These days, you simply can’t scroll through Twitter without stumbling upon k-pop fans in the masses. ‘Fancam’ video edits seem to be posted in threads about anything and everything, and tweets are embedded with hashtags urging to #stan or #stream various k-pop groups. Although my own obsession with k-pop started and finished with whatever was playing on SBS PopAsia circa 2015, the ‘Hallyu’ phenomenon, or ‘Korean wave’, has reached tsunami levels of huge in the last decade. The craze has made a splash all across the globe in neighbouring Asian countries, the West, and beyond.
K-pop boyband ‘BTS’ are an immensely popular group within the genre, achieving incredible break-out success in the US at a level never before seen. The group has collaborated with many popular US/European artists like Nicki Minaj, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, and many more. You could say BTS are the poster group for the rapid spread of k-pop throughout the US and other Western audiences. Ingyu Oh’s research paper about the globalisation of k-pop credits platforms like YouTube and the new distribution structures of the music industry for the global success of k-pop as a musical subculture. The report argues that South Korea’s standout success in comparison to other Asian music industries (such as Japan or China) is because of k-pop’s “photogenic appeal”, borrowing aesthetics and production techniques from popular American music. By localising these elements of American music and distributing the final, hybridised product to both Asian and Western audiences, k-pop is able to attain mass global appeal. Woongjae Ryoo explains the cultural hybridisation of k-pop further in an article from the Asian Journal of Communication; South Korea is described as a mediator in popular culture exchange between the West and Asia, and in comparison with Japan, South Korea has “broader cultural affinities with China and other Asian countries while also being just Westernized enough.” In other words, South Korea is currently the bridge between Asian and Western popular culture.
In 2018, American game development company Riot Games released a k-pop inspired music video promoting an upcoming line of cosmetic character ‘skins’, available for purchase in their online multiplayer game ‘League of Legends’. The video features iconic characters from the game in a ‘virtual’ idol group, dancing and singing in the k-pop style. The artists featured in this collaborative project were two American singers, Madison Beer and Jaira Burns, and two members of the k-pop girl group (G)I-DLE. The track ‘POP/STARS’ was debuted on the League of Legends world finals stage in Seoul, South Korea, and featured character avatars in Augmented Reality. This collaboration is an example of cultural hybridisation through the k-pop genre, mixing together elements of Western and Asian pop culture to create a media text with globalised appeal.