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By Rosa Gulliver of TINYGMUSIC | 7th April 2020

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Korean bands like BTS and Blackpink were selling out in the US, UK, and international stadiums within minutes. K-Pop is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Whether you are a BTS (ARMY), Blackpink (Blink), TXT (MOA), Stray Kids (Stays), NCT (NCTzens) fan, there is one thing most can agree on, K-Pop is a global phenomenon quite unlike anything else.

South Korea can be credited as being a country with many obsessions, emotional television drama also known as K-Dramas, and amazing skincare products (K-Beauty). The most prominent export is glistening well-produced pop music, but how did K-Pop conquer the world?


South Korea, 1992, three young men in a boy band performed on a live television talent contest their song titled, “I know.” The sound was new; Korean lyrics, Euro-pop, African American hip-hop, and rap. They danced in sync, and the studio audience went wild. The judges in their suits, however, were far from impressed and they revealed their scorecards, giving them the lowest score of the evening, and the group got voted off the show. Sadly the show's judges could not have got it more wrong. This was the birth of K-Pop with the group Seo Taeji and Boys.

They were one of the first acts in years to combine westernised music with South Korean styles. Before this, Korean music was far from flourishing. This group was, however, new and exciting. The next few days saw the song “I Know” climb to the top of the charts, and stayed there for a record-smashing 17 weeks. With their new fame, the group continued playing with culture and genre. Their later music fusing Korean folk music with metal, creating a South Korean take on Gangsta Rap, and even using rock music to discuss the idea of north/south unification. This mix marked a turning point in the genre for their willingness to break tradition with the implementation of hip-hop and new jack swing. K-Pop wasn’t an evolutionary process. It was very much a revolutionary process.

"I Know" MV by Seo Taeji and Boys August 1992 (Credit: YouTube)


Off the back of Seo Taeji and Boys success, in the late ’90s, three music agencies jumped on to the scene. This included YG Entertainment founded by Yang HyanSuk a member of Seo Taeji and Boys. SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment created by J Y Park all looking to create their fortune and make cultural phenomena.

"Candy" MV by H.O.T. 1996 (Credit: YouTube)

Out of the trio of entertainment companies, SM Entertainment was responsible for assembling a group called H.O.T. comprising of 5 male singers that debuted in 1996. H.O.T. was considered to be the 1st big K-Pop boyband. Korean music wouldn’t have been the same without H.O.T. These boys started the quintessential “requirements” of K-Pop, super good looks, choreographed dancing, colourful matching outfits, catchy music. These young men truly set the K-Pop boat in motion. Following H.O.T. similar acts debuted through the decade into the early 2000s. All attractive and charismatic members, singing catchy hip-hop and pop tracks you could dance to, and an aggressive promotion strategy, rappers, 1TYN, Fin.K.L. & Shinhwa are just a few of the many successful artists.

As entertainment agencies pushed further, they continually took what they learned from the pioneers of the genre like Seo Taiji and Boys. They passed it on to their trainees and performing artists. The formula continued to be perfected until all the agencies had gotten it down to a science. The agencies studied what type of choreography, outfits, and mannerisms were popular with the fans. They also monitored what types of songs ended up resonating more with the fans who were becoming increasingly hungry for their favourite artists.


Girl groups were soon on the rise. Talented female singers were gathered together in units like the inimitable Girls Generation, a glittering, glamorous vision of femininity, many subgroups, and ridiculously catchy songs like “Gee”. The song became a viral sensation in 2009, achieving overseas success and helping spawn additional girl group concepts that would eventually give way to present-day musicians like Red Velvet, Twice, and Blackpink.

Blackpink (Credit: Getty Images)

From 2008, bigger forces meant that K-Pop's reach extended well beyond an Asian fan base. Unlike in China and Japan, where they use homegrown social media, Korean companies embraced international ones – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. K-Pop began to become available on international music platforms.

Fans overseas, saw it, heard it, liked it, wanted it, and could immediately cross over to another site, and either download the music, purchase it or stream it. There was a perfect storm of international marketing and promotions connecting with international sales and streaming.

