As K-pop earns recognition and worldwide success, a new trend is rising in Asia – the emergence of “imitation” bands.

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For those of you who may be familiar with OK Bang, a Chinese group that imitated South Korean band Big Bang in the late 2000s – possibly the progenitor of the K-pop “copycats” – this might not come as a surprise.

Since it’s somewhat difficult to judge ourselves objectively, we are happy to see them imitate us
Daesung, of Big Bang, on Chinese ‘copycat’ band OK Bang

However, the recent global achievements of K-pop bands have spawned another generation of imitations.

K-pop’s unprecedented success in May – after BTS won the top social artist award for the second year in a row at the Billboard Music Awards and also topped the Billboard 200 chart with its album “Love Yourself: Tear”– is encouraging entertainment agencies in neighbouring Asian countries, including Japan and China, to create similar versions of K-pop acts.

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These agencies aim to emulate Korea’s winning formula of developing an idol kingdom to boost the music industries in their respective countries.

To revive the J-pop idol culture, Japan’s LDH Entertainment recently announced plans to launch a boy band called Ballistik Boyz, also known as Ballibo.

However, the appearance of the band’s members in promotional broadcasts sparked a backlash from K-pop fans because the group shares many similarities with BTS.

Many viewers, including members of BTS’ fan club ARMY (an acronym for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth), claimed Ballibo’s debut teaser images were similar to those of BTS in its song DNA.

They also pointed out a few other similarities in that Ballibo has adopted a similar hip-hop concept and has the same number of members: seven – four vocalists and three rappers.

Viewers also claim that even group’s name resembles that of BTS, which means “bulletproof boys” in Korean.

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“I’m confused, are they copying BTS?” tweeted a user nicknamed Kim ARMY.

Another Twitter user, Jung Ju-hyun, wrote “I just wish they had a little more originality.”

On the other hand, some people offered support for the new group.

“They are totally different from BTS. I can see the difference. If you can’t support them then please don’t judge them,” Twitter user MoodLike wrote.

Two years ago, a Chinese girl group named AOS came under fire over claims it was too similar to K-pop girl group GFriend.

Some viewers pointed out that the choreography and style of AOS in its With You music video bore similarities with GFriend.

A few angry fans criticised AOS for having parallel melody lines and appearing in similar school uniforms.

Music critic Choi Kyu-sung said the emergence of imitators was natural and served to highlight the huge influence and success of K-pop that was now sweeping around the world.

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“This isn’t the first time we’re seeing [such] bands,” Choi said.

“There have been hundreds and thousands of bands that made attempts to imitate popular bands. “Even Korean music groups have imitated Japanese or American pop music until recently.”

But Choi said such imitators would always have to play catch-up, and so would never be able to emulate the success of original K-pop acts.

“Japan is still the world’s second-largest music market, but people are leaning towards K-pop over J-pop,” Choi said.

“I’d call it a generational shift in taste.”

With Korea now at the forefront of a new youth culture, K-pop bands are now enjoying in their huge success, supported by members of their devoted worldwide fandom.

“I’d say BTS and Wanna One are the two leading trendsetters of K-pop at the moment,” Choi said.

“But they’re faced with a challenge that they should keep ahead of others, or else the [copycat] bands might leapfrog them.”

Copyright laws exist to prevent music piracy, but legal frameworks are insufficient and often it is hard to prove similarities in melodies or musical concepts.

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According to the international copyright agreement, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the works of a country are protected under the domestic laws of that country.

Korea, Japan, and China are all members of the agreement.

However, considering the long and complicated nature of proceedings and close trade relations, it is not easy for entertainment agencies to cope with disputes involving plagiarism claims.

In the end, industry officials tend to laugh over such cultural phenomena.

Daesung, of Big Bang, once said of OK Bang, “Since it’s somewhat difficult to judge ourselves objectively, we are happy to see them imitate us.”

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This article was written by Kwak Yeon-soo for The Korea Times.