For a very long time, outside of a few outliers, the only music that reached a global status of reach and popularity was Western music. This was particularly true for American pop music, which dominated the global music scene, but also extended to music genres like Hip Hop, R&B, and even Rock, which were popularised through American music.
Today, Western music no longer holds that singular dominance. We’re now seeing music from new corners of the world gain that same global popularity. The latest to follow in this trend of globalisation is South Korean pop music, known as K-pop. Partly driven by the popularisation of South Korean culture through TV dramas – and boosted by the virality of South Korean artist Psy’s smash hit Gangnam Style, K-pop is on a meteoric rise. This year, the K-pop boy band BTS made history by becoming the first Korean act to be nominated for the 5th time, in as many consecutive years, at the Grammy Awards.
What’s pleasantly surprising, however, is that while Africa has been making its musical presence known to the world, Korean culture and music have steadily permeated into the continent – and its popularity continues to grow.
According to Spotify’s head of music for Sub-Saharan Africa, Phiona Okumu “Surprisingly, there’s been a 93% year-on-year increase in K-pop streams in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2022, accounted for by over 3 billion hours of streaming. It’s clear from this data that K-pop is not just a passing phase, but has a devoted and growing African fandom.”
Some of the key markets contributing to this increase are Nigeria, where there was a 267% increase in K-pop streams, Ghana with 236% and Kenya with a 140% increase.
So what exactly is propelling this rising interest?
Some, like National Geographic, attribute the global rise of this genre of pop to the pandemic, which inadvertently focused the world’s attention on this East Asian cultural powerhouse. Around the globe, millions made use of their time and binge watched K-dramas like Squid Game, at the same time discovering multiple facets of Korean culture.
While this may be equally true for the African continent, other factors like increased internet access might also have a hand to play. With a population which is young and online – it makes sense that Africa is a strong emerging market for K-pop which enjoys mass youth appeal. A recent survey which polled 400,000 BTS fans around the world, determined that approximately 50% of their fans are under the age of 18, with a further 42% aged 18-29. Spotify’s Wrapped data for Africa paints a similar picture – with a combined 88% of K-pop music streams coming from people under the age of 29.
“In an increasingly connected world, on-demand streaming services like Spotify have certainly made it easier than ever to tap into another country’s music. Streaming has become instrumental in not only enabling the discovery of African music abroad but also in exposing African listeners to new and unexpected sounds,” she elaborates.
What’s capturing the hearts of this new audience, however, is the diverse sounds that K-pop has to offer. Although called Korean pop music, K-pop actually ranges across a vast number of music genres such as Pop, Hip Hop, R&B, Rock, Jazz, Reggae, Disco, and even traditional and folk Korean musical stylings. K-pop is essentially not really a music genre, but simply music from Korean artists – known colloquially as idols.
Whether it is seen as adoption or appropriation, there is no denying the Hip Hop and R&B influences in K-Pop-genres which have historically had massive support across Africa. And increasingly, African inspiration is emerging in K-pop.
BTS, who occupies the top spot for K-pop artists streamed in Sub-Saharan Africa and dominates the list of most streamed tracks, covers nearly every music genre in their discography – including South African grown Gqom. The band’s hit IDOL, features Gqom-style beats while the video tips its hat to the continent in the band’s dance moves and their African print suits. Girl band BS (or Black Swan) made history in 2020 when they introduced the first ever African K-Pop idol, Senegalese model Fatou Samba.
On top of this range of musicality, the genre’s idols are also known for their extremely tight and extravagant choreography, high-value stage and music video productions, and the distinctive style and “concept” of each K-pop group. Not to mention the polished good looks and fashion of these immensely talented artists.
“This year, K-pop showcased its staying power in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with millions of streams in countries like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria – the top three for K-pop consumption on the continent respectively. Other countries that made it into the top 10 K-pop markets in SSA included Mauritius, Ghana, Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana,” Okumu says of the data uncovered about K-pop consumption on the continent.
“K-Pop stars have also increasingly targeted global audiences through collaborations with acts from the West. In Africa this appears to have real appeal – the number one streamed K-Pop track is My Universe, a collaboration between BTS and Coldplay, with the second spot occupied by Left and Right, another collab between Charlie Puth and Jung Kook (of BTS fame),” Okumu says.
K-Pop Charts on Spotify Africa in 2022:
|TOP 10 MARKETS FOR K-POP IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA||TOP STREAMED K-POP ARTISTS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA||TOP STREAMED K-POP TRACKS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA|
|South Africa||BTS||My Universe – BTS, Coldplay|
|Kenya||Stray Kids||Left and Right (feat. Jung Kook of BTS) – Charlie Puth|
|Nigeria||BLACKPINK||Dynamite – BTS|
|Mauritius||TOMORROW X TOGETHER||MONEY – LISA|
|Ghana||TWICE||Butter – BTS|
|Uganda||j-hope||Stay Alive (Prod. SUGA of BTS) – Jung Kook|
|Namibia||ENHYPEN||Yet To Come – BTS|
|Tanzania||Jung Kook||Christmas Tree – V|
|Zambia||ATEEZ||Run BTS – BTS|
|Botswana||SEVENTEEN||Pink Venom – BLACKPINK|