Cassandra Childress can still remember her first time. It was a spur of the moment idea as she and her friends bought tickets to a concert without any further plans of how they were going to get from Gainesville, Ga. to Atlanta.
“It’s a life changing experience,” said Childress, as she showed me her K-Pop album collection in her room. Before K-Pop, she didn’t have many friends, but now, her smile was so big that it went up to her ears. The joy on her face was clearly evident. Music can do that. It can change a person, and sometimes, it is the only thing that makes a person feel as if they can easily let go and express themselves.
“There is no other like it,” said Childress. “They take the idea of boy and girl groups to a whole new level.”
Korean Pop music, shortened to K-Pop, is something that has broken through the global barrier and has become a part of the “cool” music to listen to. Be it anytime or place, it is not weird to suddenly hear a song from the genre in a store or cafe.
“I used to hide the fact that I liked this type of music because people thought it was weird,” Childress said. Some people have been fans for a long time, whereas others have become recent fans after watching the seven-member boy group band, BTS rock the stage to their new funky jam “Dynamite” at the 2020 Video Music Awards. Even tough athletes like John Cena have become fans of the music. But for many people like Childress, she first stumbled into the world of K-pop in 2015, before it infiltrated the American mainstream music scene.
K-pop has become a popular type of music. With BTS scoring two Billboard 200 No. 1 albums in 2018 and according to Billboard, another six Kpop acts also claiming a spot on the chart, it’s no wonder why people are rushing to stores to get their very own album.
“They get sold out really quickly. Especially groups like Blackpink, BTS, NCT and StrayKids,” said Destiny Clay, a longtime fan of Blackpink since their debut in 2016. Even without much airtime on the radio, Kpop has managed to touch the hearts of many Americans, male and female alike. As online platforms and social media presence becomes even more prominent with COVID-19 hitting the scene, the influence of K-Pop has rapidly grown. Stars like Jason Derulo and Steve Aoki are rushing to make collaborations with some of the biggest stars in K-pop such as Nct127 and BTS.
Eric Nam, Atlanta born American-Korean soloist in the Kpop scene and host of the podcast Kpop Daebak, told Phoenix in an interview that there has been a recent change in American culture. He claimed that people are beginning to embrace those who look and sound different than them.
“Music and entertainment do not have to be in your native tongue. It doesn’t have to look like you,” Nam told the magazine. This can be seen with the huge success of Spanish songs such as “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee and Mi Gente by J Balvin ft. Willy William. In 2019, K-Pop super group NCT127, that has had collaborations with American singers Jason Derulo and Ava Max was featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade singing their hit songs Highway to Heaven.
In fact, Childress started noticing this change as early as 2017 when BTS made their first American television debut at the American Music Awards performing their song hit song “DNA.” Their popularity soared even higher when they took home the top Social Artist Award on the Billboard charts. The group has been winning the top Social Artist it ever since. However, BTS is not the only group that has made its way over to the American scene. Blackpink, a four-girl group under YG Entertainment, had the opportunity to be the first Korean girl group to really break into the American music scene by performing at the most famous music festival, Coachella, in 2019. Now in 2020 with the release of their debut full-length album, they have already collaborated with some of the biggest names in American music such as Cardi B, Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez.
On a call with Blackpink that was posted on YouTube by their company, Selena Gomez gushed about being a huge fan. “I’ve been a fan of you guys and so like, this is a big, big dream for me, and I can’t wait,” Gomez told them on the call. Gomez is not the only celebrity that openly expresses their love for Kpop. Due to a nationwide quarantine many American celebrities have become more active on social media. One of those stars is China Anne McClain, who recently opened a Tik Tok account and has routinely posted her love for groups such as BTS, Blackpink and StrayKids.
But to many fans, it is more than just a trend on Tik Tok or the new in thing on the music scene. To some people like Childress, the K-pop community has become more like a family. It has helped her to cope with the grief of losing her mother earlier this year.
“I feel like I have found my place in the world,” she said. “The music has comforted me during times where I felt so low.”
And to others like Meghan Mostert, a recent fan of K-Pop, it means that the world is becoming more acceptable to diversity. It is a beacon of hope and a lesson for all that hard work eventually pays off.
“K-pop artists are showing that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, but with hard work and determination, anything is possible,” Mostert said.
Now in 2020, the week ending 31 October, five K-pop albums have secured their places on the Billboard Charts, with NCT’s Resonance Pt1 claiming number six and BTS claiming a spot with two different albums. We can clearly see that K-pop is something that more and more people are opening up their minds to and getting into. K-Pop sensation BTS has even managed to sell out enormous stadiums such as the Seoul Olympic Stadium with a seating capacity of 69,950, the Rose Bowl Stadium in the USA that has a seating capacity of 90,888 and the Wembley Stadium in the United Kingdom with a seating capacity of 90,000. They have been the only K-Pop act to ever do this.
“I think it is here to stay. It makes me happy just thinking about the K-Pop community growing here in the US,” said Childress. The music is becoming increasingly popular amongst the youth in the USA.