In 2018, the South Korean music market experienced a substantial 17.9% increase in their overall revenue growth. In fact, the country also ranked at No. 6 among the top 10 music markets worldwide. K-pop increasingly becoming more global has helped it to become one of the major power players within the music markets worldwide, so why isn't it more well-known amongst the general public across the globe , but especially in the West? This article will touch upon the Korean music industry, the ways in which it targets global audiences, and how it can improve their marketing tactics to reach a broader audience and effectively increase artists' presence in music markets across the world. This article will focus on two groups: GFRIEND and VAV as examples, but mentions the marketing strategies of many other K-pop and even J-pop groups.
During the beginning of the K-pop phenomenon, it was a major deal for Korean superstar, BoA, from SM Entertainment to debut in the United States with an entirely English album. BoA's daring leap into an entirely different music market helped spark the commencement of and open the doors for other Korean artists to try their hand at the American music market. Some examples include SE7EN from YG Entertainment also trying to break into the Western music market and he did this by collaborating with the iconic rap legend, Lil Kim, for the song 'GIRLS.' Wonder Girls even toured as an opening act for the Jonas Brothers in 2009 and eventually went on a 20-show tour throughout the United States of America and Canada in 2010. Another notable example was from the SM Entertainment girl group, Girls Generation, who headlined the Late Show with David Letterman. However, the most influential and record-breaking breakthrough would be from Psy when he released 'Gangnam Style' in 2012. This song took the world by storm and currently has over 2 billion views on YouTube.
For many years, there have been many attempts by Korean soloists and groups to attract the American music market, especially considering the fact that the American music market is not only the largest, but the most influential. From the likes of PSY to the current success of global phenomenon, BTS, the door seems to be open for more Korean artists to breakthrough in this music market. And yet, there aren't many that seem to be making much stride or breaking records. Despite all of their efforts to attract international audiences, there are barriers that are blocking them from being successful at it and reaching music listeners outside of the dedicated K-pop community.
The K-pop industry is changing from an audience-based B2C model to a social media-dependent B2B model, but it's important to note that there should be a balance of both. There are several common practices that Korean entertainment companies use to attract fans outside of Korea like, releasing music in multiple languages, collaborating with artists, offering global packages for international fans, and even developing multicultural groups with members from different parts of Asia (ex. NCT with South Korean members from South Korea, America, and Canada, but also China, Thailand, and Japan). K-pop idols may even go to popular events like KCON in different cities across the world to meet international K-pop fans. But, these aren't necessarily the type of marketing efforts that would help break these artists into public consciousness. They just raise awareness about these artists to people who are ALREADY K-pop fans, but not to people who've never been exposed to or generated an interest in K-pop before.
1. MUSIC FESTIVALS AND PARADES
This leads into my first point about why they should be expanding outside of their horizon and be more experimental about the way they attract fans. Performing at festivals that aren't geared solely to K-pop fans and more towards the general public in other countries is a great start. Music festivals have been around for decades now with thousands of them being located all over the world, however, some of these festivals have seen resurgence in popularity and attendees. Music is a universal language and it's a great opportunity for people to come together and bask in the experiences, joy, and peace that music brings to them. This is a great opportunity for K-pop acts to perform and publicize their talents to a diverse audience that's already hungry to hear more, try new things, and just enjoy themselves. Blackpink made history in 2019 as the FIRST Korean idol group to perform at Coachella. Coachella is the LARGEST music festival with about 99,000 attendees per day during the six days with millions being able to watch the exclusive-livestream of the festival at home on YouTube.
This is a great opportunity for a group like VAV, who are making strides for K-pop in Latin America, to perform at Latin music festivals in America like Ruido Fest in June in Chicago, IL, Metro Metro Festival 2020 in May in Montreal, Quebec, or the iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina in November in Miami. Despite none of them actually being of Latin heritage, they could do a quick performance with De La Ghetto and Play-N-Skillz to help promote 'Give Me More,' in Spanish and then a solo performance of 'Senorita.' It would be a great way for them to showcase not only their singing and dancing abilities, but their passion to be experimental and delve into a new genre. It could help expose them to more open-minded music listeners along the way.
This would also be beneficial for a group like GFRIEND because they would be able to reach different audiences that are atypical of their current fanbase.
Another great example of this is NCT 127 performing at the 2020 Rodeo Houston and being the first ever K-pop act to do so. This representative festival attracts over 2.5 million viewers every year. This was a smart and successful opportunity for NCT 127 to connect with a larger audience, outside of their immediate fanbase and perform amongst other global pop stars.
2. SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT, VIRAL MARKETING, & ONLINE ACCESSIBILITY
This is where social media marketing comes into play. Social media content is both engaging and profitable, BUT K-pop groups honestly don't know how to utilize it properly. Social media allows companies to effectively communicate with their consumers so it's important to implement EFFECTIVE social media strategies to develop consumer trust, brand loyalty, and strengthen their customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
Twitter vs. Mention Parties
A mention party (menpa) is when groups or soloists try to respond to as many fans as possible, especially within a certain time frame. This is an awesome way to interact with fans, look at the memes they've created, and get them excited about being a fan overall, but it's also repetitive. It's nice to delegate specific time to speak to fans, but it can also feel robotic overtime. A better method is to just space out your responses to fans and make it feel more organic. Getting a response from a celebrity at a random time, without actually expecting it is a lot more rewarding than getting a response during a time when you know they were most likely told to by their management to log on and randomly reply. Whether these responses are some on Twitter or Instagram, since they are some of the top social networking apps, they should be done honestly and not made to seem like they're doing it because they have to. This will encourage more people, including casual fans, to want to engage with the artists' more.
