Arts & Entertainment

Beyond borders: Exploring K-Pop’s significance in the U.S

K-pop is the cultural phenomenon that took the world by storm. But what exactly is K-pop?

If you’ve ever heard of BTS or Blackpink, then you’ve heard of K-pop.

Originating in South Korea, Korean Popular Music, known as K-pop, has garnered global recognition in recent years due to its catchy melodies, intricate choreography and dedicated fanbases. K-pop encompasses a variety of music styles ranging from pop, Hip-hop, R&B, EDM, rock and more, creating a sound for everyone.

K-pop isn’t new, nor is this the first time it has appeared in the U.S. The genre has been around since the 1950s following the Korean War. According to Traveling South Korea’s website, “the war brought American soldiers and their music to South Korea,” catching locals’ attention and contributing to Western influence in K-pop.

Before big groups like BTS and BLACKPINK, K-pop had multiple breakthroughs in the American music market. In 2009, five-member girl group Wonder Girls made history as the first K-pop track to enter the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 76 with their song “Nobody.” In 2012, Korean soloist PSY went viral in the United States with his hit song,”Gangnam Style,” reaching an impressive No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  

The “Gangnam Style” music video became the first video to surpass the one billion view threshold on YouTube. However, it wasn’t until the introduction of BTS and their success that K-pop began to gain widespread popularity in the States, ending the cycle of short-term impressions on American and international audiences. 

Seven-member boy group, BTS (Bangtan Boys) has made their mark on the world since their debut in 2013. Honing an incredible track record, BTS has shattered multiple musical and social media records such as being the first K-pop act to lead the Billboard Artists 100 chart, fastest to 1 million followers on TikTok, the most viewed YouTube video in 24 hours and more, earning themselves a spot as one of the most influential music acts of our century.

While BTS’s impact is undeniable, they weren’t the sole representatives of K-pop on the global stage. Debuting in 2016, the four-member girl group BLACKPINK has become a household name in K-pop. In 2019, BLACKPINK made history by becoming the first K-pop girl group to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. They continued to make history in 2023 by becoming the first K-pop group to headline the event.  

Their legendary performances introduced the genre to a new audience, further cementing K-pop’s presence in the States. Not only is BLACKPINK’s influence evident in music entertainment, but also in fashion, representing luxury brands like Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent and Bulgari to name a few. 2021 marked the year that BLACKPINK member Rose became one of the first female idols to grace the red carpet at fashions most prestigious stage, the Met Gala. Rose attended the event wearing Saint Laurent, alongside soloist and former 2NE1 member, CL.  

UWT student Ephraim Hurley Parafina expressed that K-pop’s impact is indeed global, mentioning other popular acts such as, “Kiss of Life, GFriend, Stray Kids, and Mamamoo,”and their popularity within the global community. 

Veronica Faison, another UWT student, noted that K-pop “has brought so many different people together… popular stan accounts may get people from all over the world to help their idol win an award,” showing just how powerful and dedicated K-pop fans can be. 

Today, K-pop continues to grow and evolve. Virtual K-pop group K/DA was created by Riot Games and features Champions from the legendary game, League of Legends. Whereas virtual group MAVE feature AI-generated idols, becoming the first of its kind.  

With more and more recognizing big names in K-pop, the genre has started appearing on American award shows with nominations in the VMAs and the Grammys. Other notable groups include Stray Kids, TXT, SEVENTEEN, ATEEZ and TWICE as the top-selling K-pop acts in the United States based on album sales. Groups AESPA, LE SERRAFIM and ATEEZ also contributed to K-pop’s globalization by being a part of recent years’ Coachella lineups.  

BLACKPINK at the Coachella music festival 2023. Members include (from left to right) Jisoo, Jennie, Lisa, and Rose. @reaction_blackpink via instagram.

Interested in more K-pop? Upcoming events:

  • ENHYPHEN “FATE PLUS” World Tour, April 28, 2024
  • TOMORROW X TOGETHER “ACT: PROMISE” World Tour, May 14, 2024 
  • K-PLAY Fest at the Seattle Convention Center. May 18-19, 2024 
  • ITZY “BORN TO BE” World Tour, June 6, 2024

Featured image caption: BTS, South Korean Powerhouse. Members include (from left to right) Jin, RM, V, Jimin, SUGA, J-Hope, and Jungkook. @bts.bighitofficial via instagram.