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The Important Points in K-Pop's Grown in America

  • [등록일]2017-09-12
  • [조회] 737

During the weekend of August 18 through 20, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking and reporting at KCON, a K-pop festival that has some extreme and important differences from when I spoke at its debut date in 2012. Changes in both K-pop's visibility and popularity in America have changed dramatically in these past five years and can be further illustrated with KCON as a guiding point.


CJ E&M reported that throughout the weekend that 86,000 fans were attracted to Los Angeles for the three days of conventions and two days of concerts headlined by the likes of Seventeen, GOT7, Super Junior-D&E, Girl's Day, Wanna One and more. Along with nearly 43,000 attendees at KCON 2017 New York in June that featured acts like CNBLUE, Highlight, Twice, NCT 127, GFriend and more, bringing out a reported 128,000 attendees for the U.S. iteration of KCON 2017. This is a huge increase since the first festival in 2012, that was a modest, one-day convention and festival that saw 10,000 attendees. It's interesting to keep in mind that this was also the year PSY's 'Gangnam Style' was a viral sensation and beginning to be played on U.S. radio while Wonder Girls were also gearing up to release a new English single featuring Akon. Yet, despite those two acts not being as active in the U.S. market, K-pop has still continued to show tremendous amounts of growth that are, in my opinion, more significant than having one representative star.

Despite it being generally accepted that album sales will never be what they used to be in America, K-pop acts continue to hit new records with their latest releases. EXO started this trend when their 2015 Exodus album scored the largest album sales for a Korean-language (with 5,000 copies), before BTS jumped ahead (by moving 16,000 copies of 2016 album Wings). Both groups have scored multiple entries on the Billboard 200?which is America's definitive album rankings chart based on sales and album streams?with EXO's most recently release The War album earning the band their biggest sales yet in America.


Source :

Furthermore, more and more K-pop acts are touring in America and visiting new markets. While it used to be a rare treat in America for a K-pop tour, just this summer I had the option to see G-Dragon, Seventeen, Monsta X, Eric Nam and KARD all live in my city of New York. Every year the numbers of K-pop concerts in the U.S. continue to grow as these acts and their promoters continue to vary up the venues they play and cities they reach. Brooklyn's humongous Barclays Center got its first taste of K-pop when G-Dragon brought his Act III, M.O.T.T.E World Tour to the arena and in September KARD will bring their Wild Card Part 2 tour to Minneapolis, Minnesota - America's the 16th-largest city that I do not believe has ever hosted a K-pop concert.


Source : KARD official twitter

Plus, perhaps most significantly, I can't help but feel the K-pop scene is finally proud of itself and its history, to finally be embracing aspects that make it unique instead of trying to fit itself into the U.S. market.

In the past, we have seen a handful of Korean artists attempt to break America, but finding varying and often disappointing results. I believe many fans would argue that lots of times these artists changed an aspect about themselves to better appeal to the Western market and, so far, this has not worked to produce a Korean star who has successfully and consistently entered the U.S. music scene past PSY. But PSY is a rare case since his songs?which, keep in mind, are all mostly in Korean?have been able to find the greatest success in America. And while PSY was a new artist for the Western audience, many K-pop fans and myself saw PSY continuing to do what PSY did best with 'Gangnam Style' and the subsequent his releases. I think the K-pop scene is finally recognizing that they are beloved by so many fans around the world for a reason and it's been by being themselves and they should stick to their strengths as Korean-pop artists.

Seoul-based journalist and fellow Korean music expert Jakob Dorof  who has written about K-pop for Pitchfork, Vice and Dazed tells me he has personally seen a shift in the way agencies are approaching their international and U.S. strategies. 'Meeting with dozens of K-pop industry personnel over the past three years, I've observed a complete revolution in how they view America and their potential for success there,' he shares. ' One executive at a top agency told me in 2015 that they weren't even considering a strategy in America after a high-profile failure there some years prior. More recently, he's told me that America is now in fact one of their main priorities, even having overtaken the once-almighty Chinese market in terms of his company's plans for the future. Furthermore, Bang Si-Hyuk, CEO of Big Hit Entertainment, has spoken to the press about having achieved record-breaking success in America by targeting Western listeners over Korean ones, and employing a '역수입' (or 'reimportation') strategy to develop a fanbase outside of Asia before leveraging that momentum to achieve even greater success in the group's domestic market.'


Photo courtesy of Jeff Benjamin

The charts agree. While PSY and Wonder Girls have both charted on the Billboard Hot 100?which is America's defining singles chart that ranks the Top 100 'hit' songs in the country based on sales, radio play and streaming?both BTS and Blackpink both charted songs on Billboard's Bubbing Under Hot 100 chart, which counts the 25 songs just below the definitive Hot 100 chart and are considered almost hits. PSY and Wonder Girls spent a lot of time in America holding U.S. promotions and focusing on English-based markets, yet both BTS' 'Spring Day' and Blackpink's 'As If It's Your Last' were Korean with no U.S. promo, and were almost hit singles simply due to the extreme interest American fans have in these acts and songs!

'It's true that K-pop companies and artists have begun to realize they don't need to make drastic changes to their music or image in order to succeed in the West, and that being able to stand out is in fact their biggest asset,' Dorof adds. 'The question remains as to which act will pull ahead first and earn themselves 'household name' status and career longevity in the American mainstream, but the recent strides K-pop has made in ever-growing margins of the Western market suggests that at this point, it's only a matter of time.'


Photo courtesy of Jeff Benjamin

But This final point might be best illustrated if I bring my research back to KCON. In the past, KCON performers mostly focused on performing a short set or maybe a cover of an American song to better appeal to the U.S. audience. Yet, this year, there was a specific section of the M Countdown taping where the MCs talked about honoring K-pop's past. Throughout the New York and Los Angeles shows I watched SF9 perform covers of EXO and BTS songs, Twice do a medley of Wonder Girls of miss A songs, Cosmic Girls and SF9 come together for BTS and Super Junior covers, along with Astro performing a g.o.d song and duetting with Kim Tae Woo on 'One Candle.' Even better, at one point, the entire audience was asked to dance to classic K-pop tracks. To witness an entire arena of boys and girls of all different ages, skin colors, backgrounds, ethnicities and sexualities who knew every word and dance move to BIGBANG's 'Bang Bang Bang' proves that K-pop has a truly dedicated fanbase that only seems to be growing stronger and more passionate as Korean acts and companies pay more attention to them and that gives me such hope and faith in K-pop's future in America.



  • name  : Jeff Benjamin
  • profile : Senior digital editor at 《Fuse TV》
    K-pop columnist at 《Billboard》, 《The New York Times》, 《Rolling Stone》, etc.