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  • Writer's pictureJiah Hwang

Review: "K-pop in Korea: How the Pop Music Industry Is Changing a Post-Developmental Society"

Author’s Note

After moving to Korea, I realized just how extensive the influence of K-pop had grown since I was last here just a few years ago. Plastered on every billboard were these pale, clear-skinned K-pop idols, and their songs were playing in every store, mall, and restaurant that I walked into. When I went to school here, the majority of the breaking news for my classmates consisted of a scandal or dating rumor a K-pop idol had gotten into, half of whose names I wasn't first sure of. So, how did this industry grow to have such a huge influence in South Korea, and is that truly a good thing?


The influence of the K-pop industry is undoubtedly vast — ranging from Korean schoolchildren to government advertisements, even despite the censorship of certain words in “inappropriate” pop music. This study aims to examine “why Korean children are now concentrating their educational efforts not in cram schools for college entrance exams, but in K-pop schools, golf schools, and other popular culture schools.” Before K-pop, Korea’s most popular forms of music came in ballads, chanson, and t’ŭrot’ŭ, which were Western imports brought by the Japanese imperialism period and from the U.S. military during the Korean War. At this time, it was nearly impossible to make much money off music record sales due to music piracy, and the image of these Korean singers was dominated by “vulgar images of gangster agents; frequent night banquets and sex scandals,” which led to some managers, military dictators, and more, ask for sexual favors from the female musicians. Based on what period music was released, the factors for banning would differ. For instance, music that sounded “too Japanese melodically” would be banned after the Japanese Imperialism. K-pop first began its rise in the mid-1990s, when young singers would find themselves successful even after deviating from the traditional kayo (pop music) by “singing in a pentatonic scale without much dancing on stage, hailing from poor family backgrounds, and susceptibility to all forms of social, emotional, and economic exploitation,” yet, the debut of the 1992 boy band “Seo Taiji and Boys” that K-pop would be deemed a true success. This group experimented with their music genres, ruffian outfits, and dance styles like no group had ever before. They introduced hip-hop, electronic music, and reggae to Korea, and this spread of the Western music genre continued and was not banned or censored by the government due to the impact of political liberalization. After Taiji's group traveled to Japan for an increase in market rates, they realized how much potential K-pop had worldwide, which kick-started the first K-pop company, SM Entertainment by SooMan Lee, which the companies of YG and JYP Entertainment joined in the mid-1990s. The K-pop movement is composed of three layers:

  1. Opportunity structure:

  • Korea’s political democratization and economic development which invited Young Turks who wanted to experiment with Western music as military censorship was being rescinded However, the most important global factor that shaped a new

  • The birth of the digital music industry (the invention of the Internet and video-streaming technologies)

  1. Internal conflicts and contradictions within the industry

  • Limited media opportunities and lack of government support, which caused K-pop to look in the direction of opportunities in Japan and America

  1. K-pop’s creativity and originality

  • It has regional differentiation to attract all kinds of audiences all around the world due to its wide variety of music and dance genres. This includes the synchronization in dancing and the aesthetically pleasing visual effects as well.

With the rise of K-pop also came the opportunity for a fresh image of these performers compared to the old kayo singers, giving the K-pop idols the images of “‘sophisticated,’ ‘creative,’ and ‘professional.’” In the eyes of young children, after 1990, which is after the success of K-pop, their dreams of becoming entertainers rose to 9%, and in 2012, a whopping 38.8%. This is due to what the article calls “han/melancholia,” which is the belief that the Korean cosmopolitan striving is because Koreans believe that the more awards or social recognition that one person may get is good for raising the whole country’s social status as well. This also led to more and more public government support for the industry: In 2013, the government set aside $280 to assist the Korean music industry. Yet, this money goes much more toward promoting traditional Korean culture and K-pop than K-pop itself. K-pop has also been utilizing commercial T.V. to fight the dying use of television and to keep its race up, primarily by showcasing live K-pop auditions, which have increased in 2009 and become a huge success.


Although the history of K-pop and how it rose to its present ranks was informative, this article didn’t seem to completely stay true of its words of focusing on resolving the question of “why Korean children are now concentrating their educational efforts not in cram schools for college entrance exams, but in K-pop schools, golf schools, and other popular culture schools.” They did offer the reason of national pride, but as someone living in Korea and seeing this interest in K-pop in my classmates and younger and older audiences, I believe this answer lacks the necessary amount of depth. The article never went into detail about these “K-pop schools” and the extensive dieting and exercise that are strictly enforced on children. And even if children aren’t attending these schools, the extent of idolization of the K-pop industry doesn’t just end at, “I want to become one when I’m older,” but develops into album and photo-card collections of certain K-pop groups or idols, which are not cheap, and therefore investing large amounts of their money and time waiting in line to grow their collection. The images of these pale, skinny, clear-skinned idols being pushed as all-natural also promote unhealthy expectations for these young and vulnerable children, especially when they don’t have the resources to get plastic surgery, medicine, and much more that the K-pop idols have, in order to reach a so-called “perfect image.” Therefore, instead of focusing on the amount of influence that the industry has, the article may be better if it focused back on answering its original purpose of how this amount of influence, which is only growing, can be harmful to children all around the world.


Oh, Ingyu, and Hyo-Jung Lee. “K-pop in Korea: How the Pop Music Industry Is Changing a Post-Developmental Society.” Cross-Currents East Asian History and Culture Review, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014, pp. 72-93. ResearchGate, Accessed 22 6 2023.



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