K-Pop is popular in many foreign countries now, and its popularity is well-deserved because the industry does provide the things that people want: songs they can sing along to, beats they can dance to, and people they can look up to. However, language and geographical barriers are difficult to hurdle. It takes more than gorgeous celebrities to make it happen.
K-Pop required political, social and artistic revolutions to evolve into what it is today. Here are 10 important events that moved K-Pop to where it is now.
#10 - The World Dances to Gangnam Style
It is a little bit ironic that for all intents and purposes, K-pop traffics in trendy, hip, and glamorous idols but one of the things that introduced the industry to overseas fans is a song that satirizes one of South Korea’s trendy subcultures, performed by a musician/comedian who doesn’t fit the idol look.
Psy’s Gangnam Style was released on July 15, 2012 to mixed reviews on its home turf, but when the music video found its way to Youtube in August of the same year, it went viral and became popular for its humorous take on the “high class Gangnam culture” and its infectious dance routine. In less than a year’s time, the video became the first Youtube video to reach one billion views (the official video has been viewed 2.3 billion times) and the song topped music charts in more than 30 countries.
Impact on K-Pop
The World Noticed South Korea Entertainment
- Although South Korean music isn't all Gangnam stye is, it cannot be denied that it is the song that made the world notice South Korean entertainment. Prior to Gangnam style, there have been many attempts to penetrate the international music industry. Girls Generation already secured a spot in a late night show in the US and different Korean artists have collaborated with many international celebrities but Gangnam style is the garnered legitimate attention from both the consumers and international celebrities.
- The dance routine became a cultural phenomenon, with notable public performances by international celebrities such as Britney Spears, Ellen Degeneres, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O-Brien, and even political leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, US President Barack Obama, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
- PSY became known the world over, and the fashion styles and subculture shown in the video became staples outside of South Korea.
Represented Korea's Style
The song is what the US would have dubbed as a novelty song. It is meant to entertain and not become an "art". For better or for worse, the world has associated South Korean music with "novelty music". Tiger JK, a well respected hip hop artist, have been requested to perform the Gangnam style dance step during his shows. Kang Gary of LeeSsang has also experienced this among other celebrities that do shows outside South Korea with an audience that are not necessarily Koreans.
This has also become the milestone, or standard if you like, by which international success is measured. It is a popular "marketing" strategy for management companies in Korea to exaggerate the international success of their artists. G-Dragon's collaboration with different international artists are hyped as if he is recognized as a legitimate hip hop artist in the US. So is CL's supposed US debut. The fact is that only Koreans and a few Asian countries take notice. However, Gangnam Style is the only song that is legitimately recognized by non-Korean market.
Many will continue to claim international success or recognition but unless they come close to half of What Gangnam Style has achieved, they are but drum beating.
#9 - LeeSsang joins variety shows
As mentioned above, the K-pop industry is dominated by pretty faces and glamorous visuals, which is why it’s considered a huge coup when Kang Gary and Gil Seong Joon, collectively known as the hip hop duo LeeSsang, achieved massive commercial success on par with idol groups, without the help of big name talent agencies. Their commercial success defied the odds because:
- they don't fit the “pretty boy” look. In fact, they are not even close
- they are open about their imperfections including smoking, dating without commitments, drinking, failures and others
- their music is grounded in legitimate hip hop culture instead of the usual pop melodies
How It Began
Gil was the first to venture in variety shows. He was a close friend of Jeong Jun Ha. When Jeong Jung Ha had to leave filming early for another commitment, he recommended Gil to fill in his spot. Gil eventually became a regular cast member. Although Gil was not funny as the rest of the cast, his image as the one "who tries hard" completed the family of Infinity Challenge and provided the much needed balance in the show. It also paved the for him to get noticed by other producers and form friendships with other mainstream producers and celebrities.
Gil was the one who recommended his other half, Gary, to be a guest in Infinity Challenge and as a regular cast member to a then yet-to-be-shown Running Man. Although LeeSsang already achieved success in the Hip Hop market in South Korea, they weren't considered a commercial success because Hip Hop was still primarily an underground genre.
Running Man became a massive success in South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Australia. Gary became popular mainstream. It prompted the mainstream market to recognize LeeSsang's music.
Impact on K-Pop
Other Hip Hop Artists
- Although far from being the pioneers of Hip Hop in Korea, LeeSsang's mainstream success helped other underground Hip Hop artists get mainstream attention. Dynamic Duo and Tasha famously shared the stage with other idol rappers in SBS' 2011 Music Festival. SM, YG, JYP and other labels famous for managing idols are inviting more collaborations with underground musicians and use it as a marketing tool.
- New shows that aim to discover or give mainstream attention to legitimate but underground hiphop artists and musicians are also being produced such as Unpretty Rapstar and Show Me the Money.
- Tasha has also been invited to judge Superstar K-Pop, Mad Clown joined Starship after joining Show Me The Money.
Unpretty, Unglamorous, Un-Idol
You had to be a comedian if you are "unpretty" and want commercial success. Constantly teased for being ugly, LeeSsang broke the mold. They aren't pretty and are open about their imperfections such as smoking, drinking, financial failures, dating without commitments and others. Now, more idols are being more open to their imperfections and many "imperfect" musicians are getting their chance at mainstream success.
Separation Between Marketing and Legitimacy
- Park Yejin quit Family Outing and Song Joongki quit Running Man because their variety image were overshadowing their legitimacy as actors. LeeSsang successfully separated their variety image and craft. Now, more artists are open to using variety shows and other mainstream activities without influencing the legitimacy of their craft. This is teaching the market to separate the craft from the marketing used to promote the craft. Fans are also starting to recognize the value of idols creating their own materials. Whether the quality of the material is good enough is a different discussion altogether.
- Now, more management companies are being opened to allowing their celebrities to create their own music. There is Bangtan Boys of Big Heat, MBLAQ of J. Tune and others.
- Other underground hip hop artists are also getting more mainstream marketing while keeping their reputation intact such as Dynamic Duo, Swings and Sean2Slow.
- Gil's and Gary's antics with their respective variety shows also proved that edgy, serious artists can goof around and show a lighter side without ruining their image.
#8 - Tongyang Broadcasting Corporation begins its TV broadcasting on December 27, 1965
These days, it’s extremely easy for people to be exposed to K-pop and to find out more info about any artist they fancy, thanks to the Internet and more than television per household in South Korea. TV is the primary source of Koren entertainment and news. If any sort of information has to be passed down to South Koreans, it has to be broadcasted onTV. It has become the primary marketing tool of all celebrities.
However, none of the tv programs that we know today and none of the celebrities that has ever passed through the history of South Korea would have been possible if it wasn't for TBC.
Impact on Kpop
- Although not the first TV station to air in South Korea, TBC is the first privately owned TV station in South Korea. That explains a lot but in case you need some spoon feeding, read below.
- Prior to TBC, all TV stations were owned and operated by the government. All information that passed through the TV stations went through the government and that means no content is aired unless it serves the purpose of the government.
- More importantly, TBC paved the way for commercial TV. This means TV stations are earning money by getting advertisements and not by government funding. It is by earning money independently that allows them to control the kind of programming and content they will air. TBC allowed consumers to dictate their content instead of the government which is the business model that allows the big three (SBS, KBS and MBC) to reign now and allow KPop to reach the consumers.