Chinese pop bands fall further behind as K-pop sets history with bands like BTS and Blackpink

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/17 18:53:40

Chinese pop bands fall further behind as K-pop sets history

South Korean band Blackpink Photo: AFP

Last week has been huge for K-pop. Blackpink, the South Korean girl group, made their US festival debut at Coachella on Friday, making them the first-ever female K-pop group to appear at the California desert valley event. On Saturday, the seven-member boy band BTS became the first South Korean musical guest to perform on Saturday Night Live (SNL), the famous US sketch-comedy show on NBC. 

A good week

Even Ariana Grande, the Grammy award-winning US singer, expressed on social media that she was looking forward to seeing Blackpink perform at Coachella. The crowd packed the Sahara tent on Friday, the group's stage at the festival. Their set was even streamed on the big screen in New York's Time Square making it a historical moment for the girl group and their fans.  

The next day, BTS carried on making history by appearing on SNL. The band's performance sparked a massive discussion on social media that was not confined to the band's fans. Korean-American communities joined the discussion as well, saying they couldn't believe a K-pop performance had appeared on a US TV show and that they were very proud of Korean representation on US television. 

While many SNL watchers noted that they were not familiar with K-pop, they admitted that they were shocked and amazed by the band's talented performance, with some saying they would start downloading their music soon on iTunes.  

Following their performance on SNL, YouTube announced that the band's song "Boy with Luv," was the most-viewed 24 hour debut in the video platform's history, breaking the record set by Blackpink earlier in the month. As media coverage began pouring in, people started to wonder: What were the factors contributing to the sudden exploding popularity of K-pop in the US? 

Media discussion fell into the following categories: a strong fan culture, a focus on the international market and an insistence on being unique.

The popularity of K-pop even impacted non-South Korean acts. 

"We tweeted a thank you to J-Hope for adding us to the playlist and our Twitter basically exploded. The ARMY [the official name of BTS's fan club] is amazing. They're so dedicated, they love the boys so much," said British producer duo Arcades in an interview with 

The duo worked on two of the seven tracks on BTS's newly released album Map of the Soul: Persona.

During the interview, they noted that the album had sold millions just from pre-orders alone. 

These sales are supported by incredibly committed fans who are very active in supporting their idols by buying albums. Their contributions help ensure their idols' success on various digital music platforms such as YouTube and Spotify, which helps expose their work to US music lovers. 

While BTS has collaborated with many big names in the Western music world, such as Steve Aoki, Chainsmokers, Ed Sheeran and Halsey, who have all had success in the US market, they still haven't sacrificed their unique style. 

As Arcades revealed in their interview, BTS did not ask them to write a K-pop style song for them.

"They want something unique and they want a good song," the duo said, explaining they concentrated on the melody, while the lyrics, which are primarily in Korean, were all from BTS. 

China falling behind?

The success of South Korean bands has many netizens wonder why Chinese bands, many of which follow in the same mold as K-pop bands, haven't attained major success yet. 

Differences in social media platforms may be one factor. 

While many Chinese pop bands also have huge armies of fans supporting them on the internet, a large majority of them show their support on China's home grown social media platforms such as Sina Weibo. 

Since these Chinese bands don't have the same fan support on streaming platforms with a large amount of Western users, such as YouTube and Spotify, their content doesn't get the same numbers as their K-pop counterparts and therefore tend to be overlooked by media and music lovers in the West. 

If we want to see how powerful support from Chinese fans can be when it does make it to the West, we only have to look at the launch of Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu's album Antares on the US iTunes back in November 2018. 

When it launched on November 2, 2018, it swept the Top 10 songs chart, taking the top seven spots. 

While the immediate reaction among Western music lovers, many of whom didn't even know Wu existed, was that these numbers were fraudulent, it turned out that Wu managed to reach the top due to support from impatient Chinese fans. 

Since Wu's album was releasing later in China than the US since the Chinese distributors wanted to release it on his birthday (November 6), Chinese fans who did not want to wait decided to buy it off the US store so they could get it early, thereby pushing up Wu's US sales numbers. 

A lack of collaboration with international artists may be another factor. While South Korean bands' work with international artists like the ones mention above give them a way to introduce themselves to new fans in other countries, Chinese bands have yet to seek out such close relationships with overseas artists.  

To emulate the K-pop's increasing success in the US, Chinese musicians have a long way to go.  

Newspaper headline: Musical invasion

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