For the past decade, Korean pop, music or K-pop has seen a steady rise in popularity across many parts of the world. Known for its expressive visual performance style, its all-male or all-female bands, and it’s intensely dedicated fans, K-pop was already wildly popular in South Korea and Japan throughout the 1990’s and mid 2000’s. Since the late 2000’s the K-pop music industry has spread even further, with huge fan bases in parts of Latin America, Northeast India, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. In 2011, the K-pop boy band Big Bang won the award for best Worldwide Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards, beating well known nominees such as Britney Spears. And in 2012, K-pop was called “South Korea’s Greatest Export” by TIME Magazine.
Despite the international spread of K-pop, here in the U.S, K-pop music remains a fairly niche part of our culture, only recently growing in popularity outside of East Asian and Asian American groups. The media stereotypes about East Asian males as geeky, comedic, lacking in masculinity, or simply martial arts masters may have some effect on its ability to reach mainstream U.S audiences. Many of the most popular K-pop acts are indeed male pop singers, who are seen as idols and heartthrobs for their fans, much in the way that young American male pop stars are seen here in the U.S.
To date, the only K-pop act to reach mainstream success in the United States has been Psy, who’s infamous “Gagnam Style” currently boasts over 1.9 billion views on YouTube, was a memetic sensation during 2012. Despite this success, much of its infamy and popularity in the United States stemmed from its comedic elements and the hilarious dance and video rather than a true interest in Psy as an artist. Psy was able to break into mainstream American media with comedy, rather than the artistry and heartthrob factor of other Korean acts. And since that brief surge of popularity in 2012, Psy has, indeed faded into the background of mainstream American media’s awareness.