|Stylistic origins Korean music
Rhythm and blues
Cultural origins 1980s—1990s, South Korea
Typical instruments Vocals drum machine electronic drums bass acoustic guitar keyboard sampler sequencer synthesizer digital audio workstation percussion groovebox
K-pop (abbreviation of Korean pop; Hangul: 케이팝) is a music genre originating in South Korea that is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it comprises all genres of "popular music" within South Korea, the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering a range of styles and genres incorporated from the West such as Western pop music, rock, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, folk, country, and classical on top of its traditional Korean music roots. The genre emerged with one of the earliest K-pop groups, Seo Taiji and Boys, forming in 1992. Their experimentation with different styles of music "reshaped Korea's music scene". As a result, the integration of foreign musical elements has now become common practice with K-pop artists.
- Audiovisual content
- Systematic training of artists
- Hybrid genre and transnational values
- Use of English phrases
- Government support
- Origins of Korean popular music
- 1940s1960s Arrival of Western culture
- 1970s Hippie and folk influences
- 1980s The era of ballads
- 1990s Development of modern K pop
- 21st century Rise of Hallyu
- Sales and market value
- Trainee system
- Record charts
- Appeal and fan base
- Conventions and music festivals
- Social media
- North America
- Latin America
- Middle East and Africa
- Foreign relations
- Criticism and controversies
K-pop entered the Japanese market at the turn of the 21st century and rapidly grew into a subculture among teenagers and young adults of East and Southeast Asia. With the advent of online social networking services, the current global spread of K-pop and Korean entertainment known as the Korean Wave is seen in Latin America, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Western world.
Although K-pop generally refers to South Korean popular music, some consider it to be an all-encompassing genre exhibiting a vast spectrum of musical and visual elements. The French Institut national de l'audiovisuel defines K-pop as a 'fusion of synthesized music, sharp dance routines and fashionable, colorful outfits'. Songs typically consist of one or a mixture of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B and electronic music genres.
Systematic training of artists
Management agencies in South Korea offer binding contracts to potential artists, sometimes at a young age. Trainees live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day learning music, dance, foreign languages and other skills in preparation for their debut. This "robotic" system of training is often criticized by Western media outlets. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of training one Korean pop idol under S.M. Entertainment averaged US$3 million.
Hybrid genre and transnational values
K-pop is a cultural product that features “values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value.” It is characterized by a mixture of Western sounds with an Asian aspect of performance. It has been remarked that there is a "vision of modernization" inherent in Korean pop culture. For some, the transnational values of K-pop are responsible for its success. A commentator at the University of California has said that "contemporary Korean pop culture is built on [...] transnational flows [...] taking place across, beyond, and outside national and institutional boundaries." Some examples of the transnational values inherent in K-pop that may appeal to those from different ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds include a dedication to high-quality output and presentation of idols, as well as their work ethic and polite social demeanour, made possible by the training period.
Many agencies have presented new idol groups to an audience through a "debut showcase", which consists of online marketing and television broadcast promotions as opposed to radio. Groups are given a name and a "concept", along with a marketing hook. Sometimes sub-units or sub-groups are formed among existing members. An example subgroup is Super Junior-K.R.Y. which consists of members Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung, and Super Junior-M, which became one of the best-selling K-pop subgroups in China.
Online marketing includes music videos posted to YouTube in order to reach a worldwide audience. Prior to the actual video, the group releases teaser photos and trailers. Promotional cycles of subsequent singles are called comebacks even when the musician or group in question did not go on hiatus.
Use of English phrases
Modern K-pop is marked by its use of English phrases. Jin Dal Yong of Popular Music and Society wrote that the usage may be influenced by "Korean-Americans and/or Koreans who studied in the U.S. [who] take full advantage of their English fluency and cultural resources that are not found commonly among those who were raised and educated in Korea." In 1995, the percentage of song titles using English in the top 50 charts was 8%. This fluctuated between 30% in 2000, 18% in 2005, and 44% in 2010. Similarly, increasing numbers of K-pop bands use English names rather than Korean ones. This allows songs and artists to be marketed to a wider audience around the world. An example of a Korean song with a large proportion of English lyrics is Kara’s "Jumping", which was released at the same time in both Korea and Japan to much success.
Increasingly, foreign songwriters and producers are employed to work on songs for K-pop idols, such as will.i.am and Sean Garrett. Musicians, including rappers such as Akon, Kanye West, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg, have also featured on K-pop songs.
However, the use of English has not guaranteed the popularity of K-pop in the North American market. For some commentators, the reason for this is because the genre can be seen as an appropriated or distilled version of Western music, making it difficult for K-pop to find acceptance in these markets. Furthermore, Western audiences tend to place emphasis on authenticity and individual expression in music, which the idol system can be seen as suppressing.
