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[Herald Interview] TikTok, K-pop are evolving together: TikTok exec

Inducing active engagement is key to success, for both platform and music

By Lee Jung-youn

Published : May 21, 2024 - 14:55

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You Kyung-cheol, head of TikTok’s artist and label partnership, artist services in Northeast Asia, poses for a photo at the TikTok office in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Thursday. (TikTok) You Kyung-cheol, head of TikTok’s artist and label partnership, artist services in Northeast Asia, poses for a photo at the TikTok office in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Thursday. (TikTok)

In the globalization of K-pop, TikTok has played a very large role.

“People used to listen to music by playing CDs or tuning into the radio, and with the advent of MTV and YouTube, it became the era of watching music through video media such as music video," said You Kyung-cheol, head of TikTok’s artist and label partnership, artist services in Northeast Asia.

"Then, TikTok ushered in an era where people don't just consume music passively but actively participate in it."

He noted a change in the standard for judging a piece of music a success.

"Now, it’s about how many derivative works are created rather than just counting up the hits,” he said.

You said that agencies or artists no longer ask how to increase followers or likes. Instead, many K-pop agencies contact TikTok from the planning stages of a new album, asking which songs are suitable for short videos or which songs are likely to generate more derivative works.

TikTok serves as a valuable source of information for both small agencies without dedicated data management departments and large agencies aiming to create global hits.

“We analyze which artists and TikTokers might create synergy, and which styles of songs are more popular in certain countries. This information can help shape concerts and promotional strategies of artists."

Agencies can preview songs before a song's official release, monitoring in real-time which parts receive the best responses from listeners and which choreography is more popular, explained You.

“Sometimes artists even modify choreography based on these responses. They also attempt collaborations with famous overseas TikTok creators, and sometimes fans themselves request specific collaborations directly to the agency."

As much as K-pop has changed through TikTok, K-pop is also an indispensable part of TikTok's ecosystem.

In 2023, the most popular song on TikTok around the world was "Cupid" by Fifty Fifty, and five of the top 10 global artists were K-pop groups. "While the hashtag 'K-pop' has 58 million results, 'pop' only has 3.9 million," added You.

You explained that K-pop and TikTok are closely linked due to their reliance on user-generated content, resulting in a synergistic effect. "K-pop fans form fan clubs, take videos and photos of the idol groups, create fan chants, move in an organized manner, and even make donations in the artist's name. This participatory culture resembles TikTok's nature."

A new feature aimed at boosting this user-based nature of TikTok. "Fan Spotlight," allows official artist accounts to repost fan-made content on their accounts, expressing gratitude and sharing it with other fans.

"TikTok is driven not by labels or artists but by how people play with and engage with the content," said You.

TikTok is striving to expand its content diversity, said You.

While the dominance of short videos under one minute long is expected to continue, the app is broadening its range of content and artists. You stressed that recently, artists like IU, Kim Jun-su, and ballad singer Byul, who have a more diverse range of fans in terms of age, have started using TikTok more frequently.

The strong presence of K-pop on TikTok would ultimately lead to increased interest and favorable perceptions of Korean culture overall, according to you. Already, there is a visible rise in the interest in K-dramas, K-films, and even in the lifestyles and languages featured in these works, he said.

The hashtag “Mukbang,” a Korean word for videos where the host eats food while interacting with viewers, is more popular than the keyword “eating,” and “Manhwa,” the Korean word for cartoon, has more searches than 'comics' or “webtoon,” according to You.

"The content derived from K-pop extends to dance cover videos, videos interpreting K-pop lyrics into local languages and content introducing the clothes that celebrities wore or the locations featured in music videos and films, ultimately spreading from music to broader cultural aspects."