K-Pop on YouTube: How the Platform Has Made it Global

Gangnam Style -PSY
Gangnam Style -PSY

When the word ‘K-Pop’ pops up, what comes to mind? Gangnam Style of course. The most viewed video on YouTube by a wide margin also happens to be classified under the genre of K-Pop, but how did this come to be? The song is in Korean, a language not widely spoken, only restricted to two countries in the world. How could a song like this become so popularly known around the world? The answer is simple; the video and accessibility of it.

PSY – GANGNAM STYLE(강남스타일) M/V

The Music Videos

One of the phrases heard most when sharing a K-Pop video with someone is “This video has a high production value”. Think of the Gangnam Style video for a moment; what makes it appealing? The colours, the dancing, and the pure weirdness (or plot) of it all make the video hard to turn away from. These three key elements are found in all of the viral K-Pop videos on YouTube, making them eye catching and easily shared among people with access to the internet, whether or not they can understand the language. An added bonus to make the song even more appealing is that one catchy English phrase that everyone can sing along to.

I Got A Boy - Bedroom Stiill
I Got A Boy – Bedroom Stiill

Taking a look at the most viewed K-Pop girl group videos on YouTube, we can start to see a pattern. I Got A Boy by Girls’ Generation, for example, is number one out of the girl group videos with a whopping 169 million views as of August, 2016. The features of this video include the aforementioned elements; colours, dancing, plot and a key English phrase.

Girls' Generation 소녀시대_I GOT A BOY_Music Video

The members of Girls' Generation
The members of Girls’ Generation

The colours are bright, vivid, and eye catching. The sets are all very vibrant with a large amount of hot pink, and the outfits the girls are wearing are also very colourful and distinctive. Often times bright hair colours and eye contacts will be worn as well for added effect, as we can see in I Got A Boy with many of the girls having chunks of bright colours in their hair, or the entirety of their pretty little heads dyed a bright, unnatural hair colour. Depending on the concept of the video the colours will vary; if the concept of the video and song is a bright, bubbly, upbeat concept then the colours will match, as they do in this video. If the concept is darker and more somber, the sets, clothing, and hairstyles will all match in colour as well.

I Got A Boy - Girls' Generation
I Got A Boy – Girls’ Generation

Continuing with the example of I Got A Boy the next feature is the dancing. In this video there is a substantial amount of choreography shown that matches the upbeat feel of the song. One language commonly spoken among all audiences across the world is body language, and dance is a common dialect of it. The dancing makes the video engaging and entertaining to watch, as well as providing a common form of communication for the viewers to follow along with and start doing themselves. It’s a connector between artist and fan. Not to mention how impressive some of the choreography in these videos actually is. Awards are given out at major music video and music awards shows in Korea for choreography performance alone. The dances are a big deal in K-Pop.

What sets apart K-Pop music videos from American pop music videos is the plot of the videos. Some American pop music videos have some decent plots, but most if not all K-Pop videos have some kind of plot, some more complex than others, and all successful videos have a plot that ties in with the song itself. I Got A Boy has a simple yet effective plot that explains what the song is about without having to use much English. The song is about the members of the group each having a boyfriend, and within the plot of the video, each member goes out on a date with their boy. Simple, easy, understood. Anyone shown this video and asked what the song is about would be able to explain it without much effort.

I Got A Boy - Dance Still
I Got A Boy – Dance Still

Finally, there is the key English phrase. In I Got A Boy it’s pretty obvious what the key phrase is; I got a boy! The English phrase gives the global audience something to shout out confidently when jamming out to the song, and also is an indicator of what the song happens to be about, giving the viewer the sense of “yes, I understand this”. The phrase ‘I got a boy’ sums up the entire meaning of the song, which most key English phrases tend to do. The phrase is usually only a couple of words, kept very simple and clean so it’s easy to remember. When humming that catchy tune, the person will have some words they understand to sing as well.

Come Back Home - 2NE1
Come Back Home – 2NE1

These videos are not taken lightly. The money and effort put into these videos is quite immense and much more compared to most other genres of pop. The video for Come Back Home by 2NE1 has been reported to have cost 500 million KRW (~469,000 USD) in production costs, the video possessing 53 million views as of August, 2016. The budget is high, but the results don’t disappoint.

Another good example of this formula being successfully put to use is BigBang’s music video for Fantastic Baby. This video is one of the most viewed K-Pop videos on Youtube, and excluding PSY, is the most viewed K-Pop video on Youtube with 242 million views as of August, 2016.

