What is future of K-pop?
With less than two months left of 2011, calendars for next year have already begun to appear on the street.
A few weeks ago, I received one made by the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS). It was interesting that the main theme of the calendar is K-pop, an abbreviation for Korean pop music.
Designed with colorful photos of Korean dance music idol groups like Super Junior, Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls, it is impressive enough to catch the eyes of those who leaf through the pages. It also carries traditional Korean musical instruments, including the geomungo and janggu.
Of course, the calendar seems to suggest that K-pop is a unique cultural wave originating from Korean people’s indigenous emotions, which we generally call ``hallyu." I can surely say there are big differences among J-pop, C-pop and K-pop, although the countries geographically neighbor each other.
K-pop is more influential, at least for now, than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that K-pop is occupying the whole world. It has become a common musical symbol for youths not only in Asia but also in Europe and America.
Last weekend, K-pop made a successful advance to New York, the last fortress of Western pop music world where musicians from all over the world want to hoist their flags. K-pop and its idol stars have already established a solid presence in other megalopolises, including Paris, London, and Tokyo.
The dance music idol groups, shown on the KOCIS's calendar, are at the vanguard of K-pop’s dominance of global stages. Reports said New Yorkers warmly welcomed them, showing an enthusiastic response. For the first time in its 43-year history, the famous Arena Hall of Madison Square Garden allowed Korean pop artists on its stage. It was a symbolic culmination that K-pop, along with its idol groups, won formal recognition as a new Korean cultural entity in the global pop music community.
Usually, young Korean singers’ performances are exciting and rhythmical, which makes the audience easily move their bodies and sing along. It was no exception in New York. Not only were about 15,000 tickets sold out, but the audience shouted and screamed throughout the four-hour show. And the fans who couldn’t get tickets stood before a large screen in front of the Madison Square Garden until the show ended.
It was a repetition of what happened in Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo. The greatest fans of K-pop must be the Japanese, who often visit Korea to watch hallyu shows as part of tour packages. But distance does not matter much, as the K-pop fervor has spread through Europe and Latin America.
Thanks to K-pop, many foreigners even want to learn Korean language and its alphabet, hangeul. Naturally, their interests in things Korean are spreading to food and traditional apparel. Kimchi, bulgogi and teokbokki are popular eats for foreign visitors to Seoul. K-pop's popularity makes them want to understand Korea and its people, which is the power of culture.
Little wonder foreign embassies and cultural institutions are reportedly asking the KOCIS whether they can get more copies of the K-pop calendar. And this makes me think the K-pop theme showing idol groups could be effective even in diplomacy.
There is a caveat, though, as every good thing has a dark side. We must realize animosity against K-pop exists in some countries. There are even politicians, for example, who are trying to stir up anti-Korean sentiment to get attention from their people. The more popular K-pop or hallyu becomes in foreign countries, the more visible their reactionaries are.
Then, what can be the future of K-pop? Will it be able to continue to prosper or fizzle out after some time? I cannot of course predict its long-term fate, but it is indisputable that K-pop is now occupying not so small a territory in the world.
All I can say now is, to maintain K-pop’s global influence and popularity, there are at least two essential elements, such as unceasing efforts to improve by those involved, producers and performers and the domestic fans’ unchanging love and interests.
The writer is a journalist who worked with a major vernacular daily for nearly 30 years. He contributes articles to newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.