"Gangnam Style" Official MV by PSY October 2012

One of K-Pop’s monumental moments for western audiences ended up coming from an unlikely source; South Korean rapper PSY. The lead single from his sixth studio album “Gangnam Style” went viral immediately, becoming the first YouTube video to reach one billion views.

PSY completely shattered the mould and the myth in terms of what it takes to get to number one, not only in the US market but worldwide. PSY was not a Korean version of a big pop star. PSY was Korea's version of PSY, and it turns out that's what the world wanted.

It showed you could be big and not sing entirely in English or be in vogue. The power of the music video broke all language barriers. Just one of the official videos of "Gangnam Style" on YouTube had well over three billion views, the largest number of hits of any video at that time.

Funnily, “Gangnam Style” was so far removed from the refined “Idol” image that other groups had worked hard to portray. Maybe that's why it worked so well, just bizarre enough to capture a whole new geographical area’s attention.


Today, Korean music producers are experts at manufacturing incredibly successful products.

BTS at Rose Bowl Pasadena, California April 2019 (Credit: Pineterest)

The evolution of K-Pop, many will agree has culminated in the success of one of the biggest sensations from South Korea of all time. BTS, which was managed by Big Hit Entertainment, was founded back in 2005. Big Hit Entertainment has recently changed to HYBE Corporation, and BTS is part of Big Hit Labels. Since making their debut on 13th June 2013, BTS has broken records and stereotypes in both their home country and abroad. They have made gigantic strides for the K-Pop industry as a whole. K-pop is a product not just made for Korea or made in Korea, but made by Korea.

BTS originally a hip hop group, has evolved its musical style over the years to include a wide range of genres. Their lyrics often focus on personal and social commentary, touch on the themes of mental health, troubles of school-age youth, loss, the journey towards loving oneself, and individualism. Their work features references to literature and psychological concepts and includes a storyline, music with meaning.

In May 2018, BTS’s 'Love Yourself: Tear' album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 Chart, which speaks volumes about their influence. By June 2018, the group was named one of Time’s “25 Most influential People on the Internet.” Later that year, in September, the band’s album 'Love Yourself: Answer' hit number one on the same chart again, proving that apparently lightning can strike twice, then strike again with 'Map of the Soul: Persona' in 2019 and 'Map of the Soul: 7' in 2020, making BTS the fastest group since The Beatles to earn four number one albums in less than two years.

During their Love Yourself World Tour, BTS became the first Asian and first non-English speaking act to headline and sell out Wembley Stadium. In the US, they broke the record for the single highest-grossing engagement at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Los Angeles.

"Dynamite" Official MV by BTS August 2020 (Credit: YouTube)

BTS released their first English-language single, “Dynamite”, on 21st August 2020. Its music video broke the YouTube record for the most viewed premiere, with 98.3 million viewers in 24 hours. It set a new record for the most viewed video in the first 24 hours of release, reclaiming their throne from Blackpink. In the first 21 minutes, they had garnered an insane 10 million views. To date, they have racked up 984,977,564 views.

On 1st September 2020, “Dynamite” debuted at number one 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the group's first number one and the first leader on the list ever for an all-South Korean act. They spent two weeks in the number one spot. It dropped to number two in its third and fourth weeks and reclaimed the top spot again in its fifth week on the chart. Not only did the single do well in the USA, but it debuted at number three on the UK Singles Chart and many other countries too.

On 31st August 2020, BTS made their MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) debut with the first live performance of “Dynamite" and won four awards: Best Group, Best Choreography, Best Pop Video, and Best K-pop.

BTS went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart once again in October 2020 with a remix of Jason Derulo’s song “Savage Love.” "Dynamite" remained at number two, making BTS the fourth group (after The Beatles, Bee Gees, and OutKast) to simultaneously occupy the top two spots on the Hot 100.

On 10th and 11th October 2020, BTS hosted a two-day virtual pay-per-view concert called Map of the Soul ON:E, which broke their world record for most viewers for a paid virtual concert live stream with 993,000 viewers from 191 countries, compared to their previous record of 756,000 viewers.

