The Allure and Authority of K-pop

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Life was simpler back in 2012 when our iPods shuffled between Gangnam Style, Titanium and Call Me Maybe. Little did the rest of the world know that Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, was heading westward to immerse them in a world of fierce fandoms and merch memorabilia worth nearly $5 billion. However, unbeknownst to many, politics is an integral constituent of K-pop.


In the 90s, the Korean music scene saw a revival. A new, exciting generation of artists was born. Rather than wait for demand from overseas markets, the South Korean government began to highly subsidise the entertainment industry, inciting an exciting era in music and television.

Proponents of classical economics will recognise Say’s Law of Markets in this scenario; the notion that the production of goods or services creates its own demand. As said by Say, “It is worthwhile to remark that a product is no sooner created than it, from that instant, affords a market for other products to the full extent of its own value.”

In 1992, the Korean government’s Culture and Tourism Institute sent a Cantonese dubbed Korean drama called ‘What Is Love’ to their consulate in Hong Kong which offered it for free to a local television channel. Demand soon began to grow in other regions of China as well as Southeast Asia including markets like Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan. The government saw this as an opportunity to rise out of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and increase its influence worldwide.


The pop scene is mostly controlled by the South Korean government and four other major corporations YG, SM, JYP and BigHit Entertainment, that handpick these stars from an early age. Prospective artists are made to undergo extensive training, everything from language lessons to choreography. K-pop musical acts cover a wide variety of genres including and not limited to EDM, pop, rock, hip-hop, as well as a promising R&B segment.

In times when online streaming platforms are becoming ever so popular, K-pop bands release collectable CDs, or vinyl records, that serve a more aesthetic purpose at best. Each album or EP can have up to nearly two or three different covers to encourage fans to collect all. Some of these CDs feature lottery tickets that can enable lucky winners to meet the band in person. Apart from concert tickets and clothing merch, K-pop has thus revived an old segment of music sales, putting an unimaginable business twist to it: the physical purchase of artists’ CDs for songs that are literally free for anyone with a data plan.

Due to the grasp of social media over society today, questions and concerns about the genuineness of the inspiration behind this delicately designed industry are often raised. Earlier, creativity almost always had no place in the conversation. However, self-produced musical acts are also gaining popularity swiftly.


The largely government-funded industry has made countries like China aware of their current account deficit with the nation. China recognises its large customer market and has used it as leverage against situations of intense political tension. In times of political strife, China occasionally withholds its consumer base from the South Korean government by cancelling visas, forbidding the travel of these artists and calling off concerts.

South Korea’s dependency on the K-pop industry has, without question, allowed a trickle-down effect in its economy in terms of international travel and viral Korean beauty routines.

With governments such as China seeing it as a driver of Seoul’s international relations, diversifying their asset portfolio by focussing on other intangible assets like television shows may prove to be substantially profitable for South Korea later on.

Yet, K-pop’s catchy music and kitschy videos have created a strong likability amidst fans and brought joy to millions around the globe. Whatever the motives behind the commercialization of South Korea’s entertainment industry are, genuine art knows no frontiers. As evident by millions of fans worldwide, the authenticity of K-pop is assured for generations to come.




Hey there! I’m the author of Echonomics, a blog that aims to discuss the resounding ripples that microeconomic policies can create on a macroeconomic level.

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Ishita Pal

Hey there! I’m the author of Echonomics, a blog that aims to discuss the resounding ripples that microeconomic policies can create on a macroeconomic level.