American Music Influence on Kpop in the Past and the Present

How did American music influence Korean music of the past and of the present? Are the influences of the past still prominent in Kpop today?

From the 19th century to the 21st century, the Korean music industry has been influenced by the Japanese music in the colonial era, and the American music during, and after the Korean War. Among all the foreign influences on the Korean music, I would say the American music culture has the most significant impact on the evolution of Korean music regarding the style of the music and the preferences of the domestic audiences, and these influences are still apparent even in the contemporary  K-pop musical products.

The major influence of American music on the Korean music started during the Korean War. The USA MGIK, which was the name of the USA troop situated in South Korea, provided the opportunity for the Korean citizens to experience the “American Music” through a radio channel called the AFKN (Shin and Kim 2014, 275).  The original purpose of the AFKN radio station was to educate the US troops in Korea about the Korean culture, and it also acted as a source of entertainment for the US troops by broadcasting the American hit songs from time to time. Due to the close relationship between Korea and the US, the AFKN radio station had also become a popular option for the Koreans. As a result, the US popular music got to spread among Korean society. Meanwhile, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, these two completely new music style had immediately attracted a group of Korean audiences, some people started to try to learn the songs from the AFKN radio station (Shin and Kim 2014, 275). The other primary driver that causes the Korean artists to learn the US pop music was the American Military Base Show. In order to become a high-ranking performer at the MIPALGUN show and earn a considerably high income, Korean artists learned to perform the latest popular American songs and dance moves to entertain the troops (shin and Kim 2014, 277). After the beginning of the Vietnam War, many US troops left Korea to fight the Vietnam War, the Korean artists who used to perform in the military camp now had to modify their performances and integrate Korean elements to attract domestic audiences. Although the US troops were out of Korea, the entrenched influences of US popular music still shaped the music preferences of the domestic music industry (Shin and Kim 2014, 276). After the 1970s, rock and R&B elements became increasingly popular, which motivates more and more performers to start performing songs that contain these two elements. In the 1980s and 1990s, new music styles from the US such as hip-hop, pop, and ballad has flooded the Korean music industry.  Also, many new performing groups were formed, and some of the idol groups became the legend and the pioneers who integrated both rap and rock music into their songs, such as Seo Taiji and Boys. Since then, many young artists who studied aboard in the US returned to Korea and shaped the Korean music industry utilizing the experience that they had with the latest popular culture in the US (Jin and Ryoo 2012, 119). Due to the success of the cultural hybridity in the contemporary K-pop music, the present Korean performers are more encouraged to integrate English and foreign culture into their musical products, so the foreign audiences can enjoy and resonate with the music as much as the domestic audiences do (Jin and Ryoo 2012, 128).

In the past,  the AFKN radio station introduced the new music genre from the US to the domestic residents, and the income from the MIPALGUN show provided the incentives for the Korean artists to learn and perform the US music. However, in modern k-pop industry, the main reason that drives the assimilation of Korean pop music and the American pop music is the trend of cultural globalization.


  • Shin, Hyunjoon, and Phil Ho Kim. “Birth, Death, and Resurrection of Group Sound Rock.”In The Korean Popular Culture Reader, edited by Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe. 275-95. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
  • Jin, Dal Yong, and Woongjae Ryoo. “Critical Interpretation of Hybrid K-Pop: The Global-Local Paradigm of English Mixing in Lyrics.” Popular Music and Society37, no. 2 (2012): 113-31. doi:10.1080/03007766.2012.731721.

10 Replies to “American Music Influence on Kpop in the Past and the Present”

  1. I totally agree with Stephen that new music styles from the US such as hip-hop, rap, and ballad have flourished the Korean music industry from the 1980s and 1990s. In my opinion, the influences of American music are still prominent in Kpop today, especially for rap songs.
    When I was a child, I always listened to the famous rap songs with my friends. However, at that time, I rarely really understood this kind of culture. For an ordinary female like me, rap music which shouts “I’m the best in the world” sounds a little bit disquieting. When I grew up, I began to watch the lyrics of rap singers seriously. At that time, I found that the most interesting thing was the phrase “Keep it real” that they often hung on their lips. All the lyrics of rap music are created by the singer himself and taken from his real life. Apart from these exaggerated appearances, rap is actually the most innocent and sincere expression. Songs may describe how they struggle to survive in poverty, social injustice and evil, or just their love for women and money, but they are all told without any secrets. Now half of my playlist is filled with songs from Asian rappers, especially from Korean idols. The irresistible Korean rapper talent show《Show Me The Money》has made rap music in Kpop has its own unique characters. I especially like《It G Ma》, which is sung by the Korean rapper, Keith Ape. Rap music in Kpop is not only a violent and radical way of expression right now. Korean rappers have sampled from jazz music and set up a completely different rap style from the gangster rap. They are good at incorporating jazz into rap music, producing rhythms and drums with a variety of gentle samples, and also using the piano, guitar, flute and even the explosion of fireworks to embellish the melody.
    Therefore, from my perspective, Korean rap music is influenced by American popular gangster rap style and also combines the aesthetic style of Asian audience, making the songs be more in line with the taste of Asian audience.

