By Naiwen Cui
“Congratulations to the Seven Music-loving Boys and Their Wings, ‘ARMY’!”
“I congratulate BTS on topping the Billboard 200 with their album titled ‘Love Yourself 轉 Tear.’ This is the first ever Korean album to claim the top spot, and also the first non-English album to do so in 12 years.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in tweeted and posted a Facebook message on May 28 to congratulate BTS and their fans for getting to the top of the Billboard 200. BTS made K-pop history.
From Wonder Girls, the first Korean group to rank on the US chart, to BTS, the first Korean group to be the No.1, K-pop has become more and more popular in the United States and also led the Korean wave of influence throughout the United States.
“I bought my first K-pop CDs in 1995 while I taught English in Daejeon. At that time, I did not know other non-Korean Americans like myself who listened to artists such as Park Jin-young (JYP) or Kim Gun-mo,” said Sherri Ter Molen, an adjunct instructor of the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago. “Once streaming became available on the Internet, I started meeting other non-Korean fans of Korean pop culture, and I was fascinated by their fervor.”
Jenna Gibson, the associate director at Korea Economic Institute of America, said the K-pop trend has been skyrocketing. “Maybe five years ago, even four or three years ago, K-pop was still relatively unknown in the United States. There were definitely some small groups of people who really love or interested in it. And they had their fandom online.”But its influence was minor up until the last couple of years.
In 2016, South Korean K-pop albums sold more than $2 million in North America, twice the previous record in 2015according to the Korea Creative Content Agency.
“Looking back, I cannot imagine at that time we will see K-pop stars on the American Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards. That was completely unrealistic at that time. So, it really has been this incredible growth in just last few years,” Gibson said.
Source: Music Industry White Paper (2013-2017) by the Korea Creative Content Agency
“I see huge increasing concerts sales in the United States. In 2013, it was really hard. If I wanted to see K-pop, I had to go to KCON in LA or maybe in New York and that is once a year,” Gibson noted. “But then, in 2015 or 2016, I started to see more and more groups actually doing tours… I saw Block-B here in D.C. a few years ago. That was awesome. Eric Nam was doing about 20 stops in North America. People in the United States are willing to pay to see their favorite artists. If they cannot make money, they would not keep coming back. But they are, so they must do something right,” she said.
Before K-pop stars began having many concerts in the United States, KCON was the only way that American fans could watch K-pop concerts and see their stars. Even now, KCON is still the biggest event for K-pop fans in the United States.
KCON USA is the place where American fans can enjoy everything about the Korean wave, including K-pop music, K-dramas, K-fashion, K-food and K-beauty. The first KCON event in the United States was a one-day event in Irvine, California. After three years, KCON hosted three-day festivals in Los Angeles and a two-day event in New York in 2015. KCON USA reported over 128,000 fans came to celebrate KCON NY and LA combined in 2017.
U.S. K-pop fans also participate in cover dance events because all of the K-pop singers are also good dancers. The choreography is also very complex and fantastic.
MiXx K-Pop Cover Dance Crew is a cover dance group based at Boston University. It started in Tokyo by Dondre Gumbs and Trisha Emmylou Briones. In 2013, they brought it to BU but attracts a variety of students in Greater Boston.
Harmonyc Movement is a one-year-old cover dance group in New York City. Michelle Nawrocki established it for her friends who like K-pop and wanted to learn the dances together. One year later, they have more than 16,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel. They always have a dance on Times Square, attracting passersby.
Some academics who love K-pop have been researching K-pop and even the Korean wave. K-pop Kollective is the oldest and only aca-fansite for K-pop and also other types of Korean popular culture. Crystal S. Anderson, the director of the office for cultural studies at Longwood University, is one of the founders of K-pop Kollective. The group uses their academic knowledge to introduce people to what is K-pop and the meanings of some terms. They also analyze K-pop and other Korean culture, like K-drama and Korean tourism in an academic way.
Fans have obviously helped the rise of K-pop in the U.S. Gibson explains how BTS fans let more audiences know the group through radio stations.
On May 20, BTS won the Top Social Artist Award at 2018 Billboard Music Awards, the second year that it won this award. When they were performing their new single “Fake Love,” fans like ARMY responded.
“K-pop fans probably interact with the music and sort of more, they learn the dances and all the names in the group and what they like,” said Isabel Baysden, a K-pop fan. “And usually, normal music fans just listen to the music and not really try to get to know the artists.”
K-pop seems to be leading Korean culture’s influence in the United States. Although sung in the different language, the development of the internet and the efforts of fans may be making K-pop more mainstream in the U.S.