K-pop: art that transcends language barriers

For my Project 3, I am using song data collected and analyzed by Spotify. I used Towards Data Science editor Haebichan Jung’s data analysis project on BTS and modified it to be a project on (G)-Idle, and up-and-coming K-pop girl group. To understand the context about my project, I am writing this week’s blog post on K-pop’s recent rise in global popularity to understand how art can reach many different cultures, even if it’s not in the audience’s native language. The article, from song lyric database website Genius.com written by Rob LeDonne, analyzes the growing popularity of K-Pop in America through K-Pop girl group BLACKPINK.

Members (in order from left to right): Jisoo, Jennie, Rose, Lisa | Picture from BLACKPINK’s Twitter Feed

BLACKPINK recently released their new single Kill This Love on April 4th, receiving around 50 million views in just 24 hours. This feat earned them the record of most YouTube views in a day for any group in tandem with the No. 1 EP release on the iTunes Top Songs chart in 36 regions highlight their global popularity. What amazes music critics is that BLACKPINK has “yet to play a single show on US soil.”, but they have somehow managed to sell out their US arena tour and secure a spot at the coveted Coachella Music and Arts festival.

“Realizing a K-pop artist can be this big in the US music scene is huge.” -Jeff Benjamin, K-pop music columnist for Billboard and The New York Times.

Music critics attribute BLACKPINK’s commercial success to their “hip-hop brashness, pop confections with earworm hooks, and highly choreographed moves.” In contrast to American-based talent that focuses more on what talents the artists can bring on their own to a record label, Korean idols are trained at an early age to become the high-calibre and multi-talented pop icons when they debut. BLACKPINK’s managing company, Seoul-based YG Entertainment, is also applauded for its clever marketing techniques of releasing “the single, music video, and full album at once,” a smart move that caters to the modern on-demand culture today’s listeners are accustomed to.

Another clue to BLACKPINK’s global success is combination of Korean and English lyrics within the chorus. This unique feature of K-pop has allowed the musical genre to creep into western culture.

Though their song is primarily in Korean, BLACKPINK is more inclusive of their audience by providing English translations in their official music videos

Ultimately, music critics collectively agree that K-pop’s large success is their skilled social media use. Head of Pop at Apple Music, Arjan Timmermans offers a comparison of Twitter engagements between BLACKPINK and the Jonas Brothers: Twitter posts by Spotify: BLACKPINK’s Kill This Love music video release | 8k retweets and 42k likes. Jonas Brothers (No. 1 Hot 100 song) Sucker music video | 700 retweets, 4.8k likes. Timmermans highlights K-pop’s extraordinary ability to engage social media users and “[create] a powerful loyalty [that] stirs a deep bond.” K-pop groups are able to share intimate moments between the K-pop idols and the fans that allow the fans to feel “truly part of the movement” and motivates them to “do their part to build up their favorite group.”

The success of K-pop is ultimately due to the fans | photo from http://www.kconusa.com

I will be transparent and admit that I am an avid K-pop fan, but reading this article has revealed to me the underlying structure of the K-pop phenomenon. It is truly remarkable that there are sociological reasons to why K-pop is rising in popularity. K-pop has taught me that art must engage the audience to in order to amass popularity. Without an loyal audience, there would be no one to give value to the art.

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