Content Warning: Brief mention of racism
K-pop is a quickly growing phenomenon throughout the entire world, and it only continues to grow in its popularity. Being a K-pop fan since 2014, I’ve been lucky enough to witness this growth and experience the achievements that the groups I love have received and watched as this form of entertainment became normalized in mainstream media.
K-pop has been around for an extremely long time, with 1st gen groups such as H.O.T., g.o.d., and BABY V.O.X. debuting with a form of music and performance that was so different than what we see in Western pop culture. These performances included ‘crazy’ outfits and hair, complex dance moves, and a sound that was different than anything most people had ever heard. People in South Korea loved these performances, but the music was met with harsh criticism once it reached Western audiences. One of the first big breaks we saw with K-pop entering the mainstream was with the 2012 song, Gangnam Style by Psy. There wasn’t a single person during that time who didn’t know that dance. People watched the music video, listened to the song and learned the dance, but that doesn’t mean that they accepted it. The song was considered weird, the lyrics were mocked, and people even resorted to racism. Even though the song had made it into the mainstream media and was wildly popular, Western media rejected it as real music.
Fast forward a couple of years into 2017, the group BTS is nominated for their first ever Billboard Music Award, the first K-pop group to ever be nominated for an American award show. The group was nominated for the Top Social Artist award where they were nominated against many other popular celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Ariana Grande, but ultimately BTS were the ones to take home the trophy. This event caused a bit of a shift, because now BTS was getting radio time on Western radio stations and were appearing on American talk shows. People were finally starting to accept this music as just simply being music. While BTS is one of the biggest examples of K-pop’s success in the West, they aren’t the only ones. Nowadays, K-pop is viewed with significantly less criticism, making it easier for more groups to enter into the mainstream media. Many groups are now able to experience similar success outside of South Korea, like the group Stray Kids.
With K-pop now having more opportunities to break into the mainstream media, it’s now considered fairly normal to be a K-pop fan to some capacity, which means that many K-pop groups have quite a large international fanbase. One group that has a fairly impressive global fanbase is Stray Kids, possibly having even more global fans than they do Korean ones. They were able to break into the Western media fairly early on, giving them a bit of an edge when it comes to international fame. As they continued to grow and make more music, their fame grew with them, and in the latest MTV Video Music Awards they were nominated for an award in the Best K-pop category. This was a very tough race, as they were nominated against big groups like Tomorrow X Together, Seventeen, Blackpink, and more. The competition was tough, but Stray Kids ended up taking the win. Along with their win, they performed their song S-Class at the award show, garnering many cheers from fans and compliments from other highly esteemed musicians.
Overall, many people still think K-pop is weird. I honestly don’t think that we’ll ever escape the prejudice or criticism thrown towards these groups for no reason other than it’s not something that people are used to. But as the music gains more popularity and more groups keep debuting, the amount of K-pop that we see on our timeline is only going to increase.