Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ICU (Japan) chapter.

Hey readers!

I’ve decided to create a series where I write about K-Pop critically along with other HCICU writers. As a student majoring in Media, Communication, and Culture (MCC) and minoring in Asian Studies, I have a huge interest in how Asian cultures are illustrated in journalism, especially through the eyes of non-Asian writers.  I have analyzed topics such as K-Pop, Asian representation in media, and social media in my classes, and in this series, I will focus on K-Pop. I think it’s a topic that many people are interested in and have thoughts on, so I hope these articles can create conversations and discussions. I’ll give a sneak peek of what kind of content we’ll be writing about for today’s article. 

One of the topics that I found interesting when I was a freshman was K-Pop VS J-Pop. For those who may not know, K-Pop is short for Korean Pop and J-Pop for Japanese Pop. When K-Pop and J-Pop are used in conversations and articles, they tend to focus on idols, but other acts are soloists or in groups that are not categorized as idols. As K-Pop grew and became a phenomenon, many people started to compare K-Pop and J-Pop, and a popular opinion circling the internet is “K-Pop is better than J-Pop.”


Opinion: K-Pop and J-Pop have different marketing strategies, and J-Pop is not marketed towards a global audience, therefore, making it less mainstream


For example, BTS, known as the South Korean idol group who has taken over the world with their music and fandom, ARMY, is the “world’s biggest boy band” according to many news outlets such as Insider, Vogue, and Nikkei Asia.  On the other hand, for Japan’s most popular idol group Arashi, The Guardian has described them as “… Japanese pop group Arashi ….” This difference comes from the fact that K-Pop and J-Pop do not promote their music to the same audience or market. A critical element to consider is the size of Japan and Korea’s domestic music business. 

After the United States, the Japanese music business is the second-largest market in the world. One of the main reasons it strives so well is because of the CD sales that do much better than other countries, despite the popularity of streaming services. In 2012, physical media like CDs and DVDs made up 82% of the Japanese music sales while it only was 37% in the United States the same year. The massive music market and the devoted fans allow Japanese idols to focus on selling their music in the domestic market rather than internationally.

On the other hand, the Korean music business is much smaller than that of Japan, which encourages idol companies to look at the global market actively. K-Pop idols have high production value and need quite the amount of investment to maintain the quality in dance, clothing, and music, which cannot be sustained solely with the domestic market’s profit. They need the help of markets outside of their country. Having a broader audience means that, unlike Japan, South Korean idols need to be likable to a much larger and diverse population. To achieve such goals, most Korean icons have a Western feel to their songs, and they try to incorporate whatever is popular in mainstream western music, like EDM and Latin music. 

I think that K-Pop and J-Pop are two completely separate genres that are marketed to different audiences. Also, the meaning and what people expect from an idol is incredibly different. I found this article published on October 1, 2020, on Nikkei Asia’s page, and there is an interesting comment made by the author Willian Pesek where he states:

Neighboring Japan is looking on with envy. Asia’s No. 2 economy has a ginormous and proud music industry.

Not since 1963 — when Kyu Sakamoto had a smash hit with “Sukiyaki” — has J-pop gone global with this kind of buzz.

BTS is even outselling Japan’s biggest boy and girl-bands domestically.

Pesek wrote about the “BTS effect” and how they have boosted South Korea’s tourism industry, promoted Korean culture, and followed the statement above. He isn’t wrong about them topping charts, but the Japanese music industry probably isn’t as jealous as he assumes. If they were, Japanese songs in the market would completely change, but it hasn’t, which shows that J-Pop idols and artists themselves are pretty satisfied with the job they do now. I believe Japanese idols focus on the domestic music business by producing songs and acting to increase the Japanese audience’s support. In contrast, in South Korea, their idols are prepared by companies to capture the eyes of a much global audience, especially the Western countries. The differences in marketing strategy have created a significant difference between South Korean idols and Japanese idols. While there may be a significant difference, you cannot simply compare the two because they are two different genres, striving in their own lanes.

Satomi Hayashi

ICU (Japan) '22

Hey, I'm Satomi Hayashi, apart of Her Campus ICU Japan! I hope to have fun writing and working with fellow Her Campus members!!
Articles anonymously written by HCICU Contributors.