Posted on: March 7, 2024 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Saleha Sultan

In 2023, “Gangam Style” by PSY hit 5 billion views on Youtube. 11 years ago the song was going viral, becoming the first youtube music video to hit 1 billion. While it charted on Billboard and held an impressive record on iTunes,testament to its popularity, few people at that time associated it with the global cultural phenomena that K-pop has become today.

K-pop, starting off as only a sub-culture in South Korea, is distinguished by its catchy beats, almost perfectly synchronised choreographies, and more often than not lyrics that effortlessly transition blend Korean and English line to line. K-pop artists, called “idols”, have even gone on to put out songs in English alone in recent years, like the ‘viral hit’ “Cupid” by FIFTYFIFTY, an acknowledgment of their global popularity. 

The loyal fan-bases of K-pop groups (bands) have carefully picked names designated by record companies who are known to closely control the activities of their artists. These companies put out a stream of content to satisfy these fans, from photo cards Youtube/Tiktok videos to fan-cafes (in addition to pop-up stores) fan meetings and concerts. A typical K-pop group will put at least one song a year to keep generating revenue.

Discourse on globalisation of K-pop typically revolves around its entry into Hollywood.  The main focus has been on groups like BTS and Blackpink who have, alongside grand world tours, performed on platforms like Saturday Night Live and Coachella and appeared on covers of magazines like Forbes, Rolling Stones and Time. With new groups emerging and existing groups collaborating with global artists every year in the rather cutthroat K-pop industry, many have argued that the pace is unlikely to slow down. 

Behind The Scenes of Globalisation: 

The experience of any international K-pop fans around the world consists of waiting at odd times for an upcoming album release, trying to directly order albums or looking for instagram pages that (months later) will sell those albums. When it comes to social media content, interviews or any yearly photo books (which K-pop groups religiously release), one can say that instead of music, it is subtitles that foster connections between the “idol” and the dedicated fans. 

Like the rest of the world, the wave of K-pop has swept across South Asian regions like Pakistan and India as well. K-pop, which itself incorporates various genres from R&B to Hip Hop to electro-pop, has combined with local music in unique ways, such as the collaboration between Eric Nam (K-pop soloist) and Armaan Malik in the song “Echo” paving the way for future collaborations.

But in these places, fans experience additional difficulties that are perhaps not unique to K-pop. Because of the deluge of ‘content’ that K-pop agencies put out every year, these feelings of alienation are, however, multiplied. Scouring reliable stores for merchandise or albums is only one of them. One problem is that while groups are frequenting places during world tours, they constantly fly over locations like South Asia where these groups are charting. Despite anticipations for example that Blackpink will hold a concert in India (where, among 26 countries, time spent on K-pop is the highest), India was not included in the list of tour destinations in their latest tour. Although more K-pop groups are performing in festivals like  Lollapalooza, this is far from how the inroads K-pop has made outside these regions. For Pakistan, where there is no solid precedent of even Hollywood artists performing, the possibility of a K-pop concert still seems far-fetched.  

To fill a hole, people need to acknowledge that there exists one. K-pop’s growth has not been hampered (at least as the numbers suggest) so far by people who  may perceive it as a “cringey” niche (an idea often couched in racist vocabulary). Yet, like people around the world, people in South Asian countries like India and Pakistan still hold such views. The lack of exact numbers-in an industry where numbers dominate the debates-to explain the popularity of K-pop is also an impediment. 

 All this means that waiting, sourcing and travelling still mark the lives of dedicated K-pop fans in South Asia. Some can fly to distant places to meet their favourite artists. With K-pop artists performing in places like Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lampur, the distance is decreasing. Whether their homes will be their artists’ destinations one day is a question some less hopeful fans don’t even ask anymore.