K-pop invasion: From local trend to global phenomenon and beyond

Choi Ji-won

ANN/THE KOREA HERALD – In 2012, K-pop took a leap forward in the global music industry. Over the summer, Psy set several all-time highs on the music charts and gained international acclaim with her mega hit Gangnam Style. Later, the word “K-pop” was listed in the Oxford English Dictionary’s vocabulary list as “Korean pop music“.

A decade has passed and K-pop is no longer seen as a regional musical genre that has temporarily caught the attention of a global audience. It has firmly established its roots as a major subcultural genre and is gaining international prominence as a new standard for the industry. This is not only in terms of artistic value, but also for the surrounding system in which the musicians are formed.

K-pop has spread around the world since the early 2000s, beginning with its dominance of the Japanese music market – which was then and still is the world’s second largest music market. It then spread to East Asian countries until the mid-2010s.

One of the key factors defining K-pop music that continues to show the genre’s growth potential is its sensitivity to the changing environment and its receptivity to new sources.

“K-pop idol music has its roots in early ‘gayo’ songs (a Korean term for popular music that people listen to and sing). Its main distinction was the unique melodies formed by fusing various global music trends, such as Western pop and J-pop, into an original yet contemporary sound,” pop music critic Jung Min-jae told the Korea Herald. .

The group Seo Taiji and Boys, which is considered to have laid the foundations of the current K-pop music industry, debuted in 1992 with a completely new sound – mixing hip-hop, R&B and dance pop genres. .

The BTS group appears at the daily Brady Press Briefing at the White House in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

Beyond sound, the K-pop industry has also been exceptionally vigilant in adapting and using advancements in technology to develop a highly lucrative business model. In 2009, JYP Entertainment’s first attempt to break into the US mainstream music market failed. But beneath the surface, K-pop was already expanding its reach beyond Asian countries to Europe and even parts of the United States via the internet.

Such media friendliness is an innate trait of K-pop that has made the genre global, according to pop music critic Kim Do-heon.

“K-pop has quickly adapted to changing digital technology and actively promoted music with a variety of self-produced video content, expanding its fan base in the global market,” Kim said. Gradually, K-pop gained recognition from the world as its own genre.

Europe’s first K-pop concert, SM Entertainment’s 2011 SM Town World Tour in Paris, drew some 14,000 fans over two days of sold-out performances. In 2012, Psy sent the world on a Gangnam Style craze, setting unexpected records in the global music charts and charts.

Over the past decade, K-pop has evolved and grown in a different aspect.

With sensational boy band BTS in the lead, K-pop has overcome the seemingly unbreakable walls of the mainstream American music industry. The septet made history and paved the way for other K-pop musicians in the United States.

There is no doubt that K-pop is one of the biggest alternative music genres in the mainstream market, and experts point out that the next step for K-pop in its globalization is to seek sustainability.

The key to this, ironically, is that K-pop loses its “Korean character,” according to critic Kim.

“K-pop is not just a musical genre, but the whole production system in which idol musicians and their music are carefully planned and released.

“It’s something that can be adapted to any part of the world. It is now unnecessary to talk about how K-pop could be used as a medium to spread Korean culture and is at a stage to discuss how the genre and system can be applied to the unique environments of different regions” , said Kim.

In recent years, K-pop labels have increasingly held global auditions, where they seek interns regardless of racial and ethnic background.

Many major K-pop labels, including SM Entertainment, Hybe, and CJ Entertainment, have each announced plans to form and launch groups in the United States this year.

While past multinational acts have continued to be based in Korea and have used Korean as their primary language, these groups will be formed in the United States to debut as a global group, according to related statements made by the companies.

If the K-pop system is an established economic model in itself, there is still room for improvement, starting with the question of its openness to different cultures.

“The key to K-pop’s success was its ability to mix and mingle to form a new harmony.

However, issues of cultural appropriation and exclusivity still persist today. We are already witnessing the influence of K-pop as a form of soft power that can bring people from different walks of life together.

“To make K-pop a truly global music genre, it must become more tolerant and understanding of other cultures. Therefore, the less Korean K-pop becomes, the more successfully it will settle into the global landscape,” said Lee Gyu-tag, professor of cultural studies at George Mason University in Korea.

Rather than seeking its way to the top, as K-pop has done in its globalization drive thus far, perhaps K-pop’s power lies in its unique ability to spread and intertwine with the transnational environment, according to a professor of East Asian Literature and Pop Culture at Semyung Lee Hye-jin University.

“It’s rare…to present joy to a large number of fans in such a short period of time, and the true value of K-pop is that it can provide a shared experience for so many people around the world. at the same time,” Professor Lee Hyedit Jin said.

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