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Album sales

Growing fandom of BTS, other K-pop idols revives album market

Mar 14, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Album sales are rising again with the popularity of K-pop idols
Album sales are rising again with the popularity of K-pop idols

In the South Korean music industry, the emergence of Soribada, the country’s first peer-to-peer file-sharing service, in 2000 heralded the beginning of the fall of traditional music formats.

With digital music downloading available for nearly free, music listeners turned away from physical albums produced in formats such as CDs, DVDs and LP records. Advanced technology even put digital downloads on the backburner, giving way to streaming.

The sale of 1.44 million albums in just a month by five-member K-pop idol group g.o.d of the early 2000s was a legendary record that remained unbroken for many years.

On the back of the increasing fandom of K-pop idols throughout the world, however, Korea’s music album market is resurrecting. And it all started with the emergence of BTS, Big Hit Entertainment Co.'s boy band sensation.

In 2017, the K-pop superstar group’s first album Love Yourself: Her sold 1.8 million units, exceeding the record set by g.o.d for the first time in 16 years. Album releases by other K-pop stars have since followed suit, joining the ranks of million-sellers thanks to the K-pop fever across the globe.

K-pop boy band sensation BTS
K-pop boy band sensation BTS

BTS, BLACKPINK SWEEP ALBUM SALES

According to the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI), K-pop songs dominated global album sales last year.

BTS swept the top two spots on IFPI’s 2020 Global Album Sales Chart; Map Of The Soul: 7 ranked No. 1 and Be ranked second. Another BTS album, Map Of The Seoul: 7 – The Journey came in eighth.

Meanwhile, YG Entertainment Co.'s girl group Blackpink also made a splash with its first full-length album, The Album, coming in fifth.

The annual chart combines global sales of physical sales and digital album downloads to rank the most successful albums of the year, according to the IFPI.

"BTS' success across IFPI's global charts, including the top two positions, is unprecedented and demonstrates the amazing global appeal of their music," said Frances Moore, chief executive of IFPI.

Data from the Korea Customs Service showed the sales of Korea's music albums produced in traditional formats such as CDs, DVDs and other nearly doubled to $136 million in 2020 from the previous year’s $74.59 million. The total sales volume of Korean albums reached over 40 million units in 2020, the highest annual figure in decades.

Music albums in traditional formats such as CDs, DVDs and LP records are gaining popularity
Music albums in traditional formats such as CDs, DVDs and LP records are gaining popularity

PERSONAL POSSESSIONS INSPIRE FANDOM LOYALTY

The majority of K-pop fans are millennials, also known as MZers, who listen to music streamed or downloaded on their smartphones. Some of them even don’t know about the existence of the CD player, an electronic device that plays audio compact discs.

And yet, they are buying physical albums.

Analysts say a key reason behind the significant growth in music album sales is that the fans are regarding albums not just as a means to listen to their idols’ music but also as an object of personal passion.

“The latest K-pop albums contain photos, postcards and even accessories of the musicians they admire as well as the music albums,” said Sung Sang-kyung, a professor at the Bank of Korea’s Talent Development Academy. “Such accompanying products give the buyers a sense of belonging and inspire loyalty among the K-pop fandom.”

The record-breaking album sales are also thanks to the limited offline fan activities such as participation in concerts in the COVID-19 pandemic era.

“Some fans are buying albums to get enclosed raffle tickets for K-pop stars’ rare autograph sessions,” said a local entertainment industry official.

Blackpink was the second-most streamed Korean group on Spotify in 2020.
Blackpink was the second-most streamed Korean group on Spotify in 2020.

Overseas shipments of physical albums have also diversified, with the number of importing countries rising to 114 last year from 78 in 2017.

In 2020, Japan topped the list of K-pop album importers with purchases worth $64.2 million, followed by the US with $20.3 million, China ($16.9 million) and Taiwan ($8.1 million).

“The consumption of K-pop music has now spread globally with enhanced fandom loyalty. The exports of Korean music albums are set to grow further this year on the back of the rising fandom communities such as Weverse,” said Jung Duk-hyun, a Korean pop culture columnist.

Write to Soo-Young Seong at syoung@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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