K-pop (abbreviation of Korean pop;[1] Hangul: 케이팝) is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it generally classifies "popular music" within South Korea, the term is often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop that is influenced by styles and genres from around the world, such as Western pop music, rock, experimental, jazz, gospel, Latin, hip hop, R&B, reggae, electronic dance, folk, country, classical, and Japanese pop music on top of its uniquely traditional Korean music roots.[2] The more modern form of the genre emerged with one of the earliest K-pop groups, Seo Taiji and Boys, forming in 1992. Their experimentation with different styles and genres of music and integration of foreign musical elements helped reshape and modernize South Korea's contemporary music scene.[3]

Modern K-pop "idol" culture began with the boy band H.O.T. in 1996, as K-pop grew into a subculture that amassed enormous fandoms of teenagers and young adults.[4][5] After a slump in early K-pop, from 2003 TVXQ and BoA started a new generation of K-pop idols that broke the music genre into the neighboring Japanese market and continue to popularize K-pop internationally today.[6][7] With the advent of online social networking services and Korean TV shows, the current global spread of K-pop and Korean entertainment, known as the Korean Wave, is seen not only in East and Southeast Asia but also Latin America,[8][9][10] India,[11][12] North Africa,[13][14] the Middle East[15][16] and the Western world,[17][18] gaining a widespread global audience.[19]


Audiovisual content

Although K-pop generally refers to South Korean popular music, some consider it to be an all-encompassing genre exhibiting a wide spectrum of musical and visual elements.[20] The French Institut national de l'audiovisuel defines K-pop as a "fusion of synthesized music, sharp dance routines and fashionable, colorful outfits."[21] Songs typically consist of one or a mixture of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B and electronic music genres.

Systematic training of artists

Management agencies in South Korea offer binding contracts to potential artists, sometimes at a young age. Trainees live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day learning music, dance, foreign languages and other skills in preparation for their debut. This "robotic" system of training is often criticized by Western media outlets.[22] In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of training one Korean idol under S.M. Entertainment averaged US$3 million.[23]

Hybrid genre and transnational values

K-pop is a cultural product that features “values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value.”[24] It is characterized by a mixture of Western sounds with an Asian aspect of performance. It has been remarked that there is a "vision of modernization" inherent in Korean pop culture.[25] For some, the transnational values of K-pop are responsible for its success. A commentator at the University of California has said that "contemporary Korean pop culture is built on [...] transnational flows [...] taking place across, beyond, and outside national and institutional boundaries."[26] Some examples of the transnational values inherent in K-pop that may appeal to those from different ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds include a dedication to high-quality output and presentation of idols, as well as their work ethic and polite social demeanour, made possible by the training period.[27]


Many agencies have presented new idol groups to an audience through a "debut showcase", which consists of online marketing and television broadcast promotions as opposed to radio.[28] Groups are given a name and a "concept", along with a marketing hook. These concepts are the type of visual and musical theme that idol groups utilize during their debut or comeback. Concepts can change between debuts and fans often distinguish between boy group concepts and girl group concepts. Concepts can also be divided between general concepts and theme concepts, such as cute or fantasy. New idol groups will often debut with a concept well-known to the market to secure a successful first debut. Sometimes sub-units or sub-groups are formed among existing members. An example subgroup is Super Junior-K.R.Y. which consists of members Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung, and Super Junior-M, which became one of the best-selling K-pop subgroups in China.[29]

Online marketing includes music videos posted to YouTube in order to reach a worldwide audience.[28] Prior to the actual video, the group releases teaser photos and trailers. Promotional cycles of subsequent singles are called comebacks even when the musician or group in question did not go on hiatus.[30]

Use of English phrases

Modern K-pop is marked by its use of English phrases. Jin Dal Yong of Popular Music and Society wrote that the usage may be influenced by "Korean-Americans and/or Koreans who studied in the U.S. [who] take full advantage of their English fluency and cultural resources that are not found commonly among those who were raised and educated in Korea."[31] In 1995, the percentage of song titles using English in the top 50 charts was 8%. This fluctuated between 30% in 2000, 18% in 2005, and 44% in 2010. Similarly, increasing numbers of K-pop bands use English names rather than Korean ones. This allows songs and artists to be marketed to a wider audience around the world. An example of a Korean song with a large proportion of English lyrics is Kara’s "Jumping," which was released at the same time in both Korea and Japan to much success.[31]

Increasingly, foreign songwriters and producers are employed to work on songs for K-pop idols, such as will.i.am and Sean Garrett.[32] Musicians, including rappers such as Akon, Kanye West, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg, have also featured on K-pop songs.[33][34]

However, the use of English has not guaranteed the popularity of K-pop in the North American market. For some commentators, the reason for this is because the genre can be seen as a distilled version of Western music, making it difficult for K-pop to find acceptance in these markets.[31] Furthermore, Western audiences tend to place emphasis on authenticity and individual expression in music, which the idol system can be seen as suppressing.[22]


Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony, a strategy called "formation changing" (Korean: 자리바꿈, Jaribaggum).[35] The K-pop choreography (Korean: 안무, Anmu) often includes the so-called "point dance" (Korean: 포인트 안무), referring to a dance made up of hooking and repetitive movements within the choreography that matches the characteristics of the lyrics of the song.[36][37] Super Junior's "Sorry Sorry" and Brown Eyed Girls' "Abracadabra" are examples of songs with notable "point" choreography. To choreograph a dance for a song requires the writers to take the tempo into account.[38] According to Ellen Kim, a Los Angeles dancer and choreographer, a fan's ability to do the same steps must also be considered: Consequently, K-pop choreographers have to simplify movements.[38]


K-pop has a significant influence on fashion in Asia, where trends started by idols are followed by young audiences.[39] Some idols have established status as fashion icons, such as G-Dragon[40] and CL, who has repeatedly worked with fashion designer Jeremy Scott, being labeled his "muse."[41][42]

There is some concern over trends such as skin whitening being popularised by the industry, which has been criticised for its narrow beauty standards.[43]

The emergence of Seo Taiji & Boys in 1992 paved the way for the development of contemporary K-pop groups that fans interact with today.[44] Seo Taiji & Boys revolutionized the Korean music scene by incorporating rap and American hip-hop conventions into their music.[45] This adoption of Western style spread into the fashions worn by the boy band, and the boys adopted the hip-hop aesthetic.[46] Seo and bandmates' outfits for the promotional cycle of "Nan Arayo" (난 알아요, I Know) included vibrant streetwear such as oversized T-shirts and sweatshirts, windbreakers, overalls worn with one strap,[47] overalls worn with one pant leg rolled up,[48] and American sports team jerseys. Accessories included baseball caps worn backwards,[49] bucket hats,[50] and do-rags. As K-pop "was born of post-Seo trends,"[46] many acts that followed Seo Taiji & Boys adopted the same fashion style. Deux and DJ DOC can also be seen wearing on-trend hip-hop fashions such as sagging baggy pants, sportswear, and bandanas[51] in their performances. With Korean popular music transforming into youth-dominated media, manufactured teenage idol groups began debuting in the mid and late '90s,[44] wearing coordinated costumes[52] that reflected the popular fashion trends among youth at the time. Hip-hop fashion, considered the most popular style in the late '90s,[53] remained, with idol groups H.O.T. and Sechs Kies wearing the style for their debut songs. The use of accessories elevated the idol's style from everyday fashion to performance costume, as ski goggles (worn either around the head or neck),[54] headphones worn around the neck,[55] and oversized gloves worn to accentuate choreography moves were widely used. H.O.T.'s 1996 hit "Candy" exemplifies the level of coordination taken into account for idol's costumes, as each member wore a designated color and accessorized with face paint, fuzzy oversized mittens, visors, bucket hats, and earmuffs, and used stuffed animals, backpacks, and messenger bags as props. While male idol groups' costumes were constructed with similar color schemes, fabrics, and styles, the outfits worn by each member still maintained individuality.[56] On the other hand, female idol groups of the '90s wore homogeneous costumes, often styled identically.[56] The costumes for female idols during their early promotions often focused on portraying an innocent, youthful image.[57]

S.E.S. debuted in 1997 "I'm Your Girl" and Baby Vox's 1998 debut "Ya Ya Ya" featured the girls dressed in white outfits, "To My Boyfriend" by Fin.K.L.'s shows idols in girl costumes pink school and in particular "One" and "End" of Chakra presented indu and African style costumes. To portray a natural and corny image, the accessories were limited to large bows, pompom hair ornaments and hair bands. With the maturation of female idol groups and the removal of bubblegum pop in the late 1990s, the sets of female idol groups focused on following the fashion trends of the time, many of which were revealing pieces. The latest promotions of the girl groups Baby Vox and Jewelry exemplify these trends of hot pants, micro miniskirts, crop tops, peasant blouses, transparent garments and blouses on the upper part of the torso.

