k-pop roundup

It’s that time of the year again! Cats and dogs are googling ‘how to most destructively knock over a tree’. Jingly bell samples are booming on Splice. And Music Ally is continuing our series of end-of-year roundup posts.

Today our focus is on K-Pop: the music and artists of South Korea whose horizons were truly global in the music industry of 2022. Two groups, BTS and Blackpink, dominate the landscape, but there are trends around them too.

(And just to avoid any online unpleasantness: like our other Christmas listicles, this is not a ranking of importance, so we’re not putting one group over another. We love the BTS Army and Blinks equally!)

Read on, and browse our other 2022 roundup posts here.

01 BTS became the IFPI’s artist of the year – again

The IFPI’s annual Global Recording Artist of the Year award is based on streams and sales: a pure metric of popularity and engagement. BTS won the award for 2020, and in February this year the IFPI announced that they’d also bagged the title for 2021. It was just the latest clear statement of how far BTS have come, and K-Pop more generally. Note, another Korean act, Seventeen, also made the top 10 of the IFPI’s chart.

02 ‘Proof’ continued their global success

Few would bet against BTS riding high in the 2022 awards chart too, given the splash made by their anthological ‘Proof’ album in June. It sold millions of copies, was a streaming hit around the world, and saw the group backed by a full house of big streaming services. Spotify counted down to the release; Apple Music made a BTS radio show; and YouTube launched a BTS Shorts challenge, for example. A truly tentpole release. By October, BTS were attracting more than 49 million viewers to the livestream of their Busan concert too.

03 Blackpink also broke records internationally

2022 was also a truly huge year for Blackpink, as the group built on their existing international success to cement their position in the top tier of global pop stars. They became the first music artist to reach 75 million YouTube subscribers, and got their own YouTube Shorts challenge as a mark of their importance to the platform. Meanwhile, their ‘Pink Venom’ single broke barriers on YouTube and Spotify alike. With the might of the Blinks behind them, there is plenty more to come.

04 Spotify doubled down on its K-Pop commitments

The thing that became clear in 2022 was that there is a global appetite for K-Pop, not just for its two biggest groups. That was reflected in the way Spotify ramped up its commitment to Korean music over the course of the year. With K-Pop streams already up 27% year-on-year, Spotify rebranded its flagship genre playlist; made K-Pop the first expansion for its Roblox island; and launched a standalone editorial website. Ending the year by triggering a fandom feud was unfortunate, though.

05 Hybe financials revealed the scale of its business

When examining a trend like K-Pop’s international growth, it’s tempting to look for milestones. One of those this year came from one of the prime movers in the space: Hybe (formerly Big Hit Entertainment). Now a public company, Hybe announced its 2021 financial results in February, revealing revenues for that year of more than $1bn. BTS, Seventeen, Tomorrow X Together and Enhyphen were the acts cited as key to its 58% year-on-year growth.

06 Not just streaming… K-Pop’s 10m album-sales month

What was that about milestones? This news story in June pinged Music Ally’s radar, not least as another reminder that K-Pop is a sales phenomenon, not just a streams phenomenon. Researchers at Hyundai Motor Securities in South Korea claimed that in May alone, just under 10m K-Pop albums were sold, driven by the latest releases from Seventeen and TXT.

07 K-Pop met S-Pop in sign of global ambitions

The global ambitions of the key K-Pop companies are not just about Korean artists. One of the trends we’ll be watching with intense interest in 2023 is how they forge partnerships with other music companies around the world – particularly in ‘high-potential’ regions like Africa, Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa. That’s why an August deal between Korean firm SM Entertainment and the the Ministry of Investment Saudi Arabia was interesting: a meeting of K-Pop and S-Pop [Saudi Pop] in the making.

08 A future of virtual K-Pop stars and synthetic voices?

South Korea’s music industry has embraced many new technologies in recent years, and that’s a trend that continued in 2022. A partnership between startup VV Entertainment and major label Sony Music around virtual artist Apoki was one example, while Hybe acquiring synthetic voice startup Supertone was another. In K-Pop as in the wider industry, avatars and AI voices aren’t replacing human artists any time soon: but they may well have an interesting complementary role to play. It’s also a reminder that we should be watching South Korean tech startups just as much as music companies.

9 BTS military service as a springboard for growth?

Hybe’s share price took a tumble when BTS seemed to announce plans for a hiatus in June, and while that didn’t last long, in October it was confirmed that the members of the group will be undertaking at least 18 months of military service, as is required in South Korea, before reconvening in 2025. “It’s the perfect time and the members of BTS are honored to serve,” explained a statement. It may be perfect timing for the wider K-Pop industry too: a chance for the tier of artists below BTS and Blackpink to step up another notch internationally, and continue to build on the global barriers smashed down by those two acts.

While you’re here…

– Read our recent partner-content post with Last.fm on the global rise of K-Pop, identifying the key moments over recent years.

– January’s NY:LON Connect conference we co-run with Music Biz has sold out of in-person tickets, but virtual tickets are still available. Check the lineup here!

– The Knowledge is Music Ally’s free weekly newsletter, arriving in your inbox every Friday with news, analysis and marketing tips. Sign up for it here!

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you build the strategies for artists to thrive in new international markets!

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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