K-pop -or Korean Pop- is not only an artistic phenomenon, but also a unifying musical trend in which all those born between 1990 and Y2K are involved, including that which we call Gen Z. Gen Z’s main characteristic is to be “digitally native”, which means that they have hardly experienced anything that preceded the digital era and they’re rapidly becoming major players on the Internet. Their choices and preferences are therefore reflected on the web in a phenomenal way and it’s not an exaggeration to say that they dictate trends, successes and failures in all areas of communication and digital consumption.

Music for Netizens

How did a South Korean music genre, and all the culture that goes along with it, cross the language barrier and penetrate the Arabian Gulf to find such a large number of fans? Simply put, in these affluent countries, the population is very young and Gen Z is in the majority. Just like K-pop stars, young people in this part of the world are “Netizens”, citizens of the net.

After years of conflict that left the South Korean economy at half-mast, in the early 1990s the government decided to rely on soft power to replenish its chest. This is how the first South Korean television series, the K-dramas, were developed, with a background of extreme intrigues, at the same time dark, surreal and immersed in refined settings, they attracted millions of devoted fans. Imitating J-pop, a Japanese genre that led the way with girl and boy bands mixing old-fashioned Western music like 1970s disco or 1950s rock with Japanese lyrics and English words, South Koreans have taken Asian pop by storm.

It all started with The Kim Sisters, a trio that sang renditions of popular American songs to G.I.s during the Korean War. The United States gave them a warm welcome that showed the way forward. Stylish, carried by the experience of producers gifted with the talent to create both real and virtual settings, mixing the urban with the psychedelic, the historical and the religious, incredible choreography and clothing at the crossroads of streetwear and luxury, the stars of K-Pop are living unicorns for a generation that seeks its rainbow at the turn of the century.

Bucket hats, mini-shorts and oversized coats

Gen Z refuses the uniform. K-Pop shows them creative ways to mix everything with anything, even if it hurts the eyes. Boys and girls find in the new, yet familiar accents of this beautifully recycled music the freshness that is missing in these restless times. Better still, in the clothes and the set-ups, they find elements to invent an aesthetic that represents them. The Korean fashion conveyed by K-pop is easy to adopt. The colors are rather pastel and the pieces range from the mini-short to baggy jeans passing by the oversized shirt, the crop-top artistically cut into an ordinary sweatshirt, the bucket hat, thigh-high boots and deconstructed corsets, and especially the coat or the oversized trench-coat. The whole thing is sometimes covered with streams of crystals, head jewels, necklaces and brooches from Korean crafts. Two other trends dominate the genre: the school girl who recalls the world of manga, and the floral prints inseparable from K-pop culture.

In K-pop, music and fashion go hand in hand. In this culture that generates billions of dollars, every year, several dozen bands are recruited and trained the hard way, in TV contests whose rules bring to mind the cruel universe of the South Korean series Squid Game that was all the rage in 2022. Today, the two most famous groups are the girl band Blackpink, formed in 2016, and the boy band BTS, formed in 2013. Blackpink have had four number-one singles on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart and is made up of Jennie, Lisa, Jisoo and Rosé. The band began their world tour on October 15 after releasing their new single Pink Venom in Newark at the VMA 2022 in August and winning the “Best Metaverse Performance” category for their concert.

Hundreds of millions of views

The big fashion brands are snapping up these girls, who accumulate hundreds of millions of views on social networks and have a powerful impact on their image. Lisa is the darling of Celine and wears a white bucket hat with a black logo in the Pink Venom video. Jennie is the ambassador of Chanel. In the same clip, she wears thigh-high boots from the brand founded in 1910. Jisoo is the perfect person to embody Dior’s style, fluidly bringing the energy of K-pop into the ultra-feminine elegance of the French house and she is also the face of Cartier. As for Rosé, she fits perfectly with the rock image of Saint Laurent. The fashion media has been amazed to see them replacing or rubbing shoulders with the usual socialites and movie stars in the front rows of fashion shows for several seasons now. Their appeal is, on the one hand, the volume of interactions on their social networks, and, on the other hand, and above all, the natural access to the metaverse that K-pop offers, this virtual world that Gen-Z has already entered.

As for BTS, they made a major appearance on October 15 in Busan, in support of the city’s bid to host the World Expo 2030 and a pop-up dedicated to them will open its doors in Dubai, at the BurJuman Mall from September 8 until December 8. The shop features official merchandise from this world-famous band and its members Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook.