Making Waves: The Global Phenomenon of K-pop


BTS, a seven-member boy group from South Korea. While BTS were not the first k-pop group to come into the American consciousness, they have been the most critically successful, receiving their second Grammy nomination in November of 2021. Licensed for reuse by Creative Commons.

K-pop (short for Korean popular music) has undeniably taken over the world — and leading the charge is boyband BTS, a seven-member group who received their second Grammy nomination last year.

The music genre has a rich and fascinating history that stems from the 1950s and finds roots within pop, experimental, rock, hip-hop, R&B, electronic, and dance music. Most k-pop groups combine singing, dancing, and rapping in a singular song while maintaining musical variety within their discographies. BTS, who are self-produced, have released singles ranging from EDM to emo rock to funk rap. In this, k-pop is comprised of many genres within genres, creating a unique listening experience that many appreciate.

“I love it,” said Audrey Chang, a sophomore at AAHS.

“They have a lot of different styles from American music which is refreshing,” enthused sophomore Meena Lee.

The first k-pop group to make it big in the United States was Wonder Girls, a five-member girl group who would become the first Korean act to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 and would go on tour with the Jonas Brothers in 2009.The rise of Wonder Girls in America was a byproduct of a niche but increasing appreciation of k-pop, which would go on to grow exponentially. In the last thirteen years, the “hallyu wave” from South Korea has become increasingly prominent, not just with the growth of k-pop, but with the success of k-dramas such as Netflix’s Squid Game. Today, k-pop as a music genre possesses a large and ever-growing fanbase within America.

“[K-pop] is amazing…you don’t have to be apart of the community to enjoy it,” said Rachel Haldorson, a freshman at Colorado State University and AAHS alumni.

K-pop is about more than just the flashy outfits and dances, however. While many songs are fun and light-hearted, k-pop artists also speak of crucial issues such as mental health and unrealistic societal expectations within their music, prompting a raw, honest edge to their songs.

Eric Nam, a Korean-American k-pop singer, performing in Boston last week. Nam penned an article for Time Magazine addressing #StopAsianHate after the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings. Photo courtesy of Anne Zou.

Many artists are also activists for change outside of their music. Last March, Atlanta-born k-pop singer Eric Nam penned a Time Magazine article regarding anti-Asian violence after the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings. Earlier in the year, Nam had joined Jae Park, a Korean-American singer formerly of the k-band Day6, to promote mental health awareness and to share their personal stories in living with anxiety. In June of 2020, BTS donated $1 million dollars to Black Lives Matter. Other artists such as Jay Park, Mark Tuan, CL, Tiger JK, Amber Liu, Yeri, Crush, Tiffany Young and many others also voiced their support of the movement.

Western public perception of k-pop has not always been the kindest, nor has much of the media coverage surrounding it. Personally, I’ve had an awkward relationship with k-pop — it had been a music genre that I knew of in a peripheral way, and frankly, viewed with a sort of polite disdain. I learned to be more open-minded, though, and upon delving further into k-pop, I was glad I did. I’ve learned that k-pop is a fascinating, colorful genre that dives deep into important topics.

The music is great, too.