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Analyzing the Reasons for the Global Popularity of BTS: A New Approach from a Business Perspective


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This paper analyzes the reasons for the global popularity of the Korean boy band BTS that has been at the center of the growing popularity of Korean pop music or K-pop. To address this issue more comprehensively, this paper utilizes a framework derived from a business approach which has been so far little attempted. In contrast from existing studies that focus on fandom and its activities, this paper argues that instead of egocentric strategies, sophisticated consumer-oriented strategies by utilizing internationalization and digitization are the key to its global popularity, which have helped BTS and their managing company Big Hit Entertainment to overcome all the disadvantages they faced before while reinforcing exiting advantages and creating new ones. By doing so, BTS has gained their global success and become Korea's top boy band.
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Journal of International Business and Economy (2020) 21(1): 15-36 (22 pages)
Journal of International Business and Economy Spring 2020
Jimmyn Parc and Yeogeun Yonsue Kim
This paper analyzes the reasons for the global popularity of the Korean boy
band BTS that has been at the center of the growing popularity of Korean pop
music or K-pop. To address this issue more comprehensively, this paper utilizes
a framework derived from a business approach which has been so far little
attempted. In contrast from existing studies that focus on fandom and its
activities, this paper argues that instead of egocentric strategies, sophisticated
consumer-oriented strategies by utilizing internationalization and digitization
are the key to its global popularity, which have helped BTS and their managing
company Big Hit Entertainment to overcome all the disadvantages they faced
before while reinforcing exiting advantages and creating new ones. By doing so,
BTS has gained their global success and become Korea’s top boy band.
Key Words: BTS, Bangtan Boys, Bangtan Sonyeondan, K-pop, Hallyu, Korean music
Jimmyn Parc
Sciences Po Paris, France; Seoul National University, South Korea
Yeogeun Yonsue Kim
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Correspondence: Jimmyn Parc
Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), Sciences Po Paris
27, rue Saint-Guillaume 75337 Paris CEDEX 07, France
16 Journal of International Business and Economy
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the world’s cultural hegemony has shifted
from Europe to the United States led by its audio-visual industries. Naturally, the linguistic
hegemony in these cultural industries has also shifted to English from non-English
European languages such as French or Italian while the ethnological dominance continued
to be “white Caucasian.” It was widely believed that this cultural landscape would not
change for the foreseeable future, however the global emergence of Korean pop culture has
challenged such perceptions. This development becomes a worthy topic that requires
further analyses as most of its products feature the Korean language and its people. To gain
a clearer perspective, this paper tackles this issue from a business perspective with focus on
BTS or Bangtan Boys, a seven-member Korean boy band that has recently gained global
When Korean cultural products such as dramas, films, and popular songs began to
emerge in the international market in the late 1990s, this phenomenon attracted close
attention from around the world. One of the critical reasons for this interest is that Korea
had long been regarded as a periphery in the global cultural industries (Otmazgin and Lyan,
2014; Yang, 2012). In fact, its rapid success led to a number of scholars and commentators
dismissing this phenomenon as simply an unsustainable fad. Furthermore, many regarded
its coverage as mostly limited to East and Southeast Asia where Confucian values or other
cultural traits are shared (Ha, 2017; Kim, 2007). Yet the developments in the last few years
have been in stark contrast to such viewpoints, as a large number of Korean dramas have
been exported to more countries, Korean films have received several prestigious
international film awards, and Korean pop music or K-pop has gained more international
popularity across a diverse range of countries.
Among these three, K-pop has in 2020 been catching great attention among
international media outlets due to two key events. First, it was widely reported by the media
that K-pop fans had taken over the #whitelivesmatter hashtag on Twitter by posting images
of K-pop singers and bands in the early June as part of the Black Lives Matter protests
(Aswad, 2020). Second, the boy band BTS took over the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100
for the first time since their debut with the song “Dynamite.” This smash hit has also topped
the iTunes Top Song charts in 104 countries following its release in August 2020 (Savage,
2020). These two events create a wide range of topics for academic discussion and analysis.
Spring 2020 17
More importantly, they demonstrate the continuous and increasing global popularity of K-
pop across the world.
So far, there has been a number of studies that have analyzed the global emergence
of K-pop and/or the Korean music industry. While these studies provide meaningful
findings and implications, there are still few academic endeavors that have focused on BTS
and their global popularity. Among the small number of studies on this subject, most deal
with fandom and its supporting activities as will be shown later in the literature review. In
this regard, a different view using a business perspective can be beneficial toward
understanding more comprehensively how BTS has emerged globally (Parc, 2018). This can
be a complementary asset to the prevailing fandom-focused research while enriching studies
on the (Korean) music industry, particularly about BTS.
To address this issue, this paper consists of the following sections. The first covers
the literature review on the emergence of the band. The second provides background
information on BTS in order for readers to comprehend better the analysis of this paper.
The third delineates the theoretical framework and methodology that are utilized in this
study. Based on the previous section, an in-depth analysis is conducted in the fourth section.
The fifth section discusses the implications drawn from the analysis of the previous sections
and other related issues. Finally, the conclusion summarizes the findings of this paper and
suggests areas for possible further study.
The focus in the international media on BTS has been very recent, reflecting the fact that
their global emergence began in 2015. This indicates how relatively new this topic is in
academia and why the literature on the topic is still in its early stages. So far, much of the
media in the US and Europe have underscored the enthusiastic and devoted support
expressed by their international fandom known as the ARMY or Adorable Representative
MC for Youth as it has been known for its various on and offline activities including flash
mob gatherings, producing BTS-related content, tweeting news about BTS, mass watching
BTS music videos on YouTube, creating trending BTS hashtags, collective voting on music
charts such as Billboard, and various forms of charitable work. For this reason, the main
focus of academia has been on the fandom studies.
Among some of the notable literature, Lee (2018) is one of the first dealing with
fandom to explain why BTS has become so influential. She mentions that the group’s
18 Journal of International Business and Economy
managing company Big Hit Entertainment (hereafter Big Hit) was not a major company
and had weak media power in Korea; hence, BTS has to be more competent than their rivals
to survive in the harsh Korean entertainment industry. On top of this, she highlights the
unique relationship between BTS and the ARMY that has been established from its
emergence through social networks and internet platforms.
Crucially, she points out that the lyrics of BTS consist of stories and issues harsh
school life, social inequality, unjustified stereotypes, anxieties in the real world which have
been structured by the established (or neo-liberal) order that appeal to young generations.
Through this sympathy, a very special intimate relationship has formed between BTS and
the ARMY. Between these two, there is no organizational structure, hierarchical order, or
specific center. Through online contact, BTS and the ARMY interact with each other and
continuously create concepts and values that can be transformed into new art and culture.
