By Ryan Ryu ’25
In this day and age, if you haven’t heard of K-pop, you are probably living under a rock. On top of its global success as a genre, there is this underlying, almost “behind-the-scenes” movement that connects people worldwide through their love of Korean pop music while also introducing them to concepts of cultural diversity.
K-pop has become a truly global phenomenon thanks to its distinctive blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography, production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers who spend years in grueling studio systems, learning to sing and dance in synchronized perfection.
Hallyu, the Korean Wave, has been building for two decades. Still, K-pop in particular has become increasingly visible to global audiences in the past five to ten years. South Korean artists have hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart at least eight times since the Wonder Girls first cracked it in 2009 with their crossover hit, “Nobody.” The export of K-pop has ballooned South Korea’s music industry to an impressive $5 billion industry. Today, the K-pop industry has achieved an export value of over 756 million U.S. dollars, and it’s easy to find K-pop songs on the Billboard Hot 100.
K-pop groups also make a direct impact. Many feel responsible to younger generations and aim to be a strong voice for culture. For example, in September 2021, the global sensation BTS was invited to speak in front of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. The band gave a powerful speech about today’s youth and how they will shape the future. When RM, their leader, had an interview regarding the affects of Covid-19 with Korean Boradcasting System, he said, “I’ve heard that today’s people in their teens and 20s are being referred to as COVID’s lost generation. I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost just because grown-up eyes can’t see the path they tread.” BTS members elaborate and share that even during the pandemic, younger generations have worked hard to connect with others online and educate themselves on world issues.
Though this was not the first time BTS has visited the U.N. (they also gave a speech during the 2018 Assembly), it was their first time with the official title “Special Presidential Envoy for Future Generations and Culture,” granted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, so that they could accompany him to the 76th General Assembly in New York. The speech has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube, and their fans, referred to as the ARMY, have been sharing nothing but positive feedback and finding ways to continue sharing their messages.
K-pop is not music that is streamlined by different countries’ media platforms but is rather something to continuously and actively seek out. On top of this, there is a challenging language barrier to understanding the lyrics and themes of songs and even statements in media interviews. Fans take it upon themselves to learn about cultural differences and respect their pop idols.
The fandom experience becomes a whole immersion into a new language and culture. It is the incentive of feeling closer to the people that make the music you enjoy. Beyond the language barriers, fans can connect to self-love and social consciousness messages. Many K-pop groups feel strongly about relaying these ideas to their audiences.
While many idols have been vocal about finding it hard to love the different things about themselves, they share that when fans express gratitude, it helps them and their music. They also encourage followers to spread their messages of love and hope into the world, with a unique bond between a group of idols and their fans. If you have never listened to K-pop songs, give them a try!