K-POP]K-pop is not just a genre, it’s an entire industry


Music critic Kim Zakka poses for photos after an interview with Korea JoongAng Daily at office 11018 in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul. [PARK SANG-MOON]

K-pop continues to grow across the globe and it’s not just boy band BTS making it big – other groups are coming higher and higher on the international music charts. With a unique set of rules that sets it apart from other industries, K-pop is becoming not only engine of pop culture, but opening a new chapter in Korean history. In the following series of interviews, Korea JoongAng Daily will speak to Korean music critics who have followed the growth of this unique industry and ask them how it happened and will it last?

Understanding K-pop is a bigger task than it seems when trying to decipher it musically. But its composition and rules become clearer when examined from a commercial perspective, says a music critic who goes by the name of Kim Zakka.

“One thing you have to remember about K-pop is that it shouldn’t be approached as a genre of music,” Kim said. “It’s the name of an industry that has been strategically planned, executed, marketed and managed by entertainment companies.”

Trying to define K-pop as a genre of music will leave you with a plethora of unanswered questions: do the members have to be Korean? Should the lyrics be in Korean? Does the song have to be electronic dance music or can it be hip-hop or rock? Should the group debut in Korea?

The answer begins with how a K-pop act is created rather than what it does after it debuts, according to Kim.

“A member of a K-pop group is chosen through an audition or by headhunters who search the country for talented teenagers,” Kim said.

“They are then trained and micro-managed from head to toe through to their debut as a band by an agency, which carries name value in itself.”

Music critic Kim Zakka [PARK SANG-MOON]

Music critic Kim Zakka [PARK SANG-MOON]

Kim, born in 1975, started working as a journalist in 2003 for the film weekly Film 2.0. But his critical career started before that when he became familiar with rock bands like Crying Nut and No Brain while frequenting music bars in the trendy Hongdae district of western Seoul in the 1980s. 1990.

Having witnessed the growth of Korean pop culture from the earliest stages, Kim has kept a close eye on the development of the music industry and its evolution as a business model. Kim currently works as the head of the content division at 11018, a company dedicated to archiving data related to Korean pop music and its history.

He is also a jury member for the Korean Music Awards, one of the most prestigious music awards for Korean music. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Creative Content Agency.

One phenomenon he’s particularly interested in these days is ARMY (the name of BTS’s fandom), particularly how the loyal fan club has evolved from K-pop fans of previous generations.

“Fans are changing just like the industry, and the change they are going through will define the next stage of K-pop,” Kim said.

Kim sat down with Korea JoongAng Daily to talk about the definition of K-pop and the possible future ahead of us at Office 11018 in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul on May 27. Here are edited excerpts.

Boy band TVXQ in 2008 [JOONGANG ILBO]

Boy band TVXQ in 2008 [JOONGANG ILBO]

Boy band TVXQ's <a class=album is displayed at an HMV store in Tokyo, 2009. [JOONGANG ILBO]” src=”https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/data/photo/2022/06/06/b8fecae4-f600-4a9f-89b4-b137224f1aa8.jpg”/>

Boy band TVXQ’s album is displayed at an HMV store in Tokyo, 2009. [JOONGANG ILBO]

Q. Tell us about the definition of K-pop.

A. K-pop revolves around music, but it is largely a visual art form, particularly involving dance.

K-pop songs are always accompanied by fancy music videos and choreography that aim to visually grab the viewer’s attention for the duration of the song.

Music-wise, it’s a type of Korean pop music that we call gaio. But unlike other types of gayo, K-pop targets foreign audiences early on.

K-pop has its roots in the early 2000s when singer BoA ​​and boy band TVXQ first became popular among Asian, especially Japanese, fans. Their agency SM Entertainment deliberately targeted the Japanese market, which later led to the expansion of their goals into Europe and North America.

Even now, the songs that the Korean mainstream likes are different from the K-pop songs that are popular overseas.

Songs that appear in the top 100 streaming charts are divided into songs popular with the general public, which are usually ballads and R&B, and songs that were deliberately put there by K-pop fan clubs.

