It doesn’t matter if you’re not a fan, you’ve probably heard a K-pop song before if you so much as go on the internet regularly.
K-pop, or South Korean pop music, has become one of the most talked about topics in the past decade with the rise of groups such as Big Bang, 2NE1, and now BTS and Blackpink.
Last year, 5.3 billion K-pop related tweets were recorded on Twitter, Kim Yeon Jeong, head of global content partnerships at Twitter Korea, revealed at the Innovfest Unbound conference held in Singapore on June 28.
That’s five times more than the number of gaming-related tweets, Kim said.
Describing K-pop as a “global phenomenon”, Kim said that K-pop related tweets extend beyond Asia Pacific, as the countries which tweeted most about K-pop in 2018 included the US, UK, Latin America and Europe.
The Twitter account of K-pop boy group BTS was also the most tweeted about account in the world last year, Kim added.
Kim, who has been with Twitter Korea since 2015, is in charge of driving conversations about K-pop on Twitter through partnerships with leading K-pop artistes, K-pop management companies, and Korean broadcasters around the world.
According to Kim, there are three major reasons behind the immense success of K-pop groups, and how they’ve managed to sustain global interest over a long period of time.
And no, none of these reasons have anything to do with good looks or fancy dance moves.
1. Broadcasters bring K-pop groups closer to global fans
- YG Entertainment
Broadcasting companies play an important role in the success of K-pop bands, Kim said.
One example she cited during the talk was KCON, an annual Hallyu (Korean wave) convention organised by South Korean entertainment company CJ E&M to bring K-pop closer to the fans outside of South Korea.
“They (broadcasting companies) provide an opportunity for (K-pop) bands to stand on stage,” Kim explained.
The convention, first held in 2012 as KCON USA, has already expanded to include stops in other countries such as Japan, Thailand, Australia and even the United Arab Emirates.
A range of activities from panel discussions to workshops are held at KCON, and at night, there is also a huge K-pop concert featuring a line-up of popular Korean groups.
The number of attendees at KCON has also increased every year. According to theatre news website Broadway World, a record-breaking 94,000 fans attended KCON LA last year, and a combined total of 147,000 people attended KCON USA over two events in 2018.
2. A “natural” and “organic” fan culture
Without a doubt, huge credit for K-pop’s successful spread around the world should be given to the fandom and culture of the K-pop community, Kim said.
Although most boy and girl groups from other countries have their own set of dedicated fans, Kim said that the K-pop fans have a “unique and organic” fan culture.
On Twitter, K-pop fans mobilise and form teams dedicated to playing a specific support role for their favourite bands, Kim said.
One example is streaming teams, which are teams that take the lead in uniting other fans to stream their favourite K-pop band’s songs on different music platforms.
Subbing teams will translate videos from Korean to their native language for other fans who don’t understand Korean.
And during awards season – such as the annually held Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) – fans will form voting teams to gather votes and help their favourite bands win.
“(K-pop) fans are generating their own organic and natural volunteership”, Kim said.
3. Management companies groom successor groups
Another way K-pop bands – more specifically, K-pop boy bands – maintain their success lies with their “successor groups”.
Kim explained that once Korean management agencies groom a K-pop boy group to a certain level of success, they will likely debut a successor group soon after.
For example, Big Hit Entertainment debuted five-member boy group TXT – the successor group of BTS – this year.
In 2016, NCT made their debut as the successor group of EXO, a popular boy band managed by SM Entertainment.
However, this doesn’t mean that older K-pop boy bands then lose out to their successor groups. While Korean management companies always make preparations to debut a successor group, they still work to maintain the success of their original group, Kim said.
It’s only the beginning
In an interview with Business Insider, Kim said that the globalisation of K-pop had only just begun.
Citing BTS as one of the most successful third-generation K-pop boy bands, Kim said that other K-pop groups in the industry can now benefit from the success of their predecessors.
She said: “K-pop artistes and fans can now make a bigger world together, based on a system that was built 25 years ago.”
The conversation surrounding K-pop will only get larger, and Kim foresees more chances and opportunities for K-pop to become even bigger in future.
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