K-pop Live
Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance
Suk-Young Kim



I know everything is called live now, which really just means we were all alive when we taped it.

Bill Maher, “Bill Maher Reflects on Humor, Politics in Wild Election”

LOS ANGELES is a city with a thousand faces, a mirage of fragmented impressions, chromatic shades, and sound bites. A major hub where multicultural flows converge, it is a must-stop destination for touring bands from the other side of the Pacific.

EXO, the “it” band of today’s K-pop world, is no exception. They performed at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on February 14, 2016, to a nearly sold-out crowd. The arena, with roughly sixteen thousand seats, was overheated with zealous fans hours before the concert began, to the point that at least two audience members in the standing area were carried out on stretchers even before the band appeared on stage. The body heat emanating from sweltering fans and the screams of excitement from the audience provided undeniable proof that I was indeed at a live event, breathing the same air with pop stars whose natural habitat nowadays happens to be two-dimensional pixel screens of TVs, laptops, and cell phones.

K-pop as a cultural phenomenon started to gain momentum around the turn of the millennium, a time when physical album sales were rapidly collapsing while the online music market was still evolving and maturing. The growth of the digital online music market around this time was impeded by prevalent practices of piracy and illegal downloading, which presented serious challenges to artists who had been sustaining their careers through traditional revenue sources, such as CD sales. That model was vanishing for them, while the market for live shows and multicity tours in Korea and overseas was almost nonexistent.

Ironically, such challenging circumstances were the biggest reason for companies to aggressively push K-pop’s global reach and expand into foreign markets. But K-pop’s global expansion came, not via live world tours, but via music videos, recorded TV music chart shows, and other media promotions that became wildly popular on YouTube and solidified K-pop’s reputation as a form of entertainment that thrived predominantly online. The paradigm shift in music consumption also brought about a change in understanding K-pop not just as a sonic genre but as a multimedia performance with a heavy emphasis on visuals.1 With this process came the reinvention of K-pop artists, who transformed themselves from mere singers to all-around entertainers whose primary career goal was to gain popularity by excelling in all aspects of media performance, such as singing, dancing, being a charming guest on variety shows, and always presenting an attractive public persona, all under the constant scrutiny of the mediatized world.

So if K-pop’s ecosystem is the digital media environment, why does this book begin with a scene from a live concert? Why does the main title place “live” after “K-pop,” suggesting that the concept of “live” and its abstraction, “liveness,” will be the main critical focus?

To be sure, there is evidence that the K-pop industry nowadays is witnessing steady growth in live performances, which could potentially challenge the assumption that K-pop’s natural habitat is online. For instance, the highly successful K-pop band BIGBANG’s Made tour in 2015–16 ranked as one of the top-ten-grossing tours in the United States in 2015; during the first half of the 2016, BIGBANG became the band to attract the most live concert attendees in Japan, the second-largest music market in the world.2 Along with BIGBANG, more and more K-pop bands are expanding their tours beyond L.A. and New York City to include a wider range of North American cities, such as Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Orlando, Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver.3 On other continents, tour and fan meeting stops for K-pop bands include not only such obvious choices as Beijing, London, Paris, and Tokyo but also Auckland, Dusseldorf, Milan, Moscow, and Santiago. No wonder Billboard magazine on May 3, 2016, featured an article significantly titled “K-pop Concerts Continue to Grow outside Asia,” signaling a growing trend in live K-pop concerts.4 The article notes how “areas like North America, South America and Europe have all had three consistent years of K-pop concert growth since 2013.”5 Given that Asia has been K-pop’s main market for live concerts and online fandom for most of its history, the growing number of live concerts outside Asia could justify this book’s focus on live performances as a means of capturing a major change in K-pop’s global circulation.6

But the book’s primary inquiry into K-pop’s liveness is not driven merely by the data showing an increasing number of live K-pop concerts. The book is mainly concerned with a more theoretical investigation of “liveness” as a technological, ideological, and affective mode in which human subjects interact with other human and nonhuman subjects in the digital age. We live in an era where it is extremely difficult to be engaged in a social relationship unmediated by digital technology, whether texting, video chat, or immersion in virtual reality; in this heavily mediatized environment, the question of what is live becomes a question of how we live our lives as increasingly mediated subjects—fragmented and isolated by technological wonders while also yearning for a sense of belonging and aliveness through an interactive mode of exchange that we often call “live.” Predominantly conceived as digital music but constantly courting the idea of live performance, K-pop is a prime medium to unfold this paradox.

