K-Pop Becomes Global Industry

  • By Choi Bo-yun

    June 02, 2021 12:54

    Some 100 million people around the world are now paid-up fans of K-pop, which has become a global industry to reckon with.

    The stars and starlets are only too happy to feed the frenzy. "K-pop superstars have adopted this long-running idea of 'superserving' their active fans, as Shin Cho, head of K-pop and J-pop for Warner Music Asia, calls it, and built it into an international 'fandustry,'" Billboard magazine wrote analyzing the trend.

    "Fandoms are no longer about stickers and promotional photos. Artists are using their most enthusiastic followers to help make key decisions about release dates, tour launches and merch, to spread the word about key developments and to generate revenue through membership fees," it added.

    Last year K-pop was the fastest-growing music genre in the world last year, spearheaded by super boy band Bangtan Boys, also known as BTS. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the Korean music industry increased 44.8 percent in 2020.

    YouTuber Daisy Sue poses with a Bangtan Boys-themed McDonald's combo meal in this grab from her latest clip.

    Start-up companies also capitalize on the burgeoning market relying on the legions of fans loyal to their idols. Apart from big players like Hybe (formerly Big Hit Entertainment that manages BTS) and web platform Weverse, they include Stari and CELEBe, which sell video messages from K-pop stars, and Dukzill, which sells K-pop merchandise.

    Entrepreneur Ahn Tae-hyun realized that there was no platform providing one-on-one services from idols for fans and opened Stari with a couple of friends last year. Stari now has subscribers in 40 countries including Belgium, Japan, Sweden and the U.S. English subtitles are offered, but fans prefer their personalized messages in Korean.

    "Korean is the universal language among K-pop fans. Custom-made videos and voice messages become their own merchandise," Ahn said. Foreign fans account for 65 percent of Stari's clients.

    StarPlay, a platform where fans can vote for their favorite K-pop stars, has 3.3 million subscribers in 150 countries. The market size is estimated at W8 trillion and growing (US$1=W1,108).

    Other opportunities created by the "metaverse" or virtual shared space market. Girl band Black Pink's space on Naver's three-dimensional avatar platform "Zepeto" drew 13 million hits six months after it opened. Fans can use the platform to make friends with other avatars and create new worlds.

    Ahn at Stari said, "The creativity and spending power of the younger generation, who are vocal about social issues and boldly pursue their interests, are the keys to the growth of the fan industry."

    Indonesian fans of Bangtan Boys plant trees to celebrate band member Ji-min's birthday, in this file photo from October 2020. /Courtesy of Kpop4Planet

    French President Emmanuel Macron recently asked people on Twitter what they would buy if they could spend 300 euros on books, music, movies, exhibitions or concerts, and one fan wrote, "A concert held by BTS, thank you. Please stream BTS' 'Butter,' Mr. President." The comment was retweeted more than 5,000 times and drew more than 20,000 likes.

    According to Twitter, references to K-pop on the social networking platform surged from 5.09 million in 2010 to 6.1 billion last year.

    Australian website The Conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets, noted that K-pop fans evolved into a movement fueled by positive influence and charitable donations. "K-pop fans are creative, dedicated and social -- we should take them seriously," it claimed. "While it may be tempting to dismiss fan activity as evidence of highly successful marketing techniques, these fan networks actually perform an increasingly important role as a source of social belonging."

    A key example is Kpop4Planet, which was created in March to support environmental causes. Kpop4Planet organizer Nurul Sarifah of Indonesia said in a CNN interview that he is convinced fans could coalesce into a civic movement for change.

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