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K-pop seeks to broaden its global reach

By CHOI JI-WON in Seoul | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-19 08:12

A member of the K-pop girl group NewJeans.KOREA POOL/GETTY IMAGES

Genre faces challenge of becoming accepted by other cultures. 

In summer 2012, Korean pop music, or K-pop, took a huge leap forward in the global music industry.

Rapper and television personality Psy set several records on music charts and gained international stardom with his megahit Gangnam Style. Later, the term "K-pop" was included in the vocabulary list of the Oxford English Dictionary.

A decade on, K-pop is no longer considered solely a regional music genre that temporarily attracted a global audience. It has firmly set down roots as a major subcultural genre, and is gaining prominence on the international scene as a new standard for the industry, not only in terms of its artistic value, but for the system under which musicians are trained.

K-pop has spread around the world since the early 2000s, starting with its domination of the Japanese music market — the world's second-largest. K-pop then spread to other East Asian countries until the mid-2010s.

One of the key factors defining this music — and one that continues to demonstrate the genre's potential for growth — is its sensitivity to the changing environment and readiness to accept new sources.

Pop music critic Jung Min-jae told The Korea Herald: "K-pop has its roots in the early gayo songs (a Korean term for popular music that people sing along to). Its key distinction is the unique melodies formed through the melding of various global music trends, such as Western pop and J-pop (Japanese pop), into an original yet contemporary sound."

The band Seo Taiji and Boys, which is considered to have set the foundations for the K-pop music industry, debuted in 1992 with a completely new sound — combining hip-hop, rhythm and blues and dance pop.

The K-pop industry also showed exceptional vigilance in adapting and using technological advances to develop a highly lucrative business model.

In 2009, multinational entertainment company and record label JYP Entertainment, which is based in Seoul, failed in an all-out attempt to make a breakthrough in the mainstream music market in the United States. However, K-pop was already extending its reach beyond Asian countries to Europe and even parts of the US through the internet.

Pop music critic Kim Do-heon said such media friendliness is an innate trait of K-pop that has seen the genre go global.

"K-pop adapted fast to the evolution of digital technology, and actively promoted music with a variety of self-produced video content to extend its fan base in the global market," Kim said.

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