K-pop is on the decline? The expert debate
In an interview with Bloomberg News last week, HYBE CEO Park Ji-won shared his concerns about the possible demise of K-pop, which has grown exponentially during the pandemic.
As Park said, K-pop has certainly expanded its global footprint in recent years. According to the Korea Customs Service, the total amount of K-pop album exports in 2022 was US$231.4 million (305.3 billion won), the highest number ever.
That’s more than triple compared to pre-pandemic 2019, when total exports were $74.6 million. Many people are known to have fallen in love with K-pop during the global health crisis as they stumbled upon a treasure trove of Korean entertainment content on social media platforms like YouTube while staying at home due to social distancing.
But why do some people think its popularity is declining? Experts say the temporary absence of phenomenal boy band BTS is one of the main reasons.
BTS is a game changer in the K-pop universe that has achieved many things. They are the first K-pop group to top Billboard’s leading singles chart and receive a Grammy nomination, to name a few.
Recently, however, the members have begun or indicated their intention to begin compulsory service, leaving them unable to perform as a septet for the next two years.
“K-pop is still in its heyday right now, as evidenced by massive album sales and YouTube views.”said music critic Kim Do-heon. “But the K-pop industry needs to fully prepare for the future in order not to be overthrown by other genres. As she keeps experimenting and expanding her horizons into different realms like the metaverse, she’ll be able to gain a foothold over time. ”
A lot of people compare K-Pop to J-Pop, but they’re fundamentally different, Kim explains. J-Pop reached its peak in the 1990s with the emergence of high-profile stars like X-Japan. But today its global influence is not as strong as it used to be.
“J-Pop relied heavily on Japanese fans, but K-Pop garnered fans around the world through social media platforms.” said Kim. “The two were born different and have walked different paths to this day. »
As he pointed out, K-pop has literally dominated some of the world’s most heavily used social media platforms. For example, the genre generated 7.8 billion tweets on Twitter in 2021. A number of K-pop music videos by bands like BTS and BLACKPINK have also racked up over 100 million views on YouTube.
However, according to Lee Hye-jin, assistant professor of communications at the University of Southern California, K-pop is not yet mainstream in the United States — the world’s largest music market. He has a huge and influential fandom to help boost album sales, but still lacks mainstream popularity, she says.
“Relatively low number of streams speaks to general lack of popularity of K-pop”said Lee. “When I teach a class about pop culture or media, less than 20% are interested in K-pop. »
Choi Joo-yeon, a K-pop fan in her 20s, echoed this sentiment, telling a Korean outlet that the majority of fourth-generation K-pop groups — particularly boy bands — are not well known to the general public , not even in Korea.
The term fourth generation band is often used to refer to bands that burst onto the music scene in 2018 or later.“It seems to me that they live in their own world, occupied only by their fans,” Said Choi.
“Whether all BTS members can get back together in 2025 (as HYBE said) and whether the four members of K-pop girl group BLACKPINK will renew their deals with their record label YG Entertainment to continue their group are the two main issues. there may be hints of the near future of K-pop in the United States.” She said.
“All eyes of Koreans are currently on the cooperation of HYBE and SM. But this team is unlikely to have an overall impact on the popularity of K-pop in the US market right now, although it could have a long-term impact. »
“What’s more important than the HYBE cocoa fight is the future cultural landscape of the US market,” added the professor. “How the music tastes of American listeners will change and how different social media platforms work can determine the future of K-pop. Nowadays, even for American singers, winning the hearts of mainstream audiences is difficult, so the task for K-pop stars becomes even more daunting. »
The future of K-pop
Lee believes that K-pop should continue to target the Southeast Asian market.
“Once a K-pop group has built a strong fandom in Southeast Asia and proven their international popularity with high YouTube views or other quantitative achievements, they can potentially capture the interest of people in the United States as well.” She said.
Understanding international fans, who have different demands and interests, is also crucial for the K-Pop industry.
“In a culturally diverse country like the United States, the younger generation generally expects celebrities to speak for themselves and speak out on diverse social issues ranging from human rights to environmental issues.” remarked Lee.
“They’re not like Korean fans who just want their singers to avoid trouble and pay attention to their music. I think these differences should be carefully considered for K-pop to further increase its visibility on the international stage. »
Kim, the music critic, added that K-pop management companies need to take better care of their apprentices and develop a more advanced system to hatch them.
“You need a system that can help apprentice idols become talented and independent artists”said Kim. “A lot of people still point out that K-pop agencies have too much control over their singers (musically and personally). »
In fact, K-pop labels have a long history of “keeping” their singers regardless of age. Most of them produce music and hand-crafted choreographies for their stars, while imposing a dating ban or other forms of restrictions rarely encountered in other countries’ entertainment industries. These practices have led some critics to call them “puppets”.
“You may have to work very hard to bring about meaningful change and overcome prejudice,” said Kim.
Kim Han-sol, a K-pop fan in her 20s, added: “As a lifelong K-Pop fan, I’ve often thought that the K-Pop universe is more about companies than artists and fans. I think the focus should be on moving well so that our singers can shine more on stage. »
In 2023, international fans will be the future of kpop