What Is K-Pop’s Next Step In The Global Market? Crossroad Between Expansion And Stagnation


The news of K-pop artists’ successive awards at the 2023 Billboard Music Awards (BBMAs) brought domestic fans and the public joy. Now, BTS‘s youngest member, Jungkook, who is becoming a global solo pop star, is at the forefront, with Stray Kids and NewJeans standing next to him, and the presence of BLACKPINK and the achievements of surprise star Fifty Fifty (although they did not win the award) are also clearly significant.

BTS’s Jungkook | @bts_bighit/Twitter

Nevertheless, K-media has some worries and concerns about K-pop, and even unusual barriers are gradually appearing. Looking closely, they felt the “K-pop glass ceiling” had been erected. While it may be reasonable suspicion, doubts arise when looking at the results.

At this year’s BBMAs, the categories won by Jungkook, Stray Kids, NewJeans, and BLACKPINK all had the word K-pop attached to them. Jungkook, who is very active with “3D” following “Seven”, was selected as the winner of the Top Global K-Pop Song category. Stray Kids, who topped the Billboard 200 chart for the fourth time in their career, won the Top K-Pop Album Award, while NewJeans won the Top Global K-Pop Artist Award and BLACKPINK won the Top K-Pop Tour.

Just a few years ago, there was a time at the BBMAs when BTS successfully won an award in the main category (although it did not win the overall category) and was rewarded for their hard work, standing on stage and giving their speeches in Korean. At that time, the BTS members could not believe that they were standing here, saying, “Something like a miracle has happened.” Afterwards, along with their continued global activities, they achieved good results on the Billboard main chart and once again challenged major US year-end award ceremonies, producing better and more meaningful results every year (although the results were slightly different). Among them, there was also the Artist of the Year award, the first grand prize at the American Music Awards.

PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE in THE US Preview Cuts | @bts_bighit/Twitter

Of course, this is a great result. Even at this point, it cannot be said that it is surprising that a boy band that was not even from the U.S., but was formed in a faraway country called Korea, is showing off such tremendous influence. But something seemed to be missing. Although they reached the top, K-media feel they haven’t received the prize that they deserve. It feels like they are trying to be satisfied with their current influence and accept it humbly as they have recognized both their skills and presence.

Looking at it from a different perspective, it is difficult to say that the performance of K-pop genre artists at leading American music awards ceremonies has yet reached the level of receiving the so-called overall award. Although they won the grand prize at the American Music Awards, in reality, Billboard only recognized them with the main award, and the Grammy Awards, which are said to be more conservative, only gave BTS, whom we nominated as the number one K-pop singer, one spot as a candidate for Best Pop Group Performance.

Other than that, there are performer stages and other special events. K-media revealed that they could see that Billboard and Grammys are using BTS’s influence for their own box office success. If you put up a sign that says BTS, ARMYs all over the world will be watching with their eyes lit up. It is a very bitter and regrettable aspect. The result of the award is something that should not be overlooked, as much as the influence it has proven as a performer.

Park Jin Young (left) and Bang Si Hyuk (right) | JYP, HYBE

JYP‘s Park Jin Young and HYBE Chairman Bang Si Hyuk appeared as guests on tvN‘s Yoo Quiz on the Block and the keyword they spoke about the crisis of K-pop was expansion. Before K-pop, we used Latin and Afro music as examples to point out the dilemma of intensive demand from core fandom (superfans) of music in genres with strong regionalism and the future expansion of light fandom. The proportion was low, and there was a sense of crisis that this could become an obstacle to K-pop’s future expansion in the global music market, and the basis for this was that the decline in related indicators was noticeable.

In the future, K-pop’s next step in the global music market can be seen as becoming very important. Clearly, neither Billboard nor the Grammys are overlooking the expansion of K-pop and will watch it as a phenomenon and make good use of its influence in some way. However, we must be careful not to allow K-pop’s influence to grow to the extent of cracking the barriers erected by mainstream American genres such as pop, rock, hip-hop, and soul. And the boundary may become a solid “K-pop glass ceiling” that is as invisible as it is immediately visible.

Coincidentally, BTS, which we touted as the number one K-pop singer, will now be in the military until 2025, with the remaining members Jungkook, RM, Jimin, and V enlisting in the military soon. K-pop, which will soon face the hiatus of BTS, is at a critical crossroads between expansion and stagnation.

 Guess we will have to wait and see. 

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