In her analysis, she connects this special relationship with the concept of rhizome, which
was developed by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
In the same vein, Lee, J. (2019) focuses on the fandom of BTS in her archive-like
monograph. By illustrating many specific cases in detail, she describes how BTS and the
ARMY have interacted to establish their own intimate relationship. She argues that the
ARMY supports BTS, not because it is a K-pop band but because their music carries
meaningful and positive messages for their followers. Such a fandom is then inspired and
willing to share this message with others. To this end, they upload video clips of BTS with
hashtags, vote for them in prestigious music charts, and request radio stations to play these
More importantly, she argues that BTS has all the minority elements such as non-
English speaking, Asian, and boy band. In this regard, people who claim to support BTS
and listen to their music have experienced discrimination from their peers for enjoying a
different musical taste. These fans then have a chance to consider the experiences of other
social minorities. This has excelled their support for BTS and other charitable campaigns in
a diverse manner. Interestingly, she presents that this kind of fandom culture is not unique
for BTS, but also exists for other musicians such as Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, One Direction,
and Shawn Mendes, although it is more limited to online streaming.
McLaren and Jin (2020) focus on transnational and transcultural flows of hybridized
popular culture in an era of new media technologies. They argue that the popularity of BTS
can be explored in the context of social media usage among fans and in their identification
with BTS through the band’s online content, music, and image of authenticity. Like Lee
Spring 2020 19
(2018) and Lee, J. (2019), McLaren and Jin (2020) point out the special relationship between
BTS and their fans that has been established through social media. With this, they argue
that hybridized popular culture is circulated not only through transnational flows of content
but also with transcultural constructions of affective investment and identity.
Lee, M. (2019) and Yoon (2019) share the same view on fandom as the
aforementioned literature. However, they highlight more the existence of the storytelling
strategy. By engaging in albums, music videos, webtoons, and short films, BTS has
established more elaborate and multi-layered narratives in which the band creates its content.
This is known as the BTS Universe, often shortened to BU; this concept is similar to the
Marvel Universe, a fictional world where most stories from the American comic books take
place. This has attracted more fans for BTS, resulting in an increase in their global popularity.
All of the precedent literature is meaningful to explain the global emergence of BTS.
At the same time, this topic requires a critical assessment. First, before this close relationship
between BTS and their fans was formed, how did people come to know about the band and
listen to their music, and what was their first point of access toward discovering them?
Second, knowing that a storytelling strategy can be copied by others, what has made people
want to become specifically a fan of BTS? Third, given that other (K-pop) bands also have
supportive fandom, why has the ARMY pursued a more interactive relationship with BTS?
Last, why has BTS used a wider range of media devices to promote the band? All of these
questions should be examined in order to better understand the global emergence of BTS.
In order to understand more clearly about the global popularity of BTS, it is necessary to
examine its background and history, particularly with a focus on Big Hit. BTS debuted on
June 13, 2013 and was originally focused on producing and performing hardcore hip-hop
music. Interestingly, before their debut, BTS actively uploaded a large number of video
blogs (vlogs) and related dance rehearsal videos on social media in order for the public to
become more aware of the band. Here, it is important to point out that the domestic
popularity of this group was limited despite these efforts, and this signifies that social media
by itself cannot fully explain the emergence and popularity of K-pop, notably BTS. In fact,
one of the core issues was that their musical style was far from the tastes of the average
Korean consumer at that time.
20 Journal of International Business and Economy
Around the same time, Big Hit was involved in producing another hip-hop band
called GLAM which consisted of five girls and made their official debut in June 2012. Two
years later a scandal surrounding GLAM erupted in relation to one of the group’s members
who blackmailed Korea’s leading actor Lee Byung-hun. The subsequent court case and
guilty ruling placed Big Hit under great constraint as it lost a chance to collect a significant
amount of revenues from GLAM’s expected success and therefore faced with a large
amount of debt. It was clear that these conditions made it difficult for Big Hit to promote
its singers and bands. As a result, Korean media outlets placed an unofficial boycott on any
singers or bands from Big Hit after the scandal broke out; this is hinted at with the BTS
song “Sea (바다, bada),” which is the second hidden track on Love Yourself
‘Her’ and only
available on the physical album. This may explain why during their early days the appearance
of BTS in the Korean media was very limited.1 It is worth pointing out that another song
“Move (이사, isa),” which was released in 2015, describes the difficulties they faced during
that time.
Eventually BTS enjoyed their first breakthrough and commercial success in 2015
following the release of the Youth series known as HYYH (Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa or The Most
Beautiful Moment in Life) trilogy, which demonstrated the evolving musical style from solely
hip-hop to a wide range of genres.2 Alongside this change in music, they shifted away from
simple episodes to more elaborate storylines and multi-layered narratives as they set out to
create the BTS Universe. Given that the title for Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa was inspired by the
famous Hong Kong film In the Mood for Love, this series was aimed at the Chinese market,
which along with Japan was a profitable location for K-pop bands. However, the Chinese
government began to signal that it would close its market to K-pop in 2016 due to the
diplomatic dispute over the deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system in
Korea.3 Following the THAAD crisis, BTS was one of the first K-pop bands that actively
turned to the US market, which is the largest and the most influential in the world.
1 It is also important to note that Big Hit was a small company when compared with other major entertainment
companies such as SM, YG, and JYP although its CEO Bang Si-hyuk was a well-known figure in the Korean
music industry. Therefore, it can be easily assumed that this company has weak bargaining power vis-à-vis the
main Korean TV channels as well as other media outlets in the early years of BTS.
2 The Korean title of The Most Beautiful Moment in Life is Hwanyangyeonhwa (화양연화). This was influenced by the
famous film that has the same title in Korean and was directed by the leading Hong Kong film director Wong
Kar-wai. The English title for this movie though is different, In the Mood for Love (2000).
3 On July 8, 2016, the Korean government agreed to host the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude
Area Defense (THAAD). This decision provoked China to restrict the import of a wide variety of cultural goods
from Korea including music and films since 2017.
Spring 2020 21
BTS made their debut in the US with the leading song “DNA” at the 2017 American
Music Awards. Together with the great support of the ARMY, this Korean boy band won
the 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 Billboard Awards for Top Social Artist beating well-known
Western pop artists such as Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Selena Gomez. They have
been invited to the American Music Awards, Grammy Awards, and other well-known
American TV talk shows such as Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Late Late
Show With James Corden, as well as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In addition, BTS
even performed several times on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve which is a famous
annual television event in the US.
In the online space, BTS has been the most tweeted celebrities across the globe since
2017 (Aniftos, 2017). Forbes named BTS the world’s highest paid boy band in 2019 (Voytko,
2020) and this band recently tied the Beatles’ record by earning three Billboard No. 1 albums
in one year. On August 21, 2020, BTS finally released their first English-language single
“Dynamite,” which broke the YouTube record for not only being the most viewed video in
the first 24 hours but also being the first video on the platform to surpass a 100 million
views within the first 24 hours (Porterfield, 2020). To cap this all off, the single debuted at
number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The critical literature review demonstrates the need for a broader view toward
understanding the global emergence of BTS. To pursue such a rigorous framework that has
a solid theoretical basis, it is important to recognize that the emergence of K-pop is very
much related to digitization which has been led by rapid advancements in technology and
the advent of the Internet (Jin, 2016; Parc, 2019a, 2019b; Parc, Messerlin, and Moon, 2016).
