K-pop unaffected by worsening relationsKorea-Japan relations are deteriorating as the countries’ history-driven diplomatic row is widening to imperil their economic ties. Still, the neighbors’ cultural ties remain mostly unscathed, with K-pop artists accomplishing unprecedented feats in the Japanese pop market.
On Thursday, “Lights/Boy With Luv,” the new Japanese single album by globally-loved K-pop boy band BTS, took No. 1 on the Japanese Oricon daily single chart, one day after its release in Japan.
The 10th Japanese single by BTS carries three tracks - “Lights,” a brand new song in Japanese, as well as the Japanese version of BTS’s two hits, “Boy With Luv” and “IDOL.”
The single hit one million copies in presale, which started on May 10, and marks the biggest presale volume in Japan by any K-pop artist, according to BTS’s management agency, Big Hit Entertainment.
The new K-pop record in Japan was set while the Korean and Japanese governments were entangled in a multifaceted diplomatic confrontation.
On Monday, the Japanese government announced plans to restrict exports of materials vital for Korea’s semiconductor and display industries, escalating a long-running row over historical issues.
The move is seen as retaliation against Korean Supreme Court rulings last year that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work in factories and mines during the country’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Korea called in the Japanese ambassador in Seoul to protest the action and said it will file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, calling the restrictions “retaliation” for the court rulings.
The diplomatic factor, however, is expected to have little effect on the countries’ cultural exchanges on the private level, represented by, most notably, K-pop concerts in Japan.
On Saturday and Sunday, BTS will hold its “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” concerts at the 47,000-seat Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka, kicking off the Japanese leg of the world-trotting concert tour.
The weekend concerts will be followed by a stop in Shizuoka where the band is to perform at the 50,000-seat ECOPA stadium from July 13 to 14.
Also this week, another K-pop act, girl group IZ*ONE, which has Korean and Japanese members, made a splash on Japanese music charts.
The girl group’s second Japanese single, “Buenos Aires,” topped the Oricon weekly singles chart this week following the single’s No. 1 on the daily single chart last week.
The six-track record was also the top weekly single seller for the week of June 24 to 30, according to Billboard Japan on Thursday.
Next month, the Korean-Japanese girl group will throw its first solo concerts in Japan as part of its ongoing world tour, “Eyes on Me.”
The Japanese leg of the world tour will kick off on Aug. 21 at the Makuhari Messe convention center, just outside Tokyo. The band will then perform at World Memorial Hall in Kobe on Sept. 1, Marine Messe Fukuoka on Sept. 8 and Saitama Super Arena on Sept. 25.
This is in addition to a Japanese tour, called “WINNER Japan Tour 2019,” by boy band Winner, which successfully set sail at Tokyo’s Nakano Sunplaza concert hall on Wednesday.
Including the Tokyo concert, the four-piece band will throw a total of nine performances in seven Japanese cities by mid-September.
The marked dichotomy between the Seoul-Tokyo diplomatic and cultural ties points to the resilience of civil exchanges that overcome government-level political issues.
“Japan has a mature market for music. The Japanese audience’s demand for great music cannot be overshadowed by political issues,” Sung Mi-kyoung, senior researcher Korea Creative Content Agency, said.
“Any political hindrance would not be able to curb K-pop and its [overseas] fans from crossing borders in today’s era of open information,” she said, adding that “the power of pop culture is stronger than that of politics.”