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K-pop industry sees bigger opportunities in international market

All News 10:40 November 01, 2021

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- Big-name K-pop companies saw their revenues from overseas rise sharply in the first half of the year, financial data showed Monday, as the number and influence of overseas-based fans grew to a point where they can determine the rankings of local music charts.

According to data available on the Financial Supervisory Service's electronic disclosure system as of Monday, Hybe, which manages BTS, Seventeen and Enhypen, saw domestic sales account for only 24.96 percent out of 456.9 billion won (US$390 million) in its total sales in the first half of this year.

North America represented 19.83 percent of the overall sales, Asia 11.27 percent and other countries 2.31 percent. A 41.44 percent share of sales came from online, where it is difficult to specify the location of consumption. Hybe said a large portion of the online sales is estimated to be from overseas markets.

This undated file photo shows overseas K-pop fans posing for the camera before attending a BTS concert. (Yonhap)

This undated file photo shows overseas K-pop fans posing for the camera before attending a BTS concert. (Yonhap)

JYP Entertainment, which has popular groups, such as TWICE and Stray Kids, also saw its overseas sales exceed domestic ones in the first half -- it posted 72.9 billion won in total sales, which breaks down to 39.5 billion won in exports and 33.3 billion won in domestic sales.

With the rapid rise of K-pop's overseas popularity, online distribution channels with K-pop fans around the world as target customers are also growing rapidly.

Ktown4u, which sells K-pop albums and merchandise, is not only available in Korean and English but also in the Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indonesian languages for overseas fans.

HM International, the channel's operator, saw its annual sales jump 133.4 percent on-year to 177.3 billion won last year.

Against this backdrop, how actively an album attracts overseas fans became the key to its success. Since it is difficult to expect a "big hit" only with domestic sales, rookie groups that need to make their names known are more eager to secure overseas fans.

"Boy groups' album sales have increased a lot in the aftermath of the outbreak of the new coronavirus, and it is true that overseas fans have a significant stake in album sales," an official from a large K-pop agency said, requesting not to be named.

An official from another agency also said, "As K-pop groups do well in the U.S. and South American markets, sales of their old albums are also increasing in meaningful numbers in addition to new ones."

Fans cheer during a live concert by a K-pop group in Los Angeles on Oct. 26, 2021. (Yonhap)

Fans cheer during a live concert by a K-pop group in Los Angeles on Oct. 26, 2021. (Yonhap)

Overseas fans also move in an organized way to support their favorite artists, the official added.

"If in-person concerts, which had been mostly canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19, resume, the international market will likely get more attention," he said.

It is no exaggeration to say that YouTube, another major consumption channel of K-pop, depends largely on the success of overseas K-pop fans.

According to YouTube, leading K-pop girl group BLACKPINK has achieved 9.15 billion in total YouTube views over the past year, of which 96 percent came from overseas. The remaining 4 percent, or 361 million views were generated in South Korea.

By country, Indonesia had the largest number of views with 758 million, followed by Thailand (736 million), India (679 million), the Philippines (638 million) and Mexico (514 million).

YouTube views are also very important for agencies because they are used to calculate rankings in domestic TV music programs.

Against this backdrop, K-pop agencies now care about not only domestic fans but also cultural characteristics of various countries to avoid various unnecessary controversies involving their artists, realizing that some issues can raise the anger of fans from other countries even if they don't pose any problems in Korea.

In a most recent case, Giselle, a member of the girl group aespa, had to post an apology on Twitter after simply singing along to SZA's "Love Gallore," which came out on a filming site. She received strong protests from overseas fans because the lyrics included the word "niggas," which disparages black people.

"I would like to apologize for mouthing this wrongful word from the lyrics of the song, which was playing on-site," she wrote in English on the group's Twitter account on Oct. 25.

IZ*ONE, a now-disbanded project group, deleted the original music video in June last year when it was pointed out that the jewelry that member Kwon Eun-bi put on the center of her forehead was similar to Bindi, which is worn in a religious sense in Hindu culture.

Also last year, BLACKPINK drew controversy for using the statue of the Hindu god Ganesha in its music video for "How You Like That." It modified the scene in response to protests from Indian fans.


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