In this regard, the approach introduced by Parc and Kawashima (2018) and Parc and Kim
(2020) are very pertinent. This was derived from a business analytical tool known as the
diamond approach which was developed by Porter (1990). In later years, Moon, Rugman,
and Verbeke (1998) extended it further by incorporating international activities.
This framework focuses on the basic principles such as how to produce better (or
more appealing) music, how to distribute it more widely, how to consume more efficiently,
and how to manage all of these functions more effectively. In order to deal with this
comprehensiveness, the framework has four factors: distributors, producers, consumers,
and business context (see Table 1). Each factor has two sub-factors which are distinguished
22 Journal of International Business and Economy
by the level of their sophistication in the different period. The less sophisticated one (upper
sub-factor for each factor) appears when the Internet was introduced while the more
sophisticated one (lower sub-factor for each factor) emerges when the Internet becomes
routinized for everyday life; distributors have “hardware” and “software”; producers have “basic”
and “advanced”; consumers have “size” and “quality”; and business context has “structure” and
Table 1. Dynamic framework of music industry
Factor Sub-factors Changes
Domestic providers
International suppliers
Audio sound
Visual images
Album (bundle of songs)
Song (a piece of music)
Business context
Limited interaction
Synergetic network
Source: Parc and Kim (2020); Improved based on Parc and Kawashima (2018)
Hardware in distributors is the way music is distributed in the course of changes from
analog to digital. Software implies how music is distributed through the Internet and online
platforms, particularly from domestic to international setting. Basic in producers signifies
the changes of music production to make it better and more appealing when transformation
from offline to online takes place. Advanced in producers indicates how to produce more
attractive music that led to form a wide range of strong fandom; with smart devices the
current change is from audio sound to visual images. While consumers suggest the way
people enjoy music, size is music consumption in quantity whereas quality is music
consumption in quality from various perspectives. Business context is about how to
facilitate all the activities in a more effective way. Finally, structure of business context is
about the level of integration while synergy means the level of synergy that can be brought
about by various business activities.
These four factors reinforce, interact, and affect one another to optimize their
operations to strengthen and/or create (new) advantages while overcoming disadvantages;
which eventually contribute to enhanced overall competitiveness. When these four factors
Spring 2020 23
foster the most favorable environment, a music industry is likely to succeed in the global
market. By utilizing this framework, the link between cause and effect, which can explain
how advantages can be created, enhanced, and sustained in a given environment, can be
comprehensively and systematically explained.
This framework has been utilized in order to analyze the transformation of the
Korean music industry to explain why K-pop has emerged in the global market (Parc and
Kim, 2020) and also to compare different business strategies of J-pop and K-pop that have
faced the same global digitization but with different outcomes (Parc and Kawashima, 2018).
Therefore, this framework is useful to analyze the global popularity of BTS.
As described before, the literature on the reasons for the global popularity of BTS is
rather scarce. This paper therefore provides a better understanding on the issue by not just
offering new information, but also delivering a comprehensive and systematic explanation.
As such, this paper utilizes extensively the audio-visual contents that BTS has published on
and offline as well as existing studies that have scattered information about BTS. As this
paper analyzes the reasons for the global popularity of BTS by using a business analytical
tool, it is rather qualitative and descriptive.
In order to better understand the global popularity of BTS, it is very important to
acknowledge the tremendous efforts among precedent K-pop bands and singers as well as
people in the Korean music industry. In particular, the continuous endeavors to overcome
various hardships and difficulties and to seek out new advantages facing changes that
internationalization and digitization have brought in should be adequately considered as
fundamental forces that have enabled BTS to emerge as a globally successful player. It is
also worth remembering that BTS had modest domestic popularity in their early days.
Hence, a contrast between the situation before and after their emergence helps provide a
more meaningful analysis.
As happened in the Korean music industry during the late 1990s, the distribution of music
has changed from physical albums to MP3 files or online streaming (Parc and Kawashima,
2018). At the same time, appearances on media coverage, particularly on TV channels, are
very important in order to gain strong popularity (Parc and Kim, 2020). However, BTS
24 Journal of International Business and Economy
experienced difficulties to gain access to these outlets, particularly in the wake of the GLAM
scandal. In order to find a way to overcome it, they have actively utilized internet platforms
such as V Live, a Korean live video streaming service which allows celebrities to broadcast
live video and participate in live chat with fans on the Internet. Many of these live video
chats have been recorded by fans and these video clips have been distributed through
international internet platforms such as YouTube.
As mentioned above, BTS and their managing company have not been afraid of
utilizing the Internet or online streaming platforms. Their music has been widely available
through international service providers such as YouTube, iTunes, and Spotify. In addition,
each member of BTS has released their individual mixtapes online where any consumer can
download them freely without any charge (see Figure 1). Interestingly, these songs achieved
strong success in the online music charts that count the number of streams and downloads.
This practice has helped to function as a promotional tool for the regular albums. BTS and
Big Hit even uploaded comeback trailers of new songs in order to promote them before
their release.
Figure 1. Big Hit’s links for free mixtapes
Image source: Big Hit Entertainment (2018) on Twitter
The distribution of (relevant) contents is not only done by BTS and Big Hit, but also
by their fandom and the ARMY. The BTS fandom actively create and share their reaction
videos on YouTube as they watch the band’s newly released songs despite the fact that this
activity does not render any financial reward. Particularly, there are a number of fans who
Spring 2020 25
have dedicated their endeavors to make special video clips in order to show the meaning of
the Korean lyrics and translation of them into English, coupled with the Romanization of
Korean lyrics (see Figure 2). Here, it is important to highlight the fact that most user-created
contents, including what even individual BTS members have produced, are not subject to
strict copyrights; therefore, they can be widely diffused without much constraint. This is
very different from how the precedent K-pop was distributed online. Through this, fans of
BTS around the world are able to understand the lyrics and sympathize them with what
BTS sings. It has also enabled fans to sing along with the band at their concerts. Obviously,
this creates a close kinship among consumers with BTS regardless of linguistic barriers that
K-pop bands generally have faced when going abroad.
Figure 2. Example of video for BTS lyrics
Notes: 1. The lyrics are on the bottom of the video clip. The first line is in Korean, the second is the Romanization of the
Korean lyrics, and the last is the translation of the words into English; 2. The photo of a member who sings the relevant
part appears in color; the presented lyric is part of Jungkook in this image.
