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What makes K-pop idols a magnet for global popularity?

Posted April. 10, 2021 07:09,   

Updated April. 10, 2021 07:09


BTS rules the Billboards. BLACKPINK boasts the largest number of YouTube subscribers (59.8 million) among all female singers in the world. Although many analyses have been done of the secret to K-pop idol groups’ exponential growth, few of them have found the origin of their growth in the development of dance music in South Korea.

Asked why K-pop idols have become a global sensation, South Korean dance duo Clon’s Kang Won-rae and pop columnist Park Sung-keon say that the answer lies in 100 years’ history of South Korean dance music.

The genre of K-dance music dates back to 1928 when U.S. jazz hero Paul Whiteman’s album promotion was featured by The Dong-A Ilbo, marking the onset of K-dance music. This book describes historical records saying that a petition was submitted to the Japanese Government-General of Korea to request approval of dance halls in the 1930s. It shares the list of popular nightclubs and introductory descriptions of each of them as covered by a showbiz magazine titled “Gayosaenghwal” in 1967, portraying what it was like when dance music was in its infancy in South Korea.

Dance singers of the 1980s when dance grew into a significant part of entertainment performance are closely correlated to the global success of K-pop music of a later time. With a growing popularity of dance music, professional backup dancers came along, which laid the foundation for the first generation idols in the 1990s and beyond. By referring to Kim Wan-seon, this book shares a fresh view of the origin of the agency-based training system in the K-pop industry, which plays a key role in nurturing young students into idol stars. Han Baek-hee taught dancing for Kim Wan-seon, who was only a middle school student, in the belief that the most effective way to make teenage singers stand out on stage is to train them harshly and intensively from a young age. The authors argue that it is in the 1980s when the current K-pop agency system started off where young singer wannabes are trained on various technics in a controlled environment.

This book walks you through the path taken by K-pop idols since the 2000s including BoA who took Japan by storm, TVXQ who made inroads into the global music market, BIGBANG, Wonder Girls, BLACKPINK, BTS, etc. It provides an analysis of K-pop idol groups’ mega hits in the global market based on their choreographically features – BIGBANG whose choreography is combined with hip hop and dance to ensure diversification in K-pop, Wonder Girls and SNSD whose signature dance moves are easy to follow, etc.

Jae-Hee Kim jetti@donga.com