How K-Pop Became a Global Sensation

By: Madeleine Law


With music becoming increasingly diverse in connecting people of different cultures together, the 2010s have seen major success for the K-pop industry. It’s no question that you’ve heard of the name ‘BTS,’ as the group has already dominated the Billboard 200 charts with not one, but two No. 1 albums in 2018. BTS, alongside other groups such as BlackPink and GOT7, have received increased recognition and traction within North America and other Western countries. With its strong-rooted culture and ever-growing success, this is just the start for K-pop. 

When the phrase “K-pop music” first comes to mind, most will think of the choreographed dances that are performed flawlessly, all accompanied with flashy outfits. The second image that most visualize is probably the glowing, acne-free skin and perfectly styled hair that never looks out of place. But this “perfection” doesn’t come easy, as these artists (also referred to as ‘idols’) have put in countless years of hard work. Most idols begin their training at a very young age, with the hopes to debut as a solo artist or as part of a group later in life. With years of living and working alongside the same people, most groups develop close bonds between group members both on and off stage.

The importance of fans

One key characteristic of K-pop that truly sets it aside from other genres of music is its fan base. In the modern era, streaming platforms and social media play a major role in how artists interact with their fans, and the influence of fans on the success of an artist is undeniable. Not to mention, social media gives fans a platform to react to nearly every move of their most admired artist. Many loyal K-pop fans even create entire social media accounts dedicated to their favorite idol, where they routinely upload the latest photos of them.

As well, platforms such as V-LIVE, a Korean streaming app where idols can live stream to their audiences, have strengthened the artist/fan relationship. Frequent interactions paired with the humble and authentic persona displayed by idols creates such genuine connections with fans, that may cause many followers to feel as though they actually know the artist personally.

All K-pop groups recognize the importance of their fans and in turn each group’s fandom has a special name which they are called. For example, the popular boy group NCT’s fandom is called NCTzens, while SEVENTEEN’s fans are called CARAT. 

No English? No problem

Language also doesn’t stop fans from enjoying themselves to the fullest. There is an undeniable sense of community in K-pop fandoms, and those who understand the Korean language are able to translate interviews and songs for others. However, it isn’t uncommon for fans to find themselves getting lost in an interview or Korean talk show, just to realize they spent the last 20 minutes watching a program they couldn’t understand a word of (I may be a victim of this).

Many Korean artists have also been able to embrace their Korean culture within their songs, while adopting Western culture in various other ways. Notably, many K-pop artists have been collaborating with popular North American artists to create instant hits. Some of my favourites including Monsta X’s “Who Do You Love” featuring French Montana, and BTS’s “Boy With Love” featuring Halsey. Most, if not all K-pop songs, are titled in English and feature English words in many parts of the track. As well, when comparing the rhythm and tempo of K-pop to American pop music, both are extremely catchy and leave you humming to the song for the rest of the day. 

Mental health of K-pop idols

In an industry where stars face immense pressure to maintain a perfect image and reputation, there are undoubtedly many mental health issues that these young individuals are faced with. These idols diligently work long hours every day, starting from a very young age. On top of this, they must also respect and follow the rules their agencies lay out for them, in order to prioritize the success of their career. This can include a no dating policy, as many agencies feel dating can distract the idols from their career.

In recent years, the topic of mental health surrounding the K-pop industry has gathered additional attention within South Korea and around the world. In late 2017, Jonghyun from the boy group SHINee took his own life at the age of 27 after struggling with depression. He is just one of the many idols who have spent the majority of their life working, with little time set aside in their schedule to rest and recuperate. Not only Jonghyun, but last year female idols Sulli and Goo Hara both took their lives just weeks apart from each other.

As all idols actions are being carefully watched by fans, many of these celebrities can receive cruel comments from even the slightest error, such as fidgeting with their hair. This goes to show that since idols are humans with emotions, sometimes despite their tough and resilient outer personalities, they also find it extremely burdening to handle the pressure. 

Only a matter of time

Even if K-pop music doesn’t appeal to you right now, the influence it is having on our generation and the music industry can’t be ignored. The growth K-pop has had over the last 10 years has been incredible, with more idols than ever having successful and memorable appearances in North America. These idols have become role models for young fans to look up to, and for foreigners to explore a culture they are unfamiliar with.

K-pop music is just one of the many astonishing ways we as a society are able to overcome language barriers and truly unite cultures together.