Image source: Lemorning (2:49, 2020) on YouTube; based on a content administered by Big Hit
Like other K-pop groups, BTS engages in highly synchronized group dance that Korean
consumers favor. However, when it comes to music, they only perform hardcore hip-hop
music and have often expressed outspoken criticism on Korean society and Korean (high)
26 Journal of International Business and Economy
school life as well as everyday general issues. This is well reflected in the school trilogy that
was released throughout 2013 and 2014. Contrary to their expectations, this series
demonstrated only modest success in Korea due to its use of hardcore hip-hop music which
were far from the taste of Korean consumers at the time and themes that appealed to a
narrow and specific segment of consumers. Thus, Big Hit and BTS had to find solutions to
overcome these issues.
As BTS had difficulties in promoting their music in Korea, the band and Big Hit
sought to expand their coverage to large neighboring markets such as China and Japan with
their second album series entitled youth trilogy since 2015. Through this series they softened
their hardcore hip-hop sound while augmenting musical melodies and enhancing the
lyricism of their songs. Additionally, in using the title of the famous Hong Kong film
Huayang Nianhua (花樣年華, In the Mood for Love, 2000) for the album title, BTS looked to
appeal to a wide audience in Asia. All of these efforts were widely accepted; thus, they could
achieve their true mainstream breakthrough. Along with this achievement, BTS began to
utilize strong visual images by associating specific colors and objects to each member
throughout the storylines of their music videos and albums.
Despite their success in Asia, BTS had to change their consumer target toward
markets outside of China due to the unfavorable diplomatic situation brought on by the
THAAD issue which emerged in late 2016 (refer to Footnote 3). With the release of their
WINGS and the Love Yourself series, BTS began to tackle the US market, which is the
most influential and largest in the world. In order to appeal widely to American consumers,
BTS and Big Hit utilized a similar strategy with the youth trilogy for the Chinese market.
The Wings series is based on Demian (1919) by Hermann Hesse, the album You Never Walk
Alone is similar to the well-known British song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (1963), the song
Blood, Sweat, and Tears (2016) is in fact the name of a popular North American jazz-rock
music group from the 1970s, while the title of the third trilogy is same as Justin Bieber’s
song “Love Yourself” (2015). The latest series Map of the Soul deals with psychological
concepts developed by Carl Jung, and the most recent song “Dynamite” (2020) is a tribute
to Michael Jackson. This strategy makes not only young fans but also older figures in
American broadcasting networks feel familiar with the songs of BTS, which facilitates the
penetration of BTS into the US market. Coupled with this strategy, BTS has engaged in a
large number of collaborations with Western artists such as The Chainsmokers, Desiigner,
Halsey, Lauv, Nicki Minaj, and Steve Aoki to appeal to the fandoms of these well-
established artists while expanding the range of their own musical genres.
Spring 2020 27
With the advent of the Internet and technological advancement, music consumption has
shifted from purchasing albums to collecting songs (IPSOS and IFPI, 2016; Parc and
Kawashima, 2018; Parc and Kim, 2020). In recent years, this has evolved even further. It is
not just albums or songs that increase the popularity of bands and signers, but also other
derived contents, particularly those that can be made widely available online (Railton and
Watson, 2011). As mentioned before, BTS had difficulties to promote the band through
conventional media outlets in the early period, which pushed them to use more actively
social media and internet platforms. A key example in this case was the videos of their dance
rehearsals that they uploaded onto the Internet. A number of consumers have noticed that
some BTS members have had a hard time in learning their dance moves, but eventually they
improved significantly through hard training, ceaseless effort, and endless practice. While
this may have revealed that they were “not” talented, it has delivered a positive message to
their fans that “if you work hard, you can do it.”
As BTS diverged from hardcore hip-hop, the main themes have also changed from
solely harsh criticism about school and society to positive themes related to overcoming
hardships, particularly with support they have received from the ARMY. Naturally,
inappropriate words and expressions have been restrained in their music, which is
distinctively different from the works of other Western, notably American musicians.
Furthermore, while others often show off images of a glamorous lifestyle with expensive
cars and other luxurious items, BTS and their music videos do not explicitly display such
content. Consumers, especially the young generations, may have once hankered for such a
luxurious life that they can hardly reach, but this display of wealth eventually creates some
distance between the audience and these flamboyant stars.
Due to these differences between BTS and others musicians, audiences who have
experienced hardships in their life feel a sense of kinship with BTS who had also undergone
difficult times. This shared feeling has evolved into a form of “groupism” among young
consumers which led to the strong fandom for BTS, such as the ARMY. This encouraging
message was clearly expressed in the remarks by Kim Nam-joon known as RM, the leader
of BTS at the launch of Generation Unlimited at the UN General Assembly in 2018 (refer
to UNICEF [2018]). In the end, the way fans enjoy music has evolved from possessing
albums and accessing music to sympathizing with their favorite bands. For this reason, BTS
and the ARMY have a tight connection where they have greatly supported each other,
particularly through online communications (Chang and Park, 2019).
28 Journal of International Business and Economy
Business context
As Big Hit experienced a number of difficulties in the early 2010s and BTS was unable to
gain widespread media coverage, promoting this band became a delicate task. In addition,
this company had serious financial problems that hampered these efforts. Therefore, in
order to overcome these disadvantages, all the relevant activities to produce music had to
be undertaken within the company; thus, an “unwilling” lean integration took place instead
of specialization, which became beneficial in the end. This constraint also pushed each
member of BTS to actively participate in producing music and designing concepts of albums
and music videos with other artists. This has allowed BTS and Big Hit to produce diligently
many appealing songs in diverse styles within a short term. This explains why many in-house
songwriters were engaged to produce songs that mixed a number of different genres for
BTS. In fact, this kind of production system is required in the era of digitization when mass
consumption of diverse genres exists (Parc and Kim, 2020).
This constraint has also induced a close and lean relationship (or system) with a few
companies, such as Lumpens and GDW to produce elaborate music videos for BTS.
Through this intimate relationship, the themes of the BTS Universe and the band’s
distinctive style could have been maintained over the course of different trilogies. While the
continuity among songs and albums has been kept within BTS Universe, the “esoteric”
integration of Big Hit and other collaborators has made BTS confident enough to be
experimental and embrace exotic and/or foreign elements regardless of what these are. For
example, the Japanese versions of BTS’s music videos are based on the same plot lines as
in the original versions, but they feature slightly different items; such a close attention to
detail encourages BTS fans to theorize more deeply the possible storylines within the BTS
Universe. The other example is the use of a wide range of sound elements such as the BTS
song “Idol” (2018) which features a traditional Korean beat based on the South African
house music genre gqom (Chakraborty, 2018; Kim, 2020b).