I had eagerly anticipated the EXO live concert, but as it progressed, my sense of the immediacy of “being there” gradually turned into frustration. I had to squint in order to discern through the dense crowd the minuscule bodies of eight performers on stage, all of whom appeared no larger than Tinker Bell from the loge where I was seated (figure 1). My frustration stemmed not only from a middle-aged person’s declining vision but also from the betrayed promise of a live event that was supposed to guarantee the experience of intimacy and copresence. But just as my frustration began to mount, the stage curtain was transformed into a large screen surface for digital projection; as the live performers were taking a break from their strenuous dance routine, magnified faces of the stars started to appear on the screen as if to compensate for the spectatorial limitations of audience members seated far away from the stage. One by one, each member of the band directed his amorous gaze at the camera, looking directly into the eyes of the viewers, whose point of view had became entirely conflated with that of the person behind the camera. Each band member reached out his hand to hold the hand of the cinematographer-cum-audience, transforming a 2-D video screen into an affective interface where thousands of anonymous concert attendees suddenly became positioned as intimate subjects who could touch and interact with these stars.

FIGURE 1. EXO performs in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on February 14, 2016. Note that the screen projects the image of a crimson curtain to enhance the feeling of a live stage despite poor visibility of the live performers. Photo by Kim Suk-Young.

The eye-level camera angle, often referred to as a point-of-view shot, is quite illustrative of how vision—and the intimate feelings of live interaction with others—are produced in today’s YouTube videos. Regardless of the genre, whether amateur review videos of children’s toys or professionally produced music videos, this angle is widely used.7 It produces a sense of touch and interaction despite the two-dimensionality of the images presented on screen. As a way of breaking the fourth wall—the computer screen in this case—the technique assumes a gazing viewer outside the screen whose hands are already featured inside the lower left and right corners of the screen.

The way prefilmed clips of EXO members were transmitted for the consumption of live concert attendees collapses multiple registers of time and space: the filmed subjects from the past literally reach out to viewers of the present, while the filmed space becomes a portal for viewing subjects to escape through as they reach out to grab EXO’s hands. Though illusory pixels, the hands touch with an intimate magic that makes viewers’ hearts beat faster.

Such haptic illusion, intentionally produced to gesture tactile intimacy, resides within what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick referred to as texture that is “liminally registered on the border of properties of touch and vision.”8 Much as Sedgwick turns our attention to the crossroads of the senses, art historian Ina Blom, in discussing the work of video artist Paik Nam June (Baek Nam-jun), proposes that technology produces a new kind of tactility and sensibility that can be realized only by means of “haptical and telephatical transmitters.”9 I see K-pop as one of those powerful transmitters of complex sensory entanglement that produces the semblance and verisimilitude of live interaction, and the pursuit of liveness in K-pop performance across media as a way to realize an impression of such synesthetic ideals.10 Under this premise, this book proposes K-pop as a multimedia performance, since combining multiple sensations to see sound, hear vision, and touch feelings across various times and spaces is a foundational way multimedia performance works.11 The complexity of such a marriage is enabled by the mediation of technology, and it is especially evidenced in the way multimedia technology produces feelings of intimacy while also producing a sense of fragmentation.

The pervasive use of technology in the K-pop industry conflates seemingly intertwined processes—digitized events actively pursue the aura of live events, while live performances rely heavily on digital technology and are eventually digitized for online consumption—to the point that genuine intimacy and the illusion of intimacy are not always clearly distinguishable. But more significantly, and perhaps more disturbingly, technology not only is a means to visualize, make, and even fake a sense of belonging but often becomes the end of it—the very embodiment of it. Like the Deleuzian characterization of desire as “purely virtual movement whose moving is itself its destination,” the use of technology in K-pop productions and consumption is not always subordinate to the instrumental aspect and can become its own autotelic performance—its ultimate intention.12

Hence, the mediatization of the live event is not only a phantom-like surplus from the past but also a catalyst for shaping the impressions of a live interaction in the here and now. As we see in the staging of haptic illusion at the EXO live concert, it works along the interface created by the dual forces of what Antonin Artaud saw as “the virtuality of the possible and what already exists in materialized nature.”13 Straddling multiple layers of imbrications—community and commerce, the virtual and the material, the local and the global—this book teases out the historical, social, and cultural reasons for K-pop’s pursuit of liveness as a specific mode of human contact brought about by a particular media environment that has enabled global connectivity.14

