The year 2020 saw a rare phenomenon in the Korean music industry: it was the year of mutual gains for trot and K-pop, defying the long-held belief that musicians of the two drastically different genres are inevitably pitted against each other for popularity. While the pandemic opened new doors for the K-pop industry to experiment with live-streaming services and virtual technologies to meet global fans , albeit digitally, BTS became the first Korean act to be nominated for a Grammy. At home, veteran trot singer Na Hoon-a created a sensation after the huge success of his TV concert on the eve of the Chuseok (Korean harvest festival) long weekend. This contributed further to an already existing boom in the trot genre, evidenced by the popularity of Mr Trot , which broke TV Chosun’s viewership records every week it aired. Read on for the top 10 news stories that redefined the Korean music industry this year. How K-pop genius Rain became one of Korea’s richest celebrities 1. Sustainable trot View this post on Instagram A post shared by 미스터트롯 공식계정 (@mr__trot) The success of TV Chosun’s next trot show saved the cable network’s reputation. TV Chosun, an affiliate of Chosun Daily Newspaper , was often compared to JTBC, an affiliate of JoongAng Ilbo, due to their rivalry in the print media industry. On the small screen, TV Chosun had long been an underdog in the viewership race until it launched the experimental trot survival show Miss Trot last year. It turned out to be an unparalleled success story that carried on this year with the follow-up Mr. Trot . Reel to real: which of these 6 off-screen K-drama romances were built to last? Nearly 36 per cent of Korean TV watchers tuned in for the show in one of its final episodes, recording the highest viewership in the history of cable network programming. For the show's finale, an unprecedented 7.7 million text message-based votes were cast nationwide to select the winner, dubbed “Mr. Trot,” among seven final candidates. Even after the season finale, trot as a genre and its performers have continued to enjoy a renaissance, evidenced by trot singers topping the music charts and appearing in multiple commercials and on other major networks. The follow-up show Mister Trot: The Call Center of Love featuring the top six contestants still posts 15 per cent ratings on average. The six stars even starred in the documentary film Mr. Trot: The Movie released in October. The unmatched fame achieved by Mr. Trot in the domestic market soon led to the birth of several other similarly themed audition shows, including MBC’s I Am a Trot Singer , MBN’s Voice Trot and SBS’ K-Trot in Town . Why the internet is crazy for Aespa’s Karina – only a month after debut 2. BTS nominated for Grammy The global megastar group BTS continued to make K-pop history in 2020, this time with its new digital single blasting in at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 as well as its Grammy Award nomination – becoming the first Korean act ever to accomplish both feats. Upon its release, the band’s first all-English track Dynamite reigned in the top two spots of the Billboard chart for seven consecutive weeks. The catchy and lighthearted disco pop song broke the record for highest number of YouTube views in the first 24 hours, with 101.1 million, ultimately earning the septet their Grammy nomination for the best pop duo/group performance. With this, the group is now the first Korean act to have been nominated for all three major US music awards, including the Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards. But it doesn't end there. BTS’ latest song Life Goes On, released last month, became the first Korean song to top the Billboard Hot 100 in the first week of December. Why Twice have the most fateful origins story in K-pop 3. Na Hoon-a craze Singer Na Hoon-a proved once more that age is just a number. In his first return to the small screen after 15 years, the veteran trot singer created a sensation among pandemic-weary Koreans. His Chuseok holiday concert on the KBS 2 channel scored an incredible viewership of 29 per cent nationwide, according to Nielsen Korea, marking the highest figure among all broadcast programmes that day. The event, accompanied virtually by 1,000 fans in Seoul, Japan, Denmark, Australia and even Zimbabwe, awed not only his long-time middle-aged fans, but also many younger audience members thanks to Na’s charismatic stage presence and his splendid costumes and props. Covid-19 and K-pop: 7 idols who tested positive His performance of Brother ‘Tes! , where he asks the Greek philosopher Socrates the meaning of the world, love and life, captured listeners’ attention with its satirical lyrics and addictive melody, resulting in its YouTube music video to reach more than 12 million views. In addition to his music, his messages strewn throughout the concert resonated with many viewers, from his heartfelt thanks to the medical staff and grass roots efforts in these trying times, to his sharp jab at partisan politics. 4. K-pop goes online The strict social distancing rules ushered in to curb the spread of the virus meant a string of in-person K-pop events, including concerts, festivals and meet-and-greets, were cancelled one after another throughout the year. The total estimated losses from the cancelled performances alone came to more than 130 billion won (US$120 million) as of October, according to the Record Label Industry Association of Korea. To cope with the pandemic-led disaster, big names in the industry actively began to look for ways to incorporate the contactless trend into their business model. The effort soon led to some new eye-catching alternatives. K-pop king G-Dragon just dropped US$8 million on a penthouse – take a look From BTS’ Bang Bang Con attended by more than 750,000 viewers, to SM’s Beyond Live series with SuperM, Super Junior and NCT, online live-streaming concerts became a boon for K-pop fans worldwide. Another turning point came in the form of Blackpink’s virtual fan signing event, which featured each members’ personalised avatars and drew over 46 million users. Even an awards show made a transition to an online platform. Decked out with the latest AR and MR technologies, the Mnet Asian Music Awards surprised fans by having a virtually rendered Suga, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery, rap onstage for BTS’ Life Goes On performance. 