Definition of K-pop evolves as it embraces diversity

All-Japanese K-pop girl group NiziU / Courtesy of JYP Entertainment

What is K-pop? It is a million-dollar question for industry insiders today, who are grappling to define the genre as it becomes more diverse and inclusive of other ethnicities than ever before.Given that the letter “K-” refers to “Korean,” people used to think that a song fell into the category of K-pop if it was mostly sung in Korean by the singers, who were trained and incubated by music labels based in Seoul. Although K-pop has seen various nationalities of singers since its birth in the late 1990s, the majority of foreign members were Asians from China and Japan — like the former Super Junior member Han Geng — and their numbers were limited.But this is a thing of the past now. K-pop management companies these days are eyeing the international market by recruiting more foreign talent, believing they can appeal to the people of their own countries by closely interacting with them.One of the most noteworthy cases is the girl group BLACKSWAN, which is made up of Senegalese-Belgian Fatou, Brazilian-German Gabi, American NVee and Indian Sriya. It had Korean members when it debuted in 2020, but they all ended up leaving.

NiziU, an all-Japanese girl group produced by K-pop powerhouse JYP Entertainment, and HORI7ON, consisting of seven Filipinos, are just a few other examples of K-pop acts with no Korean members. Some groups do have Koreans but are composed of predominantly non-Koreans. For instance, KATSEYE, a new girl group formed in collaboration between HYBE — home to top-tier acts like BTS and NewJeans — and American label Geffen Records, includes only one Korean member named Yoonchae. The remaining members hail from the U.S., the Philippines and Switzerland.The six-piece act, which consists of the winners of the audition program “The Debut: Dream Academy,” will be based in the U.S., setting their sights on the international market before starting their careers in Korea.”I have long wanted to foster talent from different countries using the K-pop methodology and produce a global group adopting the K-pop style,” HYBE Chairman Bang Si-hyuk said during a press event in Los Angeles in August.”The members of the new girl group will not forget to respect K-pop and Korea will become a crucial platform for their musical activities.”On Jan. 26, JYP Entertainment is poised to debut its American girl group VCHA. Created with New York City-based Republic Records through the competition show “A2K,” VCHA is made up of Americans Lexi, Kendall, Savanna and 슬롯게이밍 KG, Korean American Kaylee and Canadian Camila.

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