Just a few years ago, K-pop was still considered a niche genre by many people. However, with the rise of artists like BTS, K-pop has become much more mainstream among music listeners in the United States and other Western countries. It’s a phenomenon that onlookers have been trying to find an answer to, though the CEO of BTS’s label once shared that it could be because of one factor.
K-pop has been growing since the 2000s
K-pop as we know it had its start in the 1990s, but the rise of idol groups like BTS came about in the 2000s. This was when K-pop began to find success with international audiences thanks to popular groups such as TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls Generation, Big Bang, and Wonder Girls.
In the 2000s, K-pop attracted fans mostly in other East Asian countries such as Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand. There was also a huge following among Asian diasporas in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.
However, the 2010s saw a new wave of popularity for K-pop. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” became a global hit in 2012, and the rest of the world began to pay attention. Then, more and more people started to listen to K-pop and paved the way for the genre’s huge influence we see today.
How BTS became popular
BTS debuted in 2013 at a time when many companies in K-pop were trying to cash in on the genre’s success both in Korea and abroad. Many groups debuted that same year, and BTS had a lot of competitions. BTS’s label, Big Hit Entertainment, was also not as wealthy or influential as other companies, so there was a limit to what BTS could do.
BTS managed to utilize what they had to attract a loyal fan base. The members wrote songs about personal struggles that young people could relate to. They also spent a lot of time connecting with fans on social media.
In 2015, BTS had their first hit single in Korea with the song “I Need You.” The group’s popularity continued to grow in the next couple of years before they attracted international attention in 2017. Since then, BTS’s career has been on the up and up, allowing them to rack up achievements like no other.
Big Hit’s CEO thinks K-pop’s popularity comes down to its ‘total production’ concept
K-pop is a bit different than the American music industry, and Big Hit’s CEO, Bang Si-Hyuk, thinks this is what plays a role in its popularity. In an interview with Variety in 2019, Bang shared that he believes K-pop’s popularity comes down to the fact that its stars are not just musicians, but all-around entertainers as well.
“One of the key elements of K-pop is the idea of ‘total production,’” Bang said. “There is a perception that a musician just needs to have good music, but in K-pop, in addition to the music, artists need to have attractive characteristics, appearance or not, and great performances, which are all visual components that come together to create a universal appeal.”
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