This issue, Grace Pickford explores K-Pop’s rise to international fame and how it has influenced the fashion industry.

K-Pop is the South Korean movement that swept the international music scene and has now exploded into a multimillionpound musical and visual phenomenon.

Never heard of K-Pop? Where have you been?

Here’s a quick overview.

K-Pop is a genre of music originating from South Korea that encompasses various styles including Korean pop, hip-hop, rock, and electronic. Its roots were planted back in the 1950s after the Korean War (1950-1953) when US troops based in South Korea introduced American pop music to the country. Well-known stars such as Marilyn Monroe sang for the US army in South Korea which further established Western music into the culture. By 1957, the US troops had begun the American Forces Korea Network radio station, which was followed by a television service.
The army even held auditions for musicians to perform at their clubs and singers could earn a lot of money performing for the troops, which fuelled a great interest in exposing South Koreans to Western pop music.

By the end of the 1950s, Korean musicians who had performed for the US army had travelled to the US to perform, commencing the birth of what we now refer to as K-Pop.
The K-Pop that you are familiar with in today’s charts did not appear, however, until later in the 1990s, when big entertainment companies began forming K-Pop idol groups to target young audiences.

Girls’ Generation is one of the most popular K-Pop idol groups. Established in 2007, they were the first Asian girl group to get over 100 million views on five different music videos. They are still thought of by many as “The Nation’s Girl Group”. 
If this was the humble beginnings of K-Pop’s success story, it is easy to see how the big K-Pop stars of today found their fame with these sparkling foundations in place. 
It wasn’t until 2012 when Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ was released that KPop burst into the international charts. Psy was the first person to reach one billion views on YouTube, and then hit two billion which broke the site’s view counter. As of this month in 2020, the music video sits at a shocking 3.7 billion views. Psy’s music video foreshadowed the start of the visually fantastic K-Pop trends to come.

Since then, K-Pop groups including BTS and Blackpink have broken into the international music market, featuring in songs with popular American artists such as Dua Lipa and Halsey.
To give you an idea of these groups’ success, the recent premiere of Blackpink’s latest single ‘How You Like That’ drew a viewing of 1.65 million fans, the band have made it onto the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list, and they have performed at the prestigious music festival Coachella alongside huge stars including Ariana Grande. The group’s net worth is reportedly at around $24 million a year.

You may be wondering what makes K-Pop unique to other genres of pop
music. K-Pop groups have become renowned for their stand-out music videos, synchronised choreography and striking fashion statements.  In Korean slang, the name for their ‘in sync’ dance moves is kalgunmu (칼군무), meaning “dancing perfectly in sync”.
Catchy songs combined with satisfyingly synchronised dancing and eye-catching fashion choices has led to major social media followings for K-Pop stars. The four members of Blackpink have a collated Instagram following of just over 122 million people and in 2019, the group’s member Lisa was named the “most followed K-Pop Idol on Instagram”.
Although boy band BTS do not have individual accounts on Instagram, the band’s page has a following of over 28 million people. 

This tremendous interest in K-Pop stars online has fuelled one of the biggest music/fashion mergers since the birth of American hip hop when brands such as Jordans and Adidas topped the ‘most-wanted’ lists for listeners of the genre.

K-Pop stars can now be seen walking in high-fashion runways, releasing streetwear lines and collaborations, as well as rocking head-to-toe outfits of big-name brands. With such a broad and dedicated following of fans from around the world on different social media sites, K-Pop stars’ visual impressions have become big earners. K-Pop’s largest influence in the fashion industry has been on streetwear where BIG sales have been witnessed.  In 2019, G-Dragon’s Nike Air Force 1 “Para-Noise” hit the headlines as they sold out immediately after being released. The original price of the Nike trainers was $200 but they could be found being re-sold online for anything up to $4,000. This fashion release was noted as being the “most successful sneakers drops of 2019”.
Another example of K-Pop’s influence on trends and sales is the 44% increase in the men’s cosmetics industry between the years of 2011 and 2017. Due to male K-Pop artists showcasing men’s makeup, South Korea now reportedly makes up 20% of the global men’s cosmetics industry. 
Across the world, fans are searching K-Pop stars’ fashion for inspiration which is fuelling trends in both men’s and women’s fashion. When BTS’s member Suga was seen wearing a shirt designed by Virgil Abloh, the amount of searches for the specific shirt increased by 120%. This also occurred when BTS rapper RM wore a pink Adidas t-shirt and online searches for the top rose by 97%. As well as streetwear, K-Pop has also marked its name in the world of high-fashion. 
2018 was the first year that K-Pop stars officially “infiltrated the front row” at the most exclusive and anticipated fashion shows. High fashion has merged with K-Pop to the extent that Kim Jones, the artistic director of Dior, designed BTS’s outfits for their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself world tour in 2019. Which K-Pop stars are fuelling big sales for high fashion brands?

Kai is one of nine members that make up the K-Pop group EXO, formed back in 2012. There were 12 members until the group had to be cut down after “legal disputes”. Kai is noted by many as the most fashionable K-Pop star and his social media following displays this: after a three-year break from Instagram, his re-joining saw him build a following of 1.6 million people in just six days.
Kai is best known for his over-sized fits, layering experiments and futuristic accessories. He has sat front row at Gucci and Louis Vuitton and in 2018 at the Gucci SS18 resort show, he arrived wearing all Gucci from the men’s Fall 2018 collection, crystal headband and all. 
In March of this year, he became the first Korean global ambassador for Gucci, featuring in their new eyewear campaign. Gucci’s creative director and designer of the new eyewear said that facial expression “has the fascinating power to elicit a variety of imaginary reactions, giving off the message of a belief in your individual power” and many have agreed that Kai was the perfect model to represent this. Even Rhianna’s brand, Fenty Beauty, was reported to want to work with Kai as the hashtag #FENTYxKAI trended worldwide in support for the desirable collaboration.

The girl group Blackpink debuted in 2016 and have caught the world’s attention with their style and music. The four major French fashion houses Chanel, Celine, Saint Laurent, and Dior have each chosen a Blackpink member to be their brand ambassador.
This year Blackpink have hit the headlines on multiple occasions, featuring on Lady Gaga’s new album ‘Chromatica’ and for racking up 16 million views for their newest single’s music video release in minutes. Not only was the video a visual buffet, it featured some of high fashion’s latest collections including one of Sarah Burton’s crimson lace looks from Alexander McQueen’s resort 2020. Lisa can be seen in a Hedi Slimane gown from the fall catwalk as well as in Off-White. It is obvious that fashion brands are utilising the band’s visual reputation to fuel big sales, and good on them! Last year, K-Pop’s well-known groups BTS, EXO, and Twice reportedly made over £6 billion on merchandise alone, and K-Pop’s global revenue reached $3.5 billion in 2016, with that stat most likely having doubled in the years since. It is no surprise that K-Pop is fuelling huge sales not only in music, but in fashion as well. With the current generation finding their fashion inspiration online, the fashion industry has taken note and is reaping the benefits from the KPop craze.

To read more of Grace’s work, visit her website gracepickford.com

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