A day before Lady Gaga released her latest full-length album, “Chromatica”, on May 29th, she dropped a new single titled “Sour Candy” featuring one of the most popular music groups in South Korea, BLACKPINK. The song debuted at no. 33 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the highest debut of any song featuring a South Korean female artist. The ladies of BLACKPINK are no strangers to the Billboard Top 100, however; previous singles of the group, “Kill This Love” and “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” have also made it onto the chart, showing just how popular the group has become in the United States. But this is not their first foray into Western pop music. They collaborated with Dua Lipa in 2018 on the hit single “Kiss and Make Up”, which saw success around the globe, and just last year, BLACKPINK performed at Coachella on one of the biggest stages of the festival.
Korean pop music, or Kpop, has been on the rise in the United States for years now. KCON, a convention of Korean music, culture, and entertainment, has been happening annually since 2012. In its first year, it attracted over 20,000 people at its first event in Southern California, and the convention quickly grew much bigger; KCON had expanded to a second American location in New York by 2015. One group that has appeared several times at KCON, Monsta X, has branched into the American market in an entirely different way: their latest studio album released earlier this year, “All About Luv”, was entirely in English. It reached no. 5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the third Korean artist to do so. The boy band also appeared on NBC and MTV to promote its album. The recent success of Korean pop artists in the United States goes to show just how popular they have become abroad and where they seek to expand in the future.
More broadly, the cultural connections between South Korea and the United States have been deepening recently as well. Koreans visiting America totaled 2.3 million in 2019, and nearly one million Americans visited South Korea. Americans are currently the largest market for tourism to South Korea from outside of Asia. This has resulted in billions of dollars of revenue for both countries and much better cross-cultural understanding. This understanding is also fostered by the growing Korean American population. Almost two million Korean Americans live in the United States, making it the 5th largest Asian ethnic group, and 14,643 Korean immigrants became US citizens in 2017. Additionally, around 24,000 Americans live in South Korea. Immigration and tourism have strengthened and reinforced the relationship between the two countries and provide a backdrop for the recent success seen by the Korean music industry in the United States.
Andy Eller is a Research Intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center. He is a rising fourth year at the University of Chicago studying law, letters, and society and minoring in East Asian Languages and Civilizations.