K-pop showed significant trends over the past few decades. In the early 90s~2000s, ullzang culture emerged as good looking internet celebrities posted photos on popular sites like Haduri(face webcam site), Daum community.[58][59] The rise of ulzzang style parallels the K-pop phenomenon, hence many K-pop idols adopted the look, which is described as “huge, delicate bambi-like eyes with double lids and a tiny, delicate nose with a high bridge are a prerequisite. Smooth, pale snow-white skin, and rosebud lips are also desirable. So is a small and sharp chin to achieve the perfect “V-line” face, which should ideally be no bigger than the size of your palm[60]". This look was nearly impossible to gain naturally, giving rise to the popularity of circle contact lenses, plastic surgeries, and skin-whitening products.[61] As K-pop became a modern hybrid of Western and Asian cultures starting from the late 2000s,[62] fashion trends within K-pop reflects diversity and distinction as well. Fashion trends from the late 2000s to early 2010s can largely be categorized under the following:[63]

  • Street: focuses on individuality, bright colors, mix-and-match styling, graphic prints, sports brands such as Adidas and Reebok (e.g. 2NE1-Fire, SHINee-Ring Ding Dong, etc.)
  • Retro: aims to bring back "nostalgia" from the 1960s to 1980s, dot prints, detailed patterns, common clothing items include denim jackets, boot-cut pants, wide pants, hair bands, scarves, and sunglasses (e.g. Wonder Girls-Nobody, Tiara-Roly Poly, etc.)
  • Sexy: highlights femininity and masculinity, revealing outfits made of satin, lace, fur, and leather, common clothing items include mini skirts, corsets, net stockings, high heels, sleeveless vests, see-through shirts (e.g. Girls' Generation-The Boys, After School, TVXQ-Mirotic, etc.)
  • Black & White: emphasizes modern & chic, symbolizes elegance & charisma, mostly applied to formal wear (e.g. Girls' Generation-Genie, Super Junior-Sorry Sorry, Beast-Fiction, etc.)
  • Futurism: commonly wore with electronic and hip-hop genres, popping color items, metallic details and prints, aims to have a futuristic outlook (e.g. 2NE1-I am the Best, Wonder Girls-Like Money, NCT U-Seventh Sense, etc.)

Government support

The South Korean government has acknowledged benefits to the country's export sector as a result of the Korean Wave (it was estimated in 2011 that a US$100 increase in the export of cultural products resulted in a US$412 increase in exports of other consumer goods including food, clothes, cosmetics and IT products[65]) and thus have subsidised certain endeavours.[66] Government initiatives to expand the popularity of K-pop are mostly undertaken by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which is responsible for the worldwide establishment of Korean Cultural Centers. South Korean embassies and consulates have also organized K-pop concerts outside the country,[67] and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regularly invites overseas K-pop fans to attend the annual K-Pop World Festival in South Korea.[68]


K-pop music is easy to be found online. This is because the copyright holders, Korean entertainment companies are not much attached to the copyright regime, but they are willing to share their music through YouTube and other SNS.[69][70]


The history of Korean popular music can be traced back to 1885 when an American missionary, Henry Appenzeller, began teaching American and British folk songs at a school. These songs were called changga in Korean, and they were typically based on a popular Western melody sung with Korean lyrics. For example, the song "Oh My Darling, Clementine" became known as "Simcheongga."[note 1] During the Japanese rule (1910–1945) the popularity of changga songs rose as Koreans expressed their feelings against Japanese oppression through music. One of the most popular songs was "Huimangga" (희망가, The Song of Hope). The Japanese confiscated the existing changga collections and published lyrics books of their own.[71]

The first known Korean pop album was "Yi Pungjin Sewol" (This Tumultuous Time), by Park Chae-seon and Lee Ryu-saek in 1925, which contained popular songs translated from Japanese. The first pop song written by a Korean composer is thought to be "Nakhwayusu" (낙화유수, Fallen Blossoms on Running Water) sung by Lee Jeong-suk in 1929.[71] In the mid-1920s, Japanese composer Masao Koga mixed traditional Korean music with Gospel music that American Evangelists introduced in the 1870s. This type of music became known as Enka in Japan, and later in Korea as Trot (Korean: "트로트").[72][73]

1940s–1960s: Arrival of Western culture

After the Korean Peninsula was partitioned into North and South following its liberation in 1945 from Japanese occupation, Western culture was introduced into South Korea on a small scale, with a few Western-styled bars and clubs playing Western music. After the Korean War (1950–53) U.S. troops remained in South Korea. With the continued presence of the U.S. military during this time, American and world culture spread in South Korea and Western music gradually became more accepted.

The United Service Organizations made it possible for several prominent figures of American entertainment, like Marilyn Monroe and Louis Armstrong to visit the soldiers stationed in Korea. These visits prompted attention from the Korean public. In 1957, the American Forces Korea Network radio started its broadcast, spreading the popularity of Western music. American music started influencing Korean music, as pentatony was gradually replaced by heptachords and popular songs started to be modeled after American ones.[74]

In the 1960s, the development of LP records and improvements in recording technology led to the pursuit of diverse voice tones.[75] Many singers sang for the American troops, usually in dedicated clubs, the number of which rose to 264. They performed various genres like country music, blues, jazz and rock & roll. The South Korean economy started blooming and popular music followed the trend, spread by the first commercial radio stations. Korean cinema also began to develop and Korean musicians began performing to wider audiences.

When Beatlemania reached the shores of Korea the first local rock bands appeared, the first of which is said to be Add4, a band founded in 1962.[76] The first talent contest for rock bands in Seoul was organized in 1968. Besides rock and pop, trot songs remained popular.

Some Korean singers gained international popularity. The Kim Sisters, Yoon Bok-hee and Patti Kim were the first singers to debut in such countries as Vietnam and United States. The Kim Sisters became the first Korean group to release an album in the United States, performing in Las Vegas and appearing several times on Ed Sullivan's TV show.[77] Han Myeong Suk's 1961 song "The Boy in The Yellow Shirt" was covered by French singer Yvette Giraud and was also popular in Japan.[74]

1970s: Hippie and folk influences

At the end of the 1960s Korean pop music underwent another transformation. More and more musicians were university students and graduates who were heavily influenced by American culture and lifestyle (including the hippie movement) and made lighthearted music unlike their predecessors, who were influenced by war and Japanese oppression.[75] The younger generation opposed the Vietnam War as much as American hippies did, which resulted in the Korean government banning songs with more liberal lyrics. In spite of this, folk-influenced pop remained popular among the youth, and local television channel MBC organised a music contest for university students in 1977. This was the foundation of several modern music festivals.[78]

One of the leading figures of the era was Han Dae-soo, who was raised in the United States and influenced by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Lennon. Han's song "Mul jom juso" (물 좀 주소, Give Me Water) became iconic among young people in Korea. His daring performances and unique singing style often shocked the public and later he was banned from performing in Korea. Han moved to New York City and pursued his musical career there, only returning to his home country in the 1990s.[78] Other notable singers of the period include Song Chang-sik, Young Nam-cho and Hee Eun-yang.

