[Korean Waves] The New Trend: K-pop Fervor
[Korean Waves] The New Trend: K-pop Fervor
  • Reporter Jung Han-kyu
  • 승인 2011.06.08 01:40
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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Korea? Kim-chi? Hangul? Perhaps for the young generation, K-pop, or Korean pop music, would be first. With Hip hop and R&B being its mainstream genres, K-pop is gaining international popularity increasingly faster in the recent years.

K-pop received its first foreign attention from nearby East Asian countries like China and Japan. First introduced with the original soundtracks, OST’s for short, of popular drama series or movies, K-pop now competes against other mainstream musical genres in those countries. It is now knocking on the music charts of the U.S. and even Europe.

Just how popular is it?

Is it really as popular as the media report? In Japan, it is no news that whenever K-pop singers such as BoA, Girls’ Generation, and Kara come out with new albums, they constantly rank in the top of the Oricon chart, which is an authoritative music chart of J-pop. Now many of those singers release albums in both Korean and Japanese versions and are successful in both countries.

▲ Girl's Generation

While K-pop had success in Japan through OST’s, it gained popularity by concerts in China. Until complications like the SARS breakout put them to a halt, concerts by Korean pop singers continued from 1997 to 2002. Actress and singer Jang Nara even had her debut as a singer in China in 2004. According to the Korea Music Content Industry Association, major portal sites such as Sina.com and Tom.com have been providing MP3 file downloads and streaming services since 2006.

Compared to the previous two examples, the US is still a K-pop frontier currently being pioneered. Instead of going for the mainstream, K-pop is targeting Hip Hop and R&B, which are most familiar to both Koreans and Americans. Some talented Korean musicians are working with famous producers for new albums; JYJ is collaborating with Kanye West, and 2NE1 with will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, just to name a few. You can also often find Korean artists on the iTunes Top 10.

What appeals to overseas fans?

In April, 54 young French K-pop fans visited Korea out of their own pockets to see SM Entertainment’s Korean pop stars and have a fan meeting. In response to their effort, SM will be hosting a SM Town France Concert on Jun. 10. The tickets were all sold out within 15 minutes so those who could not get their hands on a ticket petitioned for another concert in front of the Louvre by singing and dancing to K-pop songs. In Argentina and Los Angeles, US, K-pop competitions were held for local citizens to show off their singing abilities by singing K-pop in Korean.

The vast majority of K-pop fans abroad say that the reason for such a fever for K-pop is in extraordinary physical appearances, polished and modern dance moves, second to none singing abilities, and addicting melodies. This is the product of multi-year Spartan training programs of the management agencies. They select young, talented musicians through auditions and spend as much as 400,000 USD for vocal, dancing, and acting training, and even body care.

The experts’ analysis

Scholars have a slightly different opinion about K-pop’s success. They all say that the exponential growth of social network service (SNS) contributed greatly. Through YouTube, one of the major tools in spreading K-pop to the world, viewers can easily access K-pop music videos online. Also, English K-pop blogs such as allkpop (www.allkpop.com) deliver up-to-date K-pop news to the world. “Korean artists are now out there,” says Johnny Noh, who runs the site. “People like Korean artists and want to know more about them.” This is reflected in the two-fold increase in the blog’s monthly readership in just one year. The more people are exposed, the more curious they get.

The experts also credit management agencies for such a wave. In addition to the comment above, they also set up branches in targeted countries and do a complete market research before they make their singers’ debut. They find out what genres of music the public wants to hear and what the current and future fashion trends are. To spice it up, they train the K-pop stars to dance as well. In other words, the K-pop stars come in a high-quality complete package.

The Korean cultural influence is now coined into a word, “Hallyu,” meaning “Korean Wave.” Though K-pop contributes immensely to driving the wave, it is only a part of it. Also, K-pop is still a minority taste in Western countries. However, the amount of economic profit and influence that Hallyu could bring is so enormous that it cannot be calculated.