More recently, this integration has further extended overseas in order to enhance a
global synergetic network. For instance, BTS collaborated with MN Dance Company from
Slovenia for an art film in support of the song “Black Swan” (2020) and with Blue Devils
Drum and Bugle Corps from California for the song “ON” (2020). BTS and Big Hit have
made great efforts to produce works that meet the expectations of their fans as a pop band,
while trying to widen their artistic exploration as an artist group. In this regard, BTS and
Big Hit have launched a global project “Connect, BTS” in 2020 to collaborate with
international artists, which is expected to bring about further synergies to BTS.
Spring 2020 29
Assessment of the strategic changes
By utilizing the dynamic framework of the music industry, the reasons for the global
popularity of BTS have been scrutinized in the above analysis. In order to overcome the
initial difficulties that BTS faced, the band and Big Hit had to develop sophisticated
strategies while actively utilizing internationalization and digitization. As they were not able
to access the main Korean media outlets, BTS instead constructively utilized social media
and internet platforms to diffuse relevant contents as a way to reach their fans. Accordingly,
the wide range of fans has also created derivative contents which have been extensively
shared among fandom and international audiences. Notably, in order to appeal to all level
of fans who have different tastes of music, BTS has diversified their music style from
hardcore hip-hop to others genres and their themes from (high) school life to other topics.
Along with this, BTS and Big Hit often inject alluring elements such as well-known titles of
films and songs or Western philosophy and literature. This strategy has made their fans feel
familiar with BTS and their works.
In contrast with many other bands, BTS presents positive and healthy images
through their frequent hard work while holding back any form of extravagance. Coupled
with this aspect, BTS has sought to deliver encouraging messages that can be sympathized
and shared by their fans through their songs and diverse activities. This makes their songs
more attractive. Despite a number of restrictions, BTS and Big Hit have worked closely
together to produce a large number of attractive songs and have tried to maintain
consistency in terms of theme and storylines as well as the band’s image. While these have
been well maintained, BTS has also been able to diversify their music style and genre
through active international collaboration with well-established artists. This has helped BTS
to appeal to the fandoms of these artists as well which has significantly increased the
international reputation of BTS. All of these strategic changes by BTS and Big Hit is
summarized in Table 2.
Last but not least, it is important to highlight that BTS and Big Hit have sought to
be more consumer-oriented in their approach. When they produce, distribute, and perform,
the ultimate goal is to please their fandom. For instance, whenever there are meaningful
achievements and recognitions, BTS has always tried to meet the demand and expectation
of their fans and also expressed often how grateful they are for the love from their fans,
specifically the ARMY. This is rather different from other successful artists who turn on
very often to be more egocentric while wishing their fans to support and understand
whatever these artists do. The best option to be successful in an industry is to match supply
30 Journal of International Business and Economy
and demand, for which the music business is no exception. More importantly, many artists
should not forget the old saying that “pride is the father of the vanguard.
Table 2. The strategic changes of BTS and Big Hit
Factor Sub-Factors
Strategic Changes
Mass availability of BTS
produced contents (vlog videos and songs) online
Wide availability of derivative contents online
Diversified music styles (from hardcore hip
hop to
other genres)
Appealing and familiar songs and titles
Positive and healthy image of the band
Sympathizing and encouraging messages
Close and lean system for music producing
international collaboration
Korea is currently enjoying an unprecedented level of success in its (pop) culture. As this
country has suffered a great deal of historical difficulty, a global recognition of this success
may encourage the Korean government and its people to be prouder of it. In this regard,
some may use it to stir up nationalism and cultural superiority or even to propagate their
own political agenda. This tendency may be useful to publicize the government for the short
term; however, it can lead to exclusivism from other countries, which may lead to an
atmosphere against Korea and its (pop) culture. In fact, the counteraction such as the anti-
Korean wave movement has already been witnessed in a few Asian countries. Some have
even argued that Korean cultural products are only produced for a female fan base and/or
that K-pop idols are mostly “manufactured” (Ainslie, Lipura, and Lim, 2017; Elfving-
Hwang, 2018; Williamson, 2011). In this regard, four points need to be discussed.
First, if the Korean government wants to promote Hallyu, it should embrace a more
recipient-friendly perspective. Instead of merely emphasizing the superiority and uniqueness
of Korean culture, it would be better to highlight what kind of implications and messages
Hallyu can deliver to other countries. In particular, the implications and messages should be
addressed to those who have, in the words of BTS, “no more dream” to promote their
cultural industries but are still willing to change this around by seeking to dream again. This
Spring 2020 31
approach will draw in more attention from international scholars and practitioners as well
as policy-makers from other countries.
Second, supporting fandom activities is useful for holding up their favorite bands.
However, excessive exclusivism toward other bands while obsessively idolizing a favorite
band should be considered as a form of “fake love,” and avoided at all costs. There exists
cultural diversity, and people have also different tastes and opinions. One would reject or
criticize certain bands or culture that others favor; yet one should not be discriminated or
blamed excessively for this reason. It is noteworthy to mention that BTS haters attack the
band online, not because of their music or style but mostly because of the raving fans who
idolize the group while impolitely ignoring other performers.
Third, several media outlets and scholars have disparaged K-pop as they only
understand it in narrow terms. One of the many criticisms in this respect is the fact that
they consider K-pop bands as “manufactured” artists. In fact, Korean entertainment
companies recruit aspirants with potential through auditions and provide them with a more
systematic training program to develop further the potential for prospective stars. If both
talented and manufactured artists have a similar outcome in any sense, who should be more
appreciated? It should be noted that “manufactured” artists place great effort to achieve
success. Should we ignore the “blood, sweat, and tears” put in by the manufactured artist?
This point should be taken into account when considering K-pop.
Last, some argue that K-pop appeals to mostly a female audience and that it is only
interested in money. This argument clearly demonstrates the deep entrenchment of
discrimination and stereotyping toward K-pop and its music industry. For instance, why
does the media make so little fuss about the fact that male audiences enjoy mixed martial
arts, but creates such a stir over the fact that female audiences enjoy K-pop, with some even
criticizing such behavior? One should not miss the fact that when the Beatles debuted, their
core fans were young girls who were the first to appreciate the true value of the group while
the media at the time were heavily critical. When it comes to the pursuit of money, it is often
said that hunger makes art. However, this does not mean that art can be made only by
hunger. Monetary reward is a good motivation from the perspective of the artist.
Furthermore, from the perspective of an individual, an affluent lifestyle is better than a hard-
pressed one. Instead of judging artists with one’s own biases, it would be better to let them
“make it right.”
