The Impact of Korean Pop on the Global Culture


Music has been an important part of culture throughout the centuries. Korean pop or K-pop is a term used to describe popular music performed by Korean bands or solo artists. It has become a global phenomenon, gaining widespread popularity outside Korea and affecting the global culture. Currently, K-pop is an industry gaining billions of dollars annually, and the biggest stars of K-pop, for instance, BTS or Blackpink, perform in the United States, Europe, and Asia. This paper aims to examine the phenomena of K-pop in the context of global culture, including the impact of K-pop on western culture and factors that made this music genre famous across the world.

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The Development of K-Pop

One can argue that in recent years, Korean culture has been acknowledged and recognized globally. Romano cites examples of Korean TV series, skincare, and cuisine as the prime examples illustrating the interest that the global community displays towards Korea and its popular culture. Additionally, “K-pop is now a multi-billion-dollar industry,” which, according to Romero, brings record labels approximately $5 billion a year, and tickets to performances of the biggest K-pop stars sell out within minutes (How did K-Pop Conquer the World?). Therefore, currently, K-pop is recognized globally, and people across the world listen to the music produced by Korean artists.

An important aspect that signifies the global impact of K-pop and Korean culture on the global society is the fact that the phenomenon has its own term, and it has gained attention from scholars. Hallyu is a Japanese word, which can be translated into English as a “Korean wave” (Romano). This term, in particular, emerged as part of the global K-pop fascination, which began in Japan.

By examining the history of K-pop’s establishment, one can gain a better understanding of how this music became a cultural phenomenon. Jin and Yong argue that K-pop, as a global phenomenon, was established approximately 15 years ago (1277). The first performance that marked the establishment of K-pop culture occurred in 1992 on a talent show. The band Seo Taiji and Boys performed the song “I Know,” and although the band received the lowest score from the judges of the show, the song began to rapidly gain popularity (How did K-Pop Conquer the World?). Before this, music that incorporates lyrics in Korean was mostly popular among the older generations of Koreans, while the youth was fascinated with Western culture.

The World Cup of 2002 that was held by Japan and Korea also affected the development of K-pop. Korean artists, for example, Boa, were able to introduce their songs to the Japanese audience (How did K-Pop Conquer the World?). Many of them topped the hit charts, providing reassurance to other K-pop performances that their music can be appreciated outside Korea. The Asian market, therefore, became the first prominent stage of development in K-pop’s history, since people in Japan, Chiana, and Taiwan listened to this music.

Cheon argues that this is because K-pop incorporates the traditional values of Asian cultures combined with modernity, which is appealing to the younger audience in Asian cultures (113). Therefore, K-pop gained its initial popularity in the domestic market, attracting Koran youth, and expanded to other states in Asia.

Many European countries, especially those located in Eastern Europe, remained unfamiliar with the K-pop culture for many years. Cheong states that the change happened when PSY’s song “Gangnam Style” entered the European charts (114). Therefore, it appears that a single hit song helped K-pop attract the attention of the international audience to the entire genre since this happened with “I Know,” Boa’s songs, and “Gangnam Style.”

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Notably, the performance and music of Seo Taiji and Boys differed from the music presented by other bands. The main elements that distinguished their style were – “Korean lyrics, Euro-pop, African American hip-hop, and rap,” which signified a new sound of popular music (How did K-Pop Conquer the World?).

This signifies an essential element of K-pop music since this genre does not present music and themes that are only specific to the Korean culture. Instead, it uses elements of music from different cultures and genres. Romaro explains the appeal of K-pop as a result of a “blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography and production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers.” Thus, the unique strategy that K-pop record labels use allows them to appeal to the global audience by creating simple melodies and including elements of well-known genres.

K-Pop as Part of South Korea’s Strategic Vision

The context of K-Pop’s development and its significance concerning the global culture is connected to its popularity. One should note that the government of South Korea recognizes the opportunities brought by this music genre and aims to develop an image of a country, fully integrated into the global society (Romano). This approach to using music as part of the state’s strategy for development has accompanied South Korea for years.

Prior to 1987, there were only two broadcasting TV networks, controlled by the state (Romano). This lack of diversity meant that government officials had power over the music industry, using censorship to enforce their policy and control the state’s culture (Romano). Currently, the government supports K-pop, which results in a controversial practice of recruiting and promoting K-pop artists.

In general, contemporary music artists and bands receive support and guidance from a team of marketers and producers who make their image more recognizable. Articles by Romano, BBC, and Wang point out that K-pop stars are recruited at a young age. The auditions target children aged 10 to 12, aiming to find the ones who can sing and dance. Next, these children are placed into special schools, with particular attention to music lessons, dancing, and behavior in public (Romano).

These children perform and gain some following even before they receive a contract from a record label. Notably, not all of them are lucky enough to become a part of the so-called “idol group” or even solo artists. Such an approach to music production poses many questions since one can argue that the creative element can be lost. The groups perform songs written and chosen by the record-label specialists, who are also responsible for marketing the music to the general audience. Thus, performers have little control over the production process, when working on their albums.

Therefore, the popularity of K-pop signifies a shift in the way music is perceived by the audience. Other attributes, such as music videos and live performances, allow conveying the meaning of the song through visual representations, helping non-Korean speaking individuals enjoy the K-pop songs. This, of course, is attributed to the easy access to these videos through platforms such as Youtube and the ability to read the translation of the lyrics on online websites, gaining a full comprehension of a song’s meaning.

