by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Globalization remains key to K-pop’s spread around the world, but it is not one size fits all. As time goes on, Korean agencies adopt a range of promotional strategies to spread K-pop throughout the world.
It is not secret that K-pop utilizes globalization. Writers have sought to identify singular strategies and apply them to the entire K-pop world. In the article “The Globalization of K-pop: Korea’s Place in the Global Music Industry,” Ingyu Oh focuses on the “L” component in what she describes as the G-L-G globalization process: “K-pop’s differentiation strategy to make the ‘L’ process attractive to a global audience is roughly threefold: (1) numbers; (2) physique; and (3) voice-dance coordination” (400). Patrick St. Michel argues in his Atlantic article, “How Korean Pop Conquered Japan,” that “K-Pop stars out-sex their J-Pop counterparts. The members of Girls’ Generation show a fair amount of skin in their music videos, while many fans were drawn to KARA by a chunk of choreography Wikipedia dubs “the butt dance.” He mentions BoA, but doesn’t apply this theory to explain her longtime success in Japan. His argument also does not explain the success of male groups in Japan, including TVXQ, SHINee, BigBang and 2PM.
Instead, Korean agencies use a range of strategies to promote their groups globally.
Language and Training
Oh does a good job of summarizing the training process for Korean “idol” stars: “Trainees go through vocal, dancing, language, and theatrical acting lessons for at least five hours a day in the evening after school” (402). While the results of vocal and dance training is evident in performances, language acquisition is key to appealing to global audiences because of the appearances where fans can see the group. For example, Key from the K-pop group SHINee shows off his multi-lingual skills, sharing the group’s greeting in Chinese, Korean, English and Japanese:
Increasingly, members of K-pop groups are learning different languages. GOT7‘s member Jackson speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and English. Rookie group Varsity features members who speak Korean, Chinese, English, Arab, and French. The choice of languages that K-pop members speak is not random. They reflect areas of the world to which K-pop agencies seek to spread. While the acquisition of Chinese and Japanese would allow the group to engage with potential fans in China and Japan( the largest music markets closest to Korea), the acquisition of English, Arabic and French belie aspirations that go beyond East Asia.
Releasing tracks in Korean another language
Korean artists will debut in various countries in addition to debuting in Korea. BoA debuted in Korea, but developed a substantial career in Japan. More recent groups tend to debut in multiple countries. UP10TION debuted in Korea, China and Japan. SF9 debuted in Korea and Japan. UKISS also debuted in Japan after debuting in Korea. Such debuts increasingly involve releasing their Korean tracks in other languages. EXO releases entire albums in both Korean and Chinese. SHINee rereleased some of their most popular early Korean hits in Japanese as part of their debut in Japan, including “Juliette,” “Lucifer,” and “Replay.”
Releasing original tracks in another language
Another promotional strategy is when groups release new material solely in a different language. TVXQ have a long track record of releasing singles as well as entire albums in Japanese without a Korean counterpart, including Tense, Tone, Time and Tree.
Foreign members of groups
Increasingly, K-pop groups are featuring foreign members. Super Junior paved the way by including Chinese member Zhou Mi and Chinese-Canadian member Henry in their subgroup, Super Junior M. Since that time, Korean agencies have been trying to gain foreign fans with the inclusion of foreign members. Rookie group Pentagon has members from other countries, including Yuto, who was born in Japan, and Yan An, who was born in China. Groups will also have Japanese stage names to reach out to foreign fans, such as Hoshi in Seventeen and Wei in UP10TION.
Rather than rely on one mode of globalization, K-pop continues to diversify its promotional strategies.
EMI Records Japan. “SHINee – JULIETTE[Japanese ver.] Music Video Full.” YouTube. 7 Apr 2011. https://youtu.be/lT-iBCuoNS4 (26 May 2017).
Kwon Yoo Shin. “TVXQ – Time Works Wonders.” YouTube. 27 Dec 2014. https://youtu.be/4vKKgAO6vBQ. (26 May 2017).
Oh, Ingyu. “The Globalization of K-pop: Korea’s Place in the Global Music Industry.” Korea Observer 44.3 (2013): 389-409.
PinkyGirlxoxo. “SHINee Key speaking in 3 languages.” YouTube. 4 Apr 2012. https://youtu.be/h0we-mNztdE (17 Apr 2017).
St. Michel, Patrick. “How Korean Pop Conquered Japan.” The Atlantic. 13 Sept 2011. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/09/how-korean-pop-conquered-japan/244712/ (17 Apr 2017).
Global Promotional Strategies in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.