Covid-19 may have taken a toll, but K-pop still reigns supreme
It seems like the first half of 2020 was a rocky ride for everyone — except the K-pop industry.
More albums were sold compared to last year, and it looks like 2020 could be the year the record for the highest number of albums sold in a year could be broken, according to Korea’s album sales tracker Gaon Chart. The album sales for the top 400 albums during the first half of this year in Korea rose by 40 percent compared to the same figures last year — from 12.93 million copies to 18.08 copies.
Not only have sales soared, K-pop has been in the spotlight more than ever before for the inventive ways the industry has tackled the coronavirus pandemic, mainly by holding online concerts.
Various K-pop acts succeeded in setting new records with their music on global digital platforms, where they continue to garner attention from an international fan base.
Here is a summary of the three biggest trends K-pop saw during the first half of this year.
The not-so-challenging challenge
In January, rapper Zico stormed charts in and outside of Korea with his single “Any Song,” in part thanks to the dance challenge he shared through the app TikTok.
According to Gaon Chart, “Any Song” took the No. 1 spot for digital sales and on the download and streaming charts for the first half of this year in Korea, and topped Melon’s daily chart for 52 days.
While the song itself was catchy enough to attract listeners, the fact that the challenge was actually not so challenging greatly contributed to its success.
Popular singers such as Chungha, Crush, Mino and Hwasa took part in Zico’s challenge by appearing in videos together, which encouraged the participation of the respective stars’ fans.
Within just a week of its release on Jan. 13, over 50,000 videos were made on TikTok where people danced along to the catchy tune and mimicked Zico’s easy-to-follow dance moves. The aggregate views of videos related to #anysongchallenge surpassed 55 million views in just 10 days and hit the 700-million-view mark within a month.
Another important factor was that the “challenge” was not at all challenging. His dance moves were far from the fancy acrobatic moves sported by other boy bands, and could easily be copied and memorized — a crucial factor in the success of the dance challenges that followed, such as “Summer Hate,” another track by Zico, or Sunmi’s “pporappippam.”
“K-pop stars have been using TikTok as a platform to promote their music since 2017 when it first started servicing Korea,” said a spokesperson of TikTok. “But ‘Any Song’ was the biggest hit made through our platform, and it’s become much more popular than before. The fact that TikTok is a platform where video and music come together easily makes it more accessible to K-pop.”
Turning to the dark side
An unexpected trend being adopted by K-pop girl groups has been a turn toward darker or more serious themes combined with eerie music videos.
While the details of each group’s concept and theme differ, many major female acts, including (G)I-DLE, Red Velvet, Blackpink, GFriend and singer Hwasa, have released new music with concepts they've never touched on before.
Girl group (G)I-DLE’s track “Oh My God” was released in April this year, as perhaps the first song alluding to lesbianism in K-pop.
The lyrics are written in the narrative of a female speaker, who has fallen in love with another woman as interpreted from the lyrics, “She took me to the sky” and “She showed me all the stars.”
The members dance on what resembles religious alters among female dancers who cover their faces with robes, almost like a cult gathering.
Red Velvet’s subunit duo with members Irene and Seulgi also allude to love between the two members in the music video for its first duet “Monster,” a heavy-beat dance track released this month.
Apart from the dark-hued costumes and eerie background, the music video features scenes where two members approach each other as if to kiss, conjuring a “sultry” scene as described by Billboard.
The comments on the music video posted on YouTube also pick up on the mood, with one comment with 5.8 thousand likes reading, “The only straight in this music video is their hair.”
In the music video for GFriend’s latest song “Apple,” the six members transform into witches when they turn to kiss each other after they pick the forbidden apple — taken from the biblical tale of Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Girl group Blackpink’s music video for “How You Like That” also uses a religious theme and sees the members dancing against dark backdrops of a religious alter and a graveyard.
Hwasa’s music video for her song “Maria” starts with what resembles a murder crime scene, later showing Hwasa wearing a bloody apron in front of a what appears to be a human heart on a dish.
“Both fans and stars like the darker themes, because it’s something completely different from what the fans see on screen often, which makes it more fun for the stars to act out. It’s related to female empowerment in society in a way as well. Besides, everyone enjoys a little deviation in life, and stars like that they get to act that out in these themes,” said an insider at an entertainment agency.
A sanctuary online
Born from the passion and zeal of the online fandom, K-pop has yet again flourished in cyber space after taking a chance on charging fans to view online performances.
Starting as early as March, Korean musicians have been holding online concerts on platforms spanning from their personal social accounts to video streaming services such as YouTube or Naver V Live.
While the idea of online concerts is not new, K-pop led the way when it came to charging for them with SM Entertainment becoming the first to sell tickets for boy band SuperM’s “Beyond LIVE” concert held on April 26.
Some 75,000 tickets — spanning in price from 33,000 won ($27) to 68,000 won — were sold across the world, grossing at least 2.4 billion won in revenue.
K-pop megahit BTS also held an online concert “Bang Bang Con” on June 14, for which 750,000 viewers across the world paid 39,000 won to watch.
Girl group (G)I-DLE held its first paid online concert on July 5, and other bands are also expected to follow.
Charging the viewers for online tickets is an essential start to establishing a new and sustainable digital culture for K-pop, but now it’s time for musicians and agencies to come up with novel ideas to actually make people’s money worthwhile, according to experts.
“It’s highly likely that fans will immediately turn back to offline performances when the virus subsides, if musicians fail to come up with novel contents to provide to fans other than just online streaming offline performances,” said Lee Gyu-tag, professor of pop music and media studies at George Mason Korea.
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]