In the process, I hope to illuminate how the various manifestations of liveness—including liveliness—present a spectrum of how we experience contacts with other humans as a necessary condition for life. Like the air we breathe, which we do not think of consciously but constantly depend upon, the sensations of liveness emanating from social contact are a significant way of evidencing that one is alive. In this regard, this book is a technologically inflected extension of Daniel Sack’s proposal to reach beyond the permutations of copresent performers and spectators that have been a foundational aspect in the conventional discussions on liveness:

How might live performance intervene as an expansion and troubling of what we mean by living in this new millennium, and who or what gets considered temporally and vitally live? This requires that we open our understanding of liveness to include some of its other connotations, to accentuate its sense of “aliveness” or “liveness.”15

The easily established affinities between live and alive—with live signifying the mode of copresence as well as durational patterns in everyday life (hence extending live to include living), and alive being the affective manifestations of existence—are more based on deeply ontological affinities that are established by technology than they are linguistic derivatives for each other. K-pop becomes a critical medium to trigger the important question of human existence in the digital age, where the promotion of technology is increasingly becoming its own teleological destination.

What Is K-pop?

More virtual than real in their undeniable resemblance to wide-eyed animation characters, the close-up projection of EXO members’ faces sets us free from the limits of natural eyesight; nearly invisible live bodies on stage are transformed into tangible love objects magnified on screen. But as soon as concertgoers start to feel used to the projection, the digital splendor vanishes to commence another set of live performance by EXO—this time featuring heavily choreographed, broad sweeping motions. Although I still cannot see the details of their faces, the vivacious impacts of their bodily movements traverse the vast arena. In this multiethnic crowd, many are in tears and almost everyone screams at each and every gesture, feeling the performers’ presence on a kinesthetic level. After all, this is a live event.

As the dramatic choreography continues on stage, I cannot stop thinking about how K-pop is an animal that thrives on excess.16 The rich tone of the singers’ voices harmonizes with the dense texture of their choruses. Its mesmerizing young stars flaunt the celebration of heightened beauty. The oval faces of girls and boys with candy-colored lips and heavy eyelashes glisten under the scorching stage lights. Their impeccably toned bodies sport flashy costumes beaded with sequins and tassels while incessantly showcasing a complex dance routine as the electrifying shriek of a solo vocalist smoothly transitions into the rugged offbeat jamming of rappers.

K-Pop is scary! . . . If I was an artist in Korea, I’d be nervous. The pace of the popularity of the music is quick. You got one song that can last for a week, and that’s it. . . . That’s really scary. You put so much work into one song, but yet it’s going to get old quick. Korean people want something new every week, and I think that’s the hardest pressure, probably. To come up with something catchy all the time, a hit all the time, and you’ve got tons of artists and the lifespan of one song is so short. It’s pretty hard.17

As can be seen in this interview with Ellen Kim, a dancer and choreographer based in Los Angeles who has worked with the K-pop industry, K-pop is a fast-evolving machine, producing products that, like Kleenex, are used once and thrown away. In a highly competitive industry like K-pop, little is left to chance. What could come across as spontaneous improvisation on stage is a result of years and years of hard, formulaic practice.

Those who want to make it in the world of K-pop should make dramatic changes in their lifestyle at the dawn of their adolescence.18 If they are scouted by a talent management agency, which usually doubles as a K-pop training school and at times triples as a record label in the Korean entertainment world, these youngsters voluntarily suspend their private lives and submit themselves to the rules of the company; from smaller sacrifices such as giving up cell phones to bigger ones such as being uprooted from their families to live and train with their potential teammates under the watchful eyes of managers and trainers, they willingly forfeit personal freedom to focus single-mindedly on vocal and dance lessons, learn foreign languages and impeccable stage manners, and prepare themselves for a successful debut. They go on, practicing in obscurity, day after day, night after night, usually sleeping only four to six hours or at times even forgoing sleep altogether, hoping that the hard work and sacrifice will transform them from nameless trainees into megastars.19 They are prepared to storm the stages of all Asia and steal the hearts of many more beyond the continent. Their songs may be heard in the public squares of Paris, London, Buenos Aires, and Lima, where diehard fans may stage flash mobs to petition their stars to visit their cities.20

