BY NAEIKA RAJ ’19Bangtan Sonyeondan
The year 2017 saw a cataclysmic shift in the American music industry. K-Pop sales across the nation have multiplied and the genre’s popularity was made apparent during this year’s award season.
BTS, which stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan (though American audiences also refer to them as Beyond the Scene), is the South Korean septet taking the world by storm, especially after they wowed audiences at the American Music Awards. When Billboard released a poll on their website asking voters which artist they were most excited to see, BTS got 73 percent of the votes while Christina Aguilera came in second place with a mere 3 percent. The popularity of songs like “Despacito” indicates that language barriers do not dictate consumer tastes, so, it can be assumed that K-Pop will infiltrate mainstream American radio waves in no time.
According to CNN, South Korea’s entertainment groups are not currently being allowed to perform in China. This could be the reason for the American demand for K-Pop artists, as it causes an influx of K-Pop acts touring in the U.S. A more probable cause has to do with the K-Pop industry as a whole — the way in which an agency creates and packages its artists is unique. Every member can rap, dance and sing. Every boy and girl group has a specific appealing concept and there is an almost machine-like way in which K-Pop groups operate to create a perfect package.
I’m sure that a lot of people are wondering who these Asian boys beating household names like Justin Bieber are. To fully understand their appeal, you must dive into the sea that is K-Pop. All it takes is one song and then you’re watch a music video, then a variety show, then a live performance and before long you are obsessing over the physical copy of their albums that come with stickers and photo cards! This fanaticism, besides creating a loyal fanbase, has led to innovative musical performances. Korean artists don’t seem afraid to try new things, such as pulling stunts mid-concert or touring with seven main band members. There is a kind of avant-gardism that American artists are reluctant to try. Their songs are stories and each album is like a chapter of a book. Theories relating to one particular line, lasting no more than two seconds, capture the imagination of millions.
All that being said, one of the most intriguing aspects of this genre is its appeal to non-Korean speakers. Besides Asians, the second and third largest consumer bases in the U.S. come from hispanic and black populations, according to the New York Times. There is something very accessible about K-Pop culture and its appeal to minority demographics, possibly stemming from the unapologetic nature of current K-Pop artists.
BTS, for example, sings in Korean (sometimes making Chinese and Japanese covers) and transparently discuss changes in their brand over time. But during the AMAs, BTS had interviewers asking them to release music in English. This frustrated K-Pop fans, and understandably so. We like their music the way that it is, and it certainly shouldn’t conform to an irrelevant American standard.
The music industry is extremely fickle and K-Pop artists recognize this. Korean agencies capture and maintain our attention by releasing new content throughout the year, instead of creating an eight-month build up before an album finally drops. Today, the perception of K-Pop encompasses more than just a passing internet sensation like “Gangnam Style.” We are seeing a sustainable change in consumer trends strong enough to transform pop music.