BTS break records, Blackpink hit new heights: K-pop adapts, survives and thrives in 2020 amid Covid-19 pandemic
- The K-pop industry took 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic in stride
- Online concerts, album sales, calls for social justice and international collaborations helped grow Korean pop music’s reach
K-pop has gained love from fans across the world for years, but it was in 2020 that the musical genre showed how high it can fly amid adversity.
The year started on a high for Korean pop music before plunging into the harsh reality of the global pandemic. People around the world found themselves stuck at home and looked for distraction and entertainment on the internet – the place where K-pop connects most with its global audience.
K-pop offered a respite and consolation – and for the rest of the global music industry, a blueprint for how to engage digitally with fans.
It wasn’t just about trying to maintain business as usual – K-pop sought to capitalise and become even more successful. And by the end of the year, everyone was talking about K-pop artists and their fans, who weren’t only rooting for their favourite bands but also standing up for social justice and against racism and hate.
Although the conversation continues, it was a breakout year for K-pop, both for its musicality and its awareness in pop culture’s canon.
Commercially, 2020 saw major sales for K-pop acts: the Korea Music Content Association (KMCA) recorded 40.2 million albums sold as of December 12, a 64 per cent increase year on year.
The Korea Customs Service similarly reported major growth, with declared exports of US$170 million for physical CDs and related DVDs between January and November.
The Korean music industry was able to avoid lengthy shutdowns (although concerns about a cluster of Covid-19 infections may change that in 2021), with each act figuring out how to engage with the new environment.
They could have opted to change their plans but instead rose to the challenge, going on a media junket digitally and winning over listeners around the world with their singles How You Like That, Ice Cream and Lovesick Girls.
NCT, on the other hand, spent much of the year on their 2020 project, featuring 23 members from various NCT subgroups – 127, Dream, and WayV – plus two new members (Shotaro and Sungchan), and benefited from the lack of overseas promotion tied to new releases. The group was thus able to release two halves of its “Resonance” album series, for a total of five singles, with numerous performances attached.
Many popular acts, like Twice, Mamamoo, Sunmi, Chungha, Seventeen and members of Exo and Red Velvet, released phenomenally catchy songs – whether as groups, smaller teams or in solo projects.
Other acts, like Everglow, The Boyz, Itzy, and Oh My Girl gained in viral awareness, and a bevy of high-quality rookie debuts helped make 2020 a glowing start for the next decade of K-pop.
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