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Therefore, the significance of the question is reflected in the fact that K-pop is listened to by the youth in Western countries. K-Pop has not been well-known globally or in the United States in particular, and one can argue that this genre impacts the music produced in other states due to its popularity. However, it is essential also to consider how K-pop shaped the attitudes towards Korean culture in general, which will be reviewed in the following paragraph.

Other Implications of K-pop and its Impact on the Global Community

The history of K-pop’s development suggests that the central aspect of success is the fact that multinational audiences were exposed to one song or artist, with the audience continuing to explore Korean music. However, this approach affects not only music produced by Korean artists, but also the recognition of Korean culture as a whole. According to Cheon, exposure to K-pop is “an important motivation for teenagers and young adults to start learning the Korean language and studying Korea” (114).

Institutions in the Westen countries and media also support the trend by offering courses that focus on Korean movies, cuisine, and by introducing Westerners to the culture. Notably, films by Kim Ki-Duk and Park Chan-wook became popular outside Asia.

Another critical question is how Korean music became popular if, despite some lyrics having English parts, the majority of the songs were performed in Korean, which listeners from America and Europe do not understand. In order to explain this, it is necessary to examine the rise of social media platforms, the Intenet in general, and video sharing services such as Youtube. Yoon states that fans in Canada usually become familiar with K-pop through social media (1).

Next, they become engaged in fan groups that usually work on translating text, which further enhances the engagement of these individuals and their fascination with the Korean culture. Jin and Yoon made similar conclusions, arguing that social media transformed the consumption of content in the context of transnational music (17). Therefore, K-pop’s popularity is also attributed to the specifics of contemporary media.


Overall, this paper explores how K-pop established itself as a prominent element of the global music and entertainment industries. The significance of K-pop as a cultural phenomenon is in its notable capability to expose the non-Korean audience to the culture and other components of art produced in Korea. The global fascination is connected to the fact that K-pop is a merger of the most popular genres in music, with the specific attributes of performance and lyrics written in Korean that fascinate the listeners. Additionally, even though K-pop incorporates elements of music that are present in Western countries, it also highlights the overall cultural heritage of Korea. In a globalized world, this means that individuals in different parts of the world learn about Korea and its traditions, merging Korean culture with that of their home states.

Annotated Bibliography

Cheon, Sang Yee. “The Global Impact Of South Korean Popular Culture: Hallyu Unbound.” Korean Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, pp. 113-114.

The author highlights the specifics of K-pop’s integration into the cultural landscape of societies in Asia, Europe, and America. This source helps to understand the complexity of K-pop’s development as a global cultural phenomenon. Also, the author presents the history of K-pop, including the song “Gangnam Style” by PSY that gained significant popularity outside Korea.

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How did K-Pop Conquer the World?BBC, 2019. Web.

This article focuses on the profound aspects of K-pop, such as the mix of rap, Euro-pop, and African-American rhythms paired with Korean lyrics. The performances of K-pop artists are also an integral part of this cultural phenomenon, as groups usually dance in synch.

Jin, Dal Yong and Kyong Yoon. “The Social Mediascape of Transnational Korean Pop Culture: Hallyu 2.0 as Spreadable Media Practice.” New Media & Society, vol. 18, no. 7, 2016, pp. 1277–1292.

The authors argue that modern socio-cultural changes should be examined with a consideration of social media because it helps information sharing. Through interviews with K-pop fans in North America, the researchers collected evidence, which suggests that social media helped K-pop become a global phenomenon.

Romano, Aja. “How K-Pop Became a Global Phenomenon.VOX. 2018. Web.

Romano wrote an article for Vox explaining the significance of Korean music to the global community since it became a significant driver of cultural development. The author explains that Korea has implemented a policy of supporting the development of its popular music, which prompted the popularity of its Korean artists globally.

Wang, Amy, and Amy Wang. “How K-Pop Conquered The West.Rolling Stone. 2018. Web.

The article in Rolling Stone magazine presents the author’s reflection on the topic of K-pop through the example of a group BTS. The author highlights the fact that music as a cultural phenomenon has transformed in the recent decade, with songs such as “Desacito” gaining recognition worldwide and not only in the home countries of the performers.

Yoon, Kyong. “Transnational Fandom in the Making: K-Pop Fans in Vancouver.” International Communication Gazette, 2018, pp. 1-17.

The author highlights the perception of K-pop in Western culture. Through interviews with K-pop fans, Yoon aims to examine how the youth living in Canada becomes familiar with K-pop and what aspects of this music they find appealing.

Works Cited

Cheon, Sang Yee. “The Global Impact Of South Korean Popular Culture: Hallyu Unbound.” Korean Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, pp. 113-114.

“How did K-Pop Conquer the World?” BBC, 2019. Web.

Jin, Dal Yong and Kyong Yoon. “The Social Mediascape of Transnational Korean Pop Culture: Hallyu 2.0 as Spreadable Media Practice.” New Media & Society, vol. 18, no. 7, 2016, pp. 1277–1292.

Romano, Aja. “How K-Pop Became a Global Phenomenon.” VOX. 2018. Web.

Wang, Amy, and Amy Wang. “How K-Pop Conquered The West.” Rolling Stone. 2018. Web.

Yoon, Kyong. “Transnational Fandom in the Making: K-Pop Fans in Vancouver.” International Communication Gazette, 2018, pp. 1-17.

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