K-pop fans, especially Korean fans, are also known for their deep involvement in making and breaking K-pop stars’ careers. Idols, as the performers are often called, is a fitting term to capture the religious fervor that fans display in pursuing their heavily guarded favorites. Many support their stars via phone-in voting where charges apply, which allows them to debut or raise their rank on the music charts.21 Many purchase multiple copies of their stars’ albums to increase sales revenue and gain access to promotional events where their idols make appearances. Some go on to become diehard (sasaeng) fans, or the ones who invade stars’ lives to get their attention. Some will hire a bullet taxi to chase their stars’ vehicles; others will install hidden cameras to monitor stars’ lives in their private residences. Even more devious fans will go so far as to send toxic drinks to their stars or send love letters written in menstrual blood, just to be remembered. Even with an understanding that there is a tendency in the Western media to exoticize the relatively lesser-known fandom of a still marginal music scene, K-pop fans are arguably one of the most enthusiastic fan bases in today’s popular cultural landscape.22

In the broadest sense of the word, K-pop, as an abbreviation for Korean popular music, includes all genres of popular music that emerge out of South Korea. The word was first used in 1995 by the Hong Kong media network Channel V to label the Korean music videos that they featured. Obviously, the term was fashioned after J-pop, already in wide circulation to designate Japanese pop music that was enjoying its heyday. The V Channel used the term K-pop to reference Korean music that was generally popular in Korea rather than idol music, which then was in a nascent state. But in the late 2000s, when the term entered a wide circulation, it came to designate a much smaller fraction of South Korean music. According to pop music critic Choe Ji-seon, it references “music dominated by idols’ dance music which strives to gain a competitive edge in the international market. In this respect, indie music or rock, or anything that does not belong to dominant idol music, usually is not characterized as K-pop.”23

At the same time, as the etymology attests, K-pop is a music scene whose Korean origin and global destination constantly vie to define its identity. Ethnomusicologist Michael Fuhr aptly noted that K-pop emerges “as a result of a relationship, namely, of the inherent tension between the global imaginary it depicts and issues of national identity that were underlying, intersecting, and conflicting with it.”24 In this book, I use the term K-pop with Choe’s and Fuhr’s definitions in mind—as a way of referencing idol multimedia performance, which became globally popular at the turn of the millennium while constantly being expected to carry the banner of “Made in Korea.”

As a way of embracing these multiple aspects of the term generatively, I consider the “K” in “K-pop” as an abbreviation of the following “K” words, which collectively uphold the diverse makeup of K-pop:25 “kaleidoscopic” pop, embracing a wide range of multimedia performance, not just music; “keyboard” or “keypad” pop, which consumers can access digitally rather than through live performance; “Kleenex” pop, highly disposable in nature;26 “ketchup” pop, which is premade and has a predictable taste; “korporate” pop (I am now using “K” like the Kardashians), a highly polished commercial product whose sole aim is to generate profit in global marketplaces;27 and, quite obviously, “Korean” pop as the nation’s hottest export item, closely—and often problematically—bound up with South Korean national pride.28

While the main body of this book will unfold the signification of each abbreviation, it most consistently references aspects of “kaleidoscopic” pop and “keyboard/keypad” pop. Kaleidoscopic pop leads to the crucial concept of multimedia, which, in this book, is articulated on two fronts: first as multiple forms of performance, combining acting, singing, dancing, and talk shows to create a complex array of multimedia performances rather than just a music genre;29 second, as the kaleidoscopic convergence of various media platforms (TV, You-Tube, live performance, virtual reality) that collectively make K-pop a transmedia phenomenon. The term keyboard/keypad pop underlines the dominance of digital media, but it also is a way to highlight how, despite the overwhelming predominance of digital music production and consumption, K-pop still staunchly adheres to the idea of live music. Why should there be an emphasis on live music performance when a much better view of the performance is guaranteed on your computer screen? But before we get to the bottom of that question, what do we even mean by “live” and “liveness”? And what do these have to do with the characteristics of K-pop I have broadly sketched out in this section?


1. The term multimedia is used on multiple levels in this book: literally, it references multiple layers of media platforms in order to indicate how the live proscenium stage, television, film, and online media platforms corroborate to produce a network of K-pop content. From the perspective of K-pop performers, the term means versatility in crafting their career path by being not only expert musicians and dancers but also performers on variety shows and even sporting events designed for television consumption. On a phenomenological level, the term designates how K-pop is a performance that appeals to multiple senses—auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory—in order to mobilize fans in a thoroughly synaesthetic way.

2. BIGBANG attracted 590,000 attendees during thirty-four live concerts hosted in Japan in the first half of 2016. Gim Won-gyeom, “Sutjaro bon byeonhameomneun keipap hwangje ‘BIGBANG’” [BIGBANG, the unchallenged emperors of K-pop according to statistics], Dong-A Ilbo, July 20, 2016, http://sports.donga.com/3/all/20160719/79284955/3.

