The Globalization of Kpop Today: A Closer Look at Girls’ Generation’s Rise to Success

With an anticipated comeback this month, I take an indepth look into Kpop- more specifically, Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) and how they have become one of the most successful and anticipated Korean artists not just in Asia, but all around the world. I will also examine how K-Pop has been able to stand out among other Asian countries such as Japanese and Chinese cultures.  

Within the last few years, Korean pop music has received tremendous responses all over the world and the popularity of Korean culture has far exceeded its popularity, translating into nothing less than a social phenomenon. Benchmarking and leading this Korean wave is a 9 member girl group called, Girls’ Generation. From their debut single, Into the New World to their recent international hit “I Got a Boy,” this group is poised to become one of the biggest acts worldwide. Consisting of Taeyeon, Jessica, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sunny, Sooyoung, Yoona, and Seohyun, Girls’ Generation, (in Korean, Seo;Nyu;Shi;Dae) is one of the most popular groups, with its popularity spreading throughout the entire globe, penetrating the global market. Created and produced by S.M Entertainment company, already well known for producing top artists like Boa, HOT, and TVSQ, Girls’ Generation received much attention when they first debuted, but what really helped them spread was the transference towards a digital platform that has helped grow a global fan base, and lead them to become who they are today.

While artists who debut from S.M are almost always successful from their debut, Girls’ Generation’s biggest breakthrough in Korea’s music industry was with their title song from their 1st mini album called “Gee.” When Girls’ Generation first came out with their debut song, “Into the New World,” in 2007, they received a lot of media attention for having 9 members in the group, but it was with the song “Gee” that helped start their stardom and hold numerous records, that are still standing today. Some of those records include; the most purchased song of the decade, the most played song on the radio, and the most remixed music video of the year (Steve, 2011). It was also with this song that Girls’ Generation won 9 consecutive wins on Korea’s music television program, and became the 1st female girl group to ever win the Disk Daesang (Album of the Year) at the prestigious Golden Disk Awards in Korea (Steve, 2011). Furthermore, the group grew their fame by becoming multi-entertainers. While they promoted their music, different members of the group also began acting, modelling for various magazines, and hosting various programs in Korea that helped gather an abundance of fans.

            In 2009, after dominating all music charts in Korea, Girls’ Generation began promoting their music in Japan. On their first show case concert held in Osaka, they had an overwhelming audience of over 500,000 people. They were able to gather this large amount of audience in Japan because many Japanese fans have already seen and fell in love with the girls through social networking sites such as YouTube, and Twitter. As a result, even without foreign activities or official debuts, Girls’ Generation’s first Japanese album sold over millions of copies topping various Japanese music charts. Nikkei, a Japanese business magazine even proclaimed the girl group as the “Next Samsung.” Japan wasn’t the only country that was going crazy over Korea’s entertainment culture. A large portion of the views from Girls’ Generation’s music videos and other video contents on YouTube came from outside of Korea, with majority of the views coming from other Asian countries, in addition to a growing number of views coming from North America and Europe too . Girls’ Generation also held their first Asia tour selling out tickets from China to Hong Kong, to Thailand to Manila, Philippines. While there are many other girl groups in Korea, that are also popular around the world, one of the main reasons Girls’ Generation has been successful is that all members speak multiple languages including fluent Japanese, Chinese, English, Mandarin and French.

In late 2010 K-pop, once considered strictly an Asian phenomenon began spreading through Europe and North America and changes in technology have undoubtedly helped drive this force. For many artists including Girls’ Generation in Korea’s booming music industry, social media like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have become “crucial tools to reach audiences in formerly hard-to-access markets…“ (Yoon, 2010).  As their fame and their catchy music started to grow, Girls’ Generation finally held their first concert in North America, in Los Angeles at the Staples Centre in September 2010. The concert was sold out within minutes, and it was later revealed that 70% of the audience were non- Asians. This amazing success also led an opportunity to perform at various US national programs such as Kelly Ripa’s Morning show and the Late Show with David Letterman as well as work with Snoop Dog to create an all-English album in North America. Their ongoing spotlight has all been achievable through new media, social networking services, and the rise of “prosumers”, who actively consume the group’s products and content and share them via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, the start-up of Itunes and other online markets helped break barriers of purchasing foreign music, and have drastically increased Korean cultural sales.

