The Trend of English K-pop Songs
K-pop idols are releasing English songs where the proportion of English lyrics exceeds 50%, or even entirely without Korean lyrics.
The trend began with BTS. In 2020, BTS topped Billboard Hot 100 in the US with their first English song, ‘Dynamite,’ breaking the language barrier.
Subsequently, BTS’ songs like ‘Butter,’ ‘Permission to Dance,’ and solo English songs like BLACKPINK Jennie’s ‘You & I,’ FIFTY-FIFTY’s ‘Cupid,’ LE SSERAFIM’s ‘Perfect Night,’ and Sunmi’s ‘Calm myself’ can be easily found on various global charts, including Hot 100.
K-pop Groups without Korean
There are even K-pop groups being formed without any Korean members to achieve globalization.
Bang Si-hyuk, Chairman of HYBE, interpreted this as the need to remove the ‘K’ from K-pop to go mainstream. HYBE collaborated with Geffen Records, producing ‘The Debut: Dream Academy,’ introducing the group Cat’s Eye.
JYP Entertainment launched the global girl group VCHA in collaboration with Universal Music Group’s Republic Records. They showcased their presence with pre-debut singles ‘New Light’ and ‘Ready for the World,’ officially debuting on January 26 next year.
SM Entertainment has also partnered with the UK’s Moon&Back for a local boy group debut project.
Globalization to Find the Next BTS
The globalization of K-pop is drawing attention worldwide. Breaking language, cultural, and racial barriers through localization ultimately leads to market expansion and revenue generation.
In the face of the challenge that there is no ‘Next BTS,’ focusing on K-pop’s globalization seems to be the most effective way to overcome the crisis.
It is also a path to showcase the excellence of the K-pop system and talents worldwide. Unlike the traditional foreign pop market, where artists reveal their talents and then sign contracts with agencies, K-pop is a system that discovers and nurtures talent.
Through systematic training by experts, artists’ overall quality is enhanced, and the unique K-pop audition format creates fandom even before debut, minimizing risks. The global music market is now curious about how far global talents can grow within this K-pop system.
Setbacks of K-pop Globalization
However, the globalization of K-pop cannot be viewed entirely positively.
Firstly, the strength of K-pop’s messages may weaken. Korean artists like BTS, SEVENTEEN, Stray Kids, have conveyed genuine and relatable experiences of struggle, growth, and overcoming through their music. This deep connection has resonated with global fans facing similar challenges.
However, English-language pop songs in the West have a different essence. Striking the right balance is not an easy task.
Rights to songs may also shift towards foreign composers. According to the 2023 Music Industry White Paper published by the Korea Creative Content Agency, the percentage of Korean songwriters’ contributions is 50% for both composition and lyrics, whereas songs worked on by foreign composers have 87.5% composed by foreigners and 12.5% written by Koreans.
Communication issues between foreign and domestic staff and conflicts leading to concept deviations are also common.
There is also a perspective that the ambiguous genre characteristics, making it unclear if it’s pop or K-pop, may eventually hinder K-pop’s progress.
A notable example is the 2023 Billboard Music Awards (BBMA). This year, the BBMA introduced four new K-pop categories. While it was celebrated as a demonstration of K-pop’s heightened status, there were criticisms that popular K-pop artists with global success, such as BTS and BLACKPINK, were not nominated in major categories, suggesting exclusion from the mainstream.
Despite the efforts BTS, BLACKPINK and others have made in bringing K-pop to the world, it seems K-pop is at a point where further efforts and considerations are needed for proper globalization.