In 2012, Psy’s hit single, “Gangnam Style” became a viral sensation and exposed America to the word of Korean chart topping music.
Korean pop is much bigger than Psy. And the world’s starting to notice. In 2015, Spotify added more K Pop playlists to their canon to compete with iTunes. That’s surprising, considering they had almost none in 2014. But thanks to streaming services and events like KCON, Korean pop music is more visible than ever.
The first KCON was at the Verizon Amphitheatre in Irvine, California in 2012. Today, it spans several countries with three annual events in North America. The industry has evolved in other ways overseas but KCON is still a giant stepping stone for popular acts like Red Velvet, Vixx, BTS, Girls Generation, Sistar, CNBLUE, AOA, Zion T and many other K-Pop acts.
Zion T, a solo artist breaking out from the Seoul underground will be performing at this year’s KCON NY. Earlier this year, he released “OO,” his comeback EP on YG’s Black Label, featuring lead single “The Song.” Zion T is well-known for his many releases and collaborations with artists on his former record label, Amoeba Culture, founded by Dynamic Duo members Choiza & Gaeko.
Psy isn’t the only one to break out across the globe. He’s just the only one to have an impact on the U.S. Big K Pop hits may be unknown to Americans, but fans throughout Asia have embraced them since the early 2000s.
In the mid to late ‘90s, producers Lee Soo-man founded popular record label, S.M. Entertainment (Red Velvet, Girls Generation, EXO), Park Jin-Young established the infamous JYP Entertainment (Wonder Girls, Miss A, Twice) and Yang Hyun-suk founded YG Entertainment (Psy, G-Dragon, Black Pink). These three record companies became K Pop’s pioneers, by utilizing genres like jazz, r&b, electronica and rap with new releases. While it was a bold departure from the music Industry’s traditional Korean idol roots, it was still palatable for mainstream audiences.
“Nobody” by Wonder Girls, released by JYPE in 2008 and produced by Park Jin-Young, illustrates the music’s evolution. Though it’s an infectious pop banger, it’s still rooted in traditional korean melodies, but remixed with these new sounds and ready to be embraced by the next generation.
In 2011, the group hit big with “Be My Baby.” That same year, Girls Generation had a booming career after they debuted their single, “The Boys.” Another girl group, Sistar, ended the year at number 3 on the billboard charts with their sweet summer anthem, “Loving U.”
Today, these entities are continuing to leave a lasting musical footprint globally and even more so thanks to events like KCON. KCON returns to the New York area June 23-24 at Prudential Center. This year’s New York line-up includes Cnblue, Twice, Gfriend, Highlight, Zion T and more.