Changes in the K-pop landscape are prompting different strategies from within K-pop so that the music industry can continue its momentum
Entertainment industries giants are showing their worries about the future of the industry. An expert said that, two of the biggest groups in Kpop, BTS and BLACKPINK, would be the decisive factors related to the longevity of K-pop.
Park Ji Won, an executive director of HYBE, talked of the potential “demise” of the industry, stating that, “I am afraid that one day, people will not listen to K-pop anymore.” However, in contrast to the worries a gloomy future for K-pop, the statistics said otherwise. According to the Korea Customes Service, the total album exports was 231.4 million USD (305.3 billion won), three times higher than that of 2019 and the highest figure ever measured.
Somewhat thanks to the global pandemic, online users have been seeking Korean entertainment content on YouTube and Twitter for relaxation.
Some critics believed that, despite the rising widespread of K-pop in general, it is the inevitable absence of BTS that might lead to the decease. Once the top Billboard Korean boy group and Grammy nominator, BTS is halting their activities and pushing for solo promotions now that members are getting into the army. In light of the issue, music critic Kim Do Heon said:
“K-pop is still enjoying its heyday right now, as evidenced by massive album sales and YouTube views. But the K-pop industry should fully prepare for the future to avoid being dethroned by other genres. If it continues to experiment and broaden its horizons further to different fields like metaverse, it will be able to gain more traction as time goes by.”
Nonetheless, Do Heon recognized the difference between the usually compared duo, J-pop and K-pop. J-pop was at its peak of popularity in the 1990s with such groups as the rock band X-Japan. He explained that while J-pop relied on domestic fan base, K-pop reached out to international support. Therefore, the two music industries have different foundations and trajectories.
Nevertheless, they share a common theme of being minority streams of music in the US. Lee Hye Jin, a clinical assistant professor of communication at the University of Southern California, said: “A comparatively small number of streams is a testament to K-pop’s lack of general popularity. When I teach a course on pop culture or media, less than 20 percent of them show interest in K-pop.”
When speaking of the future of K-pop in the US, Lee believed BTS and BLACKPINK are two groups who are the “determining factors.” She ramarked the current landscape in K-pop as follows:
“Whether all BTS members will be able to reunite in 2025 (as HYBE said), and whether all four members of K-pop girl group BLACKPINK will renew their contracts with their record label YG Entertainment to continue their group activity are the two major issues that can drop hints about the near future of K-pop in the U.S.,” she said. “All eyes of Koreans are currently fixed on the possible collaboration of HYBE and SM. But this team-up is less likely to have an overarching impact on the popularity of K-pop in the U.S. market right now, although it may have an influence in the long run.”
She concluded, “How the musical tastes of U.S. listeners will shift and how different social media platforms will function may decide the future of K-pop. These days, it is even challenging for U.S. singers to win the hearts of the general public, so for K-pop stars, the task is going to be even more daunting.”
Taking into consideration the ongoing conflict and the struggles K-pop is experiencing, she believed K-pop should shift its focus on the once and has-been bustling K-pop scene, Southeast Asia. The region could be a leverage for K-pop groups to reach the US market, a “culturally diverse country like the U.S.” where “the young generation usually expects celebrities to speak for themselves and weigh in on various social issues” of public and current affairs.
Management care towards the trainees is also factored into the equation to create a system that nurtures talent and independence over control and strictures. Attention should shift from agencies to the artists working under them, as said by Kim Han Sol, a K-pop fan in her 20s: “As a longtime K-pop fan, I have frequently felt that the K-pop universe is more about companies than artists and fans. I think the focus should be shifted in the right direction, so that our singers can shine more on stage.”