By Mallory Johnson
The interest in Korean pop isn’t new and the genre has had a solid fan base ever since the 1990s when the music was included on exported Korean dramas such as First Love. But after years of being considered both alternative and cutesy, K-pop is currently bubbling into the mainstream.
Groups are big in both numbers and money. K-pop groups are fond of names full of acronyms – take 2NE1 (New Evolution of the 21st Century), B.A.P (Best Absolute Perfect) and BTOB (Born to Beat). They stand apart from the rest of the world’s pop groups for many reasons; but one of the key differences is that there are so many members in each group. There are 12 members of EXO, but then they are split into EXO-K who perform in Korean and EXO-M who perform in Mandarin.
The K-pop industry is worth billions of dollars. The biggest labels are currently SM Entertainment – who kicked off K-pop in the 1990s and have a market capitalization of $660 million. Groups are often put together when their members are young: G-Dragon and Taeyang both started receiving training from their label YG Entertainment at the age of 11. The journey can be long: Jokwon of 2AM was a trainee at JYP Entertainment for seven years before his debut.
According to theguardian.com talent agencies in Korea oversee the professional lives and careers of trainees, often spending in excess of $400,000 to train and launch a new artist through this practice of apprenticeship, which often lasts two years or more. Trainees hone their voices, learn professional choreography, sculpt and shape their bodies through exercise, and study multiple languages all while attending school.
There’s a huge fusion of genres going on in most K-pop videos, but part of the fun is never truly understanding what’s going on in them. K-pop stars can often sing and dance. SHINee, who were in some ways the Korean One Direction, have some pretty awesome choreography and a ridiculous number of outfit changes.
You can’t escape the presence of K-pop on social media. Although the stars have otherworldly images that are heavily crafted, the fans still feel that they know them intimately thanks to Twitter and Instagram. EXO won MTV’s social buzz competition, beating Beliebers and Directioners with the most loyal fans. According to eonline.com Psy broke records for the most watched Youtube video with Gangnam Style, K-pop is still leading the way. Girls’ Generation won Youtube’s best video award, for their hyper-energized hit I Got a Boy.
K-pop is gradually gaining influence in foreign markets outside of Asia, most notably in the United States, Canada, and Australia. In 2010, solo artist Taeyang and girl groups Girls’ Generation and 2NE1 began topping various music charts throughout the United States and Canada with the release of various albums and hit songs. K-pop artists are increasingly working with talent outside of Korea in a push to further globalize the genre.