K-Columnist Speaks Out On Saving K-Culture In Crisis

With BTS’s Jungkook setting the highest K-pop solo record daily with his first solo album, GOLDEN, the media and fans have not stopped raving about him. In particular, a K-columnist, Yang Sung Hee from JoongAng Ilbo, posted an article about his solo accomplishments.

BTS’s Jungkook is setting the record for a K-pop solo artist with his first solo album. | BIGHIT MUSIC

The columnist felt that Jungkook was able to transform into Western mainstream music, succeeding as a pop star.

By proving that individual members can achieve as much performance as a team, concerns about BTS’s enlistment were alleviated. This album also has the meaning of Jungkook’s ‘coming-of-age ceremony.’ He attempted to transform from a harmless K-pop idol to a sex-symbol pop star.

All the songs were in English, and many had 19+ lyrics, breaking away from the typicality of K-pop and presenting a decent mainstream pop. It showed that Asian men can also have enough sex appeal. Western media also praised him as the ‘King of Pop’, following Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber. As HYBE’s Chairman Bang Si-hyuk said, they succeeded in ‘removing the K from K-pop.’

— Columnist Yang Sung Hee

K-pop is already a global business that makes more money overseas than domestically. A K-pop group without Korean members is emerging, and the K-pop training system is being exported overseas. 120,000 people applied for the girl group audition held in the United States by HYBE in partnership with Universal Music Group, and six debut members from four nationalities were confirmed last weekend. Musically, the easy listening trend that breaks the K-pop formula has taken root.

Despite this external expansion, there are internal crisis theories. This is because there are many negative signals, such as the slowing growth in Southeast Asia, the main axis of K-pop. Chairman Bang Si Hyuk said, “If we have to look 10 years from now, then now is a crisis. Now is the time to remove the K from K-pop in order to go more mainstream.” With this, the columnist questioned what kind of music K-Pop fans should listen to if the “K” is removed.

It used to be a type of Asian music, then it was K-pop, and now it’s just becoming pop. While I agree that expansion and popularity are necessary for the growth of the industry, I also wonder what kind of music Korean K-pop fans should listen to if the K is removed.

— Columnist Yang Sung Hee

In fact, the theory of the K-pop crisis is less atrocious compared to the theory of the Korean film crisis. The glory of Parasite and Squid Game has not been long, but this one is in a serious crisis. The consumption environment has changed rapidly due to COVID-19 and OTT platforms, and the increase in theater fees has added fuel to the fire.

In the Korean film industry, which is in a severe recession, ‘The Roundup: No Way Out‘ is the only film this year to surpass 10 million viewers. | Avio Entertainment, PlusM Entertainment

Among Korean films this year, only four have surpassed the break-even point as of early this month. The situation for K-drama is not easy. As production costs soar and broadcasting companies reduce programming, it is known that about 80 works are piled up in warehouses. Although Netflix is an opportunity, there is a widespread sense of crisis that it may be reduced to a subcontractor base for Netflix due to the structure of losing IP.

Recently, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced the “Video Industry Leap Forward Strategy” to foster K-content. This is Minister Yoo In Chon’s first policy announcement since taking office. The key is to increase the size of the video content industry by 2027, and to create a new K Content Strategy Fund by 2028. Unlike existing fund-of-funds that invest mainly in small and medium-sized businesses, the purpose is to provide financial resources to invest in large-scale projects. They also presented a goal of creating five high-quality contents that will win awards such as the Emmy Award and Academy Award within the next five years.

It is part of a support plan to relieve the money drought in the film industry and revitalize production, but it is nonsense in that it looks like a five-year economic development plan or a mission to win a few Olympic medals. If the government sets a goal and releases money, killer content will not just automatically appear. Until now, the Hallyu Wave has been an achievement achieved by free creators on their own.

Moreover, the government has recently faced backlash for squeezing money from the film industry by reducing the budget for creative support projects and film festivals. In the end, there are likely to be complaints that the government is trying to funnel money into movies that suit its tastes. Is this how we can save K-culture from crisis? There is already a lot of disparagement overseas regarding the Korean Wave, such as K-pop and K-drama, claiming that it is a national industry created by the government, but this has only furthered such misunderstandings.

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