In the 1970s, DJs also started to become popular.[75]

1980s: The era of ballads

The 1980s saw the rise of ballad singers after Lee Gwang-jo's 1985 album "You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to" (가까이 하기엔 너무 먼 당신, Gakkai Hagien Neomu Meon Dangsin) sold more than 300,000 copies. Other popular ballad singers included Lee Moon-se (이문세) and Byun Jin-seob (변진섭), nicknamed the "Prince of Ballads". One of the most sought-after ballad composers of the era was Lee Young-hoon (이영훈), whose songs were compiled into a modern musical in 2011 titled Gwanghwamun Yeonga (광화문 연가, Gwanghwamun's Song).[79]

The Asia Music Forum was launched in 1980, with representatives from five different Asian countries competing in the event. Korean singer Cho Yong-pil won first place and went on to have a successful career, performing in Hong Kong and Japan. His first album Chang bakkui yeoja (창 밖의 여자, Woman outside the window) was a hit and he became the first Korean singer to take to the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York. Cho's musical repertoire included rock, dance, trot and folk pop.[79]

1990s: Development of modern K-pop

In the 1990s, Korean pop musicians incorporated partially Europop and mostly American popular music styles such as hip hop, rock, jazz, and electronic dance in their music.[81] In 1992 the emergence of Seo Taiji & Boys marked a revolutionary moment in the history of K-pop. The trio debuted on MBC's talent show with their song "Nan Arayo" (난 알아요, I Know) and got the lowest rating from the jury;[82] however, the song and album of the same name became so successful that it paved the way for other songs of the same format. The song's success was attributed to its new jack swing-inspired beats and memorable chorus, as well as innovative lyrics which dealt with the problems of Korean society. Their footsteps were followed by a wave of successful hip hop and R&B artists like Yoo Seung-jun, Jinusean, Solid, Deux, 1TYM and Drunken Tiger.[82]

In 1995, South Korean record producer Lee Soo-man founded the entertainment company S.M. Entertainment. Former Seo Taiji & Boys' member Yang Hyun-suk formed YG entertainment in 1996, and Park Jin-young established JYP Entertainment in 1997.

Idol bands (young boybands or girlbands) formed, inspired by Seo Taiji & Boys, to cater for a growing teenage audience.[82] H.O.T. was one of the first idol boybands, debuting in 1996. Their success was followed by that of bands like Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, NRG, Baby V.O.X., Diva, Shinhwa and g.o.d.[83] The 1990s saw a reactionary movement against mainstream popular culture with the rise of illegal underground music clubs and punk rock bands such as Crying Nut.[82]

The 1997 Asian financial crisis prompted South Korean entertainers to look for new markets: H.O.T. released a Mandarin-language album[82] and Diva released an English-language album in Taiwan. The need for new markets drove K-pop stars to look at foreign markets.[84] Similar to J-pop Idols, K-pop stars are selected before being groomed to appeal to a global audience, whether through formal training and classes, or through residency programs.[84][85][86] They are trained via an extensive and intensive process that includes physical and language training (a program sometimes called abusive), and they are selected for height as well, being much taller on average than their Japanese counterparts. As for looks, "K-pop emphasizes thin, tall, and feminine looks with adolescent or sometimes very cute facial expressions, regardless of whether they’re male or female singers", according to sociology professor Ingyu Oh.[85] Over time, Korean-American artists have become successful due to their fluency.[87] These efforts increase the marketability of K-pop while also increasing South Korean soft power, which has become an important part of official policy.[88]

21st century: Rise of Hallyu

K-pop's increasing popularity forms part of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, which refers to the popularity of South Korean culture in other countries.[89] K-pop is increasingly making appearances on Western charts such as Billboard.[90][91] The development of online social media has been a vital tool for the Korean music industry in reaching a wider audience.[92] As part of the Korean Wave, K-pop has been embraced by the South Korean government as a tool for projecting South Korea's soft power abroad, particularly towards overseas youth.[93][94] In August 2014, the prominent British news magazine The Economist dubbed Korean pop culture "Asia’s foremost trendsetter".[95]

K-pop industry statistics
Year Total exports in US$ YouTube views
2008 $16.5 million[96]
2009 $31.3 million[96]
2010 $84.9 million[97] 800 million[98]
2011 $180 million[97] 2.2 billion[99]
2012 $235 million[100] 7.0 billion[99]
Exports by country (US$)
Year Japan China
2008 $11.2 million[101] $1.80 million[102]
2009 $21.6 million[103] $2.36 million[103]
2010 $3.60 million[102]
2012 $204 million[104]

By the beginning of the 21st century, the K-pop market had slumped and early K-pop idol groups that had seen success in the 90's were on the decline. H.O.T. disbanded in 2001, while other groups like Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, Shinhwa, and g.o.d became inactive by 2005. Solo singers like BoA and Rain grew in success. However, the success of boy band TVXQ after its debut in 2003 marked the resurgence of idol groups to Korean entertainment and the growth of K-pop as part of Hallyu. The birth of second-generation K-pop was followed with the successful debuts of SS501 (2005), Super Junior (2005), Big Bang (2006), Wonder Girls (2007), Girls' Generation (2007), Kara (2007), SHINee (2008), 2NE1 (2009), 4Minute (2009), T-ara (2009), and After School (2009).

During the beginning of the 21st century, K-pop idols began receiving success elsewhere in Asia: in 2002, Baby V.O.X.'s single "Coincidence" became popular in many Asian countries after it was released and promoted during the World Cup in South Korea. BoA became the first K-pop singer to reach No. 1 on the Japanese Oricon music chart[105] and shortly afterwards, Rain had a sold-out concert to an audience of 40,000 fans in Beijing.[106] In 2003, Baby V.O.X. topped the Chinese music charts with their Chinese single "I'm Still Loving You" from their third album Devotion, the first idol group to do so, creating a huge fanbase in China. They also charted in various music charts in Thailand. TVXQ marked the rise of K-pop boy bands in Japan. In 2008, their single "Purple Line" made TVXQ the first foreign boy band and second Korean artist after BoA to top the Oricon music chart.

Since the mid-2000s, a huge portion of the East Asian music market has been dominated by K-pop.[107] In 2008, South Korea's cultural exports (including television dramas and computer games) rose to US$2 billion, maintaining an annual growth rate of over 10%.[108] That year, Japan accounted for almost 68% of all K-pop export revenues, ahead of China (11.2%) and the United States (2.1%).[109] The sale of concert tickets proved to be a lucrative business; TVXQ's Tohoshinki Live Tour in Japan sold over 850,000 tickets at an average cost of US$109 each, generating a total of US$92.6 million in revenues.[110]

Elsewhere in the world, the genre has rapidly grown in success, especially after Psy's "Gangnam Style" music video was the first YouTube video to reach one billion views, achieving widespread coverage in mainstream media.[111][112] As of November 2016, the video has 2.7 billion views.[113] Several failed attempts have been made by entertainment companies to break into the English-language market, including BoA, Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation, and CL .[114][115][116] It wouldn't be until BTS's win for Top Social Artist at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards in 2017, making them the first K-pop group to win a BBMA, that K-pop began to gain more international coverage.[117] Their performance of the song "DNA" at the American Music Awards, the first K-pop group ever to perform on the award show, also lead to the song to peak at number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100.[118] The following year, BTS became the first K-pop group to reach number 1 on the Billboard 200 with Love Yourself: Tear.[119] They have also made two appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, highlighting their success and popularity, as well as the growing popularity of K-pop, in the U.S.[120] Meanwhile, in January 2018, boy group EXO was invited to Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Fountain Show. Their single, "Power", was chosen as the first K-pop song to be played at the fountain for the choreographed fountain show in Dubai.[121] This prompted the group's agency, SM Entertainment, to hold the very first SM Town concert in the country in April.[122]



