Secrets of K-Pop and the Korean Music Industry With Bernie Cho, Part 2

In part 2 of our conversation with Bernie Cho, we tackle glocalization, transmedia marketing, a post-TikTok world, and yes, Donald Trump’s Triller account.

Secrets of K-Pop and the Korean Music Industry With Bernie Cho, Part 2
Rutger Ansley Rosenborg
September 23, 20203 min read
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In Part 1 of our conversation with DFSB Kollective President and Korean music industry expert Bernie Cho, we learned about K-Pop's full-stack business model and the hot city matrix. In part 2, we tackle glocalization, transmedia marketing, a post-TikTok world, and yes, Donald Trump’s Triller account.

Sound like a lot of jargon? Let's brush up.

  • Full-stack business model: Unlike the á la carte style of the Western music industry, the Korean music industry operates more like a full-stack developer at a tech company. In other words, the Korean music company is more likely to be a one-stop shop: record label, artist management, and talent agency.
  • Hot city matrix: Much like our own concept of trigger cities, the hot city matrix includes cities that aren't necessarily industry hotspots like New York City, Los Angeles, and London. As we've seen, markets in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and even Russia can account for some of the most dynamic music consumption trends worldwide.
  • Glocalization: The internet has undoubtedly connected people on a global scale that was previously unimaginable. Perhaps counterintuitively, rather than resulting in sweeping uniformity, it's brought out the particularities of cultures and communities worldwide. If you're familiar with marketing, think microtargeting.
  • Transmedia marketing: Bringing narrative arcs to music marketing and A&R. In other words, thinking about the long-term development of an artist's brand as you would about the protagonist in your favorite Netflix series.
  • A post-TikTok world: Donald Trump made Sunday, Sept. 20, the last day for TikTok app downloads in the United States. But TikTok isn't the only short-form video app in the game....
  • Donald Trump's Triller account: Enough said.

Now that we have a grasp on some big picture concepts from Part 1 and Part 2, let's drill down to some of the more granular points that Bernie makes in Part 2.

The 4 Key Elements of Glocalization in Korean Music

1) Bilingual Metadata: Having Korean and English titles side-by-side makes Korean music simple to find, simple to access, and simple to discover.

2) Multicultural and Multilingual: Some of the most popular K-Pop groups incorporate English lyrics and non-Korean members, making K-Pop less and less exclusively Korean and more and more global.

3) Social Media: Korean artists used homegrown solutions and went big on international platforms, and Koreans were very early adopters of these international platforms, and that has increased the viability and success of K-Pop going global.

4) Collaborations: Both creative and also commercial. High-profile music collaborations between international superstars and top Korean artists have helped grow K-Pop globally, but so have commercial relationships between major labels and independent Korean music companies.

How Transmedia Marketing Helps Fans Develop Artists

Transmedia marketing helps K-Pop fans connect with an artist on a whole other level, making them active participants in the narrative arc of an artist's story and brand. According to Bernie, fans almost vicariously collaborate with labels in terms of A&R and the development of artists, because they feel like they have some stake in the success of those artists from the early stages to stadium stages.

What these fans do is above and beyond anything I've seen in Western markets. It's not just clicking a like and posting a comment.... It almost feels like [the artists] have put themselves in a Truman Show type situation.... The artists are communicating often directly with their fans, and so the fans feel a close connection that you don't see often necessarily with Western acts. The other thing is what these fan clubs do to promote and market the success of their favorite acts. In some ways they've kind of almost benched music labels' marketing and promotion departments, because they do all of the heavy lifting.... These fan clubs will actually pay for huge billboards ... to celebrate a milestone or celebrate a birthday.... Some of them have literally bought out entire city skylines to do massive birthday celebrations for their favorite artists.

K-Pop Activism and the TikTok Ban

Donald Trump's TikTok ban is arguably more about K-Pop stans leveraging the short-form video app to disrupt his Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally in June 2020 than it is about legitimate privacy concerns.

As Bernie elucidates, there are complicated historical reasons for Korean artists abstaining from activism, but the #blacklivesmatter movement brought to bear the influence of K-Pop fandom on social media.

Given the fact that now K-Pop has become global, it's not surprising that those who happen to like K-Pop happen to often be multicultural, people of color, who happen to be open-minded to other cultures.... It feels if anything relevant and real to K-Pop fans.... I think for a lot of artists, the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting racism, I don't think — and I hope others don't think — is a political issue. It's a human rights issue. You can't argue with that. Politics, always arguments. With human rights, it's pretty straight forward.

Listen to Secrets of K-Pop and the Korean Music Industry With Bernie Cho, Part 2 on your favorite podcast listening platform here.