For example, GFRIEND were known for previously interacting with fans on Instagram, however, after their company, Source Music, was bought out by BIGHIT Entertainment, they moved their fan engagement to Weverse. However, not everyone is even on Weverse and artists shouldn't be closed off from the general public nor casual fans just so that they can offer exclusive fan service. Additionally, Weverse is an app on Korean and despite the fact that it offers English translations, the translation is not clear or accurate at all. It makes it harder for International fans to want to reach out to and share moments with GFRIEND online knowing that the communication barriers have increased.
Tik Tok Challenges
In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, with just about everyone being ordered to stay at home, people are trying to find ways to entertain themselves and keep busy. However, music fans in the United States were responsible for 1 BILLION fewer interactive audio streams last week from March 13 to Thursday, March 19, 2020, which resulted in an 8.8% decline. On the other hand, video streams and the usage of video platforms increased dramatically. A prime example of this is through Tik Tok and how it saw a 18% increase in downloads in ONE week in the United States, which resulted in 2 million more unique downloads. TikTok is quickly becoming a major platform, with stats showing that the app has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times globally. This is a great opportunity for Korean idols to get on the app and either showcase their dancing abilities or their personalities. Instead of trying to force growth by creating Tik Tok challenges that no one will follow except a few of their dedicated fans, they should be participating in already popular challenges. This is called "trend jacking." For example, Jo Kwon of 2AM was recently discharged from the military and the first thing he did was recreate the well-known dance challenge to the dance 'Nonstop' by Drake.
This video was fun and immediately went viral all across Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok, and garnered over 3.6 million views and counting on Twitter alone.
Some examples of Tik Tok chalellenges that VAV or GFRIEND could participate in include:
Blinding Lights by The Weeknd. For example:
Renegade by K CAMP. Being able to master this dance would absolutely go viral considering how difficult it is to execute yet so widely done.
Don't Start Now by Dua Lipa
Considering how both groups have exceptionally talented dancers and fun personalities, the options are endless!
Even though music is a universal language, there are still barriers that block people from wanting to support artists who do not speak their language. It makes them feel disconnected from the artists, which discourages them from even giving them a chance. This is why it's important to offer subtitles. Subtitles should be offered in English across all of their platforms from YouTube to VLIVE without relying on fans to do all of the work. But, to really offer a competitive advantage, subtitles should be made available in at least the top 5 languages where the most fans and streams come from. For example, Spotify's streaming intelligence shows what countries their music listeners are coming from, which helps artists know where the majority of their audiences are. If implementing more subtitles means that these Korean entertainment companies need to hire more translators to make their content more accessible to international audiences, then that should be done.
GFRIEND usually have subtitles in English and Korean while VAV have subtitles in English and Chinese. But, this is not done across all of their platforms and it doesn't take into account some of their most dedicated and populated fans from across Southeast Asia and/or Latin America/Spanish speaking countries.
3. DIVERSIFYING THEIR TALENTS
They can do this by getting involved in more K-drama cameos, video game OSTs, or partnering with artists who have already shown interest in them.
Musically, there are many kpop groups that are stuck in the monotonous tone of the kpop mainstream. Elsewhere in the kpop idol scene, there are groups like VAV and Gfriend that are able to tailor their music to speak to specific audiences and subcultures who may teeter close, but not too close to the current epicentre of K-pop music scene.
The fierce, yet fresh-faced K-pop group, Gfriend, combines pop music with orchestra, synth, new jack swing and pop-rock into the identity of their sound. Their fans and the Korean media affectionately call Gfriend’s staple music: orchestra-pop or baroque-pop. Their uniqueness in the K-pop idol scene bears resemblance to J-Pop groups like Perfume or Babymetal, who have etched their own unique stamp in the Japanese music scene with their unique performances and musical identity. However, unlike these groups, Gfriend has not been given the full capability to capitalize and market their unique sound in the global market.
Gfriend’s label should recognize the goldmine they have with this group. They should try to send the group to festivals like SXSW like Perfume, try to make more international collabs with artists that have shown interest in their music such as Gallant or even Lil Uzi. It would be even better if they would have the opportunity to be opening acts for these popular artists.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with partnering with an already established artist in your music market of choice and working alongside them to tour. This is the type of method that could help them develop face recognition, and potentially develop a casual fanbase. If Wonder Girls did it for The Jonas Brothers in 2009, Babymetal for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2017, and Crayon Pop for Lady Gaga in 2014, then the new generation of Korean pop acts can do this successfully, as well.
With all of that being said, K-pop is a global phenomenon that is slowly making waves within the most influential music market in the world, but it has a long way to go before it exits its niche fanbase and it successfully attracts the attention of the general public in other countries the way other genres have. Despite the fact that this article focused mostly on GFRIEND and VAV as examples, these are innovative strategies that just about any other K-pop group can execute and make success of, as long as they are willing to take that risk.
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