#Showbiz: K-Pop labels embrace diversity, taking on non-Korean talents

KUALA LUMPUR: Although K-Pop has seen various nationalities of singers since its birth in the late 1990s, most foreign members were 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 as K-Pop management companies are eyeing the international market by recruiting more foreign talent and believe 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 comprises Senegalese-Belgian Fatou, Brazilian-German Gabi, American NVee and Indian Sriya. It had Korean members when it debuted in 2020, but they all left.

NiziU, an all-Japanese girl group produced by K-Pop powerhouse JYP Entertainment, and Hori7on, consisting of seven Filipinos, are other examples of acts with no Korean members.

Some groups do have Koreans but are composed of mostly non-Koreans.

KatsEye, a new girl group formed in a collaboration between Hybe – home to top-tier acts like BTS – and American label Geffen Records, includes only one Korean member, Yoonchae. The remaining members hail from the United States, the Philippines and Switzerland.

"I have long wanted to foster talent from different countries using the K-Pop methodology," Hybe chairman Bang Si-Hyuk said to the South China Morning Post recently.

The advent of more globalised groups shows K-Pop's determination to gain further traction in the global pop industry, said Kim Jin-Woo, the head researcher at Circle Chart, which collects music data.

"K-Pop labels account for less than two per cent of global music record and streaming sales. Its labels are seeking to maximise their profits with a fresh approach.

"In future, female K-Pop acts may look more Western like the Spice Girls while male groups attempt to walk in the footsteps of One Direction."

Cultural studies professor Lee Gyu-Tag of George Mason University Korea pointed out that K-Pop was pursuing universality in music to broaden its horizons.

"BTS used to sing a lot in Korean and wrote lyrics mirroring Korean society. But Jungkook took a different path, bringing universality to the fore instead of particularity.

"Like hip-hop from the US that has become part of our own culture in the name of Korean hip-hop, K-Pop may also permeate other cultures and take names such as American K-Pop or European K-Pop."

Kim expects the competition between K-pop groups and the more globalised acts to grow.

"They will go head to head with one another to clinch the top spots on global music charts such as Billboard. We may soon witness the age of limitless competition."

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