Stephen Epstein , Director, Asian Studies Programme, Associate Professor, Victoria University of Wellington
In the last few years Korean popular music’s quest for a share of the global market has proceeded with remarkable speed and success. How are we to make sense of these flows of music extending well beyond a niche market from a country that was once part of the periphery back to the centre? In this paper, I take the iconic (in multiple senses) K-pop group Girls’ Generation as a case study in exploring how a band can become imbued with meanings that range from the local to the global amidst these swirling flows: the group has become linked with the animated character Haechi, the mascot of Seoul; their success in Japan, Korea’s erstwhile colonizer, became a striking example of East Asian regional media triumphalism; and the group literally embodies contemporary Korean transnationality and cosmopolitanism with two Korean-American diaspora returnees among its members. As Girls’ Generation videos on YouTube present statistical maps that suggests popularity in countries as diverse as Mongolia, the United States, Peru, Saudi Arabia, and, hardly least, Australia, I ask in what ways the group is taking South Korea, as in the title of their first single, “Into the New World”?
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