K-pop has spawned an entire industry encompassing music production houses, event management companies, music distributors, and other merchandise and service providers. The three biggest companies in terms of sales and revenue are S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, often referred to as the 'Big Three'.[123] These record labels also function as representative agencies for their artists. They are responsible for recruiting, financing, training, and marketing new artists as well as managing their musical activities and public relations. Currently, the agency with the greatest market share is S.M. Entertainment.[123] In 2011, together with Star J Entertainment, AM Entertainment, and Key East, the Big Three companies founded the joint management company United Asia Management.[124][125][126]

Total revenues of K-pop record labels (in USD million)
Year of
Record label 2008 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Source
1995 S.M. Entertainment 42.5 87.1 129 241 268 286.9 280 313 [127]
1996 YG Entertainment 51.8 70.3 96.9 116.6 156.3 170 286.4 [128]
1997 JYP Entertainment 3.1 9.1 17.8 13.5 21.4 48.5 50.56 69.5 [129]

Sales and market value

In 2009, DFSB Kollective became the first distributor of K-pop on iTunes.[130]

In 2011, 1,100 albums were released in South Korea. The hip-hop genre had the most representation, at two-thirds of the total albums.[131] One-third of the albums were from a variety of other genres, including rock, modern folk, and crossover.[131]

In 2012, the average cost of obtaining a K-pop song in South Korea amounted to US$0.10 for a single download, or $0.002 when streamed online.[132]

In the first half of 2012, according to Billboard, the Korean music industry grossed nearly US$3.4 billion- a 27.8% increase on the previous year- and was recognized by Time magazine as "South Korea's Greatest Export".[133][134]

K-pop (in Korea) global music market rank
* includes albums, singles and DVDs sold

Trainee system

By convention in modern K-pop, trainees go through a rigorous training system for an undetermined amount of time before debut. This method was popularised by Lee Soo-man, founder of S.M. Entertainment,[143] as part of a concept labelled "cultural technology".[144] The Verge described this as an "extreme" system of artist management.[145] According to the CEO of Universal Music's Southeast Asian branch, the Korean idol trainee system is unique in the world.[146]

Because of the training period, which can last for many years, and the significant amount of investment agencies put towards their trainees, the industry is very serious about launching new artists. Trainees may enter an agency through auditions or be scouted, and once recruited are given accommodation and classes (commonly singing, dancing, rapping, and foreign languages such as Mandarin, English and Japanese) while they prepare for debut. Young trainees sometimes attend school at the same time. There is no age limit to become a trainee and no limit to the duration one can spend as a trainee.[147][148][149]

Record charts

Korean record charts include the Korea K-Pop Hot 100 and the Gaon Singles Chart. Recently, some K-pop records have appeared on the Oricon Albums Chart of Japan and the Billboard Hot 100 of the United States.

In 2009, singer Hwangbo entered the European music industry for a short period when she released the single R2song, reaching # 1 on the world's largest dance music site JunoDowload, being successful in both the United Kingdom, Europe and Korea; becoming the first Asian artist to achieve it.

In May 2014, EXO became the third K-pop act to enter the Billboard 200 that year after 2NE1, Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls were the first K-Pop act to chart on Billboard 200.[150]

In October 2016, BTS's album Wings becomes the first Korean album to chart in the UK Album Charts, reaching #62,[151] and the highest charting and best selling K-pop album in the Billboard 200.[152] They also became the first Korean artist to have three entries on the Billboard 200[152] and first K-pop act to have an entry for more than one week on the Billboard 200.[153]

In February 2017, BTS landed their fourth album, "You Never Walk Alone," at #61 on the Billboard 200, becoming the first K-pop act to have four entries on the Billboard 200. They also became the first Korean artist to break into the Top 10 of the US iTunes sales chart with the title track "Spring Day" at #9.[154] In May 2017, BTS also became the first Korean artist group to win a Billboard Music Award.[155]

In September 2017, BTS landed at #14 on the UK Album Charts with their new album, Love Yourself:Her, becoming the first Korean artist to land in the top 40 of the chart.[156] In April 2018 BTS was once again nominated for Top Social Artist at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards, which they later won on May 20, making them the only Korean artist to be nominated for and win the award two years in a row. They made their debut as international performers at the show, premiering their new single, "Fake Love", from their third Korean-language LP, Love Yourself: Tear, released on May 18. The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with 135,000 album-equivalent units (including 100,000 pure album sales), becoming BTS' highest-charting and first number one album in the US, the first K-pop album to top the US albums chart, and the highest-charting album by an Asian act.[157] "Fake Love" peaked at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 that same week, becoming the band's highest reaching song on the chart as well as their first in the top ten. Overall, "Fake Love" is the seventeenth non-English song to reach the top ten, and the first for a K-Pop group. The single also debuted at number seven on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart with 27.4 million streams earned in the week ending May 24, giving BTS its first top ten on the chart and making “Fake Love” the first K-pop song to land on top ten since Psy’s "Hangover" feat. Snoop Dogg in 2014. Love Yourself: Tear also reached number eight on the UK Albums Chart, marking the group's first top ten album in the country.

BTS was also the recipients of the 2018 TIME 100 reader poll with over 15% of the votes received they easily dominated this year’s poll. While the TIME editors select the winners of the TIME 100, the online poll is open for the general public.[158] In June 2018, Time included BTS in the list of 25 most influential people on internet.

In June 2018, YG Entertainment's girl group Black Pink became the first K-pop girl group to hit within the top 50 of Billboard 200 album chart; their first mini-album SQUARE UP debuted at No. 40. Their title song "Ddu Du Ddu Du" charted at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it the highest charting song and the first full Korean language song by a K-pop girl group.[159]


The Korean music industry has spawned numerous related reality TV shows, including talent shows such as Superstar K and K-pop Star, specialist rap competition Show Me The Money and its female counterpart Unpretty Rapstar, and many 'survival' shows, which commonly pit trainees against each other in order to form a new idol group. Examples of survival shows include Jellyfish Entertainment's MyDOL, which formed the boy group VIXX;[160][161] YG Entertainment's WIN: Who Is Next, which formed the boy group WINNER; MIX&MATCH, which formed iKON; JYP Entertainment's SIXTEEN, which formed girl group Twice; Starship Entertainment's No.Mercy, which formed boy group Monsta X; Cube Entertainment's Pentagon Maker, which formed boy group PENTAGON; Mnet's Produce 101, which formed girl group I.O.I and boy group Wanna One;[162][163][164] Duble Kick Entertainment's Finding Momo Land, which formed the girl group Momoland; and most recently, Mnet's Idol School , which formed the girl group Fromis 9. The rise in these shows, which often involves larger agencies contracting smaller agencies' trainees into project groups and taking a larger portion of the revenues, have led to criticisms over the former monopolizing the industry.[165][166]


K-pop artists are frequently referred to as idols or idol groups.[167] Groups usually have a leader, who is often the eldest or most experienced member and speaks for the group. The youngest group member is called the maknae (막내).[168] The popular use of this term in Japan was influenced by boy group SS501 when they expanded their activities in the country in 2007. Its Japanese translation "マンネ" was often used to name the group's youngest member Kim Hyung-jun in order to differentiate him from their leader with a similar name and spelling, Kim Hyun-joong.[169]

K-pop groups often are very delineated, with each member having a specific role or roles within the group. Roles are divided mainly into singing, dancing, and rapping, with "main", "lead", or "sub" added before the main role to differentiate between the skill level or position of the members in the group. Groups also have "visuals", who are the most traditionally beautiful or handsome member of the group. The "face" of the group refers to the most well-known or popular member of the group, and sometimes changes between releases as popularity fluctuates.[170]

