The introduction presents multifaceted definitions of K-pop and raises the question of why it is significant to investigate the liveness of K-pop. As a multimedia performance, K-pop's authentic liveness emanates not only from the performance of live music but also from the impactful bodily presentation of its performers. The notion of liveness is explored from technological, ideological, and affective angles with an eye toward bringing out the uniquely Korean dimension of liveness—heung. Liveness here is not limited to real-time broadcasting or the copresence of performers and spectators; more profoundly, it is about the authentic rapport built around various actors involved in the making of the K-pop scene.
Chapter 1 explores K-pop as an ideological and technological playing field where the forces of a rapidly changing media environment, a neoliberal marketplace, and the consequent desires to make and break various social networks interact. As K-pop has become increasingly visible around the world in the past ten years or so, the South Korean government has been trying to forge a meaningful partnership with the K-pop industry. By situating such a move in its historical trajectory, this chapter shows K-pop as a dynamic force that has been shaped equally by top-down and bottom-up movements, namely industry-led paradigm shifts in media technology and users' creative ways of employing that technology.
Chapter 2 presents the unique production and consumption modes of K-pop in relation to the medium of television. The history of television reveals this platform's inherent link to the format of live theater, especially the live broadcasting model. Two examples of K-pop-related TV shows explored in this chapter—the top-of-the-chart show Music Core and an English-language live chat show, After School Club—encourage real-time participation by viewers that opens a new dimension of TV liveness in the digital era. Defining this dimension as simultaneous production and consumption of music rather than improvised and unrehearsed performance, this chapter challenges the purist notion of "live." The two case studies present contrapuntal visions of how domestic and foreign fans exercise ownership over K-pop by using various digital platforms and show how TV channels optimize their visibility by transposing TV media content onto social networks.
Chapter 3 examines K-pop music videos as a central medium articulating the dynamics between liveness and mediatization. Music videos' primary platforms, YouTube and Vevo, generally replay recorded performances and are not conceived as primary venues for live performances. At most, music videos can only simulate the vestiges of live performances that have already happened. A comparative analysis of two examples of K-pop music videos—"Twinkle" by TaeTiSeo, a subunit of the representative K-pop girl group Girls' Generation, and "Who You?" by G-Dragon, leader of the boy band BIGBANG—shows the tremendous investment in the notion of live performance in K-pop as a way of forging the genre's artistic authenticity. Also illuminated is the significance of invoking various performing arts traditions, such as revues, Broadway-style musicals, Hollywood musicals, and performance art, to make K-pop music videos more approachable for a global audience.
Chapter 4 explores the emerging interface between digital technology and live performances. Two key players in the K-pop industry, YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment, have invested heavily in creating infinitely reproducible and exportable K-pop shows featuring their top stars in holographic form. With a subsidy from and in partnership with the South Korean Ministry of Science, ICT (Information and Communications Technology), and Future Planning (Mirae changjo gwahakpu), a government unit deeply committed to Korea's national branding campaign, both companies have actively sought opportunities to present their hologram works in foreign markets that the actual stars have difficulty reaching through traditional live tours. By comparing YG Entertainment's hologram concert with SM Entertainment's hologram musical, the chapter investigates how live performance can be realized without live performers but only with live spectators.
Chapter 5 looks into live K-pop tours overseas, an increasingly common mode of global circulation. While the case studies in this chapter exhibit the most conventional and purest notion of liveness (copresence of performer and spectator), they nonetheless provide examples of how live concerts cannot exist without digitally augmented audiovisual effects. The chapter also explores how live K-pop tours are promoted by digital campaigns carried out on social media and in online music stores, making it impossible to separate the live event from its digital counterpart. By comparing and contrasting BIGBANG's Made tour in seventy cities across four continents with CJ Entertainment and Music's KCON, a multiday K-pop festival and convention hosted in Europe, Japan, the Middle East, and the United States, I analyze these events' different strategies to attract Korean and global audiences while incidentally participating in a campaign to enhance the nation's soft power.
By showcasing my ethnographic fieldwork at KCON Paris 2016, the Conclusion reiterates how K-pop is a kaleidoscopic cultural scene whose ongoing popularity is sustained not only by the calculating forces of neoliberalism but also by the sincere desire to build a global community through shared interest. It also points to the affective power of K-pop that transcends the genre's commercialization.