Table of Contents
- The Catalyst for Kpop: Olympics of 1988
- Seo Taiji & Boys: The Birth of K-Pop
- BoA and K-Pop's Expansion in Japan
- The Evolution of Kpop Industry
Music is aspect human culture that spans across the entirety of the Earth. Almost every culture in the world has its own unique variation and take on music that is appreciated and shared within it’s community. The United States and Japan currently stand at the top of the Global Music Industry as number one and two respectively. However, there has been one country that has been steadily climbing the ranks over the recent decades becoming a business that has grossed billions of dollars of revenue. This particular country is South Korea. South Korea has able to achieve this success large-in part to its famous genre K-Pop. K-Pop stands for “Korean Pop” and although the lyrics of its music cater to the Korean Native ears, its proven to be a globally enjoyed music genre having fans internationally. KPop is a global music industry business that has overcame adversity and censorship but was able to conquer these with the help of the rising of the digital age and globalization.
The Catalyst for Kpop: Olympics of 1988
Although there is no definitive start to K-Pop, there are major points in history that culminated and sparked the start of this genre. To begin, we can look to the Olympics of 1988 hosted in Seoul, South Korea. The Olympics held in South Korea served to be a catalyst in the opening the country to the world. Censorship prior, was more strict with its National Security Act. This law gave the government control over media in order to prevent any information deemed to be a threat to the government from dissemination to he public at large. The ability to promote internationally was significantly lacking. The government had control of broadcasting systems, only promoting variety shows that showcased music that was patriotic or conservative such as soft ballads. The Summer Olympics had became the first Olympic hosted in an Asian city in a long while since 1964 when it was previously held in Tokyo. Korea’s national leader Park Chung-hee had believe this precedent would garner international prestige for the country. His vision succeeded. South Korea removed restraint on foreign travel, allowed more exposure for the country to the outside, and domestic production of Korean cultural products started to grow. Profits rose as well as nationalistic pride within its citizens. Censorship, while still strict, became more lax than it was before. Many began to take part in their culture in ways they never did before.
From this revitalized sense of nationalistic pride, musicians and artist began expanding their works. Lee Soo Man was one such important individual. He was a well known singer of the 70’s but later formed the band “Lee Soo Man and 365 Days”. Their debut showcased rock music that held a grungy feel. However, Korea’s media censorship policies put a halt in the group’s career. Not long after, Lee Soo Man left the music industry altogether and moved oversees to study in computer engineering in California. Though he left the music industry, his passion for it still lingered. In his time in the US he was inspired by the music of the current American artist of the time; Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, etc. The modern American music led to Lee Soo Man to seek change in the formula of music and bypass the Korean government censorship. Lee Soo Man returned to Korea becoming the first music entrepreneur in South Korea with the founding of SM Entertainment in 1995. He created a new system for the music industry; a new system of recruitment, training and producing idols that were skilled in singing, dancing, and acting.
Seo Taiji & Boys: The Birth of K-Pop
Meanwhile, in early 1990’s, a particular music group debuted at the same time. Sero Taiji & Boys debuted and appeared on air in 1992, credited to have sparked the birth of K-Pop. Seo Taiji & Boys consisted of three members: Seo Taiji, Lee Juno, and Yang Hyun Suk. Their style of music caught the attention of the country because of their new sound and look. It was unlike any current genre at the time. Seo Taiji & Boys changed the face of Korean music with their innovative hybridization of mixing genres. The mixed together a medley of genres such as rap, soul, rock, techno and punk. It was heavily influenced with Western culture music but was made into one that would fit the Korean audience. They are often credited for introducing rapping during verses and singing choruses in a pop style with energetic dance moves that today’s modern K-Pop songs still follow. Seo Taiji & Boys ignited a new era in South Korean music. Their music pushed the boundaries of censorship all the while, increasing in popularity. At the height of their fame, the group announced their retirement in 1996.
Under the newly founded label, SM Entertainment, emerged the boy idol group H.O.T. It garnered the adoration from music fans with remarkable similarities to Seo Taiji & Boys. H.O.T’s hit track and performance “Candy” blew up and became iconic throughout K-Pop’s history. Lee Soo Man’s formula to creating the next big hits proved to be successful. Two companies emerged from seeing this success. Former Seo Taiji & Boys member, Yan Hyun Suk formed YG Entertainment in 1996; while, singer Park Jin-Young founded JYP Entertainment in 1997. The competition in the K-Pop industry had started. SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment still remain today as the big three K-Pop companies of the many agencies that have increasingly appeared throughout the decades. H.O.T paved way for many idol groups to follow such as Shinhwa, S.E.S, and Fin K.L creating the first generation in K-Pop.
