Commentary: As Big Hit searches for the next big thing, are there too many K-pop groups?

SEOUL: Big Hit Entertainment, the label behind K-pop phenomenon BTS, is each using a shocking wave of success and searching for the next big factor.

Over the previous 12 months, BTS, which delivered Big Hit most of its earnings, has achieved feats unprecedented for K-pop, together with topping the Billboard Hot 100, acting at the Grammys and being named entertainer of the 12 months by Time journal. 

Alongside the accolades have come spectacular earnings. Despite the music business coming beneath pressure since the coronavirus outbreak, when big live shows and stay occasions can’t be held, Big Hit is now valued at round US$7.6 billion, with its inventory value doubling since its preliminary public providing in October 2020.

The firm introduced in US$716 million in revenues and US$77 million in income in 2020, up 36 per cent and almost 20 per cent respectively from the earlier 12 months.

READ: Commentary: BTS management’s stock listing is a sign K-Pop is no passing fad

With the leisure large seeking to transfer from strength-to-strength, Big Hit introduced a mission with Universal Music Group earlier this month. The two corporations will collaborate to assemble and practice a brand new K-pop group to hold on the momentum created by BTS. 

Big Hit is aware of the members of BTS should endure obligatory South Korea army service in some unspecified time in the future and so they might want to fill that non permanent absence.

That nationwide service sabbatical may very well be career-ending in an business of brief consideration spans and insatiable fan urge for food. And for all of BTS’ enormous successes, like all pop acts, they won’t be cool ceaselessly.

READ: Commentary: Beware the fierce devotion of the world’s K-pop fans


In saying the enterprise, Big Hit CEO Bang Si-hyuk mentioned this combining of forces will “create a synergy that rewrites global music history”, whereas Universal Music Group CEO Sir Lucian Grange mentioned the corporations’ aim is to “further accelerate K-pop as a global cultural phenomenon”.

The flotation of BTS' label Big Hit Entertainment will make its founder a billionaire

The flotation of BTS’ label Big Hit Entertainment will make its founder a billionaire. (Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-je)

The factor is, BTS has rewritten the worldwide dialog about K-pop and set a excessive bar for the next group.

No longer do labels, followers or observers surprise what it would take for the style to seek out sustained success in the West.

With a message of “self-love” and lively engagement with followers, BTS has reached international prominence that nobody may have predicted.

READ: Commentary: K-pop’s hardcore fans are propelling social movements, but have blind spots

BTS absorbed the classes of their predecessors and discovered from acts that got here earlier than them what didn’t work. In the US, they entered a market familiarised with Korea by way of publicity to acts like Psy, the MarvelGirls and Girls’ Generation, all of whom had scored a point of stateside success.

It’s not simply the music business. The South Korean authorities too is dedicated to seeing K-pop stay a world drive, partially resulting from the nationwide delight the nation gleans from seeing homegrown acts succeed overseas.

Well conscious of the industrial and soft-power potential of the business, the authorities is pledging continued help, equivalent to tax breaks and subsidies.

READ: Commentary: Museums and performing arts turned to Zoom to survive. But spectators find the experience frustrating


The activity now could be to leverage that into one thing long-lasting. Big Hit hopes to create “synergy” in combining Universal’s experience in the international music business with its hit-making prowess.

The group can be fashioned in the US by way of K-pop’s customary boot-camp type competitors, the place hopefuls can be drilled in singing and dancing as the group’s architects choose members by way of rounds of elimination.


Blackpink carry out at the Sahara Tent throughout the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Apr 19, 2019 in Indio, California. (Photo: Getty Images through AFP/Getty Images North America/Rich Fury)

BTS could sit at the prime of the K-pop pile however are removed from alone. Blackpink, Twice, Exo and TVXQ are heavy hitters with distinct identities. 

Their personal passionate fan bases comply with their each transfer with dedication extra usually related to followers of sports activities franchises.