Lead singles are conventionally accompanied by choreography, which often includes a key dance move (known as a 'point' dance move) that matches the characteristics or lyrics of the song. Super Junior's "Sorry Sorry" and Brown Eyed Girls' "Abracadabra" are examples of songs with notable 'point' choreography. More recently, well known international choreographers such as Parris Goebel and Anthony Joseph Testa have worked with K-pop artists such as CL, Big Bang, and Shinee. Some fans participate in cover dance groups and upload their dance covers online, for example in Vietnam.
K-pop has a significant influence on fashion in Asia, where trends started by idols are followed by young audiences. Some idols have established status as fashion icons, such as G-Dragon and CL, who has repeatedly worked with fashion designer Jeremy Scott, being labeled his "muse". There is some concern over trends such as skin whitening being popularised by the industry, which has been criticised for its narrow beauty standards.
The South Korean government has acknowledged benefits to the country's export sector as a result of the Korean Wave (it was estimated in 2011 that a US$100 increase in the export of cultural products resulted in a US$412 increase in exports of other consumer goods including food, clothes, cosmetics and IT products) and thus have subsidised certain endeavours. Government initiatives to expand the popularity of K-pop are mostly undertaken by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which is responsible for the worldwide establishment of Korean Cultural Centers. South Korean embassies and consulates have also organized K-pop concerts outside the country, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regularly invites overseas K-pop fans to attend the annual K-Pop World Festival in South Korea.
Origins of Korean popular music
The history of Korean popular music can be traced back to 1885 when an American missionary, Henry Appenzeller, began teaching American and British folk songs at a school. These songs were called changga in Korean, and they were typically based on a popular Western melody sung with Korean lyrics. For example, the song "Oh My Darling, Clementine" became known as "Simcheongga". During the Japanese rule (1910–1945) the popularity of changga songs rose as Koreans expressed their feelings against Japanese oppression through music. One of the most popular songs was "Huimangga" (희망가, The Song of Hope). The Japanese confiscated the existing changga collections and published lyrics books of their own.
The first known Korean pop album was "Yi Pungjin Sewol" (This Tumultuous Time), by Park Chae-seon and Lee Ryu-saek in 1925, which contained popular songs translated from Japanese. The first pop song written by a Korean composer is thought to be "Nakhwayusu" (낙화유수, Fallen Blossoms on Running Water) sung by Lee Jeong-suk in 1929. In the mid-1920s, Japanese composer Masao Koga mixed traditional Korean music with Gospel music that American Evangelists introduced in the 1870s. This type of music became known as Enka in Japan, and later in Korea as Trot (Korean: "트로트").
1940s–1960s: Arrival of Western culture
After the Korean Peninsula was partitioned into North and South following its liberation in 1945 from Japanese occupation, Western culture was introduced into South Korea on a small scale, with a few Western-styled bars and clubs playing Western music. After the Korean War (1950–53) U.S. troops remained in South Korea for protection. With the continued presence of the U.S. military during this time, American and world culture spread in South Korea and Western music gradually became more accepted.
The United Service Organizations made it possible for several prominent figures of American entertainment, like Marilyn Monroe and Louis Armstrong to visit the soldiers stationed in Korea. These visits prompted attention from the Korean public. In 1957 the American Forces Korea Network radio started its broadcast, spreading the popularity of Western music. American music started influencing Korean music, as pentatony was gradually replaced by heptachords and popular songs started to be modeled after American ones.
In the 1960s, the development of LP records and improvements in recording technology led to the pursuit of diverse voice tones. Many singers sang for the American troops, usually in dedicated clubs, the number of which rose to 264. They performed various genres like country music, blues, jazz and rock & roll. The South Korean economy started blooming and popular music followed the trend, spread by the first commercial radio stations. Korean cinema also began to develop and Korean musicians began performing to wider audiences.
When Beatlemania reached the shores of Korea the first local rock bands appeared, the first of which is said to be Add4, a band founded in 1962. The first talent contest for rock bands in Seoul was organized in 1968. Besides rock and pop, trot songs remained popular.
Some Korean singers gained international popularity. The Kim Sisters, Yoon Bok-hee and Patti Kim were the first singers to debut in such countries as Vietnam and United States. The Kim Sisters became the first Korean group to release an album in the United States, performing in Las Vegas and appearing several times on Ed Sullivan's TV show. Han Myeong Suk's 1961 song "The Boy in The Yellow Shirt" was covered by French singer Yvette Giraud and was also popular in Japan.
