It’s hot. It’s hip. And it’s worth billions of dollars.
Thanks to the international breakthrough of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” in 2012, K-pop or South Korean pop is booming on the global music scene.
Leading the movement is boy band Big Bang. Beyond their musical achievements, the band members have become fashion icons in their own right.
“The fact that people look at what we create, whether it is fashion, music or dance moves, and are willing to follow them, makes us feel good because we feel like we provide great inspiration. We used to look at our favourite artists and want to dress like them and dance like them. So it’s great to feel that people are inspired by us the way we used to be inspired by others,” says band member Taeyang.
Their success has led to a number of tours abroad, including a recent trip to Japan which was huge success. 2013 was also an opportunity for band members to launch solo careers – two of the boys are doing very well indeed. Taeyang’s new song “Ringa Linga” has topped charts at home and abroad, and G-Dragon is now among South Korea’s top five highest paid artists.
Such success stories are drawing an increasing number of foreigners to South Korea, hoping to live the celebrity dream.
Twenty-two-year-old Jessica Darren moved to Seoul from Indonesia last June, and started taking dance and singing classes. Before leaving Indonesia, she took Korean language lessons for two years.
“My dream is to become a K-pop legend in South Korea. I want to engage with all the artists here and live my life as an artist,” says Jessica.
A vast majority of K-pop wannabes go through years of rigorous training at entertainment agencies. Several members of the successful K-pop band, Girls Generation, trained for up to five years before launching their careers.
“A growing number of foreign students who want to become entertainers are coming to South Korea because there are more opportunities to meet people in South Korean agencies, if they train at dancing and singing schools here,” says dance teacher Hwang Tae-youn.
Twenty-three-year-old Saki Watanabe from Japan earns around 850 dollars a month working as a waitress. A quarter of her salary goes into singing and dancing lessons.
“I am learning all about K-pop, where it originated, I can get a Korean teacher to show me the moves, and how they go with specific lyrics and what the lyrics mean. I can’t learn these things in Japan. It was a good decision for me to come to South Korea,” says Saki.
Many Korean pop bands have foreign members, which makes it easier to crack overseas markets.
“Going through South Korean agencies can save costs for overseas promotions and they can reinvest the savings into other things such as diversifying album concepts. Another advantage is that it reduces preparation time for foreign artists who want to perform in South Korea, as they have already adapted to the local culture through training here,” says South Korean music critic Noh Jun-young.
According to the Korea Creative Content Agency, K-pop industry exports have been growing on average about 80 percent a year.
With markets such as Vietnam, South East Asia and China, K-pop has massive potential. And with talent agencies prepared to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in new talent, it looks like there’s no stopping the trend.