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A Student Short Essay Series #1

I am teaching a K-pop course at Berklee College of Music. The majority of my students are non-Koreans who are fans of K-pop and aspire to work in the industry. Their perspectives are crucial for us to understand how K-pop is perceived in a non-Korean context. With permission, I will post a series of short essays drafted during the final exam. These will serve as our knowledge base, guiding us to understand the best way to create the most valuable K-pop educational content by leveraging their insights. The questions are curated during the weeks of classes, and students get to choose two of them to answer freely. I edited the text to improve readability.

Essays by O.P.

Essay Question: What factors contribute to K-POP idol aspiration for global expansion?

There are many genres under the K-pop umbrella, such as R&B, hip-hop, EDM, rock, and this allows the main genre to attract fans with different musical tastes. K-pop training is also very rigorous, and that really shows in their performances and music videos. It really is a one-of-a-kind experience that no other genre/musical style group does. The performances are always top-tier and high-quality, with complicated choreography that is bound to catch the eye of global viewers, even if they don’t understand the Korean language. No other Western groups do this. It is a very unique experience for viewers and artists.

Additionally, many idols can speak more than one language, which allows them to connect with international fans. Social media also plays a big role in global expansion. K-pop groups are usually active on media like Instagram and Twitter, and constantly engage with fans worldwide. This helps to build a connection. Groups like Stray Kids and ENHYPEN participate in the latest trends and post videos on TikTok, showing that they scroll through social media and have fun just like us. When fans are comfortable and feel safe in their community, they are willing to support the idols as much as they can.

Global tours strengthen their fan base and also promote their music worldwide. Many groups such as TXT have also started collaborating with Western artists such as Anitta (Brazilian) and Bebe Rexha (American), which definitely helps to increase their visibility to a larger international audience. Bebe and the TXT members have a close relationship and even post videos and photos together on social media. This bridges the gap between the Western world and also helps to promote these groups to fans of Western artists and their own genre. Fan meetings, clubs, and events make groups more accessible to fans of different cultures. Since K-pop represents South Korean culture, it is easier for fans to learn more about their favorite groups and generally about Korean music, fashion, and entertainment. The Hallyu wave and global popularity of K-dramas, food, fashion, and other cultural aspects all influence and spread the genre of K-pop, creating curiosity about everything Korean.

Essay Question: Among the elements that set successful idols apart—1) differentiation from existing idol groups, 2) communication utilizing social media channels, 3) message and authenticity—why are message and authenticity considered more unique compared to the other elements?

The message is considered more unique because K-pop usually focuses on the interests of younger generations, meaning they are a very influential source for many people all over the world. They are always relevant to whatever is going on in society. They are basically global cultural ambassadors for Korean culture. They always maintain a positive image and values and influence how Korea is perceived in the Western world. They promote understanding of a culture that can be unfamiliar to many people around the world. They are positive role models. BTS and Stray Kids members are global ambassadors for high-end brands such as Versace, Louis Vuitton, YSL, etc., so they are not only representing themselves and their country, but also hold themselves to a higher standard being representatives of a company. This shows honor, patience, and practice which they have spent many hours, if not years, perfecting.

The training process to become an idol is not a secret to the world. Many trainees, such as Niki from ENHYPEN, enter the industry at very young ages, the youngest being BoA at age 13, and thus they are easily manipulated since they haven’t really been exposed to the industry and their minds are easily moldable. The training process is very intense and vigorous and takes a lot of willpower and strength to maintain their image and roles. This presents a hardworking background which creates a powerful team - not everyone can do it, but everyone can try. The message is positive.

Most idols speak up for their fans' mental health and their own. For example, Song Mingi from ATEEZ went on an 8-month mental health hiatus and did not participate in any performances or activities, even music videos, in order to give himself time to heal and recover from his intense anxiety. Han Jisung from Stray Kids has been active about creating awareness of social anxiety and especially as someone who is talked about in the media all the time and gets his photos taken anywhere he goes, it can be very difficult to have a mentally safe lifestyle. There is also intense pressure from management for them to always be perfect, which is impossible, and sometimes they make mistakes. They are sometimes forced to follow extreme diets to fit the idol beauty standard, which often leads to a lot of negative impacts.

Idols are real people with real emotions, just like us. Many people view them as fake or putting on an act. Of course, some idols are like this, the same way American celebrities are, however, I feel like really invested fans can see through if something is authentic or not. You can tell who really cares about their art, their fans, their team, their music, and who doesn’t. Unfortunately, lots of idols are used as 'money machines'. The contracts they are under often prohibit them from doing things they enjoy, so it is important that they are part of a strong, supportive community that their fans create. Because of all of this, they provide an escape for their fans. They give their fans purpose and offer a safe community where they can be themselves freely.


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