Experts say diversification of K-pop will only lead to more success

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Experts say diversification of K-pop will only lead to more success

A capture of singer AleXa's ″Wonderland″ [SCREEN CAPTURE]

A capture of singer AleXa's ″Wonderland″ [SCREEN CAPTURE]

K-pop acts are diversifying in all aspects — nationality, race, language and place of debut. Such diversification has sparked debate about how to define K-pop, but experts say it's time to accept the change and move on.
The variety in K-pop groups' nationalities is especially fascinating. All nine of girl group NiziU’s members are Japanese; the four members of boy band EXP Edition are U.S. citizens, born in Hong Kong, Croatia and the United States; trio Kaachi are British; and singer AleXa is a Korean-American born in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
AleXa recently reignited the debate about what makes K-pop, K-pop.
Last month, she won first place in NBC’s “American Song Contest,” the first time for a K-pop act to win an NBC-produced competition program.
Her song “Wonderland” had all the ingredients of a K-pop song — catchy melody, electronic dance music (EDM) styled beat and fierce choreography. What it didn't have was many lyrics in Korean. Throughout the 3-minute song, there were only three short phrases sung in Korea while the rest was entirely in English.
The lack of Korean lyrics led to skeptical responses online, with some people asking whether she and her song could even be called K-pop.
AleXa thinks differently.
Singer AleXa poses during a showcase held on May 19 at the Blue Square concert hall in central Seoul. [JOONGANG ILBO]

Singer AleXa poses during a showcase held on May 19 at the Blue Square concert hall in central Seoul. [JOONGANG ILBO]

“I don’t think language is important when it comes to music,” AleXa told local press during a showcase held last month. “I hope you enjoy my music beyond the language barrier.”
When asked why she thought she won the competition, she cited K-pop.
“It was because I was the only K-pop singer in the contest,” she said. “I think I won because I showed people the strong stage and performance of K-pop.”
As K-pop becomes increasingly globalized, it is growing similar to other genres of music like rock, hip-hop and classical music. In the past, K-pop was only created by Korean entertainment companies and sung by Korean artists, but now, it can now be made by anyone in the world, according to their tastes.
This change started subtly several years ago when big-name K-pop agencies debut new bands that included non-Korean members. SM Entertainment debuted girl group f(x) with Chinese member Victoria in 2009 and JYP Entertainment rolled out boy band 2PM with Thai member Nichkhun in 2008.
More recently, agencies have been creating bands consisting entirely of non-Korean members but still labeling them K-pop.
In 2019, SM Entertainment debuted WayV, a boy band made up of all Chinese members and JYP Entertainment debuted NiziU in partnership with Sony Music through an audition program in December 2020. CJ ENM founded entertainment company Lapone in Japan in 2019 and has since debuted two boy bands — INI and JO1 — with Japanese members and just one Chinese member.
SM Entertainment has plans for two more global groups. The agency said it will launch an audition program in the United States with MGM Television, to debut a subgroup of the NCT boy band franchise named NCT Hollywood. NCT Tokyo will be launched in Japan, also through an audition program.
HYBE, home to BTS, is also preparing to debut a boy band in Japan.
Lee Soo-man, the founder and mastermind of SM Entertainment, dubbed the recent change as the third phase of the hallyu, or the Korean wave, evolution.


The first phase was in the early 2000s when K-pop acts debuted and built their base in Korea then aimed for overseas markets, mainly Asia. The second phase was when agencies started establishing overseas branches in other countries and including non-Korean members into the group. In the third phase, agencies are teaming up with local companies and directly nurturing talent.
The transition was possible because K-pop, although it started in Korea, is not an idea restricted to the Korean people or the Korean language, according to experts.
“What makes K-pop unique on the global stage is not Korea’s nationalistic or cultural aspects,” said Lee Gyu-tag, a professor of pop music and media studies at George Mason University Korea. “It’s consisted of very unique factors, like powerful performances on stage, choreography, costumes, music videos and the idol-and-the-agency system.”
The Washington Post cited “catchy songs, savvy use of social media and dedicated fans” as the “formula for global success” in an article titled “How K-pop conquered the universe” in July 2021.
The acceleration in the globalization of K-pop will lead to more success for the industry, according to Kim Jun-hong, CEO of AleXa’s agency ZB Label.
“Just as hip-hop isn’t limited just to black singers, it’s pointless to fight over whether a K-pop singer has to be a Korean or not,” Kim said. “I believe that opening up K-pop can bring it more opportunities, rather than restricting it to a certain culture. An age has come where anyone can become a K-pop artist.”

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