1970s: Hippie and folk influences
At the end of the 1960s Korean pop music underwent another transformation. More and more musicians were university students and graduates who were heavily influenced by American culture and lifestyle (including the hippie movement) and made lighthearted music unlike their predecessors, who were influenced by war and Japanese oppression. The younger generation opposed the Vietnam War as much as American hippies did, which resulted in the Korean government banning songs with more liberal lyrics. In spite of this, folk-influenced pop remained popular among the youth, and local television channel MBC organised a music contest for university students in 1977. This was the foundation of several modern music festivals.
One of the leading figures of the era was Han Dae-soo, who was raised in the United States and influenced by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Lennon. Han's song "Mul jom juso" (물 좀 주소, Give Me Water) became iconic among young people in Korea. His daring performances and unique singing style often shocked the public and later he was banned from performing in Korea. Han moved to New York City and pursued his musical career there, only returning to his home country in the 1990s. Other notable singers of the period include Song Chang-sik, Young Nam-cho and Hee Eun-yang.
In the 1970s, DJs also started to become popular.
1980s: The era of ballads
The 1980s saw the rise of ballad singers after Lee Gwang-jo's 1985 album "You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to" (가까이 하기엔 너무 먼 당신, Gakkai Hagien Neomu Meon Dangsin) sold more than 300,000 copies. Other popular ballad singers included Lee Moon-se (이문세) and Byun Jin-seob (변진섭), nicknamed the "Prince of Ballads". One of the most sought-after ballad composers of the era was Lee Young-hoon (이영훈), whose songs were compiled into a modern musical in 2011 titled Gwanghwamun Yeonga (광화문 연가, Gwanghwamun's Song).
The Asia Music Forum was launched in 1980, with representatives from five different Asian countries competing in the event. Korean singer Cho Yong-pil won first place and went on to have a successful career, performing in Hong Kong and Japan. His first album Chang bakkui yeoja (창 밖의 여자, Woman outside the window) was a hit and he became the first Korean singer to take to the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York. Cho's musical repertoire included rock, dance, trot and folk pop.
1990s: Development of modern K-pop
In the 1990s, Korean pop musicians incorporated American popular music styles like rap, rock and techno in their music. In 1992 the emergence of Seo Taiji & Boys marked a revolutionary moment in the history of K-pop. The trio debuted on MBC's talent show with their song "Nan Arayo" (난 알아요, I Know) and got the lowest rating from the jury; however, the song and album of the same name became so successful that it paved the way for other songs of the same format. The song's success was attributed to its new jack swing-inspired beats and memorable chorus, as well as innovative lyrics which dealt with the problems of Korean society. Their footsteps were followed by a wave of successful hip hop and R&B artists like Yoo Seung-jun, Jinusean, Deux, 1TYM and Drunken Tiger.
In 1995, South Korean record producer Lee Soo-man founded the entertainment company, S.M. Entertainment. Former Seo Taiji & Boys Yang Hyun-suk's member formed YG entertainment in 1996, as did South Korean K-pop singer Park Jin-young established JYP Entertainment in 1997.
Idol bands (young boybands or girlbands) formed, inspired by Seo Taiji & Boys, to cater for a growing teenage audience. H.O.T. was one of the first idol boybands, debuting in 1996. Their success was followed by that of bands like Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, NRG, Baby V.O.X., Diva, Shinhwa and g.o.d. The 1990s were also a successful period for underground music clubs and punk rock bands such as Crying Nut.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis prompted South Korean entertainers to look for new markets: H.O.T. released a Mandarin-language album and Diva released an English-language album in Taiwan.
21st century: Rise of Hallyu
K-pop's increasing popularity forms part of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, which refers to the popularity of South Korean culture in other countries. K-pop is increasingly making appearances on Western charts such as Billboard. The development of online social media has been a vital tool for the Korean music industry in reaching a wider audience.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the K-pop idol groups that had seen success in the 90's were on the decline. H.O.T. disbanded in 2001, while other groups like Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, Shinhwa, and g.o.d became inactive by 2005. Solo singers like BoA and Rain grew in success. However, the successes of TVXQ and SS501 after their debuts in 2003 and 2005, respectively, marked the resurgence of idol groups to Korean entertainment and the growth of K-pop as part of "Hallyu." The birth of second-generation K-pop was followed with the successful debuts of Super Junior (2005), Big Bang (2006), Wonder Girls (2007), Girls' Generation (2007), and Kara (2007).
