How YouTube drove the international K-pop boom: A timeline

Today YouTube introduced its plans for a month long celebration of its tenth anniversary. We thought we’d crash the party with a series about the role YouTube has played in spreading the Hallyu wave.

It’s pretty clear to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of K-pop that YouTube has been key to its international success. Looking back on the history of K-pop on YouTube kind of feels like looking back on the history of the whole K-pop fandom. So that’s what we’re going to do. Here’s a timeline of K-pop’s growth on YouTube which shows just how far one country’s manufactured pop music can travel with the help of what has become the world’s largest video-sharing website.

The timeline starts from 2008 because, as you can see from the chart below, that’s when English-speaking people started caring about K-pop videos.

2008 – Entertainment companies start to see the potential in YouTube

If you look hard enough, you can find K-pop videos posted on YouTube before 2008 – like this 2006 SS501 video – but it wasn’t until this year that entertainment companies started to realise the power of YouTube as a tool to engage fans outside of Korea and particularly outside of Asia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Wonder Girls’ early attempt at US success, JYP were the earliest on the scene followed by YG a few months later. 2008 was also the year Eat Your Kimchi uploaded their first “How To Dance K-pop Style” – the first time the couple ever made a video about K-pop setting the stage for many K-pop vloggers to come.

Key Events

January – JYP Entertainment joins YouTube, posts Wonder Girls’ Tell Me

April – MNET becomes first broadcaster to start posting live performances

October – YG Entertainment joins YouTube, posts 1TYM and BIGBANG’s whole back catalogue

December – Eat Your Kimchi post first ever “How to Dance K-pop” video

2009 – Popularity gradually starts to build

This is the year when K-pop starts to build its popularity in real-time online while still remaining, for the most part, a relatively small niche. Popular videos like Girls’ Generation’s Gee, G-Dragon’s Heartbreaker and 2NE1’s Lollipop start to pull in a few million views while Wonder Girls’ Nobody video was widely thought to be instrumental in helping the song chart on the Billboard Top 100.

Key Events

March – Arirang Kpop starts posting K-pop TV segments like Pops In Seoul and Showbiz Extra

March – 4MINUTE becomes first K-pop group with a VEVO channel

June – SM Entertainment joins YouTube

July  – The English version of Wonder Girls’ Nobody was uploaded to YouTube

2010 – The year K-pop reaches out to the world

2010 was the first year Korean entertainment companies really started to reach out to international fans of K-pop creating content with them in mind. Although 2NE1TV was originally an MNET TV series, YG started uploading it to their official channel which probably encouraged companies to spend more time and resources making content for their international fans. Broadcasters also got involved with KBS starting to post K-pop videos on its KBS World channel while MBC teamed up with YouTube to encourage people from all over the world to audition for its talent show Star Audition.

Key Events

April – KBS becomes the first main network broadcaster to start posting K-pop videos

September – YG starts uploading and subtitling 2NE1 TV

November – MBC Star Audition partners with YouTube for a worldwide talent search

December – US dance academy Groove Nation’s K-pop performance video goes viral in Korea

2011 – K-pop on YouTube becomes a thing

2011 is the first year that YouTube really started paying attention to K-pop. The end of the year saw Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive of Google, travel to Korea to discuss various strategic IT partnerships followed by the launching of YouTube’s official K-pop channel. Hyuna’s Bubble Pop video also gets some viral attention becoming Most Watched Today a few days after it was released.

Key Events

February – LOEN Entertainment joins YouTube, posts IU – Good Day

March – SBS starts uploading Inkigayo performances on its official channel

March – CJ E&M launches its channel which will become a K-pop hub – second ever upload is the always iconic Itaewon Freedom

May – SM rebrands its online presence as SMTOWN and moves to a new channel

July – Hyuna’s Bubble Pop tops Most Watched Today list

December – YouTube launches official K-pop channel

December – MBC starts its own official K-pop channel uploading live Music Bank performances

2012 – YouTube’s year of K-pop

2012 is still arguably the biggest year K-pop has ever had on YouTube. PSY almost broke the view counter with surprise smash hit of the year, Gangnam Style, becoming the first ever video to hit 1 billion views. It was also year that brought us the emergence of K-pop reactions as a big trend with the Fine Brothers’ Kids React to K-pop as well as tons of K-pop fans becoming popular through their own channels.

May saw Google and MBC partner up for a massive concert in California which was also live streamed on YouTube. Later on in the year, MBC decided to start livecasting its weekly music show Music Core on the website so that K-pop fans no longer had to wait for clips to be uploaded a few days later. September showed everyone the economic force of the K-pop fandom on YouTube when Eat Your Kimchi raised over $100,000 in a month to build a new studio so that they could interview more K-pop stars.