BTS at 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, 24th March 2021 (Credit: RollingStone)

On 24th November 2020, BTS became the first Korean pop artist to be recognised by the Recording Academy when "Dynamite" receiving a nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. Alas, they did not win the category on this particular occasion. However, on 24th March 2021, BTS did perform their song "Dynamite" at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, becoming the first Korean nominee to have their own Grammy Awards performance.

On 30th November 2020, BTS’s new single “Life Goes On” debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. BTS had achieved their third consecutive number one on the Hot 100 in just three months, the fastest of any band since The Beatles in 1964 to do so. Hat trick! They became the first group in the chart's history to have two number one debuts, as well as seven songs appearing simultaneously on the chart. "Life Goes On" became the first song performed primarily in Korean to debut in the top spot.

"Life Goes On" Official MV by BTS November 2020 (Credit: YouTube)

On March 4, 2021, the IFPI named BTS its Global Recording Artist of the year for 2020. BTS is the first non-English and Asian act to top the ranking.

BTS has made it their business to adopt a model similar to the band that started it all, Seo Taiji and Boys. They choose to sing about serious matters, relationships, and about having a dream and pursuing it.

Whilst BTS is a product and a natural result of a refined formula, the group has challenged K-Pop history throughout their career with their willingness and consistency to talk about things like mental health, politics, love, compassion, and empathy. They have achieved a level of international fame that constantly produces trending Twitter hashtags and a truly massive ARMY of fans.

Following the establishment of their LOVE MYSELF anti-violence campaign in partnership with UNICEF, BTS addressed the United Nations 73rd General Assembly. In March 2021 BTS renewed their commitment to UNICEF to help end violence and neglect, and promote children and young people’s self-esteem and well-being. BTS pledged to continue its LOVE MYSELF campaign with its ambition of love and togetherness, particularly at this time of social isolation.

When the world came to standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic, BTS continued to make music, break records, and shared messages of solidarity and hope. They have the power through their leadership to change people’s hearts and lifestyles. They’ve fixed broken hearts and saved lives, including people who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts. They are healthy role models guiding many into healthy behaviours. They create a better world through music. They are compassionate using their platform to inspire, motivate, support, educate and remind people that they are not alone, no matter where you are in the world. They too as artists feel the same as everyone else. We are all in this together.

When you reflect on their role model achievements, this is indeed remarkable what seven young men have managed to achieve in just under 8 years. Some world leaders do not manage this in their whole careers.

Whilst K-Pop has been positively booming in popularity over the years, HYBE Corporation is additionally an organisation looking to constantly improve its business model. Their mission being, “We believe in music.”

HYBE (Credit HYBE Corporation)

From the onset HYBE, formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment, their innovative management style captured people’s interest. With the large-scale use of social media, the creation of artist-related multimedia contents via their platform Weverse and the full use of fandoms energy to capture people’s interest. This all transformed into sales and making this the basic standard in the K-Pop industry.

HYBE describes itself as a “music-based entertainment lifestyle company.” With taking on a new brand identity and an expansive range of operations, from music production to gaming, Chairman and CEO Bang Si Hyuk says “We’ll become the world’s leading entertainment and lifestyle platform company. By removing ‘entertainment’ we’ll have a new comprehensive image as a general content group which is our mission.”

HYBE features three core parts, HYBE Labels for music and artist management. HYBE Solutions for new technology ventures and HYBE Platforms to connect their services to the public.

It was not until 2020 that finally K-POP started to receive the same critical acclaim or respect that western pop artists received. Until then, K-Pop has often been vaulted away in side categories when it comes to Award shows. At this moment in time, South Korea has produced one of the greatest boy bands of all time with BTS.

Whether you are along for the ride because you follow Blackpink, NCT or you live for your BTS bias or are an OT7, K-Pop groups provide something for everyone. That’s the point! K-Pop is ultimately a collection of influences ranging from rap and hip-hop to 80’s international pop to traditional Korean sounds and instruments. This combined with hard-working idols and a huge, diverse community fan experience, K-Pop is proving an irresistible force in 2021 and way into the future. It looks like K-Pop is here to stay.

BTS at Wembley Stadium London 2nd June 2019 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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