During the beginning of the 21st century, K-pop idols began receiving success elsewhere in Asia: in 2002, Baby V.O.X.'s single "Coincidence" became popular in many Asian countries after it was released and promoted during the World Cup in South Korea. BoA became the first K-pop singer to reach No. 1 on the Japanese Oricon music chart and shortly afterwards, Rain had a sold-out concert to an audience of 40,000 fans in Beijing. In 2003, Baby V.O.X. topped the Chinese music charts with their Chinese single "I'm Still Loving You" from their third album Devotion, the first idol group to do so, creating a huge fanbase in China. They also charted in various music charts in Thailand. TVXQ marked the rise of K-pop boy bands in Japan. In 2008, their single "Purple Line" made TVXQ the first foreign boy band and second Korean artist after BoA to top the Oricon music chart.
Since the mid-2000s, a huge portion of the East Asian music market has been dominated by K-pop. In 2008, South Korea's cultural exports (including television dramas and computer games) rose to US$2 billion, maintaining an annual growth rate of over 10%. That year, Japan accounted for almost 68% of all K-pop export revenues, ahead of China (11.2%) and the United States (2.1%). The sale of concert tickets proved to be a lucrative business; TVXQ's Tohoshinki Live Tour in Japan sold over 850,000 tickets at an average cost of US$109 each, generating a total of US$92.6 million in revenues.
Elsewhere in the world, the genre has rapidly grown in success, especially after Psy's "Gangnam Style" music video was the first YouTube video to reach one billion views, achieving widespread coverage in mainstream media. As of November 2016, the video has 2.7 billion views. Although several attempts have been made by entertainment companies (with idols such as BoA, Wonder Girls, and CL releasing English-language singles) at breaking into the English-language market, these have not faced overall success.
As part of the Korean Wave K-pop has been embraced by the South Korean government as a tool for soft power abroad, particularly towards overseas youth. In 2014 The Economist dubbed Korean pop culture "Asia’s foremost trendsetter".
Selected landmarks achieved by K-pop artists in the 21st century include:
K-pop has spawned an entire industry encompassing music production houses, event management companies, music distributors, and other merchandise and service providers. The three biggest companies in terms of sales and revenue are S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, often referred to as the 'Big Three'. These record labels also function as representative agencies for their artists. They are responsible for recruiting, financing, training, and marketing new artists as well as managing their musical activities and public relations. Currently, the agency with the greatest market share is S.M. Entertainment. In 2011, together with Star J Entertainment, AM Entertainment, and Key East, the Big Three companies founded the joint management company United Asia Management.
Sales and market value
In 2009, DFSB Kollective became the first distributor of K-pop on iTunes.
In 2011, 1,100 albums were released in South Korea. The hip-hop genre had the most representation, at two-thirds of the total albums. One-third of the albums were from a variety of other genres, including rock, modern folk, and crossover.
In 2012, the average cost of obtaining a K-pop song in South Korea amounted to US$0.10 for a single download, or $0.002 when streamed online.
In the first half of 2012, according to Billboard, the Korean music industry grossed nearly US$3.4 billion- a 27.8% increase on the previous year- and was recognized by Time magazine as "South Korea's Greatest Export".
By convention in modern K-pop, trainees go through a rigorous training system for an undetermined amount of time before debut. This method was popularised by Lee Soo-man, founder of S.M. Entertainment, as part of a concept labelled "cultural technology". The Verge described this as an "extreme" system of artist management. According to the CEO of Universal Music's Southeast Asian branch, the Korean idol trainee system is unique in the world.
Because of the training period, which can last for many years, and the significant amount of investment agencies put towards their trainees, the industry is very serious about launching new artists. Trainees may enter an agency through auditions or be scouted, and once recruited are given accommodation and classes (commonly singing, dancing, rapping, and foreign languages such as Mandarin, English and Japanese) while they prepare for debut. Young trainees sometimes attend school at the same time. There is no age limit to become a trainee and no limit to the duration one can spend as a trainee.
Korean record charts include the Korea K-Pop Hot 100 and the Gaon Singles Chart. Recently, some K-pop records have appeared on the Oricon Albums Chart of Japan and the Billboard Hot 100 of the United States. In May 2014, EXO became the third K-pop act to enter the Billboard 200 that year after 2NE1, Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls were the first K-Pop act to chart on Billboard 100.
The Korean music industry has spawned numerous related reality TV shows, including talent shows such as Superstar K and K-pop Star, specialist rap competition Show Me The Money and its female counterpart Unpretty Rapstar, and many 'survival' shows, which commonly pit trainees against each other in order to form a new idol group. Examples of survival shows include Jellyfish Entertainment's MyDOL, which formed the boy group VIXX; YG Entertainment's WIN: Who Is Next, which formed the boy group WINNER; MIX&MATCH, which formed iKON; JYP Entertainment's SIXTEEN, which formed girl group Twice; Starship Entertainment's No.Mercy, which formed boy group Monsta X; Mnet's Produce 101, which formed girl group I.O.I.; and most recently, Duble Kick Entertainment's Finding Momo Land, which formed the girl group Momoland.
