Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go a BTS, a K-pop boy group, concert. It was an amazing experience with on-point dancing, rapping, and just performing. However, looking back, how did I learn about BTS and K-pop, including Gangnam Style, as a whole? Answer: the internet.
K-Pop and the whole Hallyu Wave, the global spread of Korean culture, is entirely dependent on the internet. But first, what is Hallyu? Hallyu, in Korean, translates to “flow of Korea”. However, in essence, it refers to the global spread of Korean culture. This includes K-pop as well as Korean Beauty, Korean Dramas, Korean cooking, and anything else Korean. This movement is only growing. Seven Years ago, a compilation of several top K-pop artists failed to sell out Madison Square Garden. Now? One artist sells out a venue of the same size in minutes.
If you ask anyone who has embraced Korean culture how they discovered it, chances are they will say “The Internet” or more specifically “YouTube”. The internet has existed as a network for spreading ideas since its inception – so this isn’t a new idea. Why did K-pop only take off in the past five years as opposed to the roughly twenty years the modern Internet has existed? Again, this relies on the specific answer – “YouTube”. Discovering new music online isn’t a new thing; music sharing services such as Napster and Limewire have existed since the late 1990s, but digital video sharing has only existed via YouTube for about 10 years. This is important for K-pop. With its bright visuals and complex dances, K-pop is very visual. It would be impossible for it to take off relying solely on the audio product. As a result, YouTube was essential to K-pop’s growth.
As a result of this dependence on YouTube, the K-pop community is tremendous digitally. Fans post dance cover after dance cover, song cover and song cover on YouTube – and other fans are always there to support them. Similar to how they used YouTube and other platforms to discover K-pop, they use it to spread their own content. Additionally, the K-pop community dominates in online polling; this is, again, based on how K-pop is predominately found on the internet. To actively look for something on the Internet (like K-pop) multiple times, you have to be dedicated to it. As they rely primarily on the internet, most K-pop fans are dedicated. Dedicated fans spend hours voting for their favorite artists on, to an outsider, meaningless polls to ensure their favorite group wins. For the YouTube Music Awards in 2013, Girls’ Generation’s, a popular K-pop girl group, song “I Got A Boy” won video of the year by nearly ten times the votes of the runner-up. While to an outsider these polls seem meaningless, for most K-pop fans, they are only helping their music reach a larger audience through its most valuable form – videos on the internet.
Aside from fans, the whole K-pop industry has embraced this global technology relationship. Many labels have their own English YouTube channel for music. On this channel, they broaden their audience with subtitles on their own videos. In some cases, they promise to release special videos for a certain number of views on YouTube. YouTube no longer just aids their company, but the companies use it actively to increase their brand’s region. Additionally, One of the fundamental parts of K-pop is its idol (a member of a group) and fan interactions. Idols typically has multiple fan meets a week in which dedicated fans will attend all of them. These meetings are typically small and intimate; however, the industry has embraced technology in order to expand these events to international fans. With the app “V”, idols host seemingly personal videochats with fans. While they aren’t personally interacting with the idols, International fans are given a taste of the fan meetings which are prevalent in Korea. Additionally, “After School Club” is a webseries in which select international fans are given the opportunity to interact with and even perform for their favorite K-pop idols. Personal idol interactions has spread globally using technology.
Korean Culture has spread enough that Hollywood and popular American culture is starting to take inspiration from it. The recently renewed NBC Show “Better Late Than Never” is an exact copy of the Korean variety show “Grandpa over Flowers”. Additionally, FOX has picked up the rights to make an American version of the popular Kdrama, “Reply 1997”. On multiple occasions, American artists such as Missy Elliot and will.i.am have performed with Korean Artists. And like most things, these videos or collaborations are shared rapidly on YouTube the internet. The internet was essential for K-pop and the Hallyu Wave is guaranteed to be essential for its continued growth in the future.