From an unprecedented mega-hit debut to groundbreaking overseas successes, K-pop had one of its biggest years in 2017 in terms of diversity, substance and global outreach.
And it will continue to be at the forefront of the resurgence of “hallyu,” or the global popularity of Korean pop culture, into 2018, according to industry watchers.
From the start, the 2017 K-pop calendar was filled with back-to-back releases, with the first half and early summer highlights predominantly coming from female stars.
Veteran act S.E.S released two anniversary singles and FNC’s flagship act AOA put out “Angel’s Knock” in early January. Seohyun and Taeyeon of Girls’ Generation released solo works in January and February, respectively, while TWICE stormed the music charts with “Knock Knock” and “Signal” in February and May.
GFriend released two EPs and a repackaged record in the span of just six months, while smaller yet rising acts, such as Lovelyz and Gugudan, also deepened their discographies with new albums in the first quarter.
Women also stood out in the singer-songwriter category, with artistic underdogs Suran and Heize both hitting big with “Wine” and “/// (You, Clouds, Rain),” respectively. IU also released her fourth full-length album, “Palette,” in April to critical and commercial success, while ex-FIN.K.L leader Lee Hyo-ri returned to the spotlight in July with “Black,” transforming herself from a sexy dance music icon into a genuine musician-artist. Ex-Wonder Girls chanteuse Sunmi successfully rebooted her music career with her captivating dance number “Gashina.”
Big name boy bands lined up in the second half of the year to release their most ambitious projects to date. EXO of S.M. Entertainment released its fourth full-length album, “The War,” in mid-July and the much-hyped project group Wanna One, formed by survivors of idol audition show “Produce 101,” made one of the biggest K-pop debuts in history in August. K-pop titan BTS also dropped “Love Yourself: Her,” its biggest album so far, in mid September.
|BTS (Big Hit Entertainment)|
The alternative music realm also saw a slew of critical darlings released. In June, G-Dragon put out “Kwon Ji Yong,” his fourth solo album, full of semi-autobiographical songs that reflect the BIGBANG member’s insecurities and growing pains. Hip hop trio Epik High also released its ninth studio album, “We’ve Done Something Wonderful,” drawing on themes of regret, fear and alienation, in October.
The year also saw a number of rising artists grow and mature. With successive hits “Red Flavor” and “Peek-A-Boo,” Red Velvet cemented its position as a S.M. Entertainment’s marquee girl group, as Girls’ Generation, the label’s previous female stronghold act, entered its twilight phase after key members bolted. Taemin of SHINee also successfully morphed his career into that of a serious solo artist with “Move.”
“Taemin has shown how an artist can establish his or her image through stage and performance and maintain it in a consistent fashion. His potential has exploded sufficiently in his latest album,” said Kim Youngdae, a South Korean music critic based in the U.S. city of Seattle.
Looking back, 2017 was also a critical year for K-pop rejuvenating and further advancing its global outreach -- with BTS achieving a major breakthrough in the United States and TWICE landing a record-smashing Japanese debut.
BTS’ American breakthrough was stoked in earnest in May, when the band won the Top Social Artist award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards in May. The septet broke new ground with their “Love Yourself: Her” album, which debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart in September, while “DNA” and “Mic Drop,” the latter as a remix single by DJ Steve Aoki, both entered the crucial top 40 of Billboard’s main Hot 100 chart.
Having remained under the radar to the U.S. public and media, BTS’ American fan community this year went full throttle in throwing its weight behind the K-pop sensation, organizing a national radio song request campaign to boost the group’s U.S. profile from niche to mainstream. The group made major television outings, including a live TV performance at the American Music Awards in November and appearing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
TWICE made its first overseas gamble this year by debuting in Japan, a neighboring country that has a complicated and troubling history with South Korea. The payoff was huge, with album “#TWICE” being certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of Japan, an honor bestowed on records with sales of over 250,000 copies.
The group, which is represented by JYP Entertainment and includes Japanese and Taiwanese members, followed up its success with a fall Japanese single, titled “One More Time.” The ladies didn’t slouch at home either, as they dropped their first full-length studio album, “Twicetagram,” in late October and their winter album, “Merry & Happy,” earlier this month.
The K-pop scene this year also had its share of controversies and tragedies, with undoubtedly the biggest being the tragic death of SHINee lead singer Kim Jong-hyun, who apparently ended his own life on Dec. 18 due to depression. The incident sent shock waves throughout the broader K-pop community around the world. In July, BIGBANG rapper T.O.P was convicted for smoking marijuana multiple times at his apartment in October of last year, while SHINee singer Onew was investigated by police after being accused of sexually harassing a woman at a night club in August.
Critics and industry observers expect the K-pop industry to expand further in scale overseas.
“BTS this year has shown a level of growth that was unforeseeable. I think K-pop in general will continue its ascent next year, as well. BTS will leave an even bigger footprint in 2018 in my opinion,” Im Jin-mo, a Seoul-based music critic, said.
Kim Youngdae predicted that K-pop will see its overseas fans base diversify further in 2018.
“As witnessed in KCON in America this year, K-pop in the U.S. is slowly expanding its fan base into the African American and Latin American communities. I think Korean music in general will continue to add new layers of fans in addition to previous ones fond of Asian culture,” noted Kim.
The industry is also cautiously optimistic of a market rebound in China, where sales of Korean cultural products, including TV shows and music concerts, were impeded for more than a year over Seoul’s decision to host a U.S. anti missile system, commonly referred to as THAAD. South Korea and China have announced that they will cooperate to normalize their ties in many areas that had been strained for months over the THAAD deployment.
Idol audition shows are forecast to be bigger than ever but some are wary that the genre’s novelty factor has started wearing off. TV showrunners will try to keep things fresh by throwing in more variety TV show elements to engage the audience. The gender of contestants will also be a key factor in the success of shows.
“One of the reasons Wanna One struck big is that its members were males, as opposed last year’s ‘Produce 101’ team I.O.I being formed by female singers. In reality, the majority of idol music fans consist of females. With that in mind, I don’t think anyone can guarantee whether (‘Produce 101’) will continue its explosive run next year,” said Im. (Yonhap)