3. In 2016 alone, the following K-pop bands visited US cities outside the two most prominent tour stops, Los Angeles and New York City: B.A.P. performed in Atlanta on March 16; Teen Top in Dallas on April 8; AOMG in Seattle on April 17; Day6 in Orlando on August 14; and BIGBANG in Honolulu on October 22, to name just a few.

4. The article is based predominantly on an infographic about the K-pop live concert trend from January 2013 to July 2016 provided by the concert Kickstarter website MyMusicTaste.com. Jeff Benjamin, “K-pop Concerts Continue to Grow outside Asia: Exclusive Infographic,” Billboard, May 3, 2016, http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/7350481/international-k-pop-concerts-growth-infographic.

5. The article contrasts the rise of K-pop concerts elsewhere with the fact that East Asia is witnessing a decline in K-pop concerts. Ibid.

6. Europe, North America, and South America combined hosted only 14.26 percent of the concerts during the 2013–16 survey period (as opposed to 77.98 percent in East Asia), but the growing trend of K-pop concerts outside Asia could signal an important tidal shift in K-pop’s circulation.

7. Another example of the use of the eye-level camera in the K-pop world is female solo artist Lee Hi’s music video “Hold My Hand” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuUEnho33so), released on March 8, 2016, where the viewers enter the illusory world of holding the singer’s hands while looking into her eyes.

8. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 101.

9. Ina Blom, “The Touch through Time: Raoul Hausemann, Nam June Paik and the Transmission Technologies of the Avant-Garde,” Leonardo 34, no. 3 (June 2001): 211.

10. Media scholar Kay Dickinson uses the term synaesthesia to designate “the transposition of sensory images or attributes from one modality into another.” Kay Dickinson, “Music Videos and Synesthetic Possibility,” in Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones, ed. Roger Beebe and Jason Middleton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 14. While she uses the term primarily in relation to music videos, I will use it in this book to address a broader spectrum of media platforms and genres that are prone to mixing various senses.

11. Ethnomusicologist Michael Fuhr champions the idea that K-pop is a popular form of cultural practice as well as a multitextual and performative phenomenon. Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-pop (London: Routledge, 2016), 13.

12. Slavoj Žižek, Organs without Bodies (New York: Routledge, 2004), 2.

13. Quoted in Daniel Sack, After Live: Possibility, Potentiality, and the Future of Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015), 164.

14. The term connectivity in this book will be used in the way delineated by media studies scholar José van Djick. In her seminal book The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), Van Djick distinguishes connectedness from connectivity; if the former refers to the participatory Internet culture prior to 2007, when social media was yet to be thoroughly corporatized, then the latter refers to the hypercommercialized culture of the Internet, which became prominent with the corporatization of YouTube, Facebook, and other social media networks.

15. Sack, After Live, 12.

16. Mark James Russell made a similar observation on the excessive nature of K-pop aesthetics: “There is something distinct and special about K-pop. It’s like everything is a little bit louder, the images brighter, the style flashier—it’s just more.” Mark James Russell, K-pop Now! The Korean Music Revolution (Singapore: Tuttle, 2014), 18.

17. Joseph L. Flatley, “K-pop Takes America: How South Korea’s Music Machine Is Conquering the World,” Verge, October 18, 2012, http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/18/3516562/k-pop-invades-america-south-korea-pop-music-factory.

18. Girls’ Generation former member Jessica started training with SM Entertainment at the age of ten. Her story is not an exception to the rule but the norm in the world of K-pop.

19. Neil Hannigan, “Interview: Ex-SME Trainee Neil Hannigan on Auditions, Contracts, and Trainee Life,” interview by Kpopalypse, June 12, 2015, http://www.asianjunkie.com/2015/06/interview-ex-sme-trainee-neil-hannigan-on-auditions-contracts-and-trainee-life. According to Who Is Next (aired on Mnet in 2013) and Mix and Match (aired on Mnet in 2014), reality survival games that feature YG Entertainment’s male trainees, it is quite common for trainees to stay up all night practicing and preparing themselves for impending evaluations and competitions.

