Why have US teens gone mad for K-pop?     KCON USA (2014) ©

Why have US teens gone mad for K-pop?
KCON USA (2014) ©

From Fangirls to Coasties, the US is home to a colourful range of teen subcultures. In the second of a series exploring Gens Z and Y, Andrea Graham Richeson takes a look at Korea-obsessed K-poppers. How’s this group changing what it means to be a consumer in an increasingly global market?







Key facts

  • K-poppers are typically open-minded, early adopters, and extremely social online
  • Their favourite brands are TonyMoly, YesStyle, Samsung, Stylenanda and BSX
  • K-dramas are more popular than ever, particularly among Gen Y women who are not of Korean heritage
  • For real fans, K-pop is not just a song or a genre, it’s an entire culture
  • K-poppers are supportive within fandom communities, helping translate lyrics and recreate make-up looks
  • Demand for goods seen in K-dramas have exploded among foreign fans
  • Although Gens Y and Z claim a fierce sense of style independence, as members of fandoms they are still interested in replicating the styles of their favourite stars
  • K-poppers also have an immense interest in products worn by luxury-loving Korean stars
  • The success of international online marketplaces shows that people are eager to purchase goods and services that help them participate authentically in cultures they admire
  • Hallyu has a 9 million strong fan base and in industry valued at $18 billion
  • America has 464 Hallyu fan clubs
  • Psy’s massively popular “Gangnam Style” YouTube video, garnered over 2 billion views since it debut three years ago
  • 85% of DramaFever audience – an online VOD service that streams subtitled Korean television soap opera – is non-Asian
  • Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans make up almost 40% of Gen Y

Is America’s exclusive influence over youth culture coming to an end? From TV dramas and K-pop to Samsung smartphones and the Seoul fashion industry, South Korea’s Hallyu – the ‘Korean Wave’ – has become an ever-growing consumer and cultural force in young people’s lives around the world.

With a global fan base of 10 million and an industry valued at an estimated $18 billion, the Hallyu wave is ready to take on the United States. [1][2] While this scene is still emerging in the US, more and more American youth are identifying themselves as ‘K-poppers’ and are looking to the East for inspiration, innovation and entertainment.

American Hallyu enthusiasts are a diverse group, spanning across all racial and cultural divides. United in their love for all things Korean, America leads the world with 464 Hallyu fan clubs. [3] Staking a high profile across social media platforms, K-poppers are some of the most vocal and socially networked fans in the world. They are big shoppers too, and seek to emulate the luxury-loving lifestyles of their favorite Korean stars. Open-minded, hyper-social and influential, K-poppers pave the path for trends to go mainstream.


Who are they?
Whitney, an up-and-coming expat vlogger, walks around a Korean shopping area with her friend and fellow YouTuber Cheyenne. They have just finished lunch and are heading over to the hip Seoul neighborhood of Hongdae to shop. With a huge grin on their faces, they stroll the streets taking in the sights, stopping to try on clothes, and listen to the K-pop pouring out of neon-lit cafes. Whitney and Cheyenne are part of an ever-growing group of racially and culturally diverse Hallyu fans who, despite a potential language barrier, are looking to South Korea for their entertainment and consumer needs.

Many Americans were first introduced to K-pop and the Hallyu wave by Psy’s massively popular ‘Gangnam Style’, which has garnered over two billion YouTube views since its debut three years ago. Many American K-poppers, who have grown up with YouTube as their MTV, discovered their hallyu obsession in the same way. [4] As K-pop stars often work as actors in the television industry, many American youth pursued their interest further by watching K-dramas, Korea’s answer to the soap opera. Read more at Canvas8