Industry-specific expressions

대상daesangAt music awards artists may receive a bonsang for outstanding music achievements. One of the bonsang winners is then awarded with a daesang, the "Grand Prize".[171]
All-Kill (AK) Referring to chart positions. An Instiz certified all-kill ("AK") occurs when an individual song sweeps all of South Korea's major music charts simultaneously, placing first on both the real-time and daily charts.[172][173]
Perfect All-Kill (PAK) An Instiz Perfect all-kill happens when an individual song has an all-kill and at the same time it places first on Instiz Weekly Chart.
Mini album Roughly equivalent to an EP, contains multiple tracks but shorter than a full-length album.[174]
Title track Equivalent to a 'lead single', title track is the main track of an album released with a music video and promoted through live performances on televised music shows.[174]
Promotion Takes place when a title track is released. Artists perform in televised music shows and interviews. Promotion on TV shows usually lasts one month, with a 'debut stage' for newcomers, a 'comeback stage' for regulars and a 'goodbye stage' at the end of the cycle.[174]
Comeback Refers to the release of an artist's new music and the accompanying TV performances.[175]

Appeal and fan base

Not all K-pop fans are young females, although most are;[176] in 2012 New York magazine interviewed male adult Girls' Generation fans, who admitted to liking the group for its members' looks and personalities, citing the members' humility and friendliness towards the fans.[177]

Many fans travel overseas to see their idols on tour, and tourists commonly visit Korea from Japan and China to see K-pop concerts.[178] A K-pop tour group from Japan had more than 7,000 fans fly to Seoul to meet boy band JYJ in 2012,[179] and during JYJ's concert in Barcelona in 2011, fans from many parts of the world camped overnight to gain entrance.[180] A 2011 survey conducted by the Korean Culture and Information Service reported that there were over 3 million active members of Hallyu fan clubs.[181]

An article by The Wall Street Journal indicated that K-pop’s future staying power will be shaped by fans, whose online activities have evolved into "micro-businesses".[182] K-pop groups commonly have dedicated fanclubs with a collective name and sometimes an assigned colour,[183][184] to which they will release merchandise. For example, TVXQ fans are known as 'Cassiopeia', and their official colour is 'pearl red'. Some of the more popular groups have personalised light sticks for use at concerts; for example, Big Bang fans hold yellow crown-shaped light sticks.[185]

Fan clubs sometimes participate in charity events to support their idols, purchasing bags of 'fan rice' in order to show support. The rice bags are donated to those in need.[186] According to Time, for one of Big Bang's shows, 12.7 tons of rice were donated from 50 fan clubs around the world. There are businesses in Korea dedicated to shipping rice from farmers to the venues.[187] Another way that fan clubs show their devotion is sending lunch to idols during their schedules, and there are catering companies in South Korea specifically for this purpose.[188]

A unique feature of K-pop fandom is the "fan chant". When an idol group releases a new song, chants, usually consisting of group members' names, are performed by live concert audiences during non-singing parts of songs.[174]


Some idols and idol groups have faced problems from obsessive fans that indulge in stalking or invasive behaviour. These fans are known as sasaeng fans, from the Korean word for 'private life', which alludes to their penchant for invading the privacy of idols and members of idol groups. There have been accounts of extreme behaviours from fans trying to gain idols' attention as well as taxi services that cater to those wishing to follow idols.[189] Korean public officials recognize this as a unique but serious concern.[190]

Some idols have reacted angrily towards sasaeng fans, for which they received backlash; including members of JYJ, Super Junior member Kim Hee-chul, and Jang Keun-suk.[189][191][192]

In response to the issue, a new law introduced in February 2016 in Korea saw the penalty for stalking rise to around US$17,000 as well a possible two-year jail sentence.[193]


International tours

Conventions and music festivals

Social media

Social media has been instrumental in the global reach of K-Pop, particularly video-sharing site YouTube. Of the 2.28 billion worldwide K-pop YouTube views in 2011, 240 million came from the United States, more than double the figure from 2010 (94 million).[195]

Popularity and impact



Following the lifting of WWII-era restrictions imposed on exchanges and trade between Korea and Japan in the late 1990s, the first-generation girl group S.E.S became the first Korean artists to debut in Japan in late 1998 and their first album Reach Out in 1999. BoA's debut Japanese album released in 2002, entitled Listen to My Heart, was the first album by a Korean singer to debut at the top of the Japanese Oricon Charts and become an RIAJ-certified "million-seller" in Japan.[196]

On January 16, 2008, TVXQ (known as Tōhōshinki in Japan) also reached the top of the Oricon Charts with their sixteenth Japanese single "Purple Line". This made them the first Korean male group to have a number-one single in Japan.[197][198] Since then, the Japanese market has seen an influx of Korean pop acts such as SS501,[199] SHINee,[200] Super Junior,[201] Big Bang,[202] KARA and Girls' Generation.[203] In 2011, it was reported that the total sales for K-pop artists' increased 22.3% between 2010–2011 in Japan. Some Korean artists were in the top 10 selling artists of the year in Japan.[204]

With tensions still remaining between Korea and Japan, the import of Korean popular culture has been met with different forms of resistance, in the form of the 'Anti-Korean Wave'. One demonstration against the Korean Wave with roughly 500 participants was broadcast on Japan’s Fuji TV to an Internet audience of over 120,000. However, the chairman of the Presidential Council on National Branding cites this resistance as proof of “how successful Korean Wave is.”[205]


The 1990s saw the rise of K-pop in China through groups like H.O.T. and SechKies—sparking China’s investment in Korea’s entertainment industry. K-pop artists have achieved considerable success in China since then: in 2005, Rain held a concert in Beijing with 40,000 people in attendance.[106] In 2010, the Wonder Girls won an award for the highest digital sales for a foreign artist, with 5 million digital downloads, in the 5th annual China Mobile Wireless Music Awards.[206] Most recently, China has become the South Korean entertainment industry’s biggest market for exports.[207] Twelve percent of SM Entertainment’s sales in 2015 went to China, and this number rose to 14.4 percent by the middle of 2016.[208] China has found that K-pop is a profitable investment.[209] According to Director of Communication for the Korea Economic Institute of America Jenna Gibson, sales for a certain shampoo brand rose by 630% after Super Junior endorsed it on a Chinese reality show.[209] K-pop’s popularity has also led China’s e-commerce company Alibaba to buy roughly $30 million worth of SM Entertainment’s shares in 2016 in order to help its expansion into the online music industry.[210] Legend Capital China has also invested in BTS’ label BigHit Entertainment.[209] As of the beginning of 2017, China took up around 8-20 percent of major Korean entertainment companies’ total sales.[208] Chinese entertainment companies have also claimed stakes in the industry, partially overseeing groups like EXID and T-ara or representing groups like UNIQ and WJSN, which include both Chinese and Korean members[209] Having Chinese members in K-pop groups is one way Korean entertainment companies make K-pop more marketable and appealing in China. Other strategies include giving Korean members Chinese-sounding names, releasing songs or whole albums in Chinese, and making subgroups with members that predominantly speak Mandarin[210]—like S.M. Entertainment's EXO-M and Super Junior-M, which has had successful results on the Kuang Nan Record and CCR.[211]

The K-pop industry’s methods of producing idols have influenced Chinese entertainment companies’ practices. These Chinese companies aim to reproduce K-pop idols’ success with their own stars so that Chinese entertainers can compete better globally. To achieve this, Chinese entertainment companies have recruited K-pop industry experts, and some of these insiders have actively started moving into the Chinese music industry to capitalize on K-pop’s increasing influence on market demands. Chinese reality show Idol Producer further highlights K-pop’s impact on China’s entertainment scene: closely mirroring Korea’s Produce 101.[209]

A number of Chinese K-pop idols, such as Super Junior-M’s Han Geng and EXO-M’s Kris, Luhan, and Tao, have left their respective K-pop groups in order to pursue solo careers in China. However, lately, Korean entertainment companies have allowed their Chinese K-pop idols more freedom in pursuing solo work in China.[209] Therefore, GOT7’s Jackson Wang, for example, has released several of his own songs in China and, in 2017, reached number one on Chinese music charts.[212]

