New Wave Formations: K-Pop Idol Bands, Social Media, and the Remaking of the Korean Wave
On November 6, 2011, K-pop male idol band Big Bang won the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards Best Worldwide Act Award, hosted in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Its EP album Tonight, released in February 2011, became the first K-pop album to reach the top 10 on the U.S. iTunes chart and is the only non-English-language album in the top 100. On November 10, 2011, K-pop female idol band 2NE1 won the MTV Iggy’s Best New Band in the World Award for 2011 and will be performing at Times Square in New York in December. Many others, including Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, and SHINee, have also taken the center stage of the international K-pop craze for the past few years. While the early years of the Korean Wave were dominated by successful TV dramas (from the late 1990s to mid 2000s), it is now K-pop that is under the brightest spotlight in the contemporary international popular culture scene. How is it, then, that K-pop has come this far? One of the contributing factors is Korea’s intense IT development, leading the K-pop industry to actively utilize user-generated social networking sites and video sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In addition to exercising its typical functions of disseminating music videos and responding to fans’ (and anti-fans’) feedback, the K-pop industry now exploits these new social media. For example, JYP (one of the three major K-pop production companies) ran a flash-mob contest through YouTube for their popular boy band 2PM in spring 2010. A number of flash-mob videos for the contest were uploaded by enthusiastically organized fan communities from all over the world—including one made by Dr. Jung’s undergraduate students in her introductory East Asian pop music class at UCSD (chosen as one of the winners and praised by members of 2PM on television). By investigating exemplary K-pop idol bands and their fast-growing visibility in the major social media spaces like YouTube, where the viewers’ reception is instant and often verbalized, this paper attempts to understand contemporary popular culture consuming behavior in relation to K-pop idol bands. In addition, as a starting point, this paper briefly reviews the earlier K-pop idol bands and singers during the years prior to Facebook and YouTube, and focuses on the changes in promotion strategies and market environments of the latest K-pop idol bands over the last half decade.