The Rise of Korean Pop

Emily Christian, Columnist

At the mention of hit K-pop band “BTS,” a rumble shakes the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the location for the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. The unmistakable sound of hundreds of teen females overpowers host Kelly Clarkson, forcing her to put on her huge, hot pink earmuffs. It’s the ARMY. Armed with fan chants and lightsticks, this unstoppable force dominated much of the audience. When their lords and saviors took the stage, some even teared up. BTS’s fanbase, the ARMY, were virtually the most supportive towards their favorite artists compared to all the other attending fans as a whole. But why is it that the United States loves K-pop so dearly, enough to drive BTS to a US music awards show?

The United States’s fascination with Korean music may have very well sprouted from a source everyone is familiar with: Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” released in 2012. The K-pop that we know now is obviously very different from that of six years ago, but at least a couple million of “Gangnam Style’s” 3.1 billion views are now invested in Korean pop, and a good chunk may even live here in the United States. According to The New York Times, Jeff Benjamin, the columnist covering K-pop for the Billboard, agrees. He sees that many of BTS’s fans, and those who love K-pop in general, don’t include Psy’s hit song as a part of their playlist. This is correct, too. Psy created a song that not only strays from K-pop’s usual style, but also became a one-hit wonder and only that. Sure, it boosted his career, but Psy’s other songs didn’t share the consistent popularity that, say, BTS has.

Much of the United States is familiar with the basics of K-pop: expensive outfits, music that sounds all the same to our English-speaking ears, and the horde of screaming fangirls. But to the fans, K-pop has a much deeper meaning to them; this doesn’t just apply to BTS’ ARMY. South Korean society is vastly different from the United States’s, and some K-pop artists bring up the courage to speak of the topics that are taboo in their country. Female singers have taken it upon themselves to talk about the lack of sexual freedom and expression of sexuality when no one else wants to, according to Mimsie Ladner from Huffpost. This appeals to those in the United States who find these topics familiar in the form of song, and they don’t have a second thought about it if their understanding of the context is low. Korean pop may expand and grow into our society and every day lives as their music becomes more and more similar to ours in both sound and meaning.

K-pop definitely has a future in the United States. First, it’s BTS, wooing the crowd at the BBMAs for two years straight. But next, it could be equally famous EXO, or maybe even girl group Red Velvet, which was successful in emotionally moving North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un with their performance. The BBMAs were just a start, but soon we may begin to hear the flashy tunes of Korean Pop on our own American radios.