K-pop artists are frequently referred to as idols or idol groups. Groups usually have a leader, and the youngest group member is called the maknae (막내). The popular use of this term in Japan was influenced by boy group SS501 when they expanded their activities in the country in 2007. Its Japanese translation "マンネ" was often used to name the group's youngest member Kim Hyung-jun in order to differentiate him from their leader with a similar name and spelling, Kim Hyun-joong.
Appeal and fan base
Not all K-pop fans are young females, although most are; in 2012 New York magazine interviewed male adult Girls' Generation fans, who admitted to liking the group for its members' looks and personalities, citing the members' humility and friendliness towards the fans.
Many fans travel overseas to see their idols on tour, and tourists commonly visit Korea from Japan and China to see K-pop concerts. A K-pop tour group from Japan had more than 7,000 fans fly to Seoul to meet boy band JYJ in 2012, and during JYJ's concert in Barcelona in 2011, fans from many parts of the world camped overnight to gain entrance. A 2011 survey conducted by the Korean Culture and Information Service reported that there were over 3 million active members of Hallyu fan clubs.
An article by The Wall Street Journal indicated that K-pop’s future staying power will be shaped by fans, whose online activities have evolved into "micro-businesses". K-pop groups commonly have dedicated fanclubs with a collective name and sometimes an assigned colour, to which they will release merchandise. For example, TVXQ fans are known as 'Cassiopeia', and their official colour is 'pearl red'. Some of the more popular groups have personalised light sticks for use at concerts; for example, Big Bang fans hold yellow crown-shaped light sticks.
Fan clubs sometimes participate in charity events to support their idols, purchasing bags of 'fan rice' in order to show support. The rice bags are donated to those in need. According to Time, for one of Big Bang's shows, 12.7 tons of rice were donated from 50 fan clubs around the world. There are businesses in Korea dedicated to shipping rice from farmers to the venues. Another way that fan clubs show their devotion is sending lunch to idols during their schedules, and there are catering companies in South Korea specifically for this purpose.
A unique feature of K-pop fandom is the 'fan chant'. When an idol group releases a new song, fan clubs will organise a fan chant and learn it so that they can chant parts of the song or an idols' names at parts of the song during live performances.
Some idols and idol groups have faced problems from obsessive fans that indulge in stalking or invasive behaviour. These fans are known as sasaeng fans, from the Korean for 'private life', so called for their invasions of privacy. There have been accounts of extreme behaviours from fans trying to gain idols' attention as well as taxi services that cater to those wishing to follow idols. Korean public officials recognize this as a unique but serious concern.
Some idols have reacted angrily towards sasaeng fans, for which they received backlash; including members of JYJ, Super Junior member Kim Hee-chul, and Jang Keun-suk.
In response to the issue, a new law introduced in February 2016 in Korea saw the penalty for stalking rise to around US$17,000 as well a possible two-year jail sentence.
Conventions and music festivals
Social media has been instrumental in the global reach of K-Pop, particularly video-sharing site YouTube. Of the 2.28 billion worldwide K-pop YouTube views in 2011, 240 million came from the United States, more than double the figure from 2010 (94 million).
Following the lifting of import and export restrictions between South Korea and Japan in place since WWII, BoA's debut Japanese album Listen to My Heart in 2002 was the first album by a Korean artist to debut at the top of the Japanese Oricon charts and become an RIAJ-certified 'million-seller' in Japan.
On January 16, 2008, TVXQ (known as Tohoshinki in Japan) also reached the top of the Oricon charts with their sixteenth Japanese single "Purple Line". This made them the first foreign and Korean male group to have a number-one single in Japan. Since then, the Japanese market has seen an influx of Korean pop acts such as SS501, Shinee, Super Junior, Big Bang, KARA and Girls' Generation. In 2011, it was reported that the total sales for K-pop artists' increased 22.3% between 2010–2011 in Japan. Some Korean artists were in the top 10 selling artists of the year in Japan.
With remaining tension between Japan and Korea, the import of Korean culture has been met with resistance, in the form of the 'Anti-Korean Wave'. One demonstration against the Korean Wave with roughly 500 participants was broadcast on Japan’s Fuji TV to an Internet audience of over 120,000. However, the chairman of the Presidential Council on National Branding cites this resistance as proof of “how successful Korean Wave is.”
According to the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange's 'Korean Wave index', the top consumer in 2010 was Japan, in a list that also included Taiwan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
K-pop has yet to dominate the Chinese market, but there has been considerable success: in 2005, Rain held a concert in Beijing with 40,000 people in attendance. The Wonder Girls won an award in the 5th annual China Mobile Wireless Music Award for the highest digital sales for a foreign artist, with 5 million digital downloads in 2010. Entertainment companies often include Chinese members in idol groups with the aim of marketing to China; S.M. Entertainment's EXO-M was an example of this. Super Junior and their sub-group Super Junior-M have had successful results on the Kuang Nan Record, CCR and Hit Fm Taiwan music charts.