  2. Agreeing with Stephen, I believed American music influence still prominent in Kpop today. In addition, I want to provide another evidence——the English lyrics in Kpop music. After enjoying numerous Kpop music from all kinds of media, I have surprisingly noticed that if there is an opportunity for Korean to use other language in the lyrics, it has always been English. Moreover, I found the numbers of songs completely written in English while performed by Korean are not ignorable at the peak of music ranking. For example, the theme music published for a Korean series drama at the end of 2017. Why English lyrics flooded in Korean entertainment industry? Can this phenomenon represent American’s influence on Kpop? As language is the primary convey of culture, I want to say the answer is yes. To reveal this phenomenon more deeply, I tried to discuss it from 2 perspectives. First, historically, as Stephen mentioned before, USFK stationed to Korea in 1957. Performing shows in American Military Base made Korean artists very good living —— they competed to perform and they were even able to performing English songs. Thus, English songs and culture has already been accepted at the origin of Kpop. Secondly, as English is a mandatory course in Korean for middle schools, it ensures people have the accessibility to English-speaking cultures through media like Youtube or anything else. Through young generations in Korea, English is considered as a popular language resembles popular culture——they want to pursue the trendy elements. There are 2 possible results: One is that present artists, performers and idols might hugely influenced or inspired by these elements, will compile work consist of them naturally. The other possibility is that they intentionally compile work consist of these elements in order to drive the attention of the young generation. I believed this effect is fundamental. Under this phenomenon, I discovered one more interesting fact, there is a large portion of Korean idols are actually Korean Americans. For instance, Girl’s Generation. When they made their debut, 3 of the total 9 members were born in American. The experience these members had in America definitely affected the way they think and the way they perform. From these facts, Korean people’s acceptance and appreciation of American music influence on their own can be saw segment of a whole.

  3. Your in-text academic citation is missing a page number and needs one. There is a serious problem with your bibliography entry– I’m not even quite sure what it is, but basically I assume you’re citing one chapter in this edited volume, but the way you’ve written the bibliography it looks like you’re citing the whole book. Please refer to the style guide for Chicago uploaded to canvas –>modules–> useful files and follow the “chapter in an edited book” format. Please don’t number your bibliography entries. And the blog you cite seems to have some factual errors. That’s the reason we emphasize academic sources– blogs, esp. by random Koreaboo can be full of mistakes (as this one obviously is). In fact, you may want to seriously revise your entire essay. It’s quite short, and does not have an introduction with an argument. Nor is there a conclusion that wraps up your points. I also wonder why you didn’t cite the required reading by Shin and Kim, which is the same Shin that you do cite, making many of the same points, but is actually a required reading for the course and available for you to download in the modules. If the Shin and Yi said something that the Shin and Kim did not, I’d understand, but I know it doesn’t (since I’ve read both and assigned the better edited, more clearly written Shin and Kim chapter for a reason).

  4. American music has influence Korean music not only in the past but also the present. In the past, if a Korean singer want to sing in public and become popular and make hit songs, they had to perform in American military. From performing in shows, they were able to earn a lot of money and became famous. In order to let the soldiers like the songs and invite this artist, an artist need to perform American style. Korean people had a positive relationship with American people and government, they were positive about American music. For them, western music shows another type of culture and more and more people listened to the western instruments. Artists even learned to perform the western instruments. Around 1930s, jazz started to be known and exposed by Korean people. On the other side, there were also platforms for them to get to know more western music such as the AFKN radio. They would play western popular music and rock and roll. They even expanded to tv programs and lots of people would listen to the radio. Later, people were introduced to more American style music through theater shows and cinema. Also, lots of stars were coming back from America and they were considered successful and people were proud of them. The stars and artists were sharing the western music styles with Korean people.
    Nowadays, the idea that hallyu becomes popular all over the world is because the diversity in their music and songs. There was a blend of different elements. English were commonly used in the hit songs , for example, it reminds me that there was a song “nobody” by wonder girls, the lyric that was repeated again and again was in English which was a big hit. The influences of the past are still prominent in K-pop today, since there are more and more young generations listen to K-pop, it means that K-pop have the content of popular styles of music. Usually, the music artists and groups mix the western genres together such as mash up hi-pop with other types of music. Therefore, there were lots of influences made by American music and this is a ongoing phenomenon in the future.

