Sticking It to the Man: Early Neoliberalism in Korean Pop Music

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    K-pop formations are believed to have drawn inspiration from Seo Taiji and Boys, who arrived in the early 1990s and became a cultural phenomenon before disbanding in 1996. They offered a unique blend of melodic tunes, heavy beats, short raps, and synchronized dance sequences that drew on hip hop, rock, and disco. They transformed Korean music and fashion and had a profound effect on young Koreans’ sense of identity and national pride. However, despite the band’s pioneering role, it did not provide a blueprint for the business model of K-pop today. Partly in response to the decline in record sales, today’s reliance on concert tours, marketing media, and talent shows developed later. But the formulas themselves are not entirely new to Korean pop music. This chapter explores talent shows organized in the 1930s and 1940s. Although the conditions of pop music were different then, the early prevalence of the shows demonstrates that public auditions, competition, and audience participation took root early on. Focusing on the symptomatic ethos, signs, and practices of neoliberalism, rather than retrofitting the neoliberal era to the 1930s, the author contends that the music industry recognized by then that neoliberal attributes can be a powerful marketing ploy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to K-Pop
    Editors Suk-Young Kim
    Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    ISBN (Print)978-1-108-83705-7
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


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