Despite sharing a similar past, the Taiwanese did not carry a positive sentiment towards South Korea after 1992, which is when South Korea broke off its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in order to pursue one with mainland China. This changed in the early 2000s as the cultural dispersion of hallyu has contributed to the reconstruction of South Korea's image among the Taiwanese. This change was in part prompted by the South Korean government, who wished to encourage goodwill between the two countries after the break of diplomacy. Now many Taiwanese have remarked that Korean popular music and Korean dramas has helped to foster a renewed interest and healthier relationship with South Korea.
In the Indian state of Manipur, where separatists have banned Bollywood movies, consumers have turned to Korean popular culture for their entertainment needs. The BBC's correspondent Sanjoy Majumder reported that Korean entertainment products are mostly unlicensed copies smuggled in from neighbouring Burma, and are generally well received by the local population. This has led to the increasing use of Korean phrases in common parlance among young people.
In order to capitalize on the popularity of K-pop in Manipur, many hairdressing salons have offered "Korean-style" cuts based on the hairstyles of K-pop boy bands. This wave of Korean popular culture is currently spreading from Manipur to the neighbouring state of Nagaland. Kpop is catching up in various other states of the country and millions of fans hold festivals and competitions in regard of the same.
There is a thriving K-pop fanbase in Singapore, where idol groups, such as 2NE1, EXO and BTS, often hold concert tour dates. The popularity of K-pop alongside Korean dramas has influenced the beauty image of Singaporeans. Korean-style "straight eyebrows" have become quite popular among many Singaporean females and males of Chinese, Malay and Indian descent. Singaporean beauty salons have seen an increase in the number of customers interested in getting Korean-style "straight eyebrows" in recent years.
In Nepal, K-pop gained popularity along with Korean dramas and films. K-pop has become influential in the Nepali music industry and K-pop music videos are often used as an accompaniment to Nepali music on YouTube and has become a popular trend in the country.
In Malaysia, among the three main ethnic groups- Malay, Chinese and Indian- many prefer to listen to music in their own languages, but the popularity of K-pop alongside Korean movies and TV dramas has become popular among all three ethnic groups, which Malaysian firms have capitalised upon. The popularity of K-pop has also resulted in politicians bringing K-pop idols to the country in order attract young voters.
In 2006, Rain held sold-out concerts in New York and Las Vegas as part of his Rain's Coming World Tour.
In 2009, the Wonder Girls became the first K-pop artist to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. They went on to join the Jonas Brothers on the Jonas Brothers World Tour 2009. In 2010, they toured 20 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and were named House of Blues "Artist of the Month" for June.
In 2010, S.M. Entertainment held the SMTown Live '10 World Tour with dates in Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, and New York. The same year, during the 8th Annual Korean Music Festival, K-pop artists made their first appearances at the Hollywood Bowl.
Notable K-pop concerts in the United States in 2011 include the KBS Concert at the New York Korea Festival, the K-Pop Masters Concert in Las Vegas, and the Korean Music Wave in Google, which was held at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.
2012 marked a breakthrough year for K-pop in North America. At the start of the year, Girls' Generation performed the English version of "The Boys" on the late night talk show The Late Show with David Letterman and also on the daytime talk show Live! with Kelly, becoming the first Korean musical act to perform on these shows, and the first Korean act to perform on syndicated television in the United States. In the same year, the group formed their first sub-unit, entitled Girls' Generation-TTS, or simply "TTS", composed of members Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. The subgroup's debut EP, Twinkle, peaked at #126 on the Billboard 200. In May, SMTown returned to California again with the SMTown Live World Tour III in Anaheim. In August, as part of their New Evolution Global Tour, 2NE1 held their first American concert in the New York Metropolitan Area at the Prudential Center of Newark, New Jersey. In November, as part of their Alive Tour, Big Bang held their first solo concert in America, visiting the Honda Center in Los Angeles and the Prudential Center in Newark. The tickets sold out in only a few hours, and additional dates were added. On November 13, the American singer-songwriter Madonna and backup dancers performed "Gangnam Style" alongside PSY during a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. PSY later told reporters that his gig with Madonna had "topped his list of accomplishments".
On January 29, 2013, Billboard, one of America's most popular music magazines, launched Billboard K-Town, an online column on its website that covered K-pop news, artists, concerts, and chart information.
