K-pop, YouTube a perfect match
YouTube has created countless stars. Viewers raved at Im Jeong-hyun’s electric guitar variation of “Pachelbel’s Canon,” Jung Sung-ha’s guitar, the amazing vocal talent of Charice Pempengco and many more. Guitar prodigy Jung turned 16 this year, and his YouTube channel had more than 500 million hits through July. He even got an offer from Jason Mraz to play in his band. Pempengco’s appearance on the talent show “Star King” on SBS went viral on YouTube, and she was discovered by producer David Foster in her American debut.
K-pop as a genre is another star born on YouTube. Thanks to the video sharing Web site, Korean pop stars gained sensational popularity in regions where they had never performed, such as South America. YouTube made Psy an overnight sensation around the world with “Gangnam Style.” He taught his invisible horse dance to Britney Spears on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and appeared on major network programs like “Saturday Night Live” and the “Today Show.” He has written a new chapter in the history of K-pop. His “Gangnam Style” music video had been viewed more than 190 million times as of yesterday. It is ranked 64th on the Billboard chart and topped the iTunes chart in 18 countries, including the United States.
Yang Hyun-suk, president of Psy’s management agency YG Entertainment, emphasizes that Psy’s popularity is distinguished from existing K-pop waves. While K-pop fans were mostly minorities, “Gangnam Style” is hugely popular in the mainstream music scene. However, for both K-pop and “Gangnam Style,” YouTube played a key role.
YouTube’s role was not just spreading the music video. K-pop fits perfectly on YouTube as it offers music that is easy to reproduce and share. For example, K-pop idol groups are known for singing catchy tunes and well-choreographed moves, and fans can remake the video in their own ways. YouTube is overflowing with covers created by fans that are just as popular as originals.
Fans make covers of “Gangnam Style,” dancing the equestrian dance to the addictive melody in groups of dozens or even hundreds. The popularity of Psy is amplified as the fans around the world create and share parodies, covers and flash mobs.
Professor Hong Seok-gyeong of the University of Bordeaux in France analyzed the K-pop wave in Europe and says it is based on karaoke culture. Rather than merely listening to the music, fans get to sing it themselves. Videos of their performances are used to express and share their appreciation.
If the trend of musical consumption is centered on YouTube’s spirit of openness, sharing and participation, K-pop dance may be the genre that best fits the times. In the YouTube era and for the YouTube generation, K-pop may be the most YouTube-friendly music.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sunny Yang