32 Journal of International Business and Economy
It has been almost two decades since K-pop first gained its global popularity and this trend
has been amplified further and still continues. In this regard, it is necessary to analyze why
K-pop has emerged in the global market. As BTS is currently at the center of the K-pop
boom, it is meaningful to scrutinize the reasons behind their global popularity. In contrast
to most existing studies that focus on fandom and its activities, this paper argues that the
remarkable global popularity of BTS stands on the basis of the efforts of precedent K-pop
On top of this, it has been the strategic efforts of BTS and Big Hit to overcome all
the disadvantages they faced earlier in Korea, which broadly mirror what Moon (2016)
explains the reasons for Korea’s economic success. For this, sophisticated consumer-
oriented strategies that utilize internationalization and digitization have been the key toward
completing this task more efficiently as it provides multiple options for which BTS can
make the best use of. This is different from many other artists who are tend to be more
egocentric by rejecting internationalization and/or technological advancement and thus
preferring to stick to their own philosophy. In this way, BTS and Big Hit have been able to
find solutions to overcome most of the disadvantages that they had before, while at the
same time enhance further their advantages and create new ones.
Through the Internet, the songs produced by BTS have been able to be diffused
worldwide and the band has been able to produce more globally appealing works.
Furthermore, these efforts have created a large number of international fans who enjoy the
works of BTS. To achieve this, BTS and Big Hit had to closely integrate themselves with
others regardless of their nationalities in order to generate a more synergetic network.
Regarding the global popularity of BTS, some in Korea argue that BTS should utilize
more Korean content in order to promote their country and to demonstrate that they are a
K-pop band. In this regard, one should consider the awarding of the Hwagwan Order of
Cultural Merit to BTS at the 2018 Korean Popular Culture & Arts Awards (Herman, 2018).4
This was given because BTS released the song “Idol” that features traditional Korean
musical elements. However, it should be noted that this song was inspired by the 1997
4 This kind of attempt is not completely new; in fact, Hayeoga (1993) sung by Seo Taiji and Boys combined heavy
meatal music with Korean traditional music beats and instruments.
Spring 2020 33
Hollywood film Face/Off directed by John Woo and also features elements of African beats,
trap, and electronica alongside the Korean music.
“Dynamite” (2020) is the first song by BTS that features entirely English lyrics, yet
so far, no one in Korea has criticized this aspect. Is this because they achieved great success?
What would have happened, if this song did not do well? Would there be criticism of this
song because it does not “promote” Korea and the Korean language?
Here, it is important to point out that BTS and K-pop achieved global success not
because they are from Korea or feature Korean contents but because of their effective
strategy. One should not forget that the reason for their global success is that their songs
and performances are attractive to audiences around the world. In this regard, the policies
related to Korean culture should be carefully considered. Some believe that simply
promoting Korean culture overseas is more meaningful and in such a way people around
the world would appreciate Korean culture (refer to Kim [2020a]). However, this view
ignores how it works from the perspective of the recipient side. Primarily, there should be
high interest, desire, and demand for Korean culture across the world as it is attractive.
As the concept of soft power has swept across the world, there has been increased
interest in promoting culture. When it comes to culture, a large number of people believe
that it is closely related to national identity and it should be protected and preserved. In this
regard, the findings of Parc and Moon (2019) should not be missed. There is no cultural
purity and culture is formed through a mixture of well-established and newly-establishing
cultures which are termed as “accumulated” and “accumulable” cultures, respectively. When
culture incorporates internationalization and technological advancement, it can be more
competitive and thrive over time. Thus, culture is not inherited, but created.
This work was supported by the Laboratory Program for Korean Studies through the
Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service
of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2015-LAB-2250003).
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... À long terme cependant, l'afflux de musique japonaise se révéla des plus bénéfiques : elle obligea les musiciens coréens à réduire leur recours fréquent à la piraterie des contenus culturels japonais et à développer leur créativité pour différencier davantage leurs produits de ceux de leurs concurrents étrangers (Parc, Messerlin et Moon, 2016 ;Parc et Kawashima, 2018). Depuis lors, la K-pop a continué à absorber et mêler de façon originale de nombreux styles de musique : J-pop, hip-hop, eurotechno, musique africaine et musique coréenne traditionnelle (Parc et Moon, 2019 ;Parc et Kim Y. Y., 2020). Tout ceci a profondément changé la K-pop, mais le rôle du gouvernement dans cette évolution reste marginal. ...
... Au contraire, l'assimilation par la K-pop de nombreux éléments musicaux internationaux associée à une composante visuelle forte lui a conféré une identité solide à travers le monde, au point que certains la considèrent même comme un nouveau genre à part entière. Par exemple, le groupe BTS -et il n'est pas le seul -chante en coréen, mais aussi en japonais et en anglais, en utilisant une large gamme de sonorités de différents pays sur des chorégraphies sophistiquées (Parc et Kim, Y. Y., 2020). Pourtant, malgré ces éléments internationaux, les fans considèrent les chansons de ce groupe comme de la K-pop. ...
... The success of this FM station, encourage numerous radio stations in China to cover K-pop music in their programs: under the proposal of Yoon-Ho Kim, the founder of Ujeon Soft, which is the first South Korean company that introduced K-pop to China, the China National Radio even started an hour-long program, "Listen to Korea", in 2001 [16]. K-pop soon attracted more and more Chinese teenagers, who were willing to purchase tens of thousands of copies of the Korean boy band H.O.T in 1998 [17]. ...
... Banyak penelitian mengenai BTS dan ARMY sudah dilakukan. Beberapa diantaranya mengkaji BTS kaitannya dengan identifikasi identitas dan distribusi budaya (Mclaren & Jin, 2020), dampak sosial fandom di era digital (Kusuma et al., 2020), komunikasi pemasaran BTS (Parc & Kim, 2020), dukungan fandom terhadap BTS (Lee & Nguyen, 2020), budaya ARMY dan BTS (Lee, 2019), serta fanatisme ARMY (Rinata & Dewi, 2019). Namun, belum ada studi yang secara khusus membahas aktivisme digital yang dilakukan oleh ARMY, khususnya di Indonesia. ...
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Fandoms often carry out social activities to maintain their positive image, one of which is through digital media. This study explores how fandom uses digital media to carry out activism. This research was conducted using a qualitative approach. Meanwhile, the method used is a case study. To analyze the data, the researcher used the concept of digital activism. Based on the analysis, it is found that the use of certain momentum that is closely related to a group can support the success of digital activism. In addition, the message that is disseminated to carry out persuasion is important to be narrated by touching the emotional side of the individual. Transparency in the implementation of digital activism is also something that needs to be managed properly to support the success of digital activism being carried out.
... Furthermore, there are so many researches that had been discussed and also related to this research. For example, there is research under the title -Analyzing the Reasons for the Global Popularity of BTS: A New Approach from a Business Perspective‖ by Parc & Kim (2020). This study has the purpose to analyze BTS as the center of the growing popularity of the Korean pop music industry. ...