In March of that year, f(x) performed at the K-Pop Night Out at SXSW in Austin, Texas, alongside the The Geeks, who represented Korean rock. f(x) was the first K-pop group ever to perform at SXSW. Mnet hosted its Kcon event in NY and LA in July 2016.
Many idol groups have loyal fanbases in Latin America. Since 2009, about 260 fan clubs with a total of over 20,000 and 8,000 active members have been formed in Chile and Peru respectively.
In 2011, the United Cube Concert was held in São Paulo, shortly after the second round of the first K-Pop Cover Dance Festival was held in Brazil, with MBLAQ as judges.
In March 2012, JYJ performed in Chile and Peru. When the group arrived at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Peru for the JYJ World Tour Concert, they were escorted by airport security officials through a private exit due to safety reasons concerning the large number of fans (over 3,000). At the Explanada Sur del Estadio Monumental in Lima, some fans camped out for days in to see JYJ. In April, Caracol TV and Arirang TV jointly aired a K-pop reality show in Colombia. In September, Junsu became the first K-pop idol to perform solo in Brazil and Mexico, after the Wonder Girls in Monterrey in 2009. The concerts sold out well in advance. That year there were 70 K-pop fan clubs in Mexico, with at least 60,000 members altogether.
In January 2014, Kim Hyung-jun performed in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, becoming the first K-pop idol to perform in Bolivia. The tour proved his popularity in the continent as both fans and the media followed him everywhere he went, causing traffic on the roads and police to be called to maintain safety. Fans were also seen pitching their tents outside the concert venue for days before the actual concert.
In 2010, both the SMTown Live '10 World Tour and the Super Junior Super Show 4 Tour were held in Paris.
In February 2011, Teen Top performed at the Apolo concert hall in Barcelona. In May, Rain became the first K-pop artist to perform in Germany, during the Dresden Music Festival. JYJ also performed in both Berlin and Barcelona. Big Bang flew to Belfast and won the Best Worldwide Act during the 2011 MTV EMAs in Northern Ireland. In Poland, the K-pop Star Exhibition was held in the Warsaw Korean Culture Center. K-pop also saw a surge in popularity in Russia, where 57 dance teams took part in the K-pop Cover Dance Festival. During the second round of the competition, SHINee flew to Moscow as judges, also performing to Russian fans. The following year, Russian youths launched K-Plus, a Korean culture magazine, and the number of Russian K-pop fans was reported at 50,000.
In February 2012, BEAST held their Beautiful Show in Berlin. According to the Berliner Zeitung, many fans who attended were not just from Germany but also from neighbouring countries such as France and Switzerland. Also in February, the Music Bank World Tour drew more than 10,000 fans to the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. That year, artists such as Beast and 4Minute performed during the United Cube Concert in London, where the MBC Korean Culture Festival was also held. When SHINee arrived at the London Heathrow Airport for a concert at the Odeon West End in the same year, part of the airport became temporarily overrun by frenzied fans. The reservation system of the Odeon West End crashed for the first time one minute after ticket sales began as the concert drew an unexpectedly large response. At this time, SHINee also held a 30-minute performance at the Abbey Road Studio. The ticket demand for this performance was so high that fashion magazine Elle gave away forty tickets through a lottery, and the performance was also televised in Japan through six different channels. Also in 2012, Big Bang won the Best Fan category in the Italian TRL Awards.
2014 saw a continued rise in the popularity of K-pop in Russia. On February 3, Park Jung-min became the first ever Korean singer to hold a solo concert in Moscow.
Middle East and Africa
K-pop has become increasingly popular across the Middle East and Africa over recent years, particularly among younger fans. In July 2011, Israeli fans met South Korea's Ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-sam, and traveled to Paris for the SMTown Live '10 World Tour in Europe. According to Dr. Nissim Atmazgin, a professor of East Asian Studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Many young people look at K-pop as culture capital- something that makes them stand out from the crowd." As of 2012, there are over 5,000 K-pop fans in Israel and 3,000 in the Palestinian territories. Some dedicated Israeli and Palestinian fans see themselves as "cultural missionaries" and actively introduce K-pop to their friends and relatives, further spreading the Hallyu wave within their communities.
In 2012, the number of fans in Turkey surpassed 100,000, reaching 150,000 in 2013. ZE:A appeared for a fan meet-and-greet session in Dubai and a concert in Abu Dhabi. In Cairo, hundreds of fans went to Maadi Library’s stage theater to see the final round of the K-POP Korean Song Festival, organised by the Korean Embassy.
In 2011, the K-Pop Music Festival at the ANZ Stadium was held in Sydney, featuring Girls' Generation, TVXQ, B2ST, SHINee, 4minute, miss A, 2AM, and MBLAQ. There was also demand for concerts from New Zealand.