5. Blackpink hanbok goes viral In Blackpink’s performance unveiling the new summer hit How You Like That on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon , what mesmerised global fans other than their addictive music was their stage costume: modified hanbok . The members’ jeogori (upper garments) and chima (skirts) that form the traditional Korean attire usually worn on special occasions were reinterpreted with modern fits and colours. But such a stylistic twist stirred up local controversy when some argued their outfits distort the authentic tradition represented by the dress and its heritage. Others also insisted that revealing cuts and short lengths made the hanbok too sexual. IU, the K-pop millionaire who gives much of her fortune away However, both the Hanbok Advancement Center and Danha, the designer for Jennie’s and Rose’s costumes, stated that unnecessarily policing the shape of the outfit may hinder healthy promotional efforts for hanbok and undermine its appeal. The conversation about the traditional Korean attire became especially relevant after some Chinese internet users were accused of cultural appropriation by claiming that hanbok derives from the Chinese traditional clothing hanfu and therefore should be considered part of their culture. 6. Documentary films of K-pop idols This year, documentary films going behind the scenes and detailing the rise to fame of some of the world’s most famous K-pop idols have enthralled international fans, who wanted to know more about the stars’ thoughts and feelings through humanising fly on the wall narratives. Just a day after its October release, Netflix Original Blackpink: Light Up the Sky ranked at number two in the streaming giant’s global chart of top films, according to analytics firm FlixPatrol. The nine-part YouTube docuseries Twice: Seize the Light also achieved success, with its first episode surpassing 5.3 million views. BTS’ Break The Silence series, initially released on BigHit’s official fan community platform Weverse, became a smash hit among the group’s fans too. 7. Hybrid girl group Aespa In November, Aespa became the first new girl group to debut in SM Entertainment since Red Velvet burst onto the scene six years ago. Even before the premiere of its single Black Mamba , the K-pop group made headlines with its unconventional theme centring on the interaction between the virtual world and real life. Which K-drama actor is on course to become the next Lee Min-ho? The idea, which is in line with the agency's recent push for the incorporation of virtual technology, is that the band’s four members – Karina, Winter, Giselle and Ningning – are connected to virtual avatars through a digital platform called “Synk,” which allows them to collaborate both online and offline. But the group was also accused of plagiarising its debut music video. Multiple internet users pointed out that some scenes bear too much resemblance to those of the popular all-female virtual band K/DA’s Pop/Stars . German visual artist Timo Helgert initially took to social media to argue that they seem to have copied some of the concepts from his own work, although he later clarified that both parties had come to an understanding. 8. Any Song TikTok challenge View this post on Instagram A post shared by 지 아코 (@woozico0914) It was rapper Zico who started the year with his bouncy hip-hop track Any Song and popularised the TikTok challenge trend in Korea. After its release in January, the song, with its seamless flow and light tunes, secured its place atop many local K-pop music charts and streaming services for weeks. BTS’ Jin is worth US$20 million – and this is how he spends it Its immense popularity partly owes to the viral TikTok dance challenge videos that accompanied the song, which starred high-profile K-pop artists Chungha , Lee Hyori and Mamamoo’s Hwasa , among many others, and inspired thousands of K-pop fans to follow suit. In just one month, such challenge videos recorded nearly 800 million views in total on the app. Any Song thus became one of the most influential tracks in the first half of the year and set the trend of promoting new music releases through TikTok challenges in Korea. 9. Rain song gets overdue popularity The year 2020 has been a strange time for the “world star” Rain, but not because of Covid-19 – for once. Rain was arguably the biggest male solo K-pop star in the early 2000s, even before the current global scale of K-pop’s popularity, and starred in two Hollywood-produced films. But since 2014, his career began to flounder, with the artist seemingly not being able to keep up with new music trends. It all culminated in his release of the song Gang in 2017, which performed extremely poorly, with critics and listeners alike calling it stale and anachronistic. But after three years, the song’s music video now has 19 million views on YouTube. The resurgence of the popularity of the track and of Rain was primarily due to memes and parodies that began popping up online in late 2018, with internet users naming the phenomenon “1 Gang a day.” This also brought about new-found interest in other users who were not familiar with the source material and wanted to check for themselves “how cringe-inducing the song is”. The online movement put Rain back in the spotlight, with him even performing as a member of the seasonal supergroup SSAK3 with Lee Hyori and Yoo Jae-seok , which hit the top spot in mainstream music charts in the summer. 10. Yang Joon-il’s belated stardom Another star who owes his sudden return to fame to a viral video craze is Yang Joon-il. The Korean-American singer-songwriter was an interesting figure in the 1990s. He had several mini-hit songs including Rebecca and Dance with Me Miss but disappeared from the public eye at the end of the decade after years of activity failing to gain much traction. 4 K-pop and K-drama sibling pairs who made it big At the time, Yang and his music were considered bizarre and provocative. He was even reprimanded for “inappropriately” using too much English in one broadcast performance. But after 30 years, as his old 1990s performance videos uploaded on YouTube went viral, he soon found belated stardom. In summer, Yang released the new track Rocking Roll Again , his first song to come out in 19 years. He also published a memoir, Yang Joon-Il Maybe: Our Code Words , which has been well-received by his eager fans. 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