Definition of K-pop according to NPR Music: “‘K-pop’ is most often used to denote a subset of Korean music: idol songs. Idol music is varied, but generally catchy and slick and infused with a cacophony of influences — hip-hop, rock, Latinx roots music, techno — from all over the world, often within a single song.”
While the United States is late to the game of K-pop, the beginning of this music genre started in 1990 when performance groups began recording and making their music accessible. Little did these music groups know that they were starting a domino effect that would later change the world.
These early 1990 K-pop groups did not know that they had begun a genre of music that would provide a staple to South Korea’s wealth. Currently, BTS is bringing in $5 billion dollars to South Korea’s economy annually, according to NPR Economy. K-pop holds an impressive place in South Korea’s economy that does not go unnoticed. In 2022, K-pop groups such as BTS, Ateez and Twice have made millions from just their concerts and exclusive merchandise, including concert lightsticks and band member photo cards, purchased in the United States alone.
Particularly within the last five years, K-pop groups have begun starting to make a name for themselves beyond South Korea and its neighboring Asian countries, expanding to the United States, Canada, South America and Europe. BTS’ 2018 Love Yourself national tour had every show in the United States sold out. Blackpink performed at the renowned summer festival Coachella. SuperM has appeared on American TV shows including Ellen, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show with James Corden. K-pop has certainly made a mark on the United States and it does not seem like it will leave anytime soon.
K-pop not only has millions of fans within the United States, but also spreads positive messages. The genre of K-pop has broken many barriers of toxic masculinity within the music industry. With their emphasis on gender-fluid clothes, makeup and dancing styles, K-pop members continue to push through society's gender norms through their stage presence. Today we are beginning to see similar artists, such as Harry Styles and Lil Nas X, continuing to fight masculinity stereotypes within the music industry as well. With the rise of K-pop in the United States, the music industry can put its fragile masculinity traits behind them and move towards a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
K-pop does more than transcend past toxic masculinity, it also defies barriers of language, culture and ethnicity. Despite the majority of K-pop songs being in Korean, millions of fans around the world who do not understand Korean still tune in and enjoy the music. No matter the language, K-pop fans continue to enjoy the music and the positive messages conveyed through their song lyrics.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, racism and prejudice against Asians have become more visible than ever before. The rise of #StopAsianHate and K-pop promotes positive media portrayals of Asian communities in the United States. K-pop helps the #StopAsianHate movement because it showcases a new perspective on how to appreciate different cultures. These K-pop groups exhibit the cultural norms of South Korea through their music. They highlight all its positive attributes, educating their millions of fans about South Korean culture and all it has to offer.
Even though K-pop is spreading positive representations of Asian culture and has millions of fans in the United States, there is still a long way to go. Movies and TV shows originating from South Korea like “Parasite” and “Squid Game” are just a glimpse into the wonders of Asian culture and media. But at least examples like these show western countries like the United States that other countries and people are just as talented, if not more so. They can be recognized past the differences in language and culture.
The rise of K-pop within the United States serves as a significant and impactful stepping stone to more diversity in the United States, beyond media consumption. Ultimately, more diverse representation in the United States, including K-pop and other Asian-based entertainment, makes for a rise in creativity and social justice.