K-Pop and J-Pop’s World Takeover Comes to Light at Coachella

BLACKPINK! (YG Entertainment)

At the start of every year, social media goes crazy for a few days after the lineup for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is revealed. Is there a stark gender disparity again? Are there any legacy rock bands playing? Is it blatantly catering to the under 25 audience? Is a woman headlining? Every year people either love or hate the festival’s lineup, and this year, with its young and mainstream profile names, was no different, garnering mixed reviews depending on personal tastes.  

It’s no secret that the 2019 Coachella lineup reflects what’s popular in terms of streaming numbers and chart positions, hence the inclusion of mega artists like Bad Bunny and Ariana Grande, as well as the exclusion of acts of the rock variety as the genre has lost ground in the streaming age. So at a time when streaming popularity is taken into account when building a lineup, you can’t just ignore huge markets overseas whose artists already turn a profit in Southern California and the U.S. at large, especially by a festival that not only has name recognition worldwide but has built a brand based on reflecting global trends.

With Japan being the second largest music market in the world and South Korea’s pop music currently experiencing mainstream visibility in the West, it made perfect sense to include for the first time ever a J-pop and a K-pop act in the lineup. Both Perfume and BLACKPINK are household names in their respective home countries, with the first holding their place as one of Japan’s most popular groups for a decade and the latter positioning itself as a top group in South Korea and abroad in their short three-year career. And coming from a festival that has only been headlined by female performers on five occasions in its 20-year history, it seems appropriate that the first K-pop and J-pop inclusions at Coachella would be fronted by women at the top of their game.  

Perfume (Azusa Takada)

For Spotify’s 2018 Wrapped chart breakdown, Perfume scored 11 million streams, and Blackpink racked up 410 million. Both groups regularly top charts in their countries with their releases and have even been in several U.S. Billboard charts. Perfume, for example, peaked at No. 16 with their album “Cosmic Explorer” on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. Blackpink, on the other hand, has two appearances in the Hot 100 with “Ddu-du Ddu-du” and their collaboration with Dua Lipa “Kiss and Make Up.”

As the group proudly declares on their song “Forever Young,” Blackpink is the revolution. With only nine songs under their belt and four more to come on Apr. 5, Jennie, Rosé, Jisoo, and Lisa have shaken up the K-pop scene and taken the world by storm since day one. Their 2016 debut single “Whistle” premiered at number one in Korea and their follow up “Boombayah” was their first number one on Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart. And that was just the beginning; the accolades did not slow down from there. BLACKPINK is the highest charting female K-pop ensemble on Billboard’s 200 and Hot 100 charts. At the time of release, “Ddu-du Ddu-du” was the most-viewed Korean music video in 24 hours on YouTube, a record that’s expected to be broken with their upcoming single “Kill This Love.” After their first Coachella performance, the group will embark on the U.S. leg of their world tour —the first stateside arena tour for a K-pop girl group.

BLACKPINK has thrived at a time when individuality in K-pop is craved by global audiences, as opposed to favoring the collective body of a group. Like most of the music coming out of YG Entertainment (home to K-pop legends Big Bang and 2NE1), the foursome’s discography is a mix of hip-hop, EDM, and electropop, embellished with sassy and coquettish attitudes from the members. The group has garnered a diverse fanbase of both women and men given their “girl crush” concept — the cool and chic image some women are attracted to in their pop divas.

When it comes to K-pop, social media is a key factor in a group’s success, and BLACKPINK are the queens. In terms of fandom, views, and streams, they’re the girl group to keep up with. Last year, the group became the most followed Korean girl group on Instagram, and one of its members, Lisa, is currently the most followed female celebrity in Korea (she’s Thai) on the same platform. All four members occupy a spot in the top five of most followed female celebrities in Korea.  

Perfume, for their part, even though J-pop as a whole doesn’t share as much popularity as K-pop acts abroad, they are at a point where playing Coachella is a nice addition to their extensive resume, but not a career making move. According to Patrick St. Michel, author of GAME in the 33 1/3 Global series on Perfume’s 2008 album, “[Perfume] are at the top level of J-pop, akin to an American artist who always can expect new songs to land in the Hot 100 top five.” 

Unlike BLACKPINK, Perfume didn’t come from the idol world and didn’t have a huge entertainment company backing them in their beginnings. Nocchi, Kashiyuka, and A~chan got together in 2000 while in school in Hiroshima and put out local singles. They didn’t sign with a proper agency until 2003 and didn’t reach commercial success until 2008 with their album “GAME,” which reached No. 1 on Japan’s main music chart. “I think [the release of “GAME” was] a major moment in Japanese pop music history and one of the bigger developments in how the country’s pop music sounds in the 21st century,” St. Michel expressed.

The music of Perfume is radically different than most J-pop,” he further explained, pointing out how the group draws from electronic acts like Daft Punk and Underworld, with synth-filled electropop music that differed from the traditional karaoke-friendly, peppy J-pop idol songs. Similar to K-pop’s new wave of idols, Perfume set themselves apart by highlighting their collective personality and being polished performers, not only in terms of choreography but also with the technological aspects they bring to their live shows.    

Their music and concept is futuristic and perfectly encapsulates the title of their most recent album, “Future Pop.” For their concerts in Japan, the group incorporates technology to enhance the audience experience. Whether that’s blowing up 3D scanned visuals, flying drones as embellishments around them as they dance, or using iPhones to display their faces with lyrics coming out of their mouths, a Perfume show is light years ahead from anything anyone’s doing in music right now. Sadly, overseas shows don’t get the full experience, but that hasn’t stopped the group from having multiple tours in the U.S. and in Asia throughout the years. A Coachella slot, however, could feature more in a stage like the Gobi.  

Coachella was once seen as a launching pad for emerging artists. And even though that’s becoming rarer as lineups reflect what’s hot in music, it’s still a huge platform for artists from smaller markets around the world. As music consumption globalizes more each year, it’s quite evident that both K-pop —a music scene that is already a force to be reckoned with—, and J-pop —which has had an ardent following long before Hallyu (Korean wave of pop culture) made any strides— can no longer be dismissed as weird niches from Asia. In one of the most high profile stages in the world, BLACKPINK and Perfume are ready to show the world how to do pop in 2019.     

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