Beyond K-pop as Industry

K-pop has garnered attention in recent months over developments in major companies as well as opinions on the future of the industry. However, K-pop’s impact goes beyond the economic.

In the last few months, K-pop company SM Entertainment generated headlines in media beyond Korea about the shakeup in its leadership. Major U.S. outlets that rarely cover K-pop companies to this extent ran with the story in their business pages. Bloomberg’s headline, “SM Plunges After Bidding War Over K-pop’s Future Ends,” depicts events in dramatic language and suggests its economic impact on K-pop as an industry. CNN detailed highlights of the “shareholder battle.” While I do not expect CNN or Bloomberg to delve into the cultural significance of K-pop, media literacy encourages us to ask questions about their previous coverage and overall understanding of the Korean business world,

Characterizations of K-pop as an industry also drive recent comments about the future of K-pop. Bang Si-hyuk, credited with the success of the K-pop group BTS and chairman of HYBE, defines the future of K-pop largely in economic terms. According to Georgia Public Radio, Bang said that K-pop “is in crisis” because “business growth has slowed or even turned negative in some markets.”

However, economic drivers reflected in sales, views and chart position often serve as metrics for popularity. They are not the only lens through which to view K-pop. I previously wrote about how numeric metrics can be misleading, and Elias Leight recently questioned the impact of K-pop on the Billboard charts: “There is disagreement on whether hit singles in the United States are the best gauge of the genre’s health in the first place. ”

K-pop’s appeal is not accurately gauged by things like sales and chart position. Mainstream metrics for success do not always accurately capture the way that popular cultures circulate among audiences. By focusing on K-pop’s economic impact, we miss other equally important ways that K-pop appeal to global audiences. We also make mainstream audiences in the United States the arbiter of a popular culture that has existed for over 25 years. As Inkyu Kang says in Leight’s article, “K-pop has already been enjoyed by people around the world with diverse backgrounds before it reached the U.S.”

Enjoy is the key word because most people will not remember a song’s chart position, but will remember a song for the joy that it caused. One the appealing aspects of K-pop is its “catchiness,” even for people who are not K-pop fans. While K-pop music is created through companies who seek a profit, it also represents a creative act with emotional meaning. Audiences find K-pop appealing even when songs are not trending and groups are not active. This is apparent in reaction videos by non K-pop fans, who have little investment in promoting their faves because they likely don’t have any. It is particularly the case when reactors cross genres, such as this reaction by a self-professed metal head:

In this video from 2021, Mad Ang does not shape the reaction within the context of how much profit this song produced or its non-existent chart position in the United States. TVXQ’s “Why (Keep Your Head Down)” was released in 2011. Yet, it continues to not only garner interest in what some might consider unusual places.

This is what the best pop music does. Rather than being just “of the moment,” it continues to spark interest. As a result, we have to go beyond K-pop’s economic impact to understand its continued appeal and to track its future.


Image by Amy from Pixabay

Elias Leight. “Why K-pop’s Success Transcends Hit Singles.” Billboard. 24 April 2023.

Mad Ang. “METALHEAD REACTION | TVXQ – WHY? (Keep your head down) !!!” YouTube. 17 Mar 2021.

Se Eun Gong. “Why K-pop’s Future Is In Crisis, According to Its Chief Guardian.” Georgia Public Radio. 10 April 2023.,turned%20negative%20in%20some%20markets.

Creative Commons License
Beyond K-pop as Industry by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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