With the popularity of K-pop becoming a worldwide and semi-household genre, it’s not unheard of that a western pop star is collaborating with Korean idols with a project that is sure to land them in the charts across the globe – But what kind of impact does a simple collaboration have for the artists, their branding, their music or their visions?

As with anything that’s released to the public eye, you will always find a good and a bad side, lovers versus haters – its basic human nature, although sometimes questionable. But why is it that when the words “K-pop, Collaboration, Western” are used that the world seems to take extra care at analysing exactly what’s going on.

From a business and professional point of view, a collaboration can literally mean higher views, larger reach, and more money income. From a fans point of view it can turn either way, the good side: more merchandise, more air time, expanding into the western charts, award shows, possible concerts – but there is always a bad side: racism, online battles, and more costs. Breaking this all down I hope to explain what this all means and why it matters.

The Good

  • Higher Music Value: Although a K-pop idols status can be enough to make heads turn, by adding another A-list star to the collaboration (especially that from a western background) supposedly the music quality should be higher. Along with music quality comes the extra fan coverage and promotional activities thus making the music value higher in terms of a bigger and better outcome.
  • Wider Reach: There is a point in any K-pop artist career where they will plateau, no matter how popular they are in Korea itself, there is always the want and hope that a company’s group will hit the jackpot and be invited abroad. A wider reach across the globe is a big deal as it helps promote the group to wider audiences, causing an influx of fans and in turn an increase of album and merchandise sales – Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and the further the groups name can reach around the globe, the better it is.
  • Bigger Projects: Production costs can be large given the size of a normal music video for anything coming from the K-pop world, but add a western star and 9 times out of 10 the production costs rise even further – Better CGI, lighting, storylines. A lot of the time the western artist will just roll with the ideas thrown at them by the Korean companies and make do with what they have to do, but on the odd occasion, their input has created some of the best visual representations to a music video.
  • Lyrical Value: When Korean is your first language, as listeners from across the seas, we cannot expect a K-pop idol to be fluent in English or to even include English in their songs (even though 90% of the songs released will have the inclusion of English words anyway). By adding the aspect of a few lines or parts of the chorus in pure English sung by the collaboration artist, it helps to boost a new connection with the group’s fans – In the same way, it also introduces English speakers and fans of the collaborator to the beautiful language of Korean. 
  • A Fans Point Of View: A lot of the time all you hear in the press is how crazy fans of K-pop groups are, what a lot of people refuse to report on in the Western world is how collaborations can lead to some of the best fandom support. From large scale charity events, random community gathers, and more importantly future support for both sides beyond that of the collaboration.

Sadly not all things turn out how everyone would hope, along with the good comes the bad, and in most terms its nothing major, other times its more a personal attack on the idols, the fans or the music genre – but it still doesn’t make it right.

The Bad

  • Limited Lines: There is already a lot of discussion with multiple videos on YouTube based on the line distribution between idols, a lot of people don’t agree with the way lines are distributed amongst groups with more than 5 idols – If you add another voice with more lines to the mix, fans can get a little on edge. At the same time there is usually some discussion of what a real collaboration should entail, there are a few instances where fans can’t even tell that a collaborator is actually singing on the song itself and just ends up being backing vocals.
  • Limited MV Appearances: Again this is more a fan-based problem but something that comes up a lot in discussion threads with new release collaborations. A lot of fans would like to see the collaborator in the music videos with the Korean idols – But with most cases, we see a glimpse or a 5-second clip of the artist, 99% of the time we don’t even get that and instead get a montage of the K-pop idols looking directly into the camera looking lustrous.
  • Fandom fights: Yes, even in today’s day and age where everyone would rather get along and support each other like respectable human beings, there are still members of both collaborating fandoms that like to take it upon themselves to dig as deep as possible and spread rumours and hate – They overlook the good, have a completely blind rage and try to harm the status of the others as much as possible, overlooking the fact the artist they support has possibly had the greatest time collaborating with other creatives from across the globe.
  • Clash Of Vision: The K-pop world has a very precise image it wants to hold up, be it the squeaky clean looks and the high-end beauty standards – Either way, its something that’s more controlled than that of the western world. Sometimes when trying to please their Western counterparts the K-pop production slips in its vision and at times you completely forget you’re watching something that is technically K-pop – Other times it’s so devastatingly K-pop in its style that any forms of western influences that are in the music or lyrics, are completely lost and sometimes can go unnoticed at all – A few times you see the western artist just bobbing along to the beat awkwardly in the background as the K-pop idols do what they do best, popping and locking centre stage. Crossed visions can be visually distracting.
  • Black Oceans: If you’re new to the whole K-pop scene you might not have an idea what this means. In laments terms, at a K-pop concert all the fans usually have light sticks that show support to their artist. Sometimes when fans are angry or against a collaboration they will initiate a “Black Ocean” where they turn off all their light sticks to show their distaste for something. This is really disrespectful, and hurtful for the idols, and something a lot of people hate seeing.

Now one of the biggest and most awful things that happens nearly every time a western artist collaborates with someone from K-pop, and that is: Racism.

Don’t get me wrong, racism is always around, and sadly it always will be, no matter what race or skin colour you are, it will always be in the background and work its way to the front lines – But sadly racism to K-pop artists gets a lot worse when their popularity overseas becomes bigger, or when they collaborate with a western artist. The racism usually spurs on the retaliation of hatred from fans, and thus fandom wars do happen, but yet again, it doesn’t make it any better or give people the right to be downright disrespectful to another talented human being.

K-pop puts on a good mask of happiness, bright colours, smiles, manufactured greatness mixed with high-end talent. By mixing all of this with the slightly more gritty and more open and not so controlled western world, sometimes a great collaboration can be produced. But there is always the bad factors that can make or break a collaboration. If things are good – They are very good. When things are bad – they can demolish any reasoning and any chances of an expansion into the global market.

What are your thoughts of collaborations, do you love them or hate them? Would you like to see more or would you rather the genres don’t cross borders? What is your favourite collaboration?


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