The latest industry news to your inbox.

I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities


I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy


K-pop’s global explosion ‘yet to plateau’

Executives from Live Nation, The O2 and elsewhere chart the growth of the phenomenon while predicting what comes next for the scene

By James Hanley on 24 Mar 2023

image © Alexis Dubus Photography

K-pop is yet to reach its peak despite its incredible growth on the international stage, according to experts.

ILMC’s How K-pop Conquered the World panel charted the history of the genre and how it broke worldwide, while pondering what is next for the scene.

ICA-Live-Asia president Tommy Jinho Yoon, who moderated the session in London, outlined the growth of the K-pop, saying he would never have imagined that Korean music would be embraced on a global platform.

“It’s about perfection,” said Yoon. “These artists live together and are trained at least two years before they do anything. They’re not allowed to do this and that; they’re not even allowed to date. It’s just total military training – this high, intense level of choreography, vocal and physical training – all these elements are embodied in the performance side of K-pop. And apparently, it is working with this generation.”

“It takes a significant time and also talent development for these artists to debut to the world,” affirmed Humid.TV’s David Choi, a former A&R director/producer for K-pop giant SM Entertainment.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage where it’s going to plateau yet”

California-based Choi credited a ’90s show in Korea by iconic American boyband New Kids on the Block for inspiring SM founder Lee Soo-man to create K-pop pioneers H.O.T. in 1996.

“That’s when [Soo-man] got the idea that, ‘Hey, I should build a boy group like this,'” said Choi. “That group was called H.O.T. And he was right – it was a global success.”

With superstars BTS not expected to regroup until 2025 while the band members fulfil their mandatory military service, there have been suggestions that the genre is starting to wane in popularity. But to Live Nation Australasia’s Wenona Lok, who recently worked on Stray Kids’ record-breaking Australian shows, any concerns on that front are premature.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage where it’s going to plateau yet,” she said. “It’s something that people can really learn from and we’re also starting to see a lot of K-pop acts collaborate with Western artists.”

“A lot of Western artists that I deal with are requesting to be connected with K-pop artists to do collaborations, and vice-versa,” agreed Yoon. “So I foresee a lot of that in the future – there is going to be joint shows and a lot of music produced together.”

“We had more traffic in the AXS waiting room for BTS than for Adele’s comeback shows one or two years before”

The O2’s VP and general manager Steve Sayer reflected on the impact BTS’ two nights at the London venue in 2018, which he said exceeded even the promoter’s expectations.

“I won’t put anyone on the spot, but I don’t think anyone really appreciated quite how big it was going to be,” he said. “We had more traffic in the AXS waiting room for BTS than for Adele’s comeback shows one or two years before. We could have had 20 shows comfortably, but they were holding back shows for Wembley Stadium the following summer.

“On the morning of [the first show], I had to double take because it was about 8.30am and there must have been at least 5,000 fans, if not more, queuing compliantly, and the front doors of The O2 weren’t even open.

“You announce one band, you sell 5,000 tickets. You announce the next band, you sell another 5,000 tickets, and then it adds up to 40,000 at the end”

“Everyone was in the arena bowl 90 minutes before the show’s start time. It smashed our merchandising record, which was broken, subsequently, at Blackpink a few months ago – and when the band came on stage, I’d never seen anything like it – not even at One Direction shows. I will use the word ‘hysteria’ because I can’t I can’t think of a better adjective.”

The O2 will host Europe’s biggest K-pop festival Kpop.Flex from 22-24 September this year, while Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank Park hosted the inaugural edition of Kpop.Flex in May 2022. The event will return to the German venue for a second edition from 17-18 June this year.

“We announced the line-up band by band,” said the stadium’s MD Patrik Meyer. “You announce one band, you sell 5,000 tickets. You announce the next band, you sell another 5,000 tickets, and then it adds up to 40,000 at the end. You could see that every fan had one specific band [they had come to see], but they like it all, so that’s fantastic for a festival.

“We sold out the first day of the [2022] festival within four to six weeks, so we added the second day. That didn’t sell out completely, but at the end we had almost 70,000 – 40,000, plus 30,000 for a first time event, which was a huge success.”

“It’s become a community and a culture beyond the music”

He added: “Social media is key to K-pop. Without that, it wouldn’t be possible to create that phenomenon. For our festival, no flyer was printed, no poster was put up, it was just starting an Instagram account from zero, so it’s a very active crowd.”

Creative director Amy Bowerman, whose past clients include Blackpink, extolled the strength of the genre’s relationship with its fans.

“One of the things that Kpop does so well is talk in youth language,” she said. “The power of that culture is huge, and one of the beautiful things about it is that it obviously lives online, but there’s also a physical space where you see all these dance groups come together. It’s become a community and a culture beyond the music. And I think that that is incredible, specifically for young people.

“With how tumultuous the world has been over the past four years, looking to these people who stand as beacons for  inclusivity and bringing people together… that is one of the reasons I think people are connecting to the artists so deeply and profoundly.”

“I think the reason K-pop is so big is because it’s really accessible,” agreed Lok. “If you go online, there are many fan groups that are happy to help educate you. Having the internet makes a big difference – it’s a right time, right place thing – but a lot of K-pop fans are women in their mid 40s, of all race groups. They come to the shows and bring their daughters because it’s something that is easy to share and get excited about.”


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.