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The Korean Wave, which they called Hallyu is an idea that South Korea’s culture and popular cultures such as TV dramas and movies become a major global cultural. And the most important Hallyu is K-pop, which means Korean Pop music. K-pop is becoming one of the signature popular music in the world. This type of music includes dance, electronic music, electro-pop, hip-hop, and R;B1. K-pop was globalized in Asia region first, in the 2000s recently becoming globalized in the world. In this paper, I will be analysing and comparing the transformation of K-pop in the 1990s to the present. There will be some identities in this transformation including the change of the K-pop industry and change of the fandom group culture.
In 2012, a music video called “Gangnam Style” produced by Psy (Jae-Sang Park) was released on YouTube1. This music video has been a view of over 300 million views on YouTube, which is the most viewed song in K-pop history, which also ranked second place on the Billboard Hot Chart for seven weeks continuously. However, its lyrics are Korean instead of English, the only English words in this song are the lyrics of “Oppa Gangnam Style”, yet the Americans with the big interest in this song because of the ‘invisible horse dace’, even though without understanding the meaning of the lyrics.
South Korea is one of the countries develop its “soft power”- refers to the intangible power a country wields through its image, rather than through hard force, which hard force refers to the economic power and the military power. Since the 1990s, K-pop was first spread to Japan and China, later to East Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, which is a new phenomenon for globalization. Beside K-pop means Korean pop music, it also is a piece of transnational hybrid music that refers to other global popular music in various ways. The building regional international success and then expanding around in the world which is the history of K-pop shows how local cultural industrial survived in the flow of globalization.
The participation of fans is helping Hallyu to spread in the world, and the social network service is becoming a medium that connects the fans with the idols, the groups of the fans are called ‘fandom’. Fandoms not only promote their groups but also actively consume them by recreating the original subject with high levels of attachment. In the early fandom culture, they are more focusing on commercial power, gender, and subculture. Nowadays, Social Network Services (SNS) become a new factor those fandoms are commonly used to communicate between the fans and national boundaries.
To understand the development of K-pop in South Korea, we must first understand the history of Korea’s music industry. In the 1980s, there was none of the independent music industry in Korea. From the south Korea TV drama series “Reply 1988” (showed in 2016 by TvN), in the first episode, it shows Duk-seon (played by Hyeri) is watching the movie “A Better Tomorrow” which is a Hong Kong movie that showed in 1986. This reflects that Koreans were more interest in Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s drama and music at that time. According to William Tuk (2012) ballads were the most popular style of music in South Korea in the 1980s. For this reason, the music style with heavy metal or R;B did not develop, even though this music was banned from television.
In the early 1990s, Korean society was in economic development, this led to Korean music started developed into an independent industry, therefore, the entertainment industries start growing. In the 1990s, the three top music entertainment companies built – SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and the YG Entertainment. Between 1996 and 1998, several male idol groups and female idol groups were debuted in Seoul and they were the first of beginning of K-pop. They represented the 1990s youngsters’ emotions, thus, they are called “First-generation K-pop Idols”. The new generation dance music songs were more focus on dance-pop based on the combination of the Korean style melody line and the Western rhythmic patterns instead of the ballads style. Their music was usually with strong rhythm with dancing which made their performance were the difference and became unique by comparing with Japanese pop music and American pop music.
The most signature first K-pop idol group was H.O.T who led the direction of K-pop music. They were a male idol group, who were the first entered the Asian markets and became international stars successfully in the Korean industries. They also had made the distinct characteristics of the model for idol groups: the constitution of a group and format of dividing roles, which means that each member had his own distinct, for example, they separated part into singer (vocal and sub-vocal), rapper and main dancer.
K-pop fandom culture started in the 1990s due to the new generation K-pop idols, which the term means the “fan-girl”. In Korea, fandom is a serious business, they usually make follow and support their idol group for a long period. One of the biggest rivalries in K-pop history was the fandom competition between the two biggest idol groups in the 1990s: H.O.T and Sechskies. In the Korea TV drama “Reply 1997” (showed in 2012 by TvN) was showed the fandom culture in the 1990s, and the physical fights between fans. Another highlighted that showed in the TV drama was the fans were waving balloons of the fandom color (H.O.T in white and Sechskies in yellow) in the live performance and concert.
Because of the success of the new generation of K-pop idol groups, which made K-pop got some attention from the Asia countries. This success led to the second generation K-pop idol such as Girls Generation and Wonder Girls became debuted in the Asia countries successfully specifically in Japan and China. Nowadays, it is common for k-pop groups who release songs and album in Japanese or Mandarin, for example, EXO first debuted into EXO-K and EXO-M separately, which K represents Korea and M represents mandarin. Besides Asia countries, several K-pop groups tried to enter the United States market, like BTS was performed their song “DNA” at the American Music Awards in 2017 and the also attended to Ellen Show in 2018. Due to the development of current technology, SNS is one of the important channels for K-pop to promote their music. They released music videos and live music performances on YouTube, which gained lots of chances that K-pop could connect with international.
Today’s fandoms are creating new trends in fandom culture; they invested more money in promoting their idol groups. The entertainment companies developed the unique light stick instead of waving balloons, which created a beautiful light stick ocean in the concert. Also, fandom names are not only used in K-pop, but fandom names that created from the group are important to them which are a fan identical.
The newest trend between the fandom is buying ads in the subway and in Times Square and using the group’s name for social activities. The fans buy ads in subway stations in Seoul to celebrate a member’s birthday and group’s anniversaries6. Moreover, fans also buy ads in Times Square, as EXO and BTS have appeared in Times Square. Besides, fandom groups raised money for doing social activities of using the group’s name. For example, BTS’s fandom group “ARMY” raised money to buy 30 water filters to provide clean water to 300 people for the next 25 years.
In conclusion, in the 1990s, music entertainment companies released idol groups with the new style of music and dancing performance, which was unique from the other counters in the world. The new generation idol group was a success in the Asia countries. Because of the idol group’s effects, fandom groups created during this time. There was not only competition between the idol groups, and also between the fandom groups. Therefore, K-pop started to be an important business in Korea. In the 2000s, second-generation idol groups were debuted in Asia countries successfully, mostly in Japan and China, and they also tried to enter Europe and United States markets. Because of the development of the social network, there was more chance for K-pop to spread out in to international. And the new fandom cultures are more trends to new technical stuff and commercialize to promote their group.
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