As K-pop slowly spreads out from the Far East markets and heads towards America, I’ve been wondering about its chances of getting a foothold in the UK market.
One tactic that the Korean industry is relying on is to hope the popularity of K-pop in counties like China, Thailand etc. feed into the same communities in the US and then break through into the main market. But with no similar-sized community in the UK, that's not possible here. It's similar to the situation with Hispanic acts like Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. It wasn't until they broke America that the British media took notice, so I guess the same needs to happen again.
In terms of the music, K-pop is often more lightweight than what is in the charts just now, but since K-pop is spreading through YouTube and social networking, that's almost secondary. Like the “second British invasion” of the 1980s, K-pop is pushed along by the visuals – the perfect idols and the dance routines. A recent article on Bloomberg made an interesting point: that a songs popularity is driven as much by people copying the dance routines and posting them on YouTube etc. as by the original music video.
Recently in Britain, girl bands have not been too popular. You’d think that this would be a factor against, but I’m not so sure - it could be seen as a gap in the market. It’s true that there hasn’t been a new successful UK girl band since Girls Aloud (but they were the product on an entire TV series, so with that amount of publicity they could hardly fail). Also, in The X-Factor girl bands usually get voted out first, but this is probably due to the half-hearted nature of new acts. Given the amount of money and time lavished upon bands like Girls’ Generation and Wonder Girls, you can hardly compare them to some plucky amateurs on a talent show.
Perhaps the biggest thing in K-pop's favour is that there’s a recession on (okay, so it’s not technically a recession, but that’s nitpicking.) Usually in the UK, in times of economic hardship, people want their pop culture to be a bit escapist, such as Glam Rock in the 70s and New Romantics in the 80s. There's a chance that K-pop’s endless supply of bells, whistles and flashing lights could be popular with an audience keen to get away from grim reality.
I'm interested to see how this progresses, and especially how the UK media reacts if K-pop establishes itself in America. And also if that media reaction will even make a difference. Using social networking, video hosting sites and streaming sites like Spotify (where a couple of dozen K-pop acts have already put up singles or mini-albums) these acts may be able to bypass the traditional media entirely. Whatever happens will almost be as entertaining as the music itself.