International Communication Gazette, 2018, pp. 1-17.

The author highlights the perception of K-pop in Western culture. Through interviews with K-pop fans, Yoon aims to examine how the youth living in Canada becomes familiar with K-pop and what aspects of this music they find appealing.

Works Cited

“How did K-Pop Conquer the World?” BBC , 2019. Web.

Romano, Aja. “How K-Pop Became a Global Phenomenon.” VOX . 2018. Web.

Wang, Amy, and Amy Wang. “How K-Pop Conquered The West.” Rolling Stone . 2018. Web.

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K-pop, short for Korean popular music, is a popular genre of music originating from South Korea.

The genre started with The Kim Sisters in the 1950s. K-pop was represented by H.O.T in the early days, and it was mostly fanatical, flashy, and showed the rebellious psychology of young people in the emotional aspects. Most of the songs are relatively fast-paced and have a strong sense of rhythm, which is suitable for dancing. The term "K-pop" became popular in the 2000s. Previously, South Korean pop music was called gayo. While "K-pop" can be a general term for all popular music from South Korea or pop music from the country, it is colloquially often used in a narrower sense for any Korean music and artists associated with the entertainment and idol industry in the country, regardless of the genre.

BTS, iKon, Seventeen, Twice, Blackpink, Got7, NCT, MONSTAX, Stray Kids, Red Velvet, etc.

K-pop mix of synthesized music, dance routines, and fashionable, colorful outfits. Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony, a strategy called "formation changing". Songs usually consist of one or a mixture of genres (pop, hip hop, R&B, experimental, rock, jazz, gospel, reggae, electronic dance, folk, country, disco, and classical on top of its traditional Korean music roots).

Girl groups are actually more popular in Korea than boy groups. The first K-pop album was released in 1925. The album is called “Yo Pungjin Sewol” (or “This Tumultuous Time”) and is by artists Park Chae-seon and Lee Ryu-saek. Most Idols don’t get paid until they pay off their debt. However, some labels—such as SM and JYP Entertainment—don’t make their newly debuted groups pay them back. The cost of training a Korean idol average $3 million. Jackie Chan manages a K-pop boy band. Over 100 groups debut in South Korea annually. BTS was the first K-pop act to perform as a musical guest Saturday Night Live.

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