As BTS and different big corporations look towards the future, and the numerous rivals mull the way to get their very own slice of the pop music pie, the query turns into, how sustainable is all this? 

While the business is rising, it is going to absolutely finally hit some extent of saturation, with diminishing alternatives for every newly launched act.

And there already are actually tons of of idol teams. The prime notch of the business are leisure business kingpins who rake in tens of millions as they (in regular occasions) maintain live shows in stadiums.

Further down the totem pole are middling acts who journey round South Korea in minivans making native appearances for meagre pay or indie bands that put out music on SoundCloud and different channels.

READ: Commentary: How world sensation BTS took K-pop fandom to a whole new level

READ: Commentary: Kimchi controversies and culture wars: What’s South Korea’s and China’s beef?


The abundance of selection may also have the impact of diluting the entire. 

With so many new teams that come throughout as related in sound and look, alongside numerous new Ok-dramas on the ever-expanding variety of streaming platforms, the Korean cultural machine may very well be undermining its personal longevity by presenting audiences with a mind-numbing abundance of selection.

Having a world viewers may change the recreation. The administration brass of Korean leisure titans know they have to goal abroad markets to develop the pie as a substitute of relying solely on home followers, in a quickly ageing society.

With this in thoughts, K-pop administration businesses have been shrewd in broadening the attraction of their acts, intentionally recruiting members of various nationalities with fluency in languages, in Chinese, English and Thai, to spice up teams’ capability to function abroad. 

Just take a look at Blackpink’s members.

This approach, when one viewers group turns away from K-pop, as when South Korean-Chinese relations soured in 2017, they will depend on fandoms in different components of the world.

One viral video urged fans of the South Korean group BTS -- whose admirers are shown here before a

Fans of South Korean group BTS at a live performance in New York. (Photo: AFP/Dia Dipasupil)

But this lean, imply K-pop equipment could have corrosive results on performers. International media commonly report on the darkish facet to the high-stakes lottery of glamorous K-pop stardom.

Untold numbers of younger individuals labour for years with the hope of hanging a cope with considered one of the big administration businesses. Many of them endure gruelling circumstances, with some instances of bodily and sexual abuse.

Even for the chosen few who hit it big, fame may be disagreeable. Recent years have seen a lot of high-profile entertainers take their lives whereas battling the pressures of fame.

Korean netizens may be harsh with idols they really feel have behaved inappropriately, as was the case with Goo Hara and Sulli.

READ: Commentary: Goo Hara’s death should lead K-pop fans to do some soul-searching

READ: Commentary: Who really killed South Korea celebrity Sulli?


Another current transfer by Big Hit that drew considerably much less consideration than the enterprise with Universal is the firm’s determination to purchase a US$63 million stake in YG Entertainment, an older K-pop administration large that has in recent times suffered from a sequence of scandals.

Big Hit can also be partnering with Naver, South Korea’s fundamental internet portal and a rising IT large, to develop an online fan neighborhood. 

As with a lot of online commerce these days, the key’s to maintain followers tuned in, at all times having a motive to refresh the web page and protecting paying consideration.

That Big Hit is now publicly traded means the firm will face stress from shareholders to stay worthwhile and develop persistently.

An employee walks past a electronic board showing an information of Big Hit Entertainment's in

An worker walks previous a digital board exhibiting an information of Big Hit Entertainment’s preliminary public providing ceremony at the Korea Exchange in Seoul, South Korea, Oct 15, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

These energy strikes will imply that at the same time as the K-pop market retains getting extra crowded, and even when the company’s next acts don’t hit big, the firm will nonetheless have income streams and a built-in viewers.

Perhaps K-pop has gotten too big to be dismissed as a fad. Perhaps regardless of saturation, K-pop will at all times have its big gamers.

Big Hit’s current strikes herald a extra unequal enterprise panorama, the place a couple of corporations train ever-growing affect and the uphill climb for numerous aspirants will solely get extra daunting.

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Steven Borowiec is a journalist based mostly in Seoul.


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