One of the steadily rising genres of music in our generation is Korean music, otherwise known as K-pop. The popularity of K-pop music can be seen with the multiple sold out concerts and tours. But how are these artists created?
Many young artists compete in singing competitions, much like the hopefuls in America, in the hopes of becoming a K-pop idol. One notable competition is called K-pop Star. Most of the time, companies hold auditions to pick out those who stood out the most in singing, dancing, composition or even just stage presence.
Some people even get picked off the streets because they catch the eyes of people from the industry either because they look attractive and have the “right” face to be the next sensation or because they were singing or dancing on the streets.
Others get their start from one of the mostly commonly growing platforms in this generation: YouTube. Many young artists post singing or dancing videos covering popular songs. For example, Ailee, a Korean-American singer, had her start on YouTube.
In Korea, most trainees take at least two years to be ready for their first debut stage. The training consists of hours of dancing, singing, acting lessons as well as language lessons for non-Korean trainees. The training emphasizes being an all-around idol: trainees had to be sufficiently proficient in all aspects of entertainment. There are some exceptions like GOT7’s Youngjae who only trained for 7 months and G. Soul, a singer, who was in training for 15 years.
The lifestyle is extremely strict. Most trainees are brought into a dorm with more trainees where they sleep the few hours they have left before they go on their next schedule. Most idols have to undergo a strict diet in order to attain a certain body type or beauty standard, sometimes even resorting to plastic surgery in order to boost their potential fame once they debut. They are not allowed to have phones and they are extremely isolated (they rarely see their families) aside from their fellow trainees. It’s emotionally and physically draining.
A lot of a group/artist’s success ride on the number of views of a music video: the more views in a day, or even in an hour, the more it says about an artist’s popularity and potential to rise in fame. It’s also a great way in capturing international interest as shown by Psy’s wildly popular “Gangnam Style” which is over 2.7 billion views at the time of this post.
M! Countdown, Music Bank, Show! Music Core, Inkigayo (Image Source: YaKorea)
Almost all K-pop idols debut on a music show. On these shows, there are elaborate settings and lighting where artists perform their new songs and fans sing or chant along. Some shows even give out awards for groups who have ranked the highest on the music charts.
In order to garner interest and to create buzz, a lot of companies put their groups in variety shows so the Korean public gets familiarized with them — with companies churning out group after group, and established and popular groups putting out new singles on a monthly basis, it is extremely important for rookie groups to carve out a name for themselves.
The ultimate reward in a rookie’s debut is to win first place in a music show which is not easy to do: there are physical album sales to contend with, digital downloads as well as in-show voting. Rookie groups hardly win their first place award until a year or two later since they have not yet established a solid fanbase and oftentimes they are competing with bigger-name groups who have been in the business for a longer time. There are exceptions of course: with the right marketing and the right circumstances, new groups carve out a name for themselves in these music shows by winning their first place award in a matter of months: Twice, a girl group from the company JYP, won their first award in less than a year after they debuted in October 2015.
The Big Three (Image Source: Lealfunes2013)
Another significant factor in the success of a K-pop idol group is the name of the company. Three of the most successful companies, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, dubbed “The Big Three” have some of the most popular groups under their names: EXO, Big Bang, GOT7 (boys) and SNSD, recently-disbanded 2NE1, Twice (girls). These groups have sold hundreds of thousands of albums, have sold out concerts and have garnered recognition for contributing to the Hallyu Wave (a term to describe the popularity of Korean culture and music).
Recently, there have been some idol groups that have soared in popularity despite being from small companies. GFriend, a group from Source Music, won 29 times in music shows, becoming the girl group who has won the most times in a year.
While many Korean artists find success in South Korea, there is a staggering need to break out into the international market. It is difficult, however, for Asian artists to have a successful American debut, so the first thing they do is try to branch out to other Asian countries like China and Japan, for example.
BoA, a solo artist from SM Entertainment, has been credited for being one of the artists to break out into the Japanese market with impressive results: Valenti, her album, sold 1.2 million copies.
Super Junior, a group also from SM Entertainment, was one of the first to expand into the Chinese market when they decided to debut a sub-group called Super Junior-M (M stands for Mandarin) and with a Chinese member in their group.
Image Source: Ubergizmo
Now, the influence of K-Pop can be felt in America. Big Bang, a boy group from YG Entertainment, had their special album in 2012 debut at #3 in World Albums in the Billboard Chart. BTS’s recent album in 2016 debuted at #26 on the Billboard 200 chart, and became the first K-pop group to have 3 albums on that chart.
K-pop used to have a very narrow niche in the music scene and often restricted to listeners in Korea. However, with the continued success of these artists into the international market, it looks like K-pop is here to stay and may soon become a staple in the music world.