Girls’ Generation’s success clearly signified the explosive growth of Korea’s culture industry and cultural contents worldwide, and because of their achievements, they were named the Honorary Ambassadors of Seoul, Korea promoting Korean tourism and cultural sectors. In 2010, Korea “exported $80.9 million worth of music, a 159% increase from 2009 and in 2011, the music industry exported $177 million, a 112% increase from the previous year” (Dal, Yong Jin, 2012). In addition, with the overwhelming popularity of Korean music, Billboard 100, an American music chart added a separate category called KPOP 100 under their name. While some might wonder how a country so small could have been so successful in expanding their cultural market; Korean entertainment runs a unique business strategy. In the past, Europe and North America followed an “Economy first, cultural second” rule, in which if the economy of a country rose, their culture would rise with it. However, Korea found itself taking the opposite approach, that if the culture of one’s country is well cultivated, the economy of the country will naturally thrive through those people. In addition, Korean artists like Girls’ Generation are bypassing traditional outlets like radio and television, “aggressively steering their efforts to go international via the Internet [and] social-media-savvy K-pop stars are now tweeting, YouTubing and Facebooking their way up music charts across and beyond Asia” (Yang, 2012).

One of their recent achievements, Girls’ Generation took home the “The Video of The Year” award with their recent single “I Got a Boy”, beating artists like, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus in YouTube’s first ever Music Awards on November 2013. What this award show differed from other award ceremonies was that it was based on the “likes, shares, and views” of the nominee’s video among the millions uploaded on to Youtube.com. The win of a Korean girl group proved that YouTube, and other media outlets break the boundaries between countries, creating an invisible bridge within countries overseas.

With information and knowledge being delivered at the speed of light through digital platforms, more and more foreign stars are breaking into Hollywood, and the global music industry, without any hardship. Girls’ Generation’s popularity is growing bigger and bigger every day and this can be proven just by looking at the increase of views on their YouTube videos. Girls’ Generation that was once a typical Korean girl group is now one of the biggest stars all around the world, and establishing new records, and creating a new definition of Korean music. Not only are they promoting themselves, but they are also expanding Korea’s market, and expanding the culture across Asia and overseas. With ever fast technology and social networking sites that makes sharing content easier than ever, it won’t be long until Girls’ Generation and other foreign artists will lead the way in global cultural market.

Girls’ Generation is set to make a comeback this month, and Korean media are calling it the most anticipated comeback of 2014.

Other artists to comeback this month include: Sunmi, Ga-In, and Winner.

Dal, Yong Jin. (2012). The New Korean Wave in the Creative Industry: HALLYU 2.0. II Journal. University of Michigan. Available at: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/UMICH/ii/Home/II%20Journal/Documents/Fall-2012-IIJournal-Hallyu2.pdf
Steve, SK. (August, 2011). Story of Numbers. SnsdKorean. Available at: http://snsdkorean.com/2011/08/03/story-of-numbers/
Yoon, Lina. (August, 2010). Korean Pop, With Online Help, Goes Viral. Times World. Retrieved from: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2013227,00.html
Yang, Jeff. (November, 2013). Why Girls’ Generation and K-Pop Won Big at the YouTube Music Awards. SpeakEasy. Retrieved from: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/11/04/why-girls-generation-and-k-pop-won-big-at-the-youtube-music-awards/


About the Author: 

Diane Lee

B.A Communications Candidate at Simon Fraser University
email: dianelee7077@hotmail.com
blog: itsmedianelee.com
twitter: @itsmedianelee
instagram: @itsmedianelee

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