Can K-pop Conquer The UK?
Will it ever happen in the UK?
When Psy stormed to the top of the UK charts in 2012 with the massive worldwide hit Gangnam Style, chalking up over two and a half billion views on YouTube, many people thought it would be the single that finally broke K-Pop in Britain.
Yet the predicted South Korean invasion has yet to materialise.
Last October, Bangtan Boys, better known as BTS, achieved a milestone in scoring the first K-Pop entry on to the UK album charts, entering at number 62 with their album ‘Wings’, but other than that, the UK remains resolutely K-Pop resistant. So what is stopping K-Pop from reaching this lucrative market?
There’s no denying that K-Pop is a huge phenomena. Megastars EXO outsold One Direction by four to one in 2015, achieving the fifth best selling album in the world. Yet the ‘Hallyu’ (or flow of Korea) that has swept across Asia has yet to reach UK shores.
Part of the problem is the language barrier. Britain doesn’t do foreign language songs very often, and when it does, they tend to be novelty hits. Think Las Ketchup’s The Ketchup Song, Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus or Los Del Rio’s Macarena; holiday hits that people have brought back from their summer break. Even Gangnam Style was a novelty hit, made popular by its crazy dance routine as much as by its catchy sound.
In Britain, people tend to like their songs in English, which is why so many US stars find success here when South Koran bands fail. Learning a new language is not like taking up a new sport. It takes years of study, and while there’s plenty of English language music to choose from, K-Pop hits will always struggle.
Another problem is the stereotypes that exist. As the Guardian newspaper discussed, far from pushing K-Pop forward, it could be argued that Gangnam Style actually set things back. Psy’s crazy, overweight man with a terrible haircut reinforced the negative image of Koreans that many Westerners hold. His wild style hardly represents the K-Pop world of immaculately manicured boy and girl bands, with their step-perfect dance routines. What’s more, his suggestive dancing is anathema to the clean cut, teen-appropriate image of most K-Pop bands.
South Korean singer, CL, could be one to break the chart mould, building on her success in the US. But she has only achieved this by breaking the mould of K-Pop, singing in English with a far grittier, sassier approach. The bad girl image – her breakaway single from iconic now-disbanded K-pop girl group 2NE1 was even titled ‘The Baddest Female’ – may be winning her plenty of fans, but whether this is good for traditional K-Pop as a whole is another matter.
Perhaps K-Pop will never truly go global or break the UK charts, but then with such vast markets across South Korean, Hong Kong and Japan, maybe it doesn’t need to.
With millions of fans queuing up for albums and concert tickets, do they really need British fans?