Additionally, the rise of K-pop has led to an increase in the number of Chinese tourists in South Korea—3.8 million more Chinese toured South Korea in 2016 than 2015 according to the Union of International Associations.[213] K-pop has also made China’s youth find South Korean culture "cool",[214] and K-pop has helped facilitate greater understanding between Korea and China.[215]

North Korea

Despite North Korea’s traditionally strict isolationism, K-pop has managed to reach a North Korean audience. While consumption of South Korean entertainment is punishable by death in North Korea,[216] it has still become increasingly more available with the global rise of technology and the implementation of underground smuggling networks over the past decades.[217] Utilizing the increasingly sophisticated smuggling networks, several thousands of USB drives and SD cards containing K-pop and K-dramas have been distributed and sold through care packages and the black market.[218] In fact, access to USB drives and SD cards exponentially rose from 26% to 81% in from 2010-2014, with a large majority containing South Korean music and dramas.[219] The content on these USB drives and SD cards are then viewed by plugging the device into a notel, a small portable media player.[218] Although this practice had originally begun with banned books and simple radios, there is now an even higher demand for South Korean media following the cultural phenomena of hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

The dissemination of K-pop and Korean media has been crucial in presenting the realities of North Korea to its citizens. By detailing the basic conditions of life in South Korea and introducing foreign ideologies, Korean media has aroused civil unrest amongst both citizens and elites concerning the disparities between living conditions inside and outside North Korea.[218] The high demand for Korean media continues to rise as now approximately 70% of North Koreans consume foreign media in their homes.[218] One researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification claims to have never met a single defector who had not seen or listened to foreign media before entering South Korea.

Even North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown a liking for K-Pop music. In 2018, Kim stated he was "deeply moved" after attending a two-hour concert in Pyongyang featuring South Korean performers such as singer Cho Yong Pil and the popular girl band Red Velvet.[220]


Despite sharing a similar past, the Taiwanese did not carry a positive sentiment towards South Korea after 1992, which is when South Korea broke off its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in order to pursue one with mainland China. This changed in the early 2000s as the cultural dispersion of Hallyu has contributed to the reconstruction of South Korea's image among the Taiwanese. This change was in part prompted by the South Korean government, who wished to encourage goodwill between the two countries after the break of diplomacy. Now many Taiwanese have remarked that Korean popular music and Korean dramas has helped to foster a renewed interest and healthier relationship with South Korea.[221]


There is a thriving K-pop fanbase in Singapore, where idol groups, such as 2NE1, BTS, Girls' Generation and EXO, often hold concert tour dates.[222][223] The popularity of K-pop alongside Korean dramas has influenced the aesthetics image of Singaporeans. Korean-style "straight eyebrows" have become quite popular among many Singaporean females and males of Chinese, Malay and Indian descent.[224] Singaporean beauty salons have seen an increase in the number of customers interested in getting Korean-style "straight eyebrows" and Korean-style haircuts in recent years.[225] On 5 August 2017, Singapore hosted the 10th Music Bank World Tour, a concert spin-off of Music Bank, a popular weekly music programme by South Korean broadcaster KBS. More than 7,000 fans were treated to a spread by five music acts, namely BTS, Red Velvet, SHINee, Mamamoo and CNBlue, at the sold-out session at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre. This event proved the immense popularity of the Hallyu wave in Singapore.[226]


In Malaysia, among the three main ethnic groups- Malay, Chinese and Indian- many prefer to listen to music in their own languages, but the popularity of K-pop alongside Korean movies and TV series has become popular among all three ethnic groups, which Malaysian firms have capitalized upon.[227] The popularity of K-pop has also resulted in politicians bringing K-pop idols to the country in order attract young voters.[228]


K-pop along with Korean TV series and movies has turned into a popular culture, specially among young generation of Indonesia. This trend can be observed in any major city of the country. Music in Indonesia is also influenced by Korean Pop (K-Pop) music.[229] Popularity of Korean culture has increased continuously in Indonesia since the early 2000s, starting with the East Asian popular culture boom.[230]


In the Northeast Indian state of Manipur, where separatists have banned Bollywood movies, consumers have turned to Korean popular culture for their entertainment needs. The BBC's correspondent Sanjoy Majumder reported that Korean entertainment products are mostly unlicensed copies smuggled in from neighbouring Burma, and are generally well received by the local population. This has led to the increasing use of Korean phrases in common parlance amongst the young people of Manipur.[11][231]

In order to capitalize on the popularity of K-pop in Manipur, many hairdressing salons have offered "Korean-style" cuts based on the hairstyles of K-pop boy bands.[11][231] This wave of Korean popular culture is currently spreading from Manipur to the neighbouring state of Nagaland. K-pop is catching up in various other states of the country and millions of fans hold festivals and competitions in regard of the same.[232][233]


In Nepal, K-pop gained popularity along with Korean dramas and films. K-pop has become influential in the Nepali music industry and K-pop music videos are often used as an accompaniment to Nepali music on YouTube and has become a popular trend in the country.[234][235]

North America

In 2006, Rain held sold-out concerts in New York and Las Vegas as part of his Rain's Coming World Tour.

In 2009, the Wonder Girls became the first K-pop artist to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.[238] They went on to join the Jonas Brothers on the Jonas Brothers World Tour 2009. In 2010, they toured 20 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and were named House of Blues "Artist of the Month" for June.[239]

In 2010, S.M. Entertainment held the SMTown Live '10 World Tour with dates in Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, and New York. The same year, during the 8th Annual Korean Music Festival, K-pop artists made their first appearances at the Hollywood Bowl.[240]

Notable K-pop concerts in the United States in 2011 include the KBS Concert at the New York Korea Festival, the K-Pop Masters Concert in Las Vegas, and the Korean Music Wave in Google, which was held at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.[241]

2012 marked a breakthrough year for K-pop in North America. At the start of the year, Girls' Generation performed the English version of "The Boys" on the late night talk show The Late Show with David Letterman and also on the daytime talk show Live! with Kelly, becoming the first Korean musical act to perform on these shows, and the first Korean act to perform on syndicated television in the United States.[242] In the same year, the group formed their first sub-unit, entitled Girls' Generation-TTS, or simply "TTS", composed of members Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. The subgroup's debut EP, Twinkle, peaked at #126 on the Billboard 200.[243] In May, SMTown returned to California again with the SMTown Live World Tour III in Anaheim. In August, as part of their New Evolution Global Tour, 2NE1 held their first American concert in the New York Metropolitan Area at the Prudential Center of Newark, New Jersey.[244] In November, as part of their Alive Tour, Big Bang held their first solo concert in America, visiting the Honda Center in Los Angeles and the Prudential Center in Newark. The tickets sold out in only a few hours, and additional dates were added.[245] On November 13, the American singer-songwriter Madonna and backup dancers performed "Gangnam Style" alongside PSY during a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. PSY later told reporters that his gig with Madonna had "topped his list of accomplishments".[246]

On January 29, 2013, Billboard, one of America's most popular music magazines, launched Billboard K-Town, an online column on its website that covered K-pop news, artists, concerts, and chart information.[247][248][249]

In March of that year, f(x) performed at the K-Pop Night Out at SXSW in Austin, Texas, alongside The Geeks, who represented Korean rock. f(x) was the first K-pop group ever to perform at SXSW.[250] Mnet hosted its Kcon event in NY and LA in July 2016.[251][252]

In 2017, BTS was nominated for the Top Social Artist Award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. Their winning of the award marks the first time a Korean group has won a Billboard Award, and the second time a Korean artist has won the award, after Psy's win in 2013.[253][254] BTS won the award at both the 2017 and 2018 Billboard Music Awards.[255] They performed at the 2017 American Music Awards and the 2018 Billboard Music Awards, making them one of the first Korean group to have performed at either awards show.[256][257] BTS's album Love Yourself: Tear reached #1 on the Billboard 200, making it the first Korean act to do so.[258] Additionally, BTS's single, "Fake Love", debuted at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, making them the second Korean artist to chart in the top ten.[259]

