Ryo Cifra fell in love with K-pop 15 years ago, just a few years before Korean boy band BTS – the industry’s most successful export band to date – was formed in Seoul.
After hearing an earwig cried Firework of girl group 2NE1, Cifra immersed herself in all things K-pop, developing an appreciation for the country’s pop music industry and other facets of Korean culture.
Today, he performs in Edmonton-based K-pop dance cover group Apricity. A linchpin of the scene’s vibrant fan culture, dance covers feature fans lip-synching and reenacting the choreography of their favorite K-pop idols – briefly replicating the beloved musical acts that are now some of the most popular in the world.
“You see it everywhere. There isn’t a corner of the world where K-pop doesn’t have influence,” Cifra told Breaking:.
As Cifra and others express their love for Canadian K-pop, thousands of fans traveled to Seoul this weekend to celebrate BTS’ 10th anniversary. The group brought K-pop into the North American consciousness five years ago and became the first act in the industry to reach number one on the US album chart in 2018.
Some who study and work in the industry believe that the future of K-pop depends on its international fandom, as devotees from outside Korea learn to sing and dance like the idols they worship and labels invest in K-pop education for wannabe- superstars around the world.
Fans have ‘interest in learning’
Chuyun Oh, an associate professor at San Diego State University, conducted field research in Seoul’s Gangnam neighborhood during the BTS anniversary festivities.
The group is currently on hiatus as two of its seven members, J-Hope and Jin, are doing mandatory military service, but lead artist RM attended an anniversary festival on June 17.
Oh teaches a K-pop dance class at the university, which she says is the first of its kind in the US. boy band has studied, rehearsed and performed.
“I feel the vibrancy of the city and the love and interest of many international fans in learning the local context and the origins of K-pop in Seoul,” she told Breaking:.
While the K-pop industry came to life in the ’90s, it exploded in the 2010s when labels and production companies in South Korea began to invest in education and training as seriously as they do in touring or music production, with schools such as Def Dance and Global K Center where people could learn professional K-pop performance.
SM Entertainment, one of Korea’s largest entertainment agencies, represents K-pop acts such as Red Velvet and Super Junior. Last March, it enrolled its first batch of students at SM Universe Academy, an arts institution dedicated to educating the next generation of idols.
“Today, K-pop agencies are not just entertainment, business or music labels. They are also international performing arts schools,” said Oh.
Even as fans view K-pop as a long-term professional pursuit, a shadow of mental health problems and suspected suicides lingers over the industry, which is known for its strenuous training programs and difficult working conditions that sometimes put undue pressure on its idols. .
54:00We hear from a local teen who is behind a K-Pop sensation’s new hit
Recently, BLACKPINK singer Jennie left mid-concert because her condition “deteriorated,” according to a representative’s statement. Other K-pop idols like Moonbin and Hae Soo passed away this year, both before the age of 30. Tragically, they were not the first.
While Oh says working conditions for K-pop idols have improved, she emphasizes that there are two issues at play: how an agency treats the artists they manage, and how the artists prepare for intense performances and heavy schedules.
“K-pop idols are professional, highly dedicated, well-trained performers,” like Olympic athletes, Oh said.
K-pop without the K?
As K-pop took the internet by storm, social media became the primary forum for learning and practicing the industry’s performance model. Fans began copying and posting videos of themselves doing “dot choreography,” a form of dance that can be easily replicated and is usually informed by a K-pop’s lyrics.
As the pandemic hit and social life migrated to the internet, K-pop TikTok challenges and dance covers flooded people’s feeds. That same year, BTS released its first all-English single, Dynamitewhich earned the band its first Grammy nomination and cemented K-pop’s place in the global pop music landscape.
LOOK | The music video for BTS’ first English-language song Dynamite:
Many well-known K-pop artists are not Korean, including members of popular girl groups like BLACKSWAN and Kep1er. Oh said K-pop has been “de-ethnicized” during its globalization.
“I think we can even compare K-pop to hip-hop or tango. They’re also globalized,” she said.
“So you don’t have to be African American” to perform as a hip-hop artist, “although we know the significance of hip-hop’s origins and original culture” in that community, she said.
Entertainment manager Bang Si Hyuk, who founded BTS as chairman of Korean record label Hybe, reportedly said at a press conference in March that the only way K-pop can sustain itself in the future is to dilute and invest the “K” in foreign talent. .
Some fans wonder if a song by a K-pop group sung entirely in English is still K-pop, Cifra said. For him it is, but he still enjoys learning Korean through his favorite songs.
“Me and my friends can pick up words that are Korean even though we don’t speak Korean,” he said.
“I know a lot of people can identify with this.”
‘They want to be a K-pop idol’
Evelyne Ung and Hugo Racine are students at McGill University, where they are part of an on-campus K-pop club called K-Rave. There’s a reason why replacing K-pop performances has become the most popular way for fans to show their appreciation, Ung said.
“I think a lot of it comes from the feeling of wanting to be famous,” she told Breaking:.
“Some people might just want to dance (for) fun, just to join a community, while for others, I think a lot of them actually still have this little dream in them that they want to be famous, that they want to be a K-pop idol.”
LOOK | A K-pop dance cover of McGill’s K-Rave:
According to Jeff Benjamin, a K-pop columnist at New York’s Billboard Magazine, the industry’s tendency to mix and match different genres and styles of music, from pop to hip-hop to electronic music, is part of the reason it’s quickly becoming multinational. became. .
“K-pop itself is kind of made to make sure it’s maximum fun by mixing a lot of different genres and different languages into it. It was never intended, I think, to stay strictly within Korea,” he told Breaking:. .
“I think mainly because of the international and global interest in K-pop, more groups are hitting the seven-year mark, more groups are hitting the 10-year mark, as we’ve just seen with BTS, and it’s making K-pop more of a sustainable career.”