K-pop is a form of South Korean popular music directed at a global audience that fuses Korean and foreign musical elements. While “idols” (performers who sing, dance, and engage in extra-musical activity) are the most visible, K-pop encompasses a wide variety of genres. Emerging in the wake of a major financial crisis that prompted a restructuring of the Korean economy, K-pop benefits from increased freedom in cultural expression, support by the Korean government, and a global cultural movement that reaches East Asia and beyond. The first K-pop groups appeared in the early 1990s, drawing on hip-hop and rhythm and blues popular in the United States. The use of rap and b-boying/breakdance style, along with emotional vocals of R&B, became staples for first-generation “idol” groups. Initially presenting an approachable image, they later took on more mature concepts before they disbanded in the late 1990s. Several continue to influence the K-pop music scene, even as subsequent generations of K-pop artists emerge. These idol groups have diversified their images as well as their musical styles. Several solo artists have emerged, and hip-hop groups continue to participate. All of this musical activity is governed by Korean agencies, the largest of which are responsible for the creation and management of “idols,” while others encourage indie artists and still others are led by K-pop artists themselves. In addition to the promotional strategies of agencies, media, both professional and fan-driven, play a large role in the global spread of K-pop. The fans themselves are also active participants, acting as both audience members and content producers.
Crystal S. Anderson
What is Asian American popular music? How do we identify it, define it, and listen to it? What work is being done by naming a genre as such, and need it even be named? Asian Americanist scholars and music critics have grappled with these questions, articulating the political desires for Asian American representation, recognition, and inclusion, while at the same time remaining wary of how such desires reiterate liberal multiculturalist discourses of assimilation and inclusion. A growing body of interdisciplinary work in American studies, performance studies, critical race and ethnic studies, queer studies, and sound and popular music studies has addressed the historical emergence, visibility, and representation of Asian Americans in popular music. This work has become less concerned with finding out what “Asian American popular music” is and more interested in how Asian Americanist critique can be rooted in minoritarian listening practices so that one might consider the myriad ways Asian Americans—as professional and amateur performers, musicians, virtuosic singers, karaoke goers, YouTube users, listeners, critics, and fans—actively shape and negotiate the soundscapes of US popular music with its visual, sonic, and other sensorial markers of Asian racialization.