Latin America

Many idol groups have loyal fan bases in Latin America. Since 2009, about 260 fan clubs with a total of over 20,000 and 8,000 active members have been formed in Chile and Peru, respectively.[260][261]

In 2011, the United Cube Concert was held in São Paulo, shortly after the second round of the first K-Pop Cover Dance Festival was held in Brazil, with MBLAQ as judges.[262]

In March 2012, JYJ performed in Chile and Peru. When the group arrived at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Peru for the JYJ World Tour Concert, they were escorted by airport security officials through a private exit due to safety reasons concerning the large number of fans (over 3,000).[263] At the Explanada Sur del Estadio Monumental in Lima, some fans camped out for days in to see JYJ.[264] In April, Caracol TV and Arirang TV jointly aired a K-pop reality show in Colombia.[265] In September, Junsu became the first K-pop idol to perform solo in Brazil and Mexico, after the Wonder Girls in Monterrey in 2009.[266] The concerts sold out well in advance.[266] That year there were 70 K-pop fan clubs in Mexico, with at least 60,000 members altogether.[267]

In January 2014, Kim Hyung-jun performed in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, becoming the first K-pop idol to perform in Bolivia.[268] The tour proved his popularity in the continent as both fans and the media followed him everywhere he went, causing traffic on the roads and police to be called to maintain safety.[269] Fans were also seen pitching their tents outside the concert venue for days before the actual concert.[270][271]


Korean media in Mexico experienced a surge in 2002 after Mexican governor, Arturo Montiel Rojas, visited South Korea.[272] From his trip, he brought Korean series, movies, and other programs to Mexico State's broadcasting channel:[273]Televisión Mexiquense (channel 34). Korean dramas exposed the Mexican public to Korean products and spurred interest in other aspects of Korean culture. K-Pop commenced to gain ground in Mexico due to the series the music accompanied. Fans particularly sought out the music of soundtracks respective to Korean dramas that were broadcast.

However, K-Pop's arrival to Mexico is also attributed to an influence of Japanese media in Mexico and the introduction of PIUs (Pump It Up). The comic convention, La Mole, commenced selling Japanese comics and music and later commenced to sell K-Pop. PIUs combined gaming and dancing, introducing the Mexican youth to Korean gaming software and generating interest in Korean music.[274]

K-Pop's presence in Mexico can be outlined through the growing number of Korean music acts in the country. In the recent years, the amount of K-Pop concerts in Mexico has risen and branched into other portions of the country. Idol groups, including BIGBANG and NU'EST, have visited Mexico through their respective world tours. JYJ's Kim Jun-su became the first Korean star to perform solo. His concert held in Mexico City sold out in advance.[275] The Music Bank World Tour also brought various acts to the Mexican public. Many of those groups covered widely-known songs, such as EXO's cover of Sabor A Mi.

In 2017, Mexico also became the first Latin American country to host KCON. The two-day convention held on March 17–18 brought over 33,000 fans to Arena Ciudad de México.[276] Much like artists during Music Bank, idols covered Spanish songs.

The strength and large number of fanclubs have continuously helped promote and support K-Pop across the country. Over 70 fan clubs dedicated to Korean music are present in Mexico, bringing together around 30,000 fans.[277] Although many fanclubs were created around 2003, they achieved a public presence in 2005 when Korea's ex-president Roh Moo Hyun visited Mexico for a meeting with Mexico's ex-president Vicente Fox Quesada. Around 30 Hallyu fanclubs held a "rally" asking Roh to bring actors Jang Dong-gun and Ahn Jae-wook to their country.[278]

Demonstrations have continued into recent years. On May 13, 2013, a large march was held in Mexico City's Zócalo. Called KPOP: MASSIVE MARCH K-POP MEXICO II, it was the second mass march that brought together hundreds of avid K-Pop fans.[279]

However, larger fanclub organization in Mexico receive indirect or direct support from Korean cultural programs. KOFICE (Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange) and the Korean Cultural Center in Mexico often work in conjunction with fanclubs. These larger organizations contain multiple fanclubs within their structure. The three largest are MexiCorea, Hallyu Mexican Lovers, and HallyuMx. Both MexiCorea and Hallyu Mexican Lovers are supported by KOFICE while HallyuMx previously worked with the Korean Cultural Center and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Mexico.[274]


In 2009, the singer Hwangbo began to receive great popularity in the United Kingdom and Europe, after he released his single Gift For Him and R2song in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Being the first singer of all asía popular in Europe.

In 2010, both the SMTown Live '10 World Tour and the Super Junior Super Show 4 Tour were held in Paris.

In February 2011, Teen Top performed at the Apolo concert hall in Barcelona. In May, Rain became the first K-pop artist to perform in Germany, during the Dresden Music Festival.[280] JYJ also performed in both Berlin and Barcelona. Big Bang flew to Belfast and won the Best Worldwide Act during the 2011 MTV EMAs in Northern Ireland.[281] In Poland, the K-pop Star Exhibition was held in the Warsaw Korean Culture Center. K-pop also saw a surge in popularity in Russia, where 57 dance teams took part in the K-pop Cover Dance Festival.[282] During the second round of the competition, SHINee flew to Moscow as judges, also performing to Russian fans.[283] The following year, Russian youths launched K-Plus, a Korean culture magazine, and the number of Russian K-pop fans was reported at 50,000.[284]

In February 2012, BEAST held their Beautiful Show in Berlin. According to the Berliner Zeitung, many fans who attended were not just from Germany but also from neighbouring countries such as France and Switzerland.[285] Also in February, the Music Bank World Tour drew more than 10,000 fans to the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy.[286] That year, artists such as Beast and 4Minute performed during the United Cube Concert in London, where the MBC Korean Culture Festival was also held.[287] When SHINee arrived at the London Heathrow Airport for a concert at the Odeon West End in the same year, part of the airport became temporarily overrun by frenzied fans. The reservation system of the Odeon West End crashed for the first time one minute after ticket sales began as the concert drew an unexpectedly large response.[288] At this time, SHINee also held a 30-minute performance at the Abbey Road Studio. The ticket demand for this performance was so high that fashion magazine Elle gave away forty tickets through a lottery, and the performance was also televised in Japan through six different channels.[205] Also in 2012, Big Bang won the Best Fan category in the Italian TRL Awards.[289]

2014 saw a continued rise in the popularity of K-pop in Russia. On February 3, Park Jung-min became the first ever Korean singer to hold a solo concert in Moscow.[290]

Middle East and Africa

K-pop has become increasingly popular across the Middle East and Africa over recent years, particularly among younger fans.[291] In July 2011, Israeli fans met South Korea's Ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-sam, and traveled to Paris for the SMTown Live '10 World Tour in Europe.[292] According to Dr. Nissim Atmazgin, a professor of East Asian Studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Many young people look at K-pop as culture capital- something that makes them stand out from the crowd." As of 2012, there are over 5,000 K-pop fans in Israel and 3,000 in the Palestinian territories.[293] Some dedicated Israeli and Palestinian fans see themselves as "cultural missionaries" and actively introduce K-pop to their friends and relatives, further spreading the Hallyu wave within their communities.[294]

In 2012, the number of fans in Turkey surpassed 100,000, reaching 150,000 in 2013.[291][295] ZE:A appeared for a fan meet-and-greet session in Dubai and a concert in Abu Dhabi.[296][297] In Cairo, hundreds of fans went to the Maadi Library’s stage theater to see the final round of the K-POP Korean Song Festival, organised by the Korean Embassy.[298]


In 2011, the K-Pop Music Festival at the ANZ Stadium was held in Sydney, featuring Girls' Generation, TVXQ, B2ST, SHINee, 4minute, miss A, 2AM, and MBLAQ.[299] There was also demand for concerts from New Zealand.[300]

In August 2012, NU'EST visited Sydney Harbour and the University of New South Wales, as judges of a K-pop contest being held there. The following year, 4Minute were judges at the same contest in Sydney.[301] In October, Psy toured Australia after his single "Gangnam Style" reached number one in Australia on the ARIA charts.[302]

In May 2016, B.A.P held a concert in Auckland, becoming the first K-Pop group to perform in New Zealand.[303][304]

In May 2017, BTS came to Sydney as part of their Wings Tour. The show sold out in less than 48 hours, and attracted fans from other Australian states and New Zealand. It was the group's second time visiting Australia after their Red Bullet Tour in 2015.

