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The Rise of K-pop: A Brief History Before and After BTS


BTS

Introduction

Not only BTS but also other K-pop idols, such as BlackPink and NewJeans, have been dominating the pop-culture industry in recent years. K-pop, once considered a genre limited to Asian countries or a small population in the Western world, is now respected as one of the most successful musical genres in the global music industry. This is an extremely unusual phenomenon when considering how the representation of Asians in Western popular culture was once merely degrading, portraying them as 'foreign' and 'alien' species through stereotypes in the media. Over the years, thanks to the rise of K-pop, Asian representation in Western media has gradually changed, proving that the power of music has significantly improved the situation regarding racial stereotypes. Now, media worldwide discusses K-pop music and how K-pop idols are perceived as special. However, explaining why K-pop earned such a reputation on Earth, leading to a global phenomenon not only restricted to Asian countries but also reaching Africa, South America, North America, and Europe, can be challenging when we understand K-pop as a recent phenomenon. If we look at the historical trajectory, we would be able to understand that K-pop music is not just a one-hit wonder. K-pop was ready to move beyond the frontier of the Western music industry even before the rise of BTS. This blog will navigate you through the historical trajectory of K-pop on a global level to explore how it achieved success worldwide.


Before BTS

K-pop music had already experienced a boom in Asian countries before the emergence of BTS. Benefiting from the industry's careful management, K-pop had garnered renown in Asian countries such as Japan, China, Taiwan, and others as the most influential music in the Asian continent. This traces back to the rise of Hallyu, referring to the Korean wave. In the 2000s, numerous K-pop artists like BoA, Rain, TVXQ, Wonder Girls, and SNSD dominated the Asian music industry, positioning themselves for potential importation to the Western world. Despite their considerable efforts to enter the Billboard chart, it proved challenging for them. JYP, the company managing Wonder Girls, made a significant decision to re-debut the group in the United States, chasing the American dream. Not only JYP, but Rain and BoA also invested efforts, only to eventually return to their home country, Korea.



The first-ever K-pop music that went viral was PSY’s "Gangnam Style" in 2012. After its release, "Gangnam Style" became the biggest meme of 2012, with people imitating PSY’s horse-riding dance. The addictive and catchy melodies of "Gangnam Style" made it conquer YouTube, leading PSY to become the most popular singer in the world.



Interestingly, the music video seemed to play one of the most important roles in making the music popular. The hilarious and funny scenes in the music video went viral, and millions of people turned those scenes into memes. Of course, the memes made a significant contribution to the success of the music. Dance, on the other hand, is considered to be the most effective way for people to remember the music. This is proved by the fact that PSY’s dance video was remade by global fans, creating and uploading flash mobs all over the world.


If you are looking for different arrangements of PSY's music, please come check out on our store!


The Rise of BTS


After PSY’s success, K-pop music seemed to be returning to normal – only listened to by Asian countries under the name of Hallyu. However, BTS, one of the most successful boybands worldwide, proved that K-pop is not dead on the global level. In 2013, a year after the massive success of PSY, BTS debuted from a small idol company. No one knew this small idol group. In the Korean idol industry, the biggest idol company led the industry, making it almost impossible for idols from small companies to enter the mainstream. However, BTS made a brave decision – they went to the U.S. to learn hip-hop! Unlike other idol groups, the biggest strength that BTS had was being both authentic hip-hop artists and idols. They made their own music, which was rare for idols to do. K-pop idols, who were mostly manufactured by the company, often tell the public that they wanted to make their own music but couldn't due to the company’s control. However, BTS took a different approach, being authentic artists. To prove that they were genuine hip-hop artists, they created a program that sent them to America to learn how to become hip-hop artists. In the program, they met hip-hop artists and learned from teachers. Interestingly, this program gradually gained fame among Western K-pop fans, exposing them to the Western world. Although the beginning was humble, BTS started to gain much fame in the Western world, leading to a world tour.


<BTS's global debut performance>


Then, it happened. "Dynamite" in 2020 topped the Billboard charts! Even though they were gradually acquiring global fame, many people still doubted that they would ever enter the “mainstream” market of the Western world. Along with "Dynamite," BTS continues to achieve global success – "Butter," "My Universe," and even Jungkook’s solo music. It is no longer surprising that an Asian boy group conquered the world with music. Numerous fans are obsessed with listening to their music, watching their performances, and seeing their relationships.




Post-BTS


Not only have boy groups achieved global success, but girl groups have also succeeded. BlackPink, the most famous female idol group from South Korea, keeps gaining attention worldwide. Their presence in the Western world is also phenomenal. Debuting in 2016 under YG Entertainment, BlackPink highlighted their distinguishable musical abilities. It was not a mere exaggeration. They proved their musicality through their unique vocals, rap, and dance, standing out as global pop stars. In 2023, BlackPink became headliners at Coachella, the world’s biggest music festival held in the United States, performing in front of millions of people. With Korean decorations on stage, BlackPink showcased the unique characteristics that set them apart. Their amazing vocals, dancing, and performances have attracted fans, placing them in the new phase of K-pop.


While BlackPink has already achieved unprecedented success as a Korean female idol group, there is NewJeans, who just began their journey. Debuting in 2022, NewJeans became a sensation not only in Korea but on the global level. Surprisingly, they were nominated for the ‘Top Billboard Global (Excl. U.S.) Artist’ award as the first female group. This is such an unexpected success for those who debuted just one year ago. They proved that K-pop as a global phenomenon is not easy to fade away.


Various arrangement covers of BlackPink can be found here as well as NewJeans!



Whether it is catchy melodies, synchronized choreography, or interesting narratives they possess, one thing is clear: K-pop is not just a simple and forgettable genre that cannot be easily understood. They have their own narrative and selling points that attract numerous fans worldwide.



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