May 21, 2021 • Volume 31, Issue 19
Can it sustain its global following?
By Lorna Collier


Korean pop music, aka K-pop, fuses musical genres to create a distinctive, dance-oriented sound that has become popular in the United States and worldwide, boosting the South Korean economy. BTS, the leading K-pop band, reportedly generates about $4.6 billion annually for the economy, based on music sales, product promotion and increased tourism. The genre is so popular that it has helped make South Korea the world's fastest-growing music market. K-pop groups have sought to extend their influence beyond music by supporting Black Lives Matter, speaking out against child poverty and warning about climate change. But critics accuse K-pop of cultural insensitivity in its use of symbols from Black, Indian and other cultures. One band's video drew condemnation for featuring the statue of a Hindu god, another for performers appearing in blackface. Critics also voice concern about K-pop's grueling training system, known for long hours and low pay. The genre's growing use of digital — that is, fake — musicians is proving controversial as well.

Photo of k-pop group BTS performing for Good Morning America on May 15, 2019, in New York City. (Getty Images/WireImage/John Lamparski)
BTS is considered the Beatles of Korean pop music and is the most successful K-pop band to hit the United States. The fast-growing K-pop industry generates billions for South Korea's economy. (Getty Images/WireImage/John Lamparski)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
May 21, 2021  K-pop
Jun. 15, 2007  Debating Hip-Hop
Nov. 21, 2003  Future of the Music Industry
May 31, 1985  Country Music
Jun. 10, 1977  Rock Music Business
Mar. 26, 1976  Bicentennial of American Music
Jan. 15, 1969  Musical America
Dec. 05, 1956  Music in America
Arts and Humanities
Consumer Behavior
Economic Development
General International Relations
General Social Trends
International Economic Development
Internet and Social Media
Movies and Entertainment
Popular Culture
Radio and Television
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific
Travel and Tourism