“Our prayers are with India,” said BTS, a Korean pop band, when the nation was grappling with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and asked their fans to “never lose hope” as the country faced a dire shortage of medical oxygen, essential medicines and hospital beds.
The globally popular K-pop septet, comprising RM, V, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin and Jungkook, enjoy massive fan following in India. BTS' fans are go by the acronym 'ARMY' ― or Adorable Representative MC for Youth. It carries quite some meaning, given that 'Army' is associated with the military, body armour and how those two things are always together, the fandom name basically means that fans will always be with BTS.
While BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, is very popular among Indian youth today, K-pop was famous in India even before the band officially made its debut in 2013.
South Korean drama, anime and music had found a place among the Indian audience in early 2000s. However, the first time most Indians became familiar with K-pop was about the same time as the rest of the world ― in the summer of 2012, when Psy’s "Gangnam Style" became a global viral hit.
The song, which was followed by a thousand versions and even parodies, racked up more than three billion views on YouTube, reigning as the most-viewed video in the platform’s history before being dethroned in 2017. The video currently has had over four billion views so far on the video-streaming platform.
Members of K-pop band BTS perform on ABC's 'Good Morning America' show in Central Park in New York City, United States (Image: Reuters)
Rushda Anwer, 23, an avid K-pop fan and a social media professional from Noida, puts it in perspective: “It was in 2011 when I was first introduced to Korean entertainment through Winter Sonata ― an animated version of the K-drama. The story line, actors, food, music, topics, etc. attracted me and I kept watching more K-dramas. It’s an inevitability that if one is watching these shows, they will come across K-pop as these artists often sing for the shows and do cameos. However, it was in 2012 when Psy’s Gangnam Style came and I got into K-pop. After this, I decided to take a look at K-pop and came across Girls’ Generation ― a nine-member girl group from South Korea. They really got me into K-pop and after that there was no looking back.”
The popularity of Psy’s blockbuster song and BTS can be estimated by the fact that Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, chose to mention them in his speech at an official banquet hosted for South Korean President Moon Jae-In in 2018.
“Korean popular culture has also charmed us. From Gangnam Style to Korea's band 'BTS', our youth are captivated by the tunes of these iconic pop groups — even if many of them have never visited Gangnam!” President Kovind said.
However, it is not just a song and a boy band that has created a fan base in India. There are many other bands that are immensely popular India's music aficionados — Blackpink, Super Junior, Girls' Generation, EXO, (G)I-dle, Red Velvet, Mamamoo and Kard, to name just a few.
With booming fandom, the popularity of K-pop has led to a happy economic upside — the creation of a market for Korean items.
Let’s discuss the popularity of K-pop in India, its influence on youth and the opportunities it has spawned both in India and Korea. But before that, let’s take a look at K-pop in detail.