BIGBANG – FANTASTIC BABY M/V

BigBang is one of, if not the, top boy group in Korea. Last year the group made their first comeback in 3 years, sweeping the charts with their songs and videos and taking home some major music awards, breaking records for the number of times a single artist has won Artist of the Year in Korea. This five member group has been debuted for 10 years now and has kept themselves current and relevant while sticking to the formula that keeps international fans hooked. It is safe to say that BigBang is the most commonly known K-Pop band among foreign fans. Undoubtedly their biggest hit has been Fantastic Baby. 

bigbang_alive_thumb

Fantastic Baby starts out with a very colourful visual surrounded by dark, somber colours, giving the viewer a direct focus on the first frame, giving a feeling of both vibrancy and dampened spirits. The colours not only are appealing and eye-catching but also aid in telling the plot of the video. The beginning of the song is a slow build, the verses getting higher in energy and impact until the bombastic chorus hits, and the colour patterns follow this pattern of events. If it’s not the set, it’s the hair and costumes that are brightly coloured. G-Dragon’s colourful ‘seaweed hair’ and T.O.P’s bright blue hair and red jacket are examples of this. By the end of the video the five singers find themselves in a colourful crowd of dancers jamming out to the end of the song, the singers themselves shedding prior black clothing and now wearing colourful jackets, ending on a high note along with the song.

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In Fantastic Baby, although no set choreography is shown we still see some dancing happening at the end of the video. The song itself is classified under electronic dance music and so the urge to dance will be there whether or not the video itself has choreography in it. The group has released a dance practice video for this song on their Youtube channel, and the choreography for the chorus of the song has become a well known, iconic dance throughout Korea, Japan, other Southeast Asian countries and among the foreign fans (this dance is known as the ‘windshield-wiper dance’).

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The video has a plot that is both simple to follow but also has some deeper roots than what appears on the surface. The simple plot of the video is five singers breaking free from their restrictions, fighting off the nay-sayers and letting their music live. The deeper plot of the video is five kings locked up for an unknown amount of time making their comeback and letting their music thrive, fighting off the anti-music police and reclaiming their thrones as kings of music. This deeper plot connects to the struggles the members of the group have faced in their music careers concerning scandals and hiatuses the singers have faced. This plot is a personal one for the group as well as an artistic plot, which makes a connection between artist and viewer and arguably makes this video that much more impactful.

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Finally, there is the catchy English phrase of ‘Wow, Fantastic Baby!’ that has become one of the most recognizable K-Pop phrases known to date. There are other catchy bits of English in the song such as the rest of the chorus; Dance! Woo! I want to dance, dance, dance, etc. The most memorable phrase however is definitely ‘Wow, Fantastic Baby!’ which hit the nail on the head for brain-washed catchiness. The epic electronic music even comes to a halt for this phrase, making it nearly impossible to miss.

The Platform

K-Pop originally was popular in Southeast Asia, however with YouTube becoming the main platform for music videos to be released on with millions and millions of users on the website daily, the genre of music has expanded to wider audiences. K-Pop videos uploaded to YouTube have made the genre boom from centralized in one corner of the globe to spreading across it like wildfire. YouTube has made these videos more accessible to a global audience than ever before, and has features that make it easier to discover the genre of music and it’s videos as well.

The suggested videos that pop up on the right sidebar alone have contributed to people on the other side of the world stumbling upon the genre of music. There is a whole YouTube music chart dedicated to K-Pop now as videos are released onto the platform at a rapid pace.

hqdefault (1)Many entertainment companies in South Korea have made their own YouTube channels where they upload their music videos, behind the scenes videos, and messages from the artists to the fans. YouTube has become the number one source for K-Pop groups to reach out to their global fans. A channel called 1theK has been created that uploads videos of smaller groups to YouTube to help get the groups more recognition as well.

Popular television stations in Korea such as SBS and MBC have made channels and post live performances from their music shows of these K-Pop songs to be shared and watched globally as well. It’s easy to find, easy to share, and easier than ever to fall in love with.

Works Cited

AllKpop.com. “2NE1’s upcoming music video reported to cost 500 million KRW ($470K).” Web. Feb 14th, 2014.

Youtube.com. “Girls’ Generation 소녀시대_I GOT A BOY_Music Video.” Web. Dec 31st, 2012.

Youtube.com. “2NE1 – COME BACK HOME M/V.” Web. Mar 2nd, 2014.

Youtube.com. “BIGBANG – FANTASTIC BABY M/V.” Web. Mar 6th, 2012.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Creative Writing and English Literature major at the University of Windsor. I'm into a lot of different movies, books, and games, and look to write about a spectrum of topics

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49 Comments

  1. danielle577

    These images are beautiful…they’re like aesthetic works of art that make me intrigued and now I am more enticed to check out these K-pop videos. I have heard people talk about these videos, but I’ve never actually watched one. Thank you for providing a nice handy and accessible guide into the world of K-pop videos. Nice article!

  2. Keturah
    0

    K-pop may be no less vapid than regular pop, but it’s also catchier, more vibrant and uses less autotune.

    • Tigey

      Not all pop is vapid. I can’t remember which hip-hopper said it, but the quote is something like, “Autotune? How about learning to sing.” Jackie Wilson didn’t need autotune.

  3. Tom
    0

    Let’s be honest. All this is about is some jaw-droppingly gorgeous young women with a few anodyne tunes to dance to, why the guys have been included here is anyone’s guess.

    Having said that, ‘Nobody’ is a damn good pop song.

  4. Abby
    0

    I became a K-Pop fan last year. The main reason I love it is because I have no idea what they’re saying. So I can focus on the music and how it makes me get off butt and move.

  5. Lane
    0

    K-pop is not my cup of tea, but I can certainly see the appeal of it.

  6. Munjeera

    Love K-pop. Music is the #1 international language, followed by dance, a close second language.

  7. Tigey

    That was fun. Thank you for writing this article.

  8. ZaneAnn
    0

    K Pop is terrible, I was at Korean restaurant in Los Angeles last Friday & it was on the TV screens all evening. There is almost nothing Korean about this music at all, it’s a like a western pop song sung in the Korean language.

  9. Samser
    0

    There is and has been plenty of fine pop music out there. don’t expect pop to do the same things rock, blues, r’n’b etc do, that’s not the point. making a pop record that is good is actually quite a challenge, but when done right, pop songs can be great.

  10. KaliKali
    0

    With K-Pop, I get the clothes, the sound, the dancing and the vibe without the trashy, trite words. I love it!

  11. Bibi
    0

    Eurovision on steroids!

  12. Mount
    0

    I like Kpop!

  13. Luther
    0

    I have a soft spot for Japanese Manga, hence my liking of Girl’s Generation. Very cute but better watched with the sound turned down. A bit like Suckerpunch!

    It had to happen sooner or later – K-pop.

  14. K-Pop’s rising popularity can also be attributed to its exposure on popular YouTube channels, such as Fine Brothers Entertainment, which just uploaded another reaction video to K-Pop earlier this week.

    • rowenachandler

      Any exposure through media platforms and popular icons aids in getting people connected to it, absolutely.

  15. Scully
    0

    Pop is Fashion. All over the world. The music is non-existent.

  16. jack
    0

    I loved my time in Japan but J-Pop was truly dire stuff and this seems very much in the same style. Fortunately the Japanese are also avid (and expert to the point of obsessive) consumers of all kinds of music so I was never stuck for a new album to buy out there.

  17. val
    0

    Watched a few of the videos….Got a headache.

  18. Thrash
    0

    In Korean culture each idol group and soloist have their own official color to represent themselves. This results in fans creating ‘Kpop Oceans’ with official balloons and lightsticks (NOT GLOWSTICKS). Each Lightstick has its own design as well to represent the idol.

    This is one way to show the greatest support and love to your idol, without an ocean it is like saying you don’t have much support. Each group must have a specific fandom and color to represent themselves, it is like football when fans pain their faces and have specific colored jerseys, however in Kpop it is more serious because the colors are suppose to represent who you are, so thus idols cannot and rarely have the same color as another, which results in a very specific color shade.

  19. Carden
    0

    The females are dressed like thugs or little girls; the males feminized even in their thug suit.

  20. Danie
    0

    My choices are 9 Muses, Girl’s Day, Dal Shabet, After School, 4minute, A-Pink, T-ara, Rainbow, Miss A, Kara, Sistar, AOA, IU, Spica and Stellar.

    • rowenachandler

      You must be pretty upset about 4Minute disbanding and Jia leaving Miss A. Afterschool has been lost unfortunately, Rainbow is still missing in action, Kara is disbanded and I heard 9muses lost some members too. Losing so many groups and idols.

  21. Triplette
    0

    Great stuff, that’s what pop music is all about.

  22. Super Rad
    0

    I actually got into Kpop through EYK (and a pre-existing general interest in East Asia). For people curious about Kpop and Korean pop culture, they’re a really good place to start!

    Sites like AllKpop are great once you’re already involved because the articles share stuff about the stars, their lifestyle, upcoming albums, etc., but that’s not something people look at when they first get into something.

    • rowenachandler

      I used to follow EYK and enjoyed their reviews on K-Pop, though I found them after I was already in the realm of K-pop.

      Allkpop is becoming a lot more opinion based rather than factual as of late and it’s gone to the point of being unprofessional. Recently two articles by the same writer were published ranking the top ten most overrated and underrated female K-pop idols and the way the writer went about her articles was honestly quite despicable. I wouldn’t recommend Allkpop as a source for K-pop news, I’d suggest Soompi over it.

  23. Shawnda
    0

    I like the concept of KPOP.

    Many groups have different concepts that go hand in hand with their look and mvs! Plus the combination/position of the members is really important! Leader, oldest, lead vocals, dancer, rappers, and visuals!

    • rowenachandler

      Indeed! They put a lot of emphasis on roles in the groups. I find that some groups have fallen into cookie cutter templates with their songs however, namely EXID. Each song is the same formula with Solji and Hyerin splitting the chorus, Hani and Junghwa sharing a verse or two and LE doing a verse of rap and the hooks. I think the system is becoming too formulated in that sense and songs are starting to mirror each other too much that way.

  24. EasterTune
    0

    Once one start seeing how kpop groups work you’d understand there is no comparison to other bands or groups. Kpop is a sub-cultural of its own with a very unique and loyal fanbase. Plus, idols have set rules and conduct that don’t compare to any other artists. Take for example B.A.P leader YongGuk who is in the running for the shorty awards under activist! Or how B1A4 donates time and money to make schools! These are idols who are trying to change the world into a better and caring place.

  25. Athena
    0

    “Korean Wave” is my favorite genre at the moment.

  26. goble
    0

    Alone by SISTAR is a great tune.

  27. Larua
    0

    Hope you don’t mind me referencing this for my Kpop thesis.

  28. Bethann
    0

    Love the music. It’s a fresh-faced phenomenon!

  29. Roper
    0

    K-Pop is quickly becoming a go-to influence for both over- and underground artists

  30. dreamlikediana

    I haven’t listened to anything K-Pop in years. I got into it a long time ago, but have always been in the Asian scene in general. The only thing is, I can’t see them all breaking into the scene like Psy did. Our mainstream scene is so much more different than what they normally sing about and their values are different. A lot of their videos, actually, sometimes have to be re-directed because it may be “too sexy” for their values. Also, while performing, some stations are very strict on what they can and cannot wear, let alone, show. Too much skin is a thing. Overall, the article was great! I’m new to the site, and was kind of shocked to see the variety of articles written here. I’ve been nostalgic about the scene though, and most people who are into K-Pop are also into the Korean dramas as well. They are very well produced!

  31. I definitely agree with what you’re saying about the production value of most K-pop videos. They tend to be full of bright colors, cool choreography, and catchy hooks. I’ve been hooked on the K-pop drug for a while now! Artists/groups such as the Wonder Girls, Se7en, Boa, and Epik High got me into Korean music in general when I was in high school. I think K-pop can be a great introduction for fans to listen to other genres in the language as well.

  32. I am a huge K-pop junkie and what I love about it is that there is so much creativity that they put when they make their videos. I just love the whole K-pop aesthetic and the catchy beats.

  33. lucyviolets

    As an avid fan of KPop, including groups like 2NE1, BigBang, Block B and BTS, reading this article made me so happy! You made an interesting point about the money spent on the videos definitely being of worth, given the amount of views these videos get, especially given how influential Youtube is for a musician’s career now. I wonder that given KPop music is perhaps influenced, and adapts, to the wider trends in Western music too (i.e in 2011, there was a lot of dubstep used!) this might be another factor as to why Western audiences might engage with it/find it catchy? Fabulous article, and a great read.

  34. As a Korean person that’s not really into K-Pop, it’s been really interesting to see how kids around me have become more exposed to my culture.

  35. Related to how you pointed out that K-Pop is on the music chart on Youtube, there is a K-Pop category on Spotify as well. Pretty amazing how much global attention K-Pop has received and how music and video sites include K-Pop as a popular category even when Korean is not the primary or even secondary language.

  36. I’ve been a fan of k-pop for about 7 years now. I’m not that big of a fan now but back in my elementary school days, it was all I listened to. I was kind of embarrassed to let people know because there were labels put on people who listened to k-pop at my school. However, once Gangnam Style came out, people became more accepting of K-pop and more respectful towards those who enjoyed that type of music.

  37. The appeal to story telling and plot an audience has to a video allows them to engage with that medium on a deeper level. The KPOP group Bangtan Sonyeondan who recently released their newest album Wings, took their fans and audience on a ride with their short film music videos in which each had their plot and somehow connected to one another. Taking their inspiration from the novel Demian, fans attempted to put together how exactly these 7 short films fit together and what it all meant. Added to this the visuals in each of the videos really captured attention and led to high audience ratings. The internet which has made these things readily available adds to this level of experience where the audience is invited to participate and therefore gain a new understanding of that around them.

  38. YouTube has spread KPop to places I would of never expected it to reach. In my Intercultural Communication class we watched a KPop video without subtitles and then guessed what it was about before watching the video again with subtitles. It’s amazing how well KPop can convey its message through expressive movements and colors and show its audience what the message is without saying it making it a very universal music type.

  39. I haven’t listened to much K-Pop because I have never found it too enjoyable, but I do understand its novelty appeal.

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