Is a new era coming after thirty years of existence?

Is a new era coming after thirty years of existence?

It’s impossible to miss. K-pop is everywhere, unavoidable. Every new piece of information has a bombshell effect, take for example the recent announcement of BTS’ breakup or the comeback of girl group Blackpink. Twitter has set the world on fire. On the cusp of what K-pop scholars and fans are already calling the fourth generation, some see BTS’ hiatus as a sign that K-pop is running out of steam.

Originally regional music

“K-pop is now an integral part of the global music landscape, there’s no doubt about it,” says Vincenzo Cicchelli, co-author with Sylvie October of K-pop – Soft Power and Global Culture, at 20 minutes. If K-pop at its creation thirty years ago was a national counter-culture that was limited to Korea, this musical style was always intended for export. “A clever mix of hip-hop, pop and even rock rhythms, Western structures and traditional Korean elements” for Sylvie October, K-pop rose to fame in 1992 with Korea’s first boy band Seo Taiji and Boys, who launched what they would call se, a posteriori, the first generation.

All the fundamental elements of K-pop are there: precise choreography, songs at the crossroads of genres and special attention to aesthetics. This first generation is characterized by the emergence of large production labels such as SM Entertainment or YG Entertainment, who will be behind the creation of the biggest groups and the training of “idols”, as these stars are called. As Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie October explain, the idol selection process is crucial to K-pop. These young people are subjected to difficult training during which they have to learn to dance, sing, host the show, but also to behave like inviolable models (no drugs, no alcohol… Far from the clichés of rock westerns).

Towards the top of international listening

At the beginning of the 21st century, K-pop began its internationalization with its second generation of artists. Groups like Rain or Se7en are exported all over Southeast Asia, especially to Japan and China. Foreign idols started appearing in groups like Victoria and Amber uf(x). If there’s one group to remember from the 2000-2010 decade, it’s Big Bang, who took the top spot for record sales in Southeast Asia.

In the early 2010s, a third generation began to emerge with groups like EXO (which exploded in 2012). This third wave is characterized by an explosion in the number of debuting groups, a more publicized idol selection process, and the globalization of listening. A significant element in the globalization of K-pop is gangnam style. Ten years ago (yes, yes, ten years ago), Psy’s dance and song exploded all over the charts, especially YouTube views.

“This is the first time Westerners have heard of South Korea for anything other than war,” recalls Sylvie October. These third generation groups have reached the ears of the French, Blackpink or even BTS (which is a phenomenon in itself) are perfect examples. In the top 10 most viewed music videos in the first 24 hours, nine are from BTS or Blackpink. Notably, the girl group is the only K-pop group to perform on stage at the Coachella festival in Los Angeles, a legendary meeting of the North American music scene that has welcomed none other than Beyoncé, Prince or Daft Punk, which is a testament to the recognition. American music scene.

How to explain such success?

“The Korean domestic market is very small, in contrast to the American and Indian markets,” explains Vincenzo Cicchelli. In order to survive, there is a need to export by taking export codes and thus international music codes. This hybridization of styles is accompanied by a strategy of strong economic support from the South Korean state. “K-pop is a great tool for sweet power for Korea,” explains the researcher. With this music and hallyu in general (“Korean cultural wave” in Chinese), South Korea secured regional and then international influence, allowing it to exist in the face of the giants of China and Japan.

Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are where K-pop lives. Through these platforms, idols strengthen the sense of closeness they have with their very loyal community. These networks are also the place where viral choreographies of groups are downloaded and therefore become privileged communication channels, the researchers point out. gangnam style is a perfect example of the enthusiasm that social media (which in 2012 had a much less important place in society than it does today) can create around dance and music.

To ensure this cultural and economic success, this musical production is crucial. K-pop is a recycling of various musical genres (punk, gothic, emo, street style, gangsta, etc.) and various aesthetics: manga and Japanese animated films, video game aesthetics among others. “Creation is dynamic borrowing,” recalls Sylvie October. All these influences enable the creation of a new genre that transcends borders.

Towards internationalized K-pop production

This internationalization of K-pop reaches its peak with the various performances that BTS did with Nicki Minaj or Coldplay. The narratives and styles of BTS and Coldplay can be combined for Sylvie October, “both groups have strong environmental positions, self-acceptance with a very colorful and benevolent visual”. A significant advantage, it also allows you to seek new audiences.

According to the researchers, one of the directions that K-pop could take would be to increase internationalization, without losing the Korean specificity of this music. “Even if it hybridizes, K-pop is always special. We’re already singing in Korean, there’s a reference universe that’s very Korean, especially the visuals. »

On the other hand, BTS’ hiatus, due to exhaustion and focusing on solo projects, seems like a strong signal to the Korean music industry. For BTS, it would be necessary to restore “a star system that does not allow time to ripen”. A restoration that could be accompanied by new sounds for researchers to explore. “K-pop, which used to be very joyful and colorful, is transforming, hybridizing and exploring new palettes. For example, J-Hope [un membre des BTS] he just released a very rock album, a bit spooky”.

“That is the principle of success, experts conclude. Either you will always do the same thing, in which case you will get bored with it and the public, or you will experience new things. Perhaps this is one of the components of the fourth generation of K-pop.

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