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Why the Middle East loves K-Pop

Ahead of the SMTown gig on April 6 in Dubai, a look at the mass appeal of this $4.7 billion music industry

  • Exo listen to the premiere of their song Power played with the Dubai Fountain in January.Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News
  • PsyImage Credit: Supplied
  • Red VelvetImage Credit: AP
  • Super JuniorImage Credit: Supplied

South Korea is best known for its smartphones, cars and cosmetics exports, but its most notable cultural export may be its $4.7 billion (Dh17.2 billion) pop music industry, which has successfully extended far beyond the country’s shores to become a global phenomenon.

When K-pop boyband sensation EXO arrived in Dubai mid-January to watch The Dubai Fountain play their smash hit Korean song Power, #WelcomeToDubaiEXO was soon trending on Twitter and screams of excitement from hundreds of young fans were at full force at the sight of the boys.

K-pop — an acronym for South Korean pop music — is a potent tool catching the attention of fans locally, following this year’s arrival of EXO to the launch of the UAE’s very first SMTown Live concert, featuring performances from artists such as Girls’ Generation, BoA, Super Junior, Trax, Red Velvet, EXO, Kangta, Henry, f(x), SHINee TVXQ! NCT U and NCT Dream, all of whom are managed by giant K-pop juggernaut S.M. Entertainment.

Girls’ Generation

Moe Sadiq, a Jordanian Radio DJ at KBS World Radio Arabic and writer based in Seoul, says “K-pop is appealing because it simply is the definition of ‘cool’” and “offers an overall package of good taste entertainment.

“The lively Korean mix of electro, dance, hip-hop, rock and pop is particularly popular for the highly stylised western dance moves, airbrushed good looks, and trend-setting fashion,” he adds.

Rita Rachwan, a 17-year-old student who is a self-professed K-pop fan in Lebanon, says that she was first introduced to K-pop through YouTube.

 I think an SMTown concert is a great way to introduce all these K-pop groups to the Arab world. ”

 - RITA RACHWAN | K-pop fan in Lebanon 

“At first, I was hesitant because of the language barrier, but eventually I was hooked by the amazing choreographies and the new genre in general,” she adds.

Despite the language barrier, interest in the catchy music accompanied by complex, synchronised dance moves and colour-coordinated fashion of the multi-talented idols has been steadily growing in popularity in the UAE.


Korean rapper-singer Psy and K-pop bands Infinite and Nine Muses are some names that have landed in the UAE to perform. Over 8,000 people attended KCON, an annual US-based Korean pop music and cultural convention, where Monsta X, BTS, Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation, Ailee, Kyuhyun from Super Junior, SS301, and SPICA all performed on stage in Abu Dhabi two years ago.

Additionally, K-pop girl group Apink, singer Lyn and South Korean ethnic fusion band Second Moon will be performing at the Abu Dhabi National Theatre on Monday, March 26.

A dedicated fanbase

With the announcement that an SMTown Live World Tour concert will be coming down to Dubai on April 6 for the first time and will be held at the Autism Rocks Arena, where international superstars like Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Elton John and Jennifer Lopez have performed, the Middle East may be unquestionably an emerging market, a display of the Korean music genre’s mass appeal.

“When I first heard about the concert, I was surprised that these K-pop groups were actually coming to an Arab country,” Rachwan adds. “I think an SMTown concert is a great way to introduce all these K-pop groups to the Arab world. I was excited because I’m a huge fan of SM [S.M. Entertainment] artists in particular EXO and Girls’ Generation.”

DJ Sadiq, who engages with Arabic-speaking fans all over the world and interviews K-pop idols for KBS World Radio Arabic, says that his listeners are from all around the Mena region and he receives “tons of calls and messages from the GCC, Egypt, Algeria and even sometimes Syria.”

“The number of listeners definitely has increased as the industry itself keeps on growing and expanding, so it reaches out to a bigger audience,” he adds. “It’s not underground or subculture anymore, it is mainstream.”

He also mentions that his listeners adore K-pop boy bands — some of whom will be performing at the SMTown concert in April — like Super Junior, SHINee, Big Bang, BTS and EXO.

K-pop idols have a dedicated fanbase not only globally but also within the region.

Fans across the Mena area create artist-specific Twitter fan accounts dedicated to their favourite K-pop artists by sharing updates, posting idol activities, creating fan projects, trending hashtags worldwide, and even translating and interpreting content posted by K-pop idols on their social media platforms, in order to provide a platform immediately accessible to other fans who don’t speak or read Korean.

They even use social media to get their favourite K-pop group’s songs on the radio and on online music stores.

Don’t miss it!

SMTown concert will be staged at Autism Rocks Arena on April 6. Tickets from Dh375. Doors open at 4pm, event starts at 6pm.