Scholars can take very different approaches to K-pop. Doing so simultaneously contributes to the overall knowledge about the subject and shows significant gaps in scholarly examinations. Some focus on K-pop as a music industry propelled by fandom, while others examine its historical roots.
In framing their edited collection, K-pop – The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, JungBong Choi and Roald Maliangkay trace the complex interplay between K-pop industry and fandom. K-pop’s meaning should be contextualized by Hallyu, a global cultural movement and seen as an economic as well as governmental project: “K-pop has enjoyed a long, undisturbed honeymoon with state-capital power from the late 1990s, when the creative industries as a whole were designated as a key sector for the growth of the South Korean economy” (3). K-pop, like K-drama and Korean film since the 1990s, function as cultural production exported to other countries. At the same time, Choi and Maliangkay recognize the power of the global fandom: “We view K-pop fans as a massive, loosely connected collective, whose cultural endeavors traverse the curatorial, re/distributive, artistic, and consumptive spheres” (9). K-pop is spread by fans around the world, which then prompts Korean agencies to produce more K-pop. As they map this terrain, however, they do not spend very much time on the music itself, describing K-pop as “augmented entertainment” which “draws on hip hop, Euro techno, grunge, pop and rap” (4, 5).
Conversely, Kim Chang Nam makes K-pop music history the center of K-pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music. Kim acknowledges the role of the Korean entertainment agencies responsible for the production and promotion of K-pop, but focuses on providing a genealogy of contemporary K-pop. About one-third of the book traces the musical traditions that precede what we call K-pop, including Korean pop music of the 1960s, Korean folk songs of the 1970s, and Korean pop ballads of the 1980s. He views K-pop as a mode of hybrid cultural production that remains in dialogue with the music that preceded it, even as it diverges from the music that preceded it. For example, he links the dance music of the 1980s with the hip-hop-inflected early K-pop of the 1990s: “Many of the dance music singers and groups who came and went at the end of the 1980s and up until the early 1990s were similar in characteristics to idol groups, and hence can be seen to serve as a basis for the creation of the idol system” (85).
Choi and Maliangkay see K-pop as an industry heavily influenced by fans, while Kim sees K-pop as part of a larger pop music history. However, both underestimate K-pop as music. My data repeatedly suggests that K-pop fans overwhelmingly and consistently like K-pop for the music. This holds true not just for general K-pop fans’ attitudes toward K-pop music in general, but also for fans of specific artists. They acknowledge other elements, including choreography, the appearance of the artists, the multiple roles they play in the promotion of K-pop that range from model to MC. but music remains far and away the greatest factor. This leads me to believe that the connection between fans and the music and the production of the music itself are key to understanding K-pop as a global phenomenon. Both Choi and Maliangkay’s introduction and Kim’s book point to the need for more work on how fans interact with K-pop as music as well as how the music itself reflects conscious choices regarding the invocation of other musical traditions.
Choi, JungBong and Roald Maliangkay. “Introduction: Why Fandom Matters to the International Rise of K-pop.” in K-pop – The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry. Ed JungBong Choi and Roald Maliangkay. New York: Routledge, 2015. 1-18.
Kim, Chang Nam. K-pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music. Seoul: Hollym, 2012.
K-pop Music/Industry by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.