20. The term fan in the context of performing arts is at times used interchangeably with related terms such as audience and spectator, but in the age of digital capitalism it sometimes becomes conflated with netizen as well as consumer. In this book, fan, for lack of a better word, will be used to reference these corollary terms. As media studies scholar Choi JungBong (Choe Jeong-bong) noted, the term “falls short of representing the magnitude held by the people involved in the labor of cultural nourishment and refinement. These are deficit concepts, if not outright misnomers, unable to capture the roles and functions of those so labeled in the area of cultural participation.” Given the complexity of roles that fans embody in today’s mediatized world, Choi advocates the idea that fans deserve the term cultural curators. Choi JungBong [Choe Jeong-bong], “Hallyu versus Hallyu-hwa: Cultural Phenomenon versus Institutional Campaign,” in Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media, ed. Lee Sangjoon and Abé Nornes (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015), 42.

21. Recently the K-pop world has witnessed fast-rising popularity in reality survival shows, such as Mnet’s Produce 101 (2016, 2017), which empower voting viewers to determine which contestants will eventually debut as a new K-pop group.

22. Titles such as “Top 3 K-pop Creepy Stories,” accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/33316/20130703/top-3-creepy-k-pop-fan-stories.htm, and “13 Extreme Accounts of Sasaeng Fans,” accessed July 6, 2015, http://www.allkpop.com/article/2015/07/13-extreme-accounts-of-sasaeng-fans, provide a sample of the English-language media’s sensational coverage of K-pop fan behavior.

23. Quoted in An In-yong, “K-pop, jindani piryohae” [K-pop needs a diagnosis], Hangyeore 866, no. 27 (June 2011), http://h21.hani.co.kr/arti/culture/culture_general/29888.html.

24. Fuhr, Globalization and Popular Music, 59.

25. Fuhr poses the same question (“What is the K in K-pop?”) and uses his book to elaborate on the national, global, and corporate aspects. See Globalization and Popular Music, 6–11. I attempt to expand on the semantic range of “K” in “K-pop” by adding the emphasis on newness and disposability (“Kleenex” pop) as well as the digital habitat (“keyboard/keypad” pop).

26. The idea for this term comes from performance studies scholar Shannon Jackson’s use of Kleenex citizens in reference to young disposable workforces in neoliberal economies. See “Kleenex Citizens and the Performance of Undisposability,” in Performance, Politics and Activism, ed. Peter Lichenfels and John Rouse (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 237–52. For a detailed account of the disposability of the labor force in the Korean pop culture industry, see Kang Inkyu [Gang In-kyu], “The Political Economy of Idols: South Korea’s Neoliberal Restructuring and Its Impact on the Entertainment Labour Force,” in K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, ed. Choi JungBong and Roald Maliangkay (New York: Routledge, 2015), 51–65.

27. K-pop producers rely heavily on intensive capital investments and therefore cannot simply focus on the domestic market; to generate profit and further develop their products, they must pursue foreign markets aggressively. As Park Jin-young (Bak Jin-yeong), the CEO of JYP Entertainment, stated in an interview: “In Japan there are 100 million consumers, but in Korea we have only 50 million. That’s why entertainment companies have no choice but to look at foreign markets if they intend to grow.” Park Jin-young [Bak Jin-yeong], interview by Son Seok-hui, News Room, JTBC, May 5, 2015.

28. The “K” in “K-pop” stems from various desires to harness the global popularity of Korean pop music. Prominent among them is the Korean government’s plan to lay claim to K-pop as a part and parcel of a national branding campaign (see chapters 1 and 5), which has also given rise to similar terms such as K-drama, K-tourism, and K-education. However, the prolific use of “K” has dwindled since the fall of 2016 because of the massive political scandal that launched the impeachment process of the South Korean president Park Geun-hye [Bak Geun-hye], accused of misusing government funds and pressuring business conglomerates to support her confidante Choe Sun-sil’s companies—K-Sports Foundation and The Blue K—which many believe to have functioned as illegal fund-raising vehicles. Choe Su-mun, “Munchebu saeopseo ‘K’myeongching ppaenda” [“K” is disappearing from project titles supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism], Daum, December 19, 2016, http://v.media.daum.net/v/20161219175924498.

29. Stephen Epstein and James Turnbull note: “One may well regard Korean popular music artists as general entertainers . . . for with the collapse of recorded music sales success has come to depend not so much on vocal talents as dancing ability, physical attractiveness, and the projection of image through appearance in live performances, television programs, advertisements, and so on.” “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis) Empowerment and K-pop,” in The Korean Cultural Reader, ed. Kim Kyung-Hyun [Gim Gyeong-hyeon] and Choe Youngmin [Choe Yeong-min] (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 317.