Riding the Hallyu wave

Kpop Beast From our previous post, we asked if the Korean Government’s sudden push of Kpop is a wise idea. As stated before, Kpop in general has a rather niche market in the UK due to its target audience age range, but its popular nonetheless. However is this move actually bringing in a NEW audience to Korean culture? Our Sunbae from Kimchi Soul pointed out that ‘pop music’ at the end of the day “has mass appeal on so many levels. Once hooked on K-pop, many go on to find out more about all aspects of Korean culture.” This is true – a majority of Korea fans did become interested in the culture after discovering Kpop, the Massive included, but is that enough premise for Korea to start putting all their eggs in the Kpop basket?

Shinee Abbey road LondonOne of the aims of the SHINee concert that opened the 2011 Korean Film festival was to showcase Kpop to the UK. Ticket sales for this concert were crazy, it caused Odeon’s booking system to crash and the internet world to go insane as fans desperately tried to get a ticket. Some crazy fans started getting abusive and even sent out threats in attempts to get a ticket. We sincerely think (hope) they were joking as it got a bit intense, the Korean Culture Centre even had to publish a warning on their Facebook page.

As mentioned before in previous posts, the UK is a country that is somewhat snobby about their music, we are the “home of the bands”. We cherish well written lyrics and artists who produce their own stuff. Our home grown talents like The Beatles, Oasis, and more recently Adele, are considered legends, whereas pop sensations such as Steps are our guilty pleasures, hidden and kept secret due to shame and fear of mocking from all those hardcore music fans. Current pop headliner Justin Bieber, like Kpop, is a huge hit with teens, although we know that a lot of Kpop fans would kill us for the comparison (we ourselves are dying a little inside), but you can’t deny that both have the same sort of concept and general appeal. Poppy, teen, dancy, catchy tunes, although Kpop is not as childish and contains more mature looking hot guys and…..OK we’ll justify this later but you can see how, to someone uneducated in Kpop, they could be considered to be in the same music bubble. And it seems that although Justin Bieber has become a bit of a worldwide hit, his haters are equally as big and he seems to have fueled a new hate campaign towards pop.  Looking at youtube stats, Justin Bieber’s song Baby has been watched a WHOOPING 715 MILLION TIMES! It has over a million likes but DOUBLE the amount of dislikes. So is pop such a good way to go to appeal to a British audience, and foreign audiences in general?

Riding the Hallyu wave

All this drama was many UK folk’s first sighting of the crazy fandom that comes with Kpop. Many people who were not as connected to the Kpop world, who were also interested in attending a Kpop concert for the experience were deterred by the craziness that came with it, not that they had much of a chance of getting a ticket in the first place. The announcement of the concert came at a surprise without a mention of when tickets would go on sale. Many fans waited for days at their computers ready to hit purchase. The tickets suddenly went on sale on the Odeon website and 2/3s of the MASSIVE were actually out at the time! HORROR! The website crashed, and in the end, it was only those in the know (already part of the Kpop community) that were aware you had to physically go to the Cinema to buy a ticket. So not only did these people not have an opportunity to be introduced to Kpop, but it also may have discouraged them and maybe even prevented gaining any new Kpop fans due to the furore that comes with it. So how much showcasing did it actually do?

Cube arrive at Heathrow

Cube fans caused major Heathrow safety issues as numbers exceeding the 50 they were expecting turned up and proceeded to run out onto the road chasing after the coach and almost getting hit by the coach behind.To make matters worse, the BBC had also created a documentary called “The Dark Side of Kpop” just a few months before the commotion that came with the SHINee concert. In the video, the idol groups of Kpop are summarised as “young visually appealing Koreans, a couple years of singing lessons, a slick dance routine and the best part of a million dollars and you should generate enough crushes to fill Seoul’s world cup stadium.”

Perhaps not a very good introduction to give to a British audience who are serious about their music and have started to turn its back on manufactured music and shows like the X-Factor. They talk about the “highly packaged pop industry” and briefly mention how groups such as Rainbow, where each member is named after a colour (we sensed a bit of sarcasm there, hello? Baby, Ginger, Scary, Sporty and Posh anyone?), had heartbroken parents due to the fact that they are worked extremely hard yet don’t actually get to see much of the profits. The video is brief and although it mentions the infamous Kpop “slave contracts”, it ended on a note more about the damage of piracy and competitive online pricing.

The BBC goes more indepth in their article under the same title. The article first talks about the money, contrary to our previous “profitable Hallyu” post, tours and merchandise is now where the money is at. With illegal downloads at a high, music companies have had to find another way to bring in money and you can’t download the chance the see your idol in the flesh. However, this power that Kpop has over their fans comes at a price; slave contracts and intense work schedules is required to keep this passion alive and bring in such audiences. But “K-Pop is a massive industry: global sales were worth over $30m (£18m) in 2009” and of course“Korea is excited by what this new musical export could do for its image – and its economy.” Which explains why Korea may have decided to go with the flow of the Hallyu wave.

The article talks about lengthy contracts, little control and financial reward, it even touchs on the infamous DBSK legal dispute. But after a company recoups all their costs, there is often very little money left for the artist to share and when you are in a band with many other members (we can see why members of Superjunior have so many side jobs!) that small amount gets stretched out even more. The BBC justifies this by stating that “K-Pop is expensive to produce. The groups are highly manufactured, and can require a team of managers, choreographers and wardrobe assistants, as well as years of singing lessons, dance training, accommodation and living expenses.” Yes we get it BBC, Kpop is extremely manufactured and packaged by the big corporations…

This article ends on what we optimists feel as a good point. As Korean fans are not spending enough money on their idols, many idols are looking to expand overseas, where the real money is. For example, the article states that “many top artists make more money from one week in Japan than they do in one year in Korea”. With a little research, Big Bang concert tickets in Korea reach the £50 mark, but their concerts in Japan are over £100 a ticket! So with the international market looking a lot more lucrative, many artists are heading overseas to countries like Japan to increase earnings. So as Kpop fans, let’s pray for some more Hallyu action as they tap into the European money pot, but be prepared to fork out your money, as it’s going to be pricey!

How do you feel about the BBC’s portrayal of the Kpop industry and this “dark side”? Is it correct? And do you think Kpop promotes and enhances Britain’s impression of South Korea?


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