How old are K-Pop idols

K-Pop in Germany
Glossy idols and all-round entertainers

The K-Pop star Psy | Photo: YG Entertainment Inc.

South Korea as an export nation for pop music? What seemed absurd a few years ago is a reality today. A whole armada of stylish pop idols from South Korea has now captured the hearts of young fans around the world, especially via the Internet.

His horse dance in the music video for "Gangnam Style" made the South Korean Park Jae-Sang, aka PSY, famous. In addition to his brilliant victory ride through the international music charts, he has won numerous prizes, including the MTV European Music Award in the Best Video category, which he received in 2012 in Frankfurt. Korean pop, or K-pop for short, has been enjoying increasing popularity in Germany since then. The use of social media such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter plays a central role, both for the German fans and for the Korean music producers.

K-Pop production system and digital distribution through Youtube & Co.

A typical feature of the production method of K-Pop is the in-house training system of the entertainment company, in which the future pop idols develop their skills as all-round entertainers. Casting at a young age, the teenagers complete long years of hard training in order to later be able to be used multifunctionally and internationally as singers, dancers, actors and models with knowledge of several foreign languages ​​(mostly Japanese, Chinese and English). The music itself seems to be of secondary importance, so it is not really surprising when Mr. Jeong from the most famous K-pop label SM Entertainment says: “We make stars. It's okay if you don't know our music. "
Nevertheless, it is the music videos that are clicked millions of times on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. The fact that they can be seen for free is a crucial requirement for the spread of K-Pop, especially in Europe, where until recently there were neither traditional distribution structures for sound carriers nor concerts by K-Pop stars. Music labels such as SM and YG Entertainment, which operate their own YouTube channels, have long since switched their business models to advertising income generated via social media and have thus been able to achieve considerable increases in profits through foreign royalties.

K-Pop as a participatory form of culture

Even if, as before, many music videos are blocked on the German YouTube site for allegedly licensing reasons, social media are the most important means of access and communication among German K-Pop fans. For example, the German Hallyu Project had already organized a so-called “K-Pop Dance Flashmob” in Düsseldorf's old town in 2011 via Facebook. Around forty female teenagers from the region came to rehearse and perform the dance choreographies from the music videos by Super Junior, Girls Generation and other K-pop groups.

Most girls found their love for K-Pop either through the detour of Japanese pop culture - as former fans, especially of anime and manga - or through Asian friends and acquaintances who made them aware of Korean music. As a welcome alternative to Western and Japanese pop, K-Pop seems to fill a niche (not only) in the German music landscape.

What is special about K-Pop, as one of the amateur dancers puts it: “Personally, I find the dances very interesting and the music videos, which, unlike the American videos, tell a story and show more dances, especially by large groups like Super Junior, who are thirteen people. I think it's very cool that they stick together for so long. You don't even know that from American or European music. ”The genre mix of ballads, hip hop, R&B and dance pop is also well received, and the often English-language choruses tempt you to sing along. Last but not least, the flawless looks of the Korean pop idols - often the result of fitness training, strict diets and cosmetic surgery - also arouse admiration among teenagers. In particular, the so-called “feminine” or “soft masculinity” (“effeminate / soft masculinity”) staged by the boy groups forms an attractive alternative to the local male ideals of beauty.

South Korea as a pop music nation

For a long time, the German public perceived South Korea primarily because of its political division and the ongoing conflict with North Korea, but also as a rapidly growing economic nation, as an export nation for cars, flat screens and smartphones, or through major sporting events. With K-Pop as the new spearhead of the “Korean pop culture wave”, which also includes films, TV dramas, online games, cartoons and computer animation, the South Korean government has been trying to do this for some time under the term “nation branding” To improve South Korea's image in the world.

In Germany, too, the K-pop trend seems to be gradually contributing to a changing image of South Korea, which now also includes glossy pop idols, catchy pop songs and dance choreographies.


Michael Fuhr is an ethnomusicologist and cultural scientist. He is currently doing his doctorate at the Heidelberg cluster “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” and is working on an international research project on K-Pop reception in Europe.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Korea
May 2013

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