The internet is a giant amplifier, making things seem like a bigger deal than they really are. Even something like Kpop, which basically sucks.
Step into the right echo chamber, and whatever you think is cool is instantly a million times cooler, with none of that pesky “perspective” getting in the way of that wet blanket we call “reality”.
In 2017, Grammy.com posted an article titled Why is Kpop’s popularity exploding in the United States?. On May 29th, 2018, NPR published an article titled Kpop, Korean Popular Music, Hits No. 1 in the U.S., in response to BTS’s new album hitting #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. A few days later, The Guardian proclaimed English is no longer the default language of American pop. If you go on Twitter, barely a day goes by without a bunch of Kpop fans getting something trending.
Man, Kpop must be the biggest f—king thing in the United States right now, huh?
Well, here’s that pesky “perspective” to get in the way. BTS’s big hit “Fake Love” hit #10 on Billboard four weeks ago. Impressive, right? A week later it dropped below #40. Two weeks after that? It’s #71 and dropping like thugs in a hammer fight in the South Korean thriller “Oldboy”.
BTS’ album, Love Yourself: Tear hit #1 four weeks ago. This week it’s #20, being beaten by Ed Sheeran’s Divide, an album that’s been on the charts for 67 weeks. Oh, and what’s #10 on the Hot 100 this week? The 34 week old Bebe Rexha/Florida Georgia Line Pop/Country crossover “Meant to Be”.
For something considered “popular”, these are pretty weak numbers. Consider how well (or really how poorly) something has to perform to make the top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 in this day and age, when album sales are in the toilet and streaming is supreme. We don’t have all the data for the entire chart, but we do have what Billboard’s willing to share, which is the top 10.
This week, we returned to the year 1996 with Dave Matthews Band (YES, Dave Matthews Band) taking the #1 album with just under 300,000 “equivalent albums” moved (this includes streams, they have an algorithm for how many streams equal an album “sale”). #10 was Shawn Mendes’ most recent album, notching 31,000 units. That’s not a typo, just 31,000 measly units.
So, we can only guess that the number of units needed to reach #20 is probably quite a bit lower than 31,000.
Again, Ed Sheeran’s year-and-three-month-old album managed to bring in more equivalent albums than a brand new BTS album. I think this tells you all you need to know about how truly popular K-Pop is in the US. Maybe if their fans spent more time actually streaming the albums and less time “stanning” their favorite boys on Twitter, that number would be higher.
Oh, and by the way, if you have a look at both the Hot 100 and Top 200? You might notice a significant lack of Kpop. Over on the album chart I see:
- The Moana soundtrack at #72 (didn’t that movie come out in 2016?)
- Zac Brown Band’s Greatest Hits So Far… at #77 (that must be an EP, right?)
- Taylor Swift’s 1989 at #114 (her 2014 release)
As I made it to #139 I found another Kpop album: BTS’s Love Yourself: Her. Two spots up at #137 by the way? AC/DC’s Back in Black. The other BTS album in this chart is being beaten by a classic rock album that came out nearly 40 years ago, and in a week when none of their members even died.
You know what I didn’t see though?
Girl’s Generation, EXO, BTOB, Blackpink, or Twice. So where’s this “Explosion”? Seems more like a small bottle rocket going off during a massive fireworks display of North American pop and hip-hop.
“Kpop” isn’t #1, a few hardcore, very mouthy fans have made it seem like it is even though Kpop basically sucks. They’re the ones who are buying it and listening to it week 1, but regular music listeners aren’t picking up the slack the next week or the week after that like they do with all the aforementioned pop and hip-hop songs that stick around the charts for months.
Drake’s “God’s Plan” is STILL in the top 10, and “Nice For What” is back at #1. THAT is popularity, when people are still listening to your music weeks, months after it came out, and it continues to gain a new audience from more casual listeners.
And don’t think for a second Billboard is “bias”. It’s all just numbers. If Kanye can put out an album with very little hype (compared to his last album) and have every song chart on the Hot 100 (likely almost entirely based on streams), it stands to reason that if K-Pop is so popular in the US, more songs would be charting. But they aren’t, and the reason is simple: because more people are listening to the other 100 songs on the chart.
So, despite the Guardian’s claims, I don’t think Americans are going to have to take an Introduction to Korean course to be able to listen to the radio any time soon.
There’s no takeover, the Korean invasion is like the British Invasion if the Beatles showed up, the few hundred girls screaming at the airport were the only people who bought their music, everyone considered those girls weird nerds, and no other British bands ever reached the same level of popularity as American groups. In other words, it’s basically the exact opposite of the British Invasion in every single way.
NOTE: Buckley at least understands that all the things he likes aren’t actually popular, and never will be.