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Bangtan Sonyeondan or popularly known as BTS is a South Korean phenomenal group. The massive popularity of BTS all over the world cannot be separated from the magic role of their leader, Kim Nam Joon. This research tried to explore Kim Nam Joon’s role in regard to BTS's global popularity. This research used a qualitative descriptive method by using Khan, Nawaz & Khan’s leadership theories and styles as well as used Brown’s audience involvement approach to analyze the data. The result showed that there are four major reasons for Kim Nam Joon’s influence over BTS's success: Kim Nam Joon marked the beginning of BTS, Kim Nam Joon’s compassion and dedication, Kim Nam Joon’s powerful speech, and Kim Nam Joon’s leadership role towards teamwork. Moreover, there was also the fact that several non-BTS American fans tend to become ARMY after they knew about Kim Nam Joon’s leadership role. This is interesting because not all BTS’s fans become ARMY from enjoying BTS songs and performances.
... The Wings series is based on Demian (1919) by Hermann Hesse, …… , the song Blood, Sweat, and Tears (2016) is in fact the name of a popular North American jazz-rock music group from the 1970s, while the title of the third trilogy is same as Justin Bieber's song "Love Yourself" (2015).……This strategy makes not only young fans but also older figures in American broadcasting networks feel familiar with the songs of BTS, which facilitates the penetration of BTS into the US market [10]. This crosscultural embodiment of branding is well worthy of indepth consideration. ...
... Their "Blood, Sweat, and Tears" song is also the name of a 1970s North American jazz-rock band, and a recent hit "Dynamite" pays homage to Michael Jackson (Parc and Kim 2020a, 26). Parc and Kim (2020a) argue that invoking this type of familiarity is particularly useful in distributing music, as those responsible for distribution or broadcasting would understand the references more than K-pop fans. ...
Korean pop music (K-pop) has exploded in popularity around the world, first spreading to neighboring countries before successfully expanding into countries with greater cultural distances, challenging conventional wisdom. This thesis explains the factors that drive K-pop’s unique success in the United States. By applying qualitative models like CAGE and Mode of Entry models from multinational management, this study finds that K-pop firms have relied on strategic partnerships to distribute music and mitigate cultural and administrative risks, but future goals of owning digital platforms and exporting the K-pop business model will require a stronger presence. This study also extracts sonic features from Spotify and uses machine learning techniques to perform a logistic regression and determine if the novelty or typicality of K-pop songs compared to popular American songs is predictive of international success. This research then performs a Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic model on K-pop song lyrics to determine if there are differences in topic distributions between internationally successful K-pop songs and just domestically successful K-pop songs. The results are compared against those of another topic model performed on Billboard song lyrics. The findings indicate that typicality is a positive, statistically significant predictor of international success, and internationally successful K-pop songs over-represent specifically on topics that also appear in American songs compared to domestically successful K-pop songs. These findings shed light on aspects of K-pop firm actions and music that may be more critical to international success and carry managerial implications for firms looking to appeal to a global audience.
... Yet, if the inclusion of Confucian cultural values in products and hybridization with Western values would be the sole argument explaining the success of Korean products, it is difficult to explain why this success has not occurred with products from other countries that incorporate local culture such as Czech or Polish (pop) music. Moreover, how could the same argument simultaneously explain the bumpy evolution of K-cars' popularity in the USA (Figure 1) and the seemingly continuous rise of K-pop's popularity (Figure 2)? technology and techniques of producing and marketing music driven by Western businesses that influence the sector, such as the use of online video channels (VLive, YouTube) and focusing on the promotion of individual songs rather than albums (Parc and Kawashima, 2018;Parc and Y Kim, 2020). Similarly, the Korean car industry adapted Western strategies to improve its market (Kim, 1998). ...
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Purpose: The 21st century has witnessed an explosive growth of both South Korean popular culture (K-pop) and automobiles (K-car) in Western societies. However, K-pop appears to maintain its success better than K-car. This paper will evaluate the origins of K-pop and K-car and determine the distinguishing factors that led to continued K-pop compared to K-car success. Design/methodology/approach: Suggested claims of artistic/cultural and social/industrial traditions unique to South Korea as causes of the growth in K-pop and K-car success in literature will be evaluated based on historical growth in sales of both products in the US market. Factors of continued success will be evaluated based on how well both industries have been able to maintain their (perceived) brand authenticity, which emphasizes ‘Korean’ cultural values. Findings: Unlike claims regarding the importance of traditional culture in shaping business success in emergent states, this paper shows that the success of Korean music and cars is not due to artistic/cultural values. Rather, while optimally identifying progress within industries such as digitization in music, South Korea’s unique ability is to deploy its industrial machinery to transform bolder performances and designs originating elsewhere into inoffensive forms with broad cross-cultural appeal. Especially, K-pop’s continued success can be explained through better attention to perceived authenticity, without distinguishing its products too much from known, Western perspectives. Results also indicate that Korean products do not perform well when companies attempt to take on a leadership role in the industry or develop bold new designs that deviate strongly from Western principles. Originality/Value: The paper provides unique insights in the similarity of product design and branding, providing tools for evaluating perceived authenticity of a brand and its potential impact on sales. It shows that attention to traditional cultural values may not be a (sufficiently) appropriate strategy for international success. From a Central European perspective, lessons learned by the Korean car and culture industries may lead to new strategic uses of branding and marketing local products and of different forms of governmental/industrial structures to emerge out of the periphery.
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Popular culture of Japan has improved through various amplified and eye-catching ways. It was starting within side the reflection of the 2nd world war along with the China exploration. It has been noted that Japan's experience of identification is being conflicted, objected, reviewed, rebuilt and got a new life by adopting a lot of pop culture tools. The main theme of these tools is the aesthetic expression of Japan which is considered as their belongingness. On 21st century, the worldwide dominating Japanese popular culture medium are 'Manga' which is known as comics, fashion, music, movie, anime, cuisine, fan media and technology, literature, video games, sites and spectacles etc. The first wave of this popular culture happened via television and film specifically manga and anime series during the mid of the last century. Then this flowed rapidly all over the globe. On the second wave of the J-pop, it was mainly based on the digitalization of the global media such as, fastest contact, connectivity of all over the people, establishment of amazing instruments helped it to explored and valued as well as engaged and resolved. Even, now Japan is spreading their ideology of "soft power" or "cool Japan" globally and has been created economic boom by better cultural relationship though K-pop has achieved more popularity recently than J-Pop.
Research shows that music helps people regulate and process emotions to positively impact their mental health, but there is limited research on how to build music systems or services to support this. We investigated how engagement with music can help the listener support their mental health through a case study of the BTS ARMY fandom. We conducted a survey with 1,190 BTS fans asking about the impact BTS’ music has on their mental health and wellbeing. Participants reported that certain songs are appropriate for specific types of mood regulations, attributed largely to lyrics. Reflection, connection, and comfort were the top three experiences listeners shared during and after listening to BTS’ music. External factors like knowledge about the context of a song’s creation or other fans’ reactions to a song also influenced people’s feelings toward the music. Our research suggests an expanded view of music’s impact on mental health beyond a single-modal experience to a dynamic, multi-factored experience that evolves over time within the interconnected ecosystem of the fandom. We present the Dynamic Music Engagement Model which represents the complex, multifaceted, context-dependent nature of how music influences people’s mental health, followed by design suggestions for music information systems and services.
