The globalisation of Kpop, the South Korean-originated sound boosting the country’s local recorded-music industry, is shifting from being a potential phenomenon to going truly mainstream.
The Kpop industry’s worldwide influence has been acknowledged by IFPI, the international industry trade body.
Among the most popular Kpop groups, BTS, the Korean boy-band sensation taking the world by storm, nabbed the second and third positions in the IFPI’s 2018 Top 10 best-selling albums. BTS – Love Yourself ‘Answer’ was the world’s second most successful album with 2.7 million units sold, while BTS – Love Yourself ‘Tear’ clinched the third spot with 2.3 million units.
IFPI also ranked the seven-piece idol band (formed in 2013, signed to Korean conglomerate Big Hit Entertainment and known as the ARMY by its devoted international followers) the world’s second most successful recording act in 2018.
Online a key driver for Kpop industry
The international impact of the Kpop industry is impossible to avoid, according to Danny Lee, chief agent at Los Angeles-based Kpop talent agency Asian Agent: “The globalisation of Kpop is undeniably a genuine phenomenon. As the means of music and music-related content consumption online increasingly becomes the norm, Kpop’s vivid aesthetic, fashion, choreography and music production will continue to represent a benchmark for delivering a world-class music product.”
His views were endorsed by several major industry stalwarts during The Year Kpop Broke In The USA in 2019, a Midem discussion panel in Cannes.
“It’s been fun to watch how Kpop has grown the last couple of years,” manager of new US teen hitmaker Billie Eilish, Danny Rukasin, says. “What’s intriguing is that it highlights how global music has become and how multicultural the US market and the rest of the world have been, and how accepting they have been of music not necessarily in their native language.”
Ever since Gangnam Style, the hit Kpop single by Psy, became the most liked music video on YouTube in 2012 and No.1 in more than 30 countries, the spread of Kpop has accelerated.
Part of the K-Wave or Hallyu Wave that saw Korean movies, drama and music first spread to neighbouring Asian countries, the Kpop industry is now a big international business, encompassing merchandise revenues, live ticket sales, and movie box-office hits as well.
BTS have won several Korean and Asian music honours as well as the Billboard Music Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards and Platinum-sales accolades.
And this year, the band, which has several successful international tours and two box-office hit movies under its belt, was invited to join the US’ Recording Academy, the organisation behind the much coveted Grammy Awards.
By this April, Kill This Love, by all-girl Kpop phenom Blackpink, officially became the most-watched music-video debut on YouTube after recording almost 57 million views in its first 24 hours.
Kpop goes Latin
Kpop’s influence in the world continues to advance as Super Junior boast a Latin hit with Lo Siento (featuring Leslie Grace), which is performed in both Spanish and Korean and snatched 60 million-plus YouTube views by August.
Expect to see Kpop popularity grow via a host of other stars like 1TYM, Jinusean, Big Bank, Exo, AOA, Super Junior, Shinee — and the now comparatively veteran 2NE1.
They have been manufactured, trained, developed and marketed by powerful Korean record labels and entertainment companies like Big Hit and its rivals YG Entertainment, SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. Big Hit alone has a corporate valuation of more than US$1bn, according to the Hyundai Research Institute.
They’ve used international streaming platforms, including Spotify, Deezer, SoundCould and Apple Music, social media networks from Twitter to China’s Weibo, and mobile video games to raise the brand value of their Kpop idol proteges.
Fans’ appetite for information about their idols is insatiable. YouTube Originals, part of the video-sharing giant, has joined forces with JYP Entertainment to create a series of original documentaries about TWICE, the JYP-managed all-girl band.
The hard work comes first
The several years’ training expected of every aspiring Kpop artist before they are unleashed on to the world has seen Kpop also become a benchmark of high-production values.
This helped the South Korean recorded-music business jump by 17.9% in revenues last year, making it the world’s sixth biggest music market, according to IFPI data. “There are strong opinions that Kpop is here to stay,” observes Asian Agent’s Danny Lee.
His analysis of a successful Kpop’s song structure points to its multiple breaks, familiar catchy melodies and references to other genres, including pop, hip hop, R&B, electronic dance, and Korea’s own style and influence.
“This is, in fact, a global export product that is also localised for its audience and fans. Kpop is not alone in the context of global music as Latin music is stronger than ever.”
This has generated distinctive collaborations between global artists such as Dua Lipa and Blackpink’s Kiss And Make Up, which led to the first time a Korean act has entered the UK’s Top 40 radio plays.
Lee also explains the creative mechanics and process involved in developing a Kpop idol act, which can comprise three to 12 members each. He says: “Each member is given a specific profile and attribute that can help fans identify with them at a much deeper level. From there, a photoshoot or music video will focus on both the group and members individually, with their own unique representation.”
The management company then invests in each act’s specific but consistent fashion style, dance choreography, video-camera movements, movie-standard sets and quality productions.
The fans’ devotion evolves into a movement, Lee says. “Fans create theories, fan chants, trending topics on Twitter, and they become part of the movement instead of being unseen bystanders.”
He continues: “Fans are patiently waiting for a Kpop meets Latin meets Anglo collaboration, so there’s still much more to happen at a global level. We’re just getting started.”