By Dana Austin
In 1983, Michael Jackson broke racial boundaries and music history when MTV aired his music video “Thriller” for the first time. The following year, “Thriller” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts furthering solidifying his title as the King of Pop.
Fast forward to 2018 and the seven-member K-pop boy group BTS is breaking music history again. The group shattered expectations when they performed at the American and Billboard Music Awards, took home a Billboard Music Award for two consecutive years and topped the Billboard 200 chart at No. 1 with their album Love Yourself: Tear.
Is anyone thinking King of K-pop?
K-pop is currently blowing up the international market as one of South Korea’s biggest exports. This past summer alone, KCON, a global concert convention for all things K-pop and Korean culture, flooded the streets in front of the Prudential Center with over 53,000 fans who came in support of the rapidly growing genre.
As KCON continues to grow in popularity yearly and more international fans search for ways to connect to their idols, global businesses have jumped on the K-pop bandwagon. Companies such as Toyota, Amazon, AT&T and Apple Music have sponsored the event while reaching K-pop consumers around the world.
Events like KCON and groups like BTS are testaments to the growing global success of K-pop in the international market.
Huh Haang, director of Show! Music Core, said, “K-pop is experiencing a Renaissance right now, but I believe that it’s still going to grow.”
Today, BTS is the current forerunners of the K-pop industry, setting the stage for what experts call the globalization of K-pop. At the end of 2016 alone, the K-pop industry, which includes album sales, concert tickets, streamed music and merchandise, was valued at approximately 5.3 trillion won ($4.7 billion). The number is expected to increase with K-pop’s new international success.
Even music producers around the world are shocked by K-pop’s global success. They say that K-pop’s surge in popularity is an unprecedented moment in the history of K-pop. Haang added, “Many K-pop idol groups are going to Europe, the United States and South America, and their shows are usually all sold out.”
When BTS announced their upcoming Love Yourself tour, which will take place in South Korea, North America and Europe, tickets were sold out in seconds, with current ticket resale over $1000. Compared to Justin Bieber’s Believe tour, which took an hour to sell out its U.S. dates. Other K-pop groups have reached similar feats abroad like groups EXO and BigBang.
But BTS has set themselves apart from the thousands of K-pop acts in South Korea and opened the door for K-pop to expand all around the world and reach diverse audiences.
“I feel like BTS exudes a very powerful kind of energy that is not comparable to anyone else,” Haang said. She added that it is not just their powerful stage presence that sets them apart from other artists, but it is also their passion and good looks that gives them an advantage over other performers. This, she believes, is what appeals to the international fan base.
Fans agree. Take Tara Pelletier, an eighteen-year-old K-pop fan from New York, who said that she was first introduced to K-pop through BTS in early 2016 and never looked back.
“I was drawn in through their expressive movements and cinematography, and it was exciting to find interest in something so foreign to me. The idea of K-pop was still an unknown topic and being introduced at that moment had me wanting more,” said Pelletier.
Another BTS fan from Connecticut, Elena Zaldumbide, had similar sentiments to Pelletier when describing her experience with BTS.
“I think it’s the package of everything that hypnotizes me,” said Zaldumbide.
But with rapid globalization comes some drawbacks, critics note. Haang said that American videography does not suffice the needs of K-Pop performances.
“In the U.S., I think that there’s an atmosphere or established culture of enjoying the music itself and also watching the stage,” said Haang. “But in the case of music programs on Korean TV, there’s a responsibility to show the faces of the idols for the fans.” This was Haang’s response to BTS’ performance at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards where fans complained about the videography of the performance.
On Music shows in South Korea like Music Score, producers take the time to write detailed scripts and film a minimum of three rehearsal videos of the stars to ensure their videography meets the expectations of fans. In total, the producers use ten cameras to film the live show that they edit and air on Saturdays.
While the world is taken by K-pop and its success, K-pop continues to do what it does best — revamp itself to meet the needs of a global market. The K-pop industry is preparing to ride its wave of success into the future with groups that continue to produce songs and music videos with different concepts that continue to break record after record.
This includes BTS, who announced this week via Twitter that their next studio album Love Yourself: Answer will be released on August 24. That’s only three months after their chart-topping album Love Yourself: Tear was released.
“The artists don’t just see themselves as just a pretty looking product,” Haang said. “They’ve proven that they’re a lot more than that. They’re singer-songwriters as well.”