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Fandom merupakan aktivitas yang menggambarkan kedekatan antara penggemar dan idolanya yang didasari oleh produk budaya. Adanya teknologi digital memudahkan interaksi antara fandom dengan idola mereka. Namun, konsumsi media digital merupakan sebuah bentuk pekerjaan yang tidak disadari oleh pengguna yang sebenarnya menguntungkan produsen media dan berujung pada komodifikasi. Penelitian ini bertujuan untuk mengkaji bagaimana eksploitasi fandom dilakukan dalam studi kasus fandom boyband Bangtan Boys (BTS) di Indonesia. Analisis data dilakukan menggunakan konsep playbour, datafikasi, dan komodifikasi. Eksploitasi fandom dimulai dengan membangun kedekatan emosional antara idola dan penggemar. Penambangan data dilakukan melalui berbagai aktivitas konsumsi media digital serta membentuk keanggotaan khusus. Memanfaatkan fanatisme penggemar, produsen media memperluas eksploitasi untuk mendatangkan keuntungan lebih banyak seperti melakukan kerja sama dengan berbagai merek yang tidak memiliki keterkaitan dengan musik. Kata kunci: Boyband BTS, datafikasi, fandom, komodifikasi, playbour
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This paper compares the contrasting performances among audio streaming service providers, Melon from Korea and Spotify from Sweden. Due to the larger market size and the emergence of the Korean pop songs or K-pop, it would be expected that Melon has demonstrated a better performance. In contrast to such expectations, the overall performances for these two providers are the reverse. To address this puzzle, this paper analyzes how digitization has changed the business environment of each country’s music industry. The prevalence of copyright infringement and the sudden emergence of digital technologies have limited the function of Melon as a streaming service provider. As a result, Melon endured as a promotional unit for the telecommunication operator that owned it and coverage was thus limited to Korea. By contrast, Spotify was initially intended to link the international music industry to local demand and has functioned as a traditional concept of distributor despite its technological advancement. Consequently, it has been able to gain international appeal. However, the digital evolution in the music industry has not finished and there are many challenges that these streaming service providers need to take into account for further take-off.
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When it comes to the promotion of culture, many tend to highlight the vital role of public initiatives. This idea is based on the common perception that culture is part of the nation-state. This belief also stems from the confusion between two types of culture. To address such misperceptions, this paper emphasizes a distinction between accumulated and accumulable cultures: The former is associated with the nation-state and local conditions. Given that it has formed over a long period of time with the accumulation of related cultural practices, the need to protect it is strong. On the other hand, accumulable culture is less associated with the nation-state and is more universalistic. As it has only formed relatively recently, it can be further improved and enhanced. Alongside this, it should be well understood that accumulated culture was also once accumulable and has survived over time. Furthermore, this paper argues that in order to promote accumulable culture, private initiatives would have a more significant impact than public efforts. For example, the role of the Korean government has usually been credited by several media outlets and scholars in explaining the emergence of K-pop; however, a rigorous analysis of K-pop clearly demonstrates that private initiatives have actually been more effective in promoting K-pop internationally. This perspective intends to provide important implications for policy makers to formulate more effective policies that would help promote their national culture as a source of soft power.
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In recent years, K-pop or Korean popular songs have enjoyed immense popularity around the world. However, the situation was very different before the mid-2000s when the industry was suffering from widespread piracy of its music. Furthermore, the emergence of the MP3 phone in the early 2000s provoked two critical conflicts. One was between the producers of the MP3 phone who were large conglomerates and the manufacturers of the standalone MP3 player who were smaller companies that feared for their future. The other conflict was between the producers of the MP3 phone and the Korean music industry who believed this new device would hinder their development. Given the current global popularity of K-pop, it is meaningful to analyze the position and rationale of these players at the time and their consequences. In brief, protecting existing industries hindered the corporate and industrial adaptions in the global competition and held back the momentum to explore innovation and a new business model. First, the MP3 player manufacturers encountered serious financial and managerial problems and even went into bankruptcy because they were too slow in pursuing change. Second, the Korean conglomerates were late in producing a new digital device, the smartphone, and entering its growing market. Third, the Korean music industry was able to survive but only because entertainment companies have adopted a new business model that generated alternative sources of earnings. This paper demonstrates the importance of having a broader view and recognition of industrial dynamics in formulating effective policies.
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Digitization has significantly changed the process for producing and consuming music: from analogue to digital, albums to songs, possess to access, audio to visual, and end products to promotional products. In this globalized digital era, actively embracing digitization would likely help enhance the competitiveness of the music industry. The rise of K-pop and the decline of J-pop clearly demonstrate the different results from whether to embrace or wrestle with digitization. The Korean music industry recognized changes brought on by digitization earlier and was more active in responding with effective strategies. By contrast, the Japanese music industry did not immediately respond to these changes but stuck to its rent-seeking behavior in order to take advantage of its larger market size and 'sophisticated' copyright regime. The implications from this paper is that business activities are the core element for creating and enhancing competitiveness of the music industries.
The recent music video ‘Idol’ (published 24 August 2018) by South Korean boy band BTS exhibits extensively Korean elements, compared to previous visual pres- entations of BTS music. This may be because the song ‘Idol’ attempts to explicitly delineate BTS’s identity not only as a musician in general but also as a K-Pop artist, in particular, in the context of Hallyu (the Korean Wave). The music video ‘Idol’ is an effort to visually deal with these twofold difficulties that BTS confronts as a boy band, branded also as an idol group from South Korea. To this end, throughout the music video, intermediality – the interconnectedness of various media practices – is extensively performed to open up the third way to commu- nicate what is yet to be difficult to convey otherwise: BTS’s identity as a K-Pop artist in relation to Hallyu. Intermediality is further stretched to the extent that the nature, to be relevant, the identity of one medium is questioned and its figu- ration is transformed into another medium. This article examines ways in which intermediality as manifested and performed in the music video ‘Idol’ contributes to this goal by analysing various arts and media demonstrated in a combination of architecture, writings, photographs, drawings, paintings, music and dance.
Hallyu has persisted long enough to attain the stature of a major influential cultural phenomenon. Yet the primary locus of exchange appear to be discourses and dialogues produced by Koreans and Western appreciators. What this state of affairs overrides is the reality that the first area of impact of contemporary Korean popular culture is the region immediately outside Korea (and East Asia): the Southeast Asian region. In order to ensure that Koreans and Southeast Asians attain a condition of mutual understanding, scholarship on hallyu vis-à-vis its Asian audiences will have to be facilitated and encouraged.