What is the K in K-pop? South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry, and National Identity
This article focuses on the source of K-pop’s commercial success and the meaning of that success for South Korean society and culture.
It links Korean music with Confucian Korean culture, a link that was affected by an influx of foreign music styles (Japanese enka, genres from the United States) after 1945. Nevertheless, Korea retained a unique musical aesthetic based on the pentatonic scale and exemplified by the singer Cho Yong-pil. Following the 1970s, a U.S. influence with its diatonic scale began to inform Korean music in response to political and cultural oppression following the liberation of South Korea. This period also witnessed increased popularity of television and music, exemplified by Seo Taiji and Boys, who did not “sound Korean” and introduced dance into their performance. The rise of K-pop is related to the growth of the South Korean economy as an export market as well as the development of technology, especially digitized music and video. This is exemplified by Korean agency CEOs like Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment. K-pop provided alternatives to American performers, Korean performers of the audiences’ parents’ generation, and J-pop, which did not have global aspirations. The K-pop industry operates like a business driven by profits rather than musical considerations. Music is merely a product to be produced and exported. Because K-pop is a product, it does not retain elements of “traditional Korea” but only exists as a brand.
Korea Observer, 43.3 (2012): 339-363.