BoA and K-Pop's Expansion in Japan
While the domestic market was doing remarkably good, Korean business sought to turn itself into an export market – setting sights on going global. Shortly after the success with Shinwa and H.O.T, Lee Soo Man began to set sight on the Japanese market – initiating what he called the “BoA Project.” She would become the first female Korean idol to achieve success in Japan. Debuting in August 2000 at the age of 13, it was deemed ‘mediocre’. SM Entertainment thus set to go oversees looking for success and collaborating with Japanese music company Avex. Lee Soo Man thought there was greater potential in the Japanese market. BoA was ‘Japanized’ trained heavily to speak and sing in Japanese. Her debut albums “Listen to My Heart,” “Best of Soul,” and “Valenti” sold over millions. This was significantly important during a time where Korea removed its prohibition on Japanese cultural imprts in 2002 since World War II. BoA had become the first Korean and foreign artist to reach number one on the Japanese Oricon music charts, as well as her first six albums all claiming the top spots. This paved the way for Korean music labels to consider the Japanese market and helped further K-pops international success. In a similar implication, SM Entertainment deployed H.O.T to perform at a monumental concert in China for which the local Beijing Youth Report coined the term Hallyu – Korean Wave.
Through BoA’s success in Japan. SM Entertainment debuted TVXQ in 2005 who were also catered towards the Japanese market. Their popularity steadily rose and climbed. They reached number one on Japan’s Oricon chart with their song “Purple Line” in 2008. They achieved the first foreign male group to top the Japanese charts and second Korean artist after BoA to do so. Both BoA and TVXQ proved how “K-Pop can successfully cross cultural borders through the execution of strict localization and hybridization strategies.” With a good base established in Japan, was the next target agencies wanted to spread to. The boy group Super Junior was the first group to feature the first foreign idol member, Han Geng.
The Evolution of Kpop Industry
By the late 2000’s K-Pop was a stable music industry with steadily rising sales. This increase only began to climber even higher with the resurgence of popularity for idol groups. This boom was led by the Wonder Girls and BIGBANG whose hits “Tell Me” and “Lies” were two of the most popular songs of the year. 2007 became a big turning point that drove idol groups to the forefront of Korea’s mainstream music. Many groups that debuted and gained popularity during this year and next two years that followed would go on to become one of the most recognizable names in K-Pop to this day. The industry was entering its “Golden Age” with the influx of the second generation. Idol groups began pushing boundaries such as BIGBANG’s “Lies” being the first idol-produced song of the genre – breaking the stereotype of ‘factory-produced’ idol songs K-pop was known to have. The song went win prestigious awards such as “Song of the Year.” Proving that idols can be more than jus a pretty-faced performer.
Wonder Girls became the first K-Pop group to ever go viral on YouTube with “Nobody” in late 2008 and early 2009. The catchy English lyrics and simple easy-to-learn choreography captivated many across the world and helped make K-pop reach overseas sparking a trend for more songs in 2009 to follow this formula. Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry” was the next song to go viral internationally, as it sparked endless flash mobs and became one of the most view K-Pop music videos at the time. “Gee” by Girls’ Generation also became a big song of 2009, enjoyed globally with friendly lyrics and choreography. “Gee” would go onto become the most viewed K-Pop music video for several years and was the first K-Pop girl group music video to hit 100 million views on YouTube. The massive success for this song helped solidify it as “Song of the Decade” by several news sources and labeled Girls’ Generation as the Nation’s Girl Group. As K-Pop’s Golden Age continued to shine in Asia, several K-Pop soloist began to try to and climb the American.
Through the rise of the digital era throughout the world, music releases have began releasing through digital means as well. Physical sales have began to decline as the industry switched over. South Korea however, has managed to defy the trend and steadily grow their physical sales. **Colelct collect collect!*** In 2013, EXO became the first K-Pop group, in over a decade to hit one million copies in album sales. In November 2017, BTS performed at the American Music Awards, marking what was the most high-profile appearance by Korean idol group at any American mainstream music event. BTS is a prime example of K-Pop’s influence in the western media. Many American artists, such as Steve Aoki and, the more recent collaboration, Halsey have sought to work with BTS.
The power of K-Pop has continually grown bigger and bigger each year across the world and became a genre that made a name for itself in new markets tanks to the growing digital age. In 2012, YG Entertainment’s Psy released “Gangnam Style.” This was a groundbreaking milestone in K-Pop history. “Gangnam Style” quickly became a viral hit amounting to over a billion views; it forced YouTube to upgrade their view counter to accommodate for such a number. To this day, “Gangnam Style” still remains as one of the most K-Pop videos on YouTube. It put the word K-Pop into an even greater audience and certainly contributed to widespread notoriety of K-Pop as a genre.