The global influence of K-pop

Korean musical explosion breaks records and cultural barriers

K-pop artists experiment with a wide range of musical genres.

In the age of YouTube and Spotify, K-pop (Korean pop music) has become a global phenomenon that plays a remarkable role in the country’s growing economy.

K-pop artists experiment with a wide range of musical genres, including electronic, hip hop, pop, rock, and R&B. Besides having catchy tunes, K-pop music videos are known for their visual effects and elaborate storylines. The artists’ live performances involve colourful costumes and perfectly synchronized choreography.

But K-pop fame and glory doesn’t come easily: artists are commonly recruited by South Korean entertainment companies at a young age, enrolling in schools that specialize in vocals, dance, and language classes. They often undergo several years of rigorous training before they’re sorted into groups and are able to make their debut.

On top of the intense search for talent and demand for hard work, the K-pop industry makes an effort to export their music by drawing inspiration from the Western world.

Group names and song titles usually consist of English words or unique abbreviations which can be easily understood and referred to by an international audience. To keep up with contemporary trends, English phrases are frequently interspersed amidst Korean lyrics in K-pop songs. For example, K-pop duo Bolbbalgan4’s popular song, “Travel,” features the refrain, “Take me to London, Paris, New York City.”

There are also many instances where K-pop artists cover English songs or collaborate with Western artists to expand their reach. K-pop group BTS is the biggest boy band in the world according to TIME, Ellen DeGeneres, and their 18 million Twitter followers. Since then, BTS’ members have covered singles such as Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars.” A few months ago, popular K-pop girl group BLACKPINK produced a bilingual crossover song, “Kiss and Make Up,” with British singer Dua Lipa.

From La La Land to Pulp Fiction, K-pop girl group TWICE references multiple Hollywood films recognizable to American audiences in their hit music video for “What is Love?” released last April.

For the last two years, BTS received the award for Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards, breaking Justin Bieber’s streak for winning every year since the award’s introduction in 2011. Last May, they made history as the first K-pop group to top the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with the debut of their new album, Love Yourself: Tear.

The massive, international success of BTS highlights how K-pop has reached millions of North American fans from overseas.

BTS have used their global reach to promote philanthropic causes in recent months. In September, the group delivered a speech encouraging young people to find their voices at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. In 2017, the chart-topping band also partnered with UNICEF to promote the LOVE MYSELF campaign in hopes of ending violence against youth, which has so far raised over $2 million.

Ever since the genre’s introduction to North American audiences in early 2010, the number of foreign students at university campuses across South Korea have soared significantly. Even language, which once seemed like a barrier to entering Korean culture, is now viewed internationally as an exciting learning opportunity. Many K-pop fans have become interested in learning Korean to explore the rest of Korean pop culture and society has to offer.

Even though the burgeoning genre’s popularity may seem like a fad, the rise of K-pop has greater cultural resonance than meets the eye. Through its reach, records, and aesthetics, the skyrocketing K-pop movement manages to connect people through a shared love of music and cultural diversity.

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