The impact of K-pop was highlighted by PSY who starred in Youtube’s end of year Rewind video – no wonder given his influence which helped shoot K-pop’s YouTube popularity up from less than two billion views the year before to over four-and-a-half billion in 2012.

Key Events

January – The Fine Bros upload Kids react to K-pop

May – MBC and Google host YouTube Presents MBC Korean Music Wave

July – PSY’s Gangnam Style is uploaded

August – Korean government introduces compulsory online music video rating law

August/September – MBC starts livecasting Music Core on YouTube

September – Eat Your Kimchi raise a ridiculous amount of money through crowdfunding

December – PSY hits 1 billion views

December – PSY is the star of YouTube’s year in review video

2013 – Consolidating the international audience

Although 2012 might be the most noteworthy year for K-pop, 2013 definitely kept up the momentum from the year before. Total views for the year almost doubled again from the year before and for the first time ever the majority of viewership came from outside Asia.

The power of the international K-pop fandom was shown in March when a glitch caused all Cube artist music videos to be blocked outside Asia. The move may have been an attempt by Universal Music Group, Cube’s distributor, to move international viewers over to the industry’s preferred platform, VEVO but alas the K-pop fandom was furious and in a matter of hours the videos were back online after both #giveuskpop and UMG became worldwide trending topics on Twitter. April brought the news that Girls’ Generation were to be the first idol group to reach 100 million views but this number would be surpassed by yet another PSY video, Gentleman, in just a few months. However the group ended the year on a high with K-pop fans managing to snatch the Video of the Year crown from both Beliebers and Directioners for the girls at the first ever Youtube Music Awards.

Key Events

March – Universal block all Cube Entertainment videos on their official channels, Twitter explodes

April – Girls’ Generation’s Gee reaches 100 million views

April – PSY live streams massive HAPPENING concert through YouTube to unveil Gentleman

April – Arirang starts streaming After School Club live through YouTube

August – Gentleman hits the half a billion mark

November – Girls’ Generation win YouTube Music Video of the Year award

2014 – K-pop grows up

The year started out with a massive rebrand from LOEN Entertainment which changed its name to the slightly awkward sounding 1theK in February with the goal of becoming a ‘global K-pop hub’. The channel also started producing far more extra bilingual (and in some cases trilingual) content specifically for international audiences. Gangnam Style reached the big 2 billion mark and overall we saw K-pop just start to settle into its little niche just on the edge of mainstream with Buzzfeed even starting to produce K-pop themed videos.

The end of the year also saw some changes to the role of YouTube in the Korean music scene after YouTube user Pharkil’s fancam of EXID’s Hani went viral on Facebook causing the their song Up and Down to rise up to the top of the charts – something relatively unseen in K-pop. At the same time broadcasters decided they wanted domestic viewers watching their videos on the more profitable domestic platforms and blocked most of their YouTube content in Korea.

Key Events

February – LOEN Entertainment rebrands its channel to 1theK

March – CL’s MTBD is reuploaded after samples of the Quran in the song cause offense to a large number of Muslim K-pop fans showing the spread of K-pop throughout the world via YouTube

May – Gangnam Style hits 2 billion views

August – Buzzfeed releases its popular “Americans Try K-Pop Dance Moves” video

November – Hani fancam goes viral

December – Gangnam Style temporarily breaks the view counter by going beound the maximum 2,147,483,647 views

December – SBS, MBC, CJ E&M, and JTBC restrict Korean viewers from watching their YouTube content

December – Dirty Vibe – Skrillex’s collaboration with G-Dragon and CL is released

2015 – What’s next?

A third of the way in is a little too early to judge what the whole year in K-pop will be like but so far it looks like the momentum will just keep on going. Big Bang’s two new videos have amassed nearly 10 million views in just over one day and in April Girls’ Generation became the first Korean idol group to have four videos with over 100 million views. Whatever happens, it doesn’t seem like K-pop’s presence on YouTube will be diminishing any time soon.

Key Events… so far

March – BIGBANG and 2NE1 win YouTube Music Awards

April – Girls’ Generation’s Mr. Taxi surpasses 100 million views

May – PSY’s Gangnam Style makes the Highlights From #10YearsOfYouTube playlist

This timeline is by no means exhaustive but it definitely shows how instrumental YouTube has been to K-pop’s popularity internationally. In just 8 years it’s gone from a few bootleg videos with maybe a couple of thousand views to a vibrant and sprawling subculture which is laced throughout the world’s largest video platform. One thing’s for sure, if YouTube didn’t exist, the K-pop fandom would be nothing on what it is today.

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