It was a high-profile year for K-Pop in 2019. The globalisation and commercial success of the global phenomenon hit a new record, all thanks to BTS significantly penetrating the American market.
Unlike the US, the Middle East hasn’t always been the final frontier for South Korean pop, yet UAE’s craving for it is undeniable. It has progressively witnessed a growing appetite this year in comparison to 2018. And this year, it definitely started with a bang.
After a whirlwind year for Momoland, the rising girl group kick-started 2019 with their world tour, Momoland Live in Concert, in Dubai, bringing along rookie group Lucente as their opening act.
This year alone saw several mini-concerts being held, predominantly overtaken by rookies such as groups IMFACT, FlaShe and D-Crunch and soloist Eunki Hong, all of whom made their Middle East debut.
But it was popular K-Pop boy groups Seventeen and SF9’s performance that electrified the country with their presence, blessing fans with a show to remember. The bands along with Korean star Ha Ji-won were appointed as the ambassadors for Korea Brand & Content Expo 2019 Dubai to promote the popularity of the Korean or Hallyu wave in the local market.
As part of the annual Korea Festival, rising all-male band D-Crunch were flown to Abu Dhabi for a performance and, unsurprisingly, the region’s newest K-Pop crossover, known as B.I.G. Drawing attention was not only the quintet’s members learning the language but also releasing a K-Pop song entirely in Arabic — and not to mention covering Hussain Al Jassmi’s ‘Boshret Kheir’.
Though B.I.G were keen on working alongside a regional artist, the country did eventually receive a cross-cultural collaboration with a K-Pop star.
Acts tend to collaborate with the music industry’s top-notch musicians, but it came as a surprise that K-Pop star Kevin Woo teamed up with Dubai-based British DJ duo alongside Hollaphonic on track ‘Over You’. This makes the former U-Kiss member the first K-Pop artist to do so.
In August, SM Entertainment’s SuperM — a supergroup made up of members from Shinee, Exo, NCT 127 and WayV — took us by surprise when they landed in Dubai to film their debut music video for title track, ‘Jopping’, off their highly-anticipated eponymous mini-album. Exo’s Baekhyun shared with fans vlogs of his time in Dubai on YouTube. SuperM also dropped a behind-the-scenes video of their five-day shoot in Seoul and Dubai.
“I didn’t know we’d get to shoot a music video in Dubai,” Kai said a video. “This is our [Exo members’] third time here but even when we came here last time and the time before that, I never thought we’d shoot a music video.”
Exo was also honoured with a star at Dubai’s Walk of Fame in Downtown Dubai in October, but they did not attend.
The Middle East is an emerging market, with Saudi Arabia unquestionably having the biggest K-Pop fan base in the region. Super Junior, Stray Kids, BTS and Monsta X have performed in the Kingdom, and fans from the rest of the region want in on it.
K-Pop’s socially-driven and creative fandom are attempting to widen the doorway and increase its local impact. From trending certain hashtags, streaming music videos, charting albums or even hosting a dance competition, they want everyone to take notice.
In addition to Exo, BTS is also set to receive the Hollywood-like star, all thanks to the votes of ARMY, the term for their fans. When BTS recently hinted at their 2020 tour with a mysterious teaser, local fans trended the hashtag #BringBTStoUAE in an attempt to get them here for a concert.
Fan bases on the other side of the world have also used the UAE to promote or celebrate a K-Pop group on a global scale. Last year, Exo was projected on Burj Khalifa as part of a fan-run project. This time, member Baekhyun was featured on laser and light show Imagine at Dubai Festival City for his birthday.
With an increase in social media engagement and fan-driven campaigns comes growth in listenership. UAE iTunes has a dedicated chart for K-Pop this year. Releases from acts such as Red Velvet, BTS, Ateez, GOT7 and Twice charted high on the UAE iTunes chart. Additionally, music videos from BlackPink, Exo, Tomorrow X Together and SuperM also trended high on YouTube.
In a self-created survey filled by almost 200 respondents, the majority of fans stated that they wanted girl groups Twice, Mamamoo and BlackPink and boy groups BTS, Seventeen, Exo and NCT among others to perform in the UAE next year.
Fans would also like to see more of K-Pop concerts, fan signing events and radio airplay, respectively, in 2020 as well.
Though the UAE still has a long way to go for Korean pop domination, respondents largely believe think K-Pop’s local popularity increased this year compared to 2018.