Foreign relations

On May 25, 2010, South Korea responded to the alleged North Korean sinking of a navy ship by broadcasting 4Minute's single "HuH" across the DMZ.[305] In response, North Korea affirmed its decision to "destroy" any speakers set up along the border.[306] That year, The Chosun Ilbo reported that the Ministry of Defense had considered setting up large TV screens across the border to broadcast music videos by several popular K-pop girl groups such as Girls' Generation, Wonder Girls, After School, Kara and 4Minute as part of "psychological warfare" against North Korea.[307] In September 2012, North Korea uploaded a video with a photo manipulated image of South Korean president Park Geun-hye performing the dance moves of "Gangnam Style". The video labeled her as a "devoted" admirer of the Yushin system of autocratic rule set up by her father, Park Chung-hee.[308][309]

Since the early 2010s, several political leaders have acknowledged the global rise of Korean pop culture, most notably U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an official visit to South Korea in 2012 and mentioned the strong influences of social media networks, adding that it was "no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean wave, Hallyu."[311] A few months later, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a speech in front of the National Assembly of South Korea, where he noted South Korea's "great global success" in the fields of culture, sports and the arts, before pointing out that the Korean Wave was "making its mark on the world".[312] This occurred a few days after U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland remarked in a daily press briefing that her daughter "loves Korean pop",[313] which sparked a media frenzy in South Korea after a journalist from the country's publicly funded Yonhap News Agency arranged an interview with Nuland and described Nuland's teenage daughter as "crazy about Korean music and dance".[314]

In November 2012, the British Minister of State for the Foreign Office, Hugo Swire, addressed a group of South Korean diplomats at the House of Lords, where he emphasized the close ties and mutual cooperation shaping South Korea–United Kingdom relations and added: "As "Gangnam Style" has demonstrated, your music is global too."[315] In February 2013, the Vice President of Peru, Marisol Espinoza, gave an interview with South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, where she voiced her desire for more South Korean companies to invest in her country and named K-pop as "one of the main factors that made Peruvian people wanting to get to know South Korea more".[316]

According to an article published by the international relations magazine Foreign Policy, the spread of Korean popular culture across Southeast Asia, parts of South America, and parts of the Middle East is illustrating how the gradual cessation of European colonialism is giving way and making room for unexpected soft power outside of the Western world.[317] On the other hand, an article published by The Quietus magazine expressed concern that discussions about Hallyu as a form of soft power seems to bear a whiff of the "old Victorian fear of Yellow Peril".[318]

In August 2016, it was reported that China planned to ban Korean media broadcasts and K-pop idol promotions within the country in opposition to South Korea's defensive deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles.[319][320][321] The reportage of these planned regulatory measures caused an immediate negative impact on shares in Korean talent agencies, although stock prices later recovered.[319]

On 1 April 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un watched a K-Pop concert in Pyeongyang.[322]

Criticism and controversies

Main accusations and criticisms faced by the genre and industry as a whole include:

Music and visuals

K-Pop has at times faced criticisms from journalists who perceive the music to be formulaic and unoriginal.[323][324][325][326] Accusations of plagiarism are also rampant, with K-Pop groups often being accused of plagiarizing Western music acts in particular.[327] In addition, K-Pop has been criticized for its reliance on English phrases, with critics dubbing the use of English in titles “meaningless”.[328]

K-Pop groups have been regularly accused on cultural appropriation of cultures such as African American culture, especially due to the frequent use of cornrows and bandanas in idol groups' on-stage styling.[329] K-Pop groups have also been accused of appropriating Native American[330] and Indian cultures.[331] However, debate exists about whether the borrowing of cultural elements from cultures outside of Korea indeed constitutes cultural appropriation, or if this cultural appropriation is negative at all. Scholar Crystal S. Anderson writes that “[a]ppropriating elements of a culture by taking them out of their original context and using them in a completely different way does not automatically constitute negative cultural appropriation.”[332]

Industry practices


In 2002, Time magazine reported that Korean television producers such as Hwang Yong-woo and Kim Jong-jin had been arrested for "accepting under-the-table payments guaranteeing TV appearances to aspiring singers and musicians" in a bid to tackle "systemic corruption in South Korea's music business". Companies investigated included SidusHQ and S.M. Entertainment.[83]

Exploitation and poor living conditions

K-pop management companies have also been criticized for exploitation of idols through overwork and restrictive contracts, described as "slave contracts" in a BBC report.[333] According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Korea’s entertainment business is notoriously improvisational and unregulated. In-demand K-pop stars – many of whom are teenage 'idols' – have been known to rehearse and perform without sleep."[334]

In July 2009, S.M. Entertainment was taken to court by TVXQ and a Super Junior member, who alleged that their working conditions had led to adverse health effects.[335][336] The court decision in the TVXQ lawsuit determined their contract with S.M. Entertainment void, and resultantly the Fair Trade Commission released contract templates to regulate industry conditions.[333]

In 2014, South Korea passed a law to regulate its music industry, protecting idols aged under 19 from unhealthy labor practices and overtly sexualized performances.[337]

Under the new law, underage stars will be guaranteed the basic rights to learn, rest and sleep, though exceptions can be made for projects requiring long-distance travel. Weekly working hours for children younger than 15 are not to exceed 35 hours, while minors aged 15-18 are limited to 40 hours. Minors cannot work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless their guardians give consent. It will also be illegal to coerce minors into wearing revealing stage costumes or dancing sexually suggestive choreography routines.[334]

Failure to comply with these regulations may lead to the equivalent of a US$10,000 fine.[334]

Industry professionals such as SM Entertainment’s CEO Kim Young-min have defended the system, arguing that individuals trained within the system are "no different than typical middle or high school kids, who go to after-school programs to cram for college entrance exams". Kim has also argued that there is a need to consider the expenses incurred by the company during the trainee period, including "facilities, equipment, costumes, and virtually everything the trainees need".[338]

On March 7, 2017, the South Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) passed new regulations in order to protect trainee idols from unfair terms and working conditions. Prior to these regulations, trainee idols at eight idol agencies were not permitted to seek contracts at any other agency while at training. Moreover, agencies were able to terminate a trainee contract at any time for any reason. The Fair Trade Commission states that they believe these changes will "result in a more just contract culture within the entertainment industry between trainee and agency." For now these regulations only apply to eight major idol agencies but the Ministry of Culture intends to apply these regulations to all existing agencies throughout 2018.[339]

Some of the concerns raised by the idol agencies over these regulations include the risk of a trainee at one agency going undercover at another agency to receive training with the other agency. This introduces further risk that the idol agencies must take in training new idols. Trainees train for 3 years on average and the agencies support these trainees with various training programs during this duration, resulting in each trainee being a very large investment for the agency.[340]

Sexualization and sexual exploitation

The industry has been criticized for the sexualization of both male and female idols, with the sexualization of minors in particular being of concern.[341] Critics such as James Turnbull of the Korean Pop Culture blog The Grand Narrative have argued young female idols are especially susceptible to pressures to wear revealing clothing or dance provocatively.[341] However, compared to western popular music, K-pop has little sex, drugs, or aggressive behavior and has a much more parent-friendly branding.[342]

Sponsorships or "sponsor relationships" are a common form of sexual exploitation in the industry. Wealthy individuals will "sponsor" idols or trainees by giving them expensive gifts or by helping them land roles coverage in return for sexual favors.[343]

See also


  1. Not to be confused with the pansori story of the same name.


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