Korean studies scholars discussed the popularity and globalization of Korean pop music, or K-pop, in a talk on Friday as part of the Korean Studies Symposium.
Speakers discussed K-pop’s presence in the U.S. in relation to the concept of Hallyu, a Korean term that refers to the intensified, worldwide popularity of South Korean culture and entertainment that began in the 1990s.
Lecturers at the event included scholars Roald Maliangkay, a professor at Australian National University; Mary Yu Danico, a professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Crystal Anderson, a professor at Elon University; and Sharon Heijin Lee, assistant professor at New York University.
Maliangkay compared K-pop to pop music in other countries.
“Contemporary K-pop is sometimes criticized for being too homogeneous; the groups move, dance and dress identically,” Maliangkay said. “The mimicry is most noticeable among the boy bands and girl groups. In other countries, boy bands and girl groups receive the same kind of criticism — they all come up with the same ideas.”
However, Maliangkay said K-pop has certain stylistic features that distinguish it from other types of pop music.
“When I try to distinguish K-pop from other music today, this is what I come up with: high quality music videos, synchronized dance, idolism and eroticism,” Maliangkay said.
Robert Ji-Song Ku, co-coordinator of the event and a professor in the Asian-American studies department at Binghamton University, said the possibility of K-pop becoming a global phenomenon had never occurred to him.
“Korean culture was not something I ever even dreamt of boasting about here in the U.S.,” Ku said. “There was nothing to say about it with people … I personally always knew Korean culture rules. But very few people in America knew about it, until now.”
Immanuel Kim, co-coordinator of the event and an assistant professor in the Asian-American studies department at BU, said they chose K-pop as the topic of this year’s symposium to appeal to students while educating about Korean culture.
“We felt that it would appeal to the wider audience, and instead of a long, drawn out, somewhat too scholarly event,” Kim said. “We thought we would really reach out to the undergrads and find something they can associate with.”
About 100 students attended the annual Korean/Korean Studies Symposium on Friday, hosted by the Center for Korean Studies and the Department of Asian American Studies.
Frank Tiu, a freshman majoring in integrative neuroscience, said he believes the popularity of K-pop in America will continue to increase over time.
“I think that America really became obsessed about K-pop with ‘Gangnam Style,’ and popular groups like 2NE1,” he said. “And I think it’s gonna be the new big hit.”
Bailey Pittman, a junior majoring in Chinese, said she was excited to share her love for K-pop and learn more about the genre.
“I’m really, really obsessed with K-pop, so the history was nice, to see where K-Pop kind of evolved from,” Pittman said.