In August 2012, NU'EST visited Sydney Harbour and the University of New South Wales, as judges of a K-pop contest being held there. The following year, 4Minute were judges at the same contest in Sydney. In October, Psy toured Australia after his single "Gangnam Style" reached number one in Australia on the ARIA charts.
In May 2016, B.A.P held a concert in Auckland, becoming the first K-Pop group to perform in New Zealand.
On May 25, 2010, South Korea responded to the alleged North Korean sinking of a navy ship by broadcasting 4Minute's single "HuH" across the DMZ. In response, North Korea affirmed its decision to "destroy" any speakers set up along the border. That year, The Chosun Ilbo reported that the Ministry of Defense had considered setting up large TV screens across the border to broadcast music videos by several popular K-pop girl groups such as Girls' Generation, Wonder Girls, After School, Kara and 4Minute as part of "psychological warfare" against North Korea. In September 2012, North Korea uploaded a video with a photo manipulated image of South Korea's current president, Park Geun-hye, performing the dance moves of "Gangnam Style". The video labeled her as a "devoted" admirer of the Yushin system of autocratic rule set up by her father, Park Chung-hee.
Since the early 2010s, several political leaders have acknowledged the global rise of Korean pop culture, most notably U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an official visit to South Korea in 2012 and mentioned the strong influences of social media networks, adding that it was "no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean wave, Hallyu." A few months later, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a speech in front of the National Assembly of South Korea, where he noted South Korea's "great global success" in the fields of culture, sports and the arts, before pointing out that the Korean Wave was "making its mark on the world". This occurred a few days after U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland remarked in a daily press briefing that her daughter "loves Korean pop", which sparked a media frenzy in South Korea after a journalist from the country's publicly funded Yonhap News Agency arranged an interview with Nuland and described Nuland's teenage daughter as "crazy about Korean music and dance".
In November 2012, the British Minister of State for the Foreign Office, Hugo Swire, addressed a group of South Korean diplomats at the House of Lords, where he emphasized the close ties and mutual cooperation shaping South Korea–United Kingdom relations and added: "As "Gangnam Style" has demonstrated, your music is global too." In February 2013, the Vice President of Peru, Marisol Espinoza, gave an interview with South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, where she voiced her desire for more South Korean companies to invest in her country and named K-pop as "one of the main factors that made Peruvian people wanting to get to know South Korea more".
According to an article published by the international relations magazine Foreign Policy, the spread of Korean popular culture across Southeast Asia, parts of South America, and parts of the Middle East is illustrating how the gradual cessation of European colonialism is giving way and making room for unexpected soft power outside of the Western world. On the other hand, an article published by The Quietus magazine expressed concern that discussions about Hallyu as a form of soft power seems to bear a whiff of the "old Victorian fear of Yellow Peril".
In August 2016, it was reported that China planned to ban Korean media broadcasts and K-pop idol promotions within the country in opposition to South Korea's defensive deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles. The reportage of these planned regulatory measures caused an immediate negative impact on shares in Korean talent agencies, although stock prices later recovered.
Criticism and controversies
Main criticisms faced by the genre and industry as a whole include:
In 2002, Time reported that Korean television producers such as Hwang Yong Woo and Kim Jong Jin were arrested for "accepting under-the-table payments guaranteeing TV appearances to aspiring singers and musicians" in a bid to tackle "systemic corruption in South Korea's music business". Companies investigated included SidusHQ and S.M. Entertainment.
K-pop management companies have also been criticized for exploitation of idols through overwork and restrictive contracts, described as "slave contracts" in a BBC report. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Korea’s entertainment business is notoriously improvisational and unregulated. In-demand K-pop stars – many of whom are teenage 'idols' – have been known to rehearse and perform without sleep." In July 2009, S.M. Entertainment was taken to court by TVXQ and a Super Junior member, who alleged that their working conditions had led to adverse health effects.
The court decision in the TVXQ lawsuit determined their contract with S.M. Entertainment void, and resultantly the Fair Trade Commission released contract templates to regulate industry conditions.
In 2014, South Korea passed a law to regulate its music industry, protecting underage idols from unhealthy labor practices and overtly sexualized performances.
Under the new law, underage stars will be guaranteed the basic rights to learn, rest and sleep, though exceptions can be made for projects requiring long-distance travel. Weekly working hours for children younger than 15 are not to exceed 35 hours, while minors aged 15-18 are limited to 40 hours (since Korean Age of Majority is 19 (actual birthday)). Minors cannot work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless their guardians give consent. It will also be illegal to coerce minors into wearing revealing stage costumes or dancing sexually suggestive choreography routines.
Failure to comply with these regulations may lead to the equivalent of a US$10,000 fine.