Why K-pop achieved global popularity: two opinions


K-pop winners performance at Seattle Paramount in January, 2019. Photo courtesy of Bryan Shon.

YoungSeo Jo and Emily Muehlenkamp

The K-pop industry has savvy marketing

by Emily Muehlenkamp

BTS, a group who has three number 1 hits on Billboard, became the first Korean group to ever present at the Grammys, the first K-pop group ever to grace the stage of Saturday Night Live, has over 19 million international fans on twitter, spoke at the United Nations about self acceptance, and is my favorite group. Their international success story didn’t come without its struggles, but they have paved the way for many other K-pop groups to become popular in the U.S. and in many other countries. In my opinion, there are 4 main reasons why Korean pop music, although being in a language that many people don’t speak, has become so popular all over the world:

Extensive Online Programming

As an international fan myself, I feel that the most internationally successful K-pop groups are constantly posting on social media platforms like VLive, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram to keep all of their fans following along with their journey as artists. Since their debut, BTS has been posting videos on YouTube called Bangtan Bombs, which are short videos with subtitles in many languages that show the members doing day-to-day things whether it be eating ramen and talking about their day or preparing for a performance while talking with other members. These videos get millions of views from all over the world. This inside view of the life of our favorite idols grants international fans lots of chances to get to know their favorite group despite having a language barrier and being far away from Korea. MNet, a television music channel, uploads all performances that happen on big music shows in Korea onto a single YouTube page, which gives international fans another opportunity to see their favorite bands on an almost daily basis.


After a group releases a new album and music video, many fans will wait for a dance practice video to be uploaded to YouTube and VLive. These practice videos are one of the key components to having a successful international K-pop group because dance doesn’t have language barriers. In Dance Team, we spend time learning and practicing new dances from their choreography videos to film and showcase, and we aren’t alone. Many schools and universities all over the world have dance clubs that are solely committed to recreating music videos and dances. Just recently, K-pop group NCT 127 was visiting New York when they joined into a public random dance challenge, an event where a group of people gathers in a large public space to dance to clips of recent K-pop songs. This particular challenge took place in Washington Square Park in New York where somewhere around 1,000 people gathered and danced. When NCT 127 showed up, fans were ecstatic.

Unique music videos

Another way that K-pop groups have captivated international fans is through their unique music videos. K-pop music videos tend to fall under two basic categories: super colorful and cute or dark and mysterious. Videos like Got7’s “Just Right,” BTS’s “Boy With Luv,” and Twice’s “Likey” all fall under the first category containing bright colored sets, cute dance moves and lighter-colored clothing, while videos like NCT U’s “Boss,” BlackPink’s “Kill This Love,” and Exo’s “Love Shot” all fall under the second category containing black and red sets, powerful dance moves and dark clothes. In addition to the physical qualities of the two types of videos, the lyrics to colorful songs will normally be more bubbly and those of darker songs will be more intense and probably tell a story. These types of stylized music videos are uncommon to see here in the U.S. Furthermore, I have noticed that as the weather gets warmer and spring starts, the K-pop groups will release more light songs, but when it’s fall and the light is fading away, the groups will make darker videos.

Niche styling for profit

Lastly, K-pop groups have attracted attention from all over the world by wearing clothes that are at the height of fashion. Almost all of what the bands’ stylists have them wear in music videos and performances are clothes that have just been released by high-fashion brands like Balmain, Gucci, Chanel or are even straight off the runway. For the recent “Boy With Love” music video, Jimin’s all-white outfit cost around $6,000 and contained pieces from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Off-White. This process of spending money to earn money by spending thousands on a single member’s outfit captures many international brands’ attention and drives them to contact the companies and get brand endorsements. Often times you will also see posters of idols selling makeup, skincare, or food online to capture fans’ interest. Each band also has a set of merchandise that includes things like light sticks, posters, stationery, and more that are available online. If a band gets popular enough, international chains will partner with the band to launch an international in-store line of merchandise. For example the BT21 characters are a collaboration between the band BTS and the communication app LINE. I went to the LINE store in New York almost a year after it opened with the BT21 characters and still, thanks to BTS’s popularity, there was a line of people streaming in and out of the store.

When I first came to Annie Wright, I had heard a bit of K-pop, but didn’t really get into it. Then, when I went to the first Dance Team meeting last year, everyone was playing random dance songs that I didn’t know. Since I wasn’t dancing along, Amy Hou (Class of ’18) pulled me to the side and told me about a bunch of songs including Exo, Twice, and Got7. About two weeks into my freshman year, DNA by BTS came out, and showed up in my YouTube recommended section. I watched it and I was hooked. The colorful video, awesome outfits, and captivating dance led me to watch all of their previous videos and turned me into the fan I am today.

Audiences, not K-pop, have changed

by YoungSeo Jo

When I was living in the United State during the early 2010s, the K-pop industry was barely known. Back then, American pop music dominated charts and showed little room for international music, let alone from a country half way across the world. However, when I moved back to America last year, K-pop had exploded on the scene, and the boy band BTS became popular among our age group. So I wondered, what changed? Why is the K-pop industry gaining international recognition now?

I personally love K-pop. If you catch a glimpse of my playlist you will find a mixture of K-pop and American pop with an obvious preference towards Korean music. However, I am skeptical to believe that it is the music itself that led to the explosion of attention.

Growing up in Korea, I saw the K-pop industry shift over the years, but at its core, nothing changed. It always had a big media presence, always strived for the best music videos and put heavy emphasis on fan interaction. It seems implausible that K-pop suddenly gained attention by doing the same thing they have always been doing. I believe that K-pop gained popularity internationally, not because of who or what they are but because the music market itself changed. It is not because of the artists themselves that K-pop is big; it is thanks to the international music market.

Look at the billboard chart now; it’s not only K-pop music that is gaining popularity but other songs in different languages from different cultures. The music industry and music lovers are looking for something new, and along the way it happened to discover K-pop. Korean artists have been trying to make it big in the American music market as long as I can remember. Promotional tours, although not as common as now, were going on with or without gaining new fans. Something changed recently that put the spotlight on them, and it was not K-pop itself. It is thanks to the American music industry making room for Korean music, not K-pop music fighting for it themselves.

Perhaps recent pop music is getting repetitive. While artists release song after song it doesn’t seem to have as much of an impact as it used to. K-pop is something that is much refreshing and new, different than anything else. Because music lovers are looking for something different, perhaps bored of what is now normal, they started paying attention to the K-pop industry. Of course, K-pop should take advantage of this as much as possible before it becomes redundant as well.