K-pop optimistic but adrift after existential crisis
A seemingly offhand comment by one K-pop star has shaken the whole business, a business that is seen as crucial to Korea and a point of national pride.
Suga of BTS suggested in a video that the band would take some time off — a hiatus — and an existential crisis followed.
Stocks dropped across the board, with HYBE, which runs BTS, down 34 percent on week, SM Entertainment 3 percent, YG Entertainment 15 percent and JYP Entertainment 8 percent. Billions of dollars in value vanished, and the world wondered whither K-pop.
The stocks have rebounded a bit, and some calm has set in. Still, soul searching continues, with a focus on the comments by BTS members in full and the larger questions raised by them.
"BTS is the biggest band HYBE has and HYBE is the biggest company in K-pop, so it's no surprise that the news impacts the market," said music critic Kim Zakka.
"The things that the members said in the video — such as RM confessing that K-pop doesn't give you time and he had doubts — also made people rethink the K-pop model as a whole. But in a way, these questions have already been posed in the past, so it's unlikely that it will break the entire industry."
The K-pop business and the fans of the music have long understood that diversity of acts is essential to keep the music playing. A K-pop monopoly is not good for anyone, and the industry has been hard at work to develop talent and nurture new warblers.
"Not only existing K-pop bands have the potential to bring up sales. A rich pool of new bands awaits us in the latter of this year," said Nam Hyo-ji, an analyst at SK Securities. "Despite worries, K-pop profit will continue to grow. We expect album sales will grow by 12.5 percent next year and concert revenue by 39.1 percent, and profit will grow from merchandise and licensing."
The more difficult challenge is figuring out what exactly K-pop is beyond BTS. Available metrics are fuzzy, and the lay of the land is just not easy to determine.
In the past, album sales and chart rankings were the definitive indicators of a musician's accomplishments. Now, the myriad of music charts and online outlets means there's no absolute standard.
Rankings on major charts, like Billboard's, and the number of followers on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are still crucial, but only when combined together with other factors. They are also subject to manipulation.
Blackpink has the highest number of YouTube subscribers — 74.4 million, which is 7.8 million more than the 66.6 million of BTS — of all K-pop stars, but it hasn't released any new music since June last year. Plus, boy band fans tend to spend more cash compared to girl groups, posing certain limits to possible revenue.
Big Bang has the fourth-highest number of subscribers on YouTube, with 14.8 million, but its members may be parting ways and seeking solo careers. Other popular boy bands include Stray Kids, Tomorrow X Together, Exo and iKON, but all have fewer than 10 million subscribers.
Taking into account Twitter followers, GOT7 and Seventeen get noticed. But at under 10 million followers, they have less than a quarter of the 46.4 million that follow BTS.
"Honestly, it's just impossible to tell," said music critic SeoJeongMinGap.
"There are groups that stand out with unique concepts, like Monsta X and (G)I-DLE, but they may not be able to appeal to the general public. We weren't able to foresee the success of BTS, so at this point, it might be pointless trying to predict the future."
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]