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Fireworks at Kpop band BTS concert at MetLife Stadium
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Hot Take: K-Pop Isn’t The New 1D & Bieber Fever

The article above was written by Lívia Maria dos Santos and edited by Isabella Gemignani. Liked this type of content? Check out Her Campus Casper Libero for more!

K-Pop is the name used to refer to South Korean popular culture; this term is even better known when we see some K-idols dancing and singing in very conceptual music videos (MVs). At some point, South Korea invaded the whole world with movies, songs, series and doramas. Summarizing it: with K-Pop. 

Against the supposition that K-Pop is an accidental explosion, there’s a billionaire industry on the backstage, mobilizing even the government in its favor for more than 20 years. And this is all that K-Pop needs to have this good reputation in all of the charts. Everything is a result of a “magical formula” that the Korean cultural industry has improved to this day.

With all of this proof, it’s not fair that the Western treats K-Pop like an “idol fever”. K-Pop is about a big industry that knows exactly how to make money and maintain a huge popularity. If you’re not sure about it by now, here it is a deep analysis about the 20 years of the K-Pop industry.

“Because we still young and there is still a decent future “

‒ COME BACK HOME (1995), Seo Taiji & Boys

Most of the people considered Seo Taiji & Boys like the rebirth of Korean popular culture, because the trio brought a new concept for music that Koreans used to listen to. The group mixed foreign musical styles in their songs, especially the North American hip hop, and it worked so well that, even today, the biggest part of K-Pop songs use this resource and this is what gives an identity for K-Pop. 

It was also Seo Taiji & Boys that introduced some new way to dress that all the young Koreans appreciated. They used to wear baggy clothes, dreadlocks, and flashy accessories. They paved the first steps of K-Pop, and the other entertainment companies saw a good opportunity to follow the new trend that Seo Taiji & Boys created.

The trio lasted for about 4 years but they changed the whole industry’s courses. At this point, the sale of some dramas for the other countries in Asia also helped to increase this new giant at the Korean market.

In the “Goodbye, Seo Taiji & Boys”, the South Korean economy already increased in a huge way: both the private companies and the government realized that, with more investments and promotion, the new Korean popular song would explode around the world. It was a question of time.

Hallyu ‒ A Korean wave in the industry ocean

At the end of the 90s, the companies started to invest in groups and soloists, focusing on a very showy style of song and the most perfect performance that the public already saw. That’s why becoming an idol in Korea is so hard – some idols spend around 5 or 7 years as trainees before performing for a big crowd. In the Netflix documentary Blackpink: Light Up The Sky, Jennie said that it is the time they spend as trainees that makes K-Pop what it is.

All the efforts were the fuel to the creation of the Hallyu or “Korean Wave”, where K-Pop started to appear quietly on the charts and the Hallyu style called the attention of some curious people from other countries, both from East and West. Júlia Tainá, a big K-Pop fan, claims that K-Pop can cause an influence in the way that people wear and in the way they act. Even living in Brazil, K-pop it’s very present at her life and she continues:

I think, that mainly in the past, when this musical genre wasn’t so well known and the people thought this was “weird”, it also had the power to bring people who like it together.

With the presence of a “little” but faithful public in other parts of the world, the “Big3”, YG, SM and JYP Entertainment – or better, the three biggest companies of this phase of K-Pop, owners of millionaires contracts with the most famous groups (such as Girls Generation, Big Bang and 2PM) – started to promote concerts especially in China, and Japan and some countries of American continent. 

Behind this idea was the transformation of music into a commodity, and, again, it worked. But, something was missing, maybe a group that even swayed the “American entertainment bubble”.

“Follow your dreams like a breaker!”

— TOMORROW (2014), BTS

Without a billionaire account and desperate attempts to stay at industry, Big Hit Entertainment used its last card: a group of teenagers dress in hip hop, black clothes singing about the difficulties of being young. Now popularly known as BTS, the group, at first, didn’t work so well, and the company and the seven boys were thought to be doomed to failure. 

But just like the K-Pop industry, BTS was willing to fight for their recognition, working hard for so much time, producing their own music and thinking about an innovative concept where all the video clips interconnect. This caught the attention of some people. At the start of 2016, Fire and Dope, two songs of the album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, exploded at the K-pop charts and the community wanted to know BTS better.

BTS made even those who didn’t like K-Pop see it with other thoughts, and other groups like Blackpink, a giant newborn in the industry, started to come into public view. And things got better and better: BTS was invited to promote in the USA, and their name appeared more often on awards; Billboard Music Awards, AMAs, and finally at the 63th GRAMMYs edition. Unfortunately, they didn’t win the only category that competed (The best pop duo/Group performance), and the event caused revolt in the fans (the so-called ARMYs) and in the K-Pop community. They even denounced a possible episode of xenophobia in the Academy’s choice. 

Even so, nothing stopped BTS, nowadays they are one of the most known groups in worldwide music history, that’s why a lot of people considered the group the paver of K-pop. 

A Korean Parasite in cinema

K-dramas have been a big success among the K-Pop community since the first Hallyu explosion. The dramas can attract a big audience in the industry, that’s because there are K-dramas for all of the public and ages. You can watch horror dramas, romance dramas, thriller dramas, and a lot of other genders. Although the productions were already very lucrative, the worldwide recognition of the Korean productions across the film market was necessary, and that’s what happened for the first time at the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars.  

Parasite (2019), a movie of Bong Joon-Ho, made history, winning the most anticipated statuette of at the Oscars 2020, the prize for the best movie, besides three more prizes. The audience really liked the movie because it shows in a very comic way the social inequality – that’s not just a problem in South Korea.

The director knew how to use the cinema resources to show this idea, and also showed the public an unheroic vision of the protagonists: both the poor family and rich family were composed of failures and very doubtful character, which gave uniqueness to the movie.

Nowadays, the popularity of Korean cinema has increased in a big dimension. Parasite was just the start of this. It’s impossible to search for a title on Netflix and not find a Korean production, it is in all the places! Netflix also invested in their own K-dramas to attend to this big demand of K-pop in the whole world. Again, it works better than they thought, since one of the most watched series on the platform is Squid Game (2021), an original Korean Netflix’s production. And the search for this “new world” just increases more and more.

Red light! Green light for K-pop!

K-pop isn’t about a group of teenagers singing pretty songs. It’s an industry that invests a lot to have the best results in the entertainment business. Korean pop culture is included in a governmental statement of South Korea. KOCIS (Korean Culture and Information Service) is a branch of the Ministry of Culture that guarantees a big amount of money to invest on it. 

To describe all of this change that comes with K-Pop, Ágatha Lourenço, another big fan of K-Pop defines the phenomenon as a way of showing to the world a new culture, other possibilities about idols, music and cinema: “K-Pop is more than just music.”

“It’s about personality, style, feeling and a lot of other things that I don’t know how to explain. It’s about how hard these people work.” It’s also, to her, a way to help people to recognize their own style and even make some of them change.

We are witnessing the evolution of a new titan in the entertainment business, and we can expect so much more – after all, K-pop surprised and will surprise the world.

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19 years old Hi I'm Lívia and I'm in my first year of journalism at Cásper Líbero. As a journalist I hope to listen to the others and have the opportunity to be heard, always fulfilling with the social duty of jornalism.
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