Fans are an important part of the K-pop industry. Why is it so?

K-pop fans are the most enthusiastic type of consumer of cultural content.

Usually, for other cultural content such as movies or games, only about 10% of so-called fans spend money on related products. So a fan of a movie franchise will watch the movie in the cinema, but not necessarily buy the books or the figurines related to the actors.

But it’s safe to say that 90% of K-pop fans will spend money not just on albums, but also on concerts, buying CDs, and more.

It is true that the very passion that made K-pop could break K-pop. There are overzealous fans who cringe and cause unexpected trouble.

But thankfully the fans have moved on with the times.

First-generation K-pop fans were pretty violent. They stalked the stars and threatened with death if the celebrities did not behave as they wished. But now it’s rarely seen and fans know the importance of performing well for the sake of their stars.

Fans cheer at a BTS concert held in April in Las Vegas. [YONHAP]

Fans cheer at a BTS concert held in April in Las Vegas. [YONHAP]

Fans wait outside SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles to attend the BTS concert on November 29, 2021. [YONHAP]

Fans wait outside SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles to attend the BTS concert on November 29, 2021. [YONHAP]

How are they different from other music fans?

Compared to fans of other musical genres who love the star for their music, K-pop fans love certain groups. Specifically, they like a certain person within a certain group.

While fans of other musical genres are bound by music that represents their tastes and ideas, K-pop fans are bound by loyalty to their favorite stars.

This is what makes K-pop fans much more loyal to a singer than other genres because they won’t turn away from the group even if the music is bad. Fans are much more united than other consumers and at the same time that’s why they can be quite aggressive if they feel that their favorites are being criticized.

How is ARMY different from other fan clubs?

To talk about the difference, you must first understand the commonalities between K-pop fan clubs. And it is that they are extremely competitive.

Since the birth of first-generation K-pop groups in the 1990s, like HOT or Sechskies, fan clubs have fought to ensure their favorite groups top the charts and become the talk of the town. . They will buy albums, listen to music, buy related products and show their dedication in any way they can.

What sets ARMY apart is that they’ve been keen to make BTS best known for “spreading good influence.”

Because BTS built an overseas fanbase faster than other groups, they embraced the idea of ​​representing the greater good early on. This is mostly done through donations and speaking on behalf of people who have been marginalized, which has been done in the past, but not as strongly as ARMY has done.

BTS also takes this seriously, seeing how they’ve given a speech at the UN, visited the White House to talk about anti-Asian hate crimes, and more.

The girl group (G)I-DLE poses for photos during an online showcase held on March 14 for their debut full album.  He is well known for having his songs written by leader Soyeon. [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]

The girl group (G)I-DLE poses for photos during an online showcase held on March 14 for their debut full album. He is well known for having his songs written by leader Soyeon. [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]

How can K-pop artists change to stay competitive longer?

In a way, this is already changing for the better, where acts actually become more like artists.

Because a K-pop group is created by others, there were repercussions to calling them artists in the mid-2010s. Not only does the group rarely make their own music, but it is the agency who owns the copyright to the name of the group instead of the members.

Recently, K-pop groups have taken more initiative with their music. Group members either participate in producing the music or writing the lyrics, like BTS, and some groups compose entire songs, like (G)I-DLE.

It makes them more like an artist than before and it will give K-pop groups the boost they need to survive longer.

What else does the K-pop industry need to prolong its popularity?

Diversity. It was diversity that made Hollywood the successful filmmaker and lack of diversity that led to the downfall of Hong Kong films of the 1980s.

As Hollywood continued to explore new subjects and themes, Hong Kong’s film industry was overly dependent on gangster action movies that were popular among contemporary audiences. Because it failed to adapt to the changing demands of the new generation, it did not survive the decade.

It’s too early to tell whether K-pop will succeed or not, but there is a definite gap between BTS and the rest of K-pop groups. If K-pop is to endure on the world stage, there must be more groups that can fill the void and give overseas K-pop fans something to look forward to other than BTS.

It’s like the saying, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

BY YOON SO-YEON [[email protected]]

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