    1. I feel that Ping’s comment mentioned an important point which is young people’s favor. As long as young people are the main target audience of k-pop and idol industry, it is very important for k-pop to take the fancy of both domestic young audiences and international young audiences. Thanks to the fast development of media and education, Korean young people have more access to America culture and entertainment, they start to appreciate the American music. Adding American musical element in intrinsic traditional Korean music also benefits in attracting domestic audiences.

  5. By looking back to the history, we can have a clear knowledge of why Korean music was influenced by the American music. When Korea was under the colonial period, Japan controlled how their music should be and what kind of music the public can listen to. They didn’t have the resource or accessibility to listen to other music except what Japan wants them to hear. The Korean language was intense. A lot of artists can’t release Korean songs and people were required to speak Japanese. Under the censorship a Japanese type of Minyo was popular. Comparing to Japanese censorship Korean music influences, Korean people were more open and not forced to add American music elements. As Stephen wrote, the radio channel AFKN was a very famous example of Korean people accepting American music and liked it. By playing the popular songs, more and more people, including artists, were enjoying the music styles.
    Korea and America had a good friendship, which makes it more common for people to accept American styles or new things. People liked jazz, contemporary music and rock. The music in Korea nowadays still sometimes has an American style. Many producers add western elements into the Korean music. For example, Koreans like rap music, which is a type of American culture, and their raps lead the whole Asia. There is a TV show named Show Me the Money which is very popular in Korea. This TV show makes more and more young people know and then love the rap music. In addition, people learned new songs, English words through lyrics too. Meanwhile, the influences of the past are still prominent in K-pop today, as we listen to k-pop music and music videos, we can see the western style of clothes being worn and English in almost every song. Artists and groups would mix English words and Korean words together, which create a great atmosphere for the audience all over the world. This gives them the opportunity to gain more fans from another era but not only Korea. In addition, we can see that some girl groups and boy groups have the group name in English, for example, black pink. This can also reflect that the American influence still presents in K-pop today.

  6. Stephen gave us a good summery of how American music influenced on Korean pop music by providing historical evidence. Nowadays, American music is still changing contemporary Kpop music in many ways. Unlike how Korean music was influenced by Japanese culture and American culture due to political and social reasons passively and inevitably, we may say that K-pop is proactive in absorbing American characteristics to make itself more international and popular. As we can see, not only music styles like rock n roll, jazz, blue, hip-hop, rap appears in modern k-pop music, styling, lyrics, stage setting and many more performance-related elements in k-pop are becoming more similar to American format. Many Korean Idols are cooperating with famous brands and wearing their clothes and accessories in concerts, fan meetings and even street snaps. Many entertainment companies launch groups consisted of members with western background and album in English expressing some emotions or moral values that is appreciated in western culture. All these efforts are trying to make K-pop and idols more international and seems in-fashion in western culture background. And this transformation is quite success. K-pop music and idol industry, who used to be appreciated only by minority population, are now known by more and more international audiences. As evidenced by PSY and BTS performed on American Music Awards, K-pop star have made great progress in enlarging their fame. Accompanied by cultural interaction and globalization, if K-pop want to take larger market share in the music industry, it need keep changing, or in another word, keep being influenced by mainstream music culture.

  7. I think that Stephen has made a fair point about how American music styles influenced Korean popular music historically tracing back to the establishment of the AFKN channel and live performance platforms known as MIPALGUN since the end of Korean War. The discussion paragraphs have concisely introduced the influential role of American music genres at different points in time, providing a clear timeline of what genre of American music has contributed to the formation of Korean popular music and contemporary Korean popular music as it develops and flourishes. Stephen has also provided great examples of such significant influence by mentioning the success of Seo Taiji and Boys. This is a representative example of how Korean artists can gain popularity through the localization of foreign music styles and utilizing the tools provided to appeal to the national audience. Though the music performances done by Seo Taiji and Boys shown in class are similar in soundscape to American Hip Hop music, the content and social concerns discussed are targeted towards Korean local audiences, especially the younger generation. The hybridity between a foreign music style and local issues that resonate with the national crowd is, what I believe to be, a major reason of why Korean popular music can be so greatly influenced by America while still maintaining its core values and uniqueness. Although the imitation of American music styles at first, as mentioned by Stephen when discussing the MIPALGUN shows, was driven by profit, this has allowed Korean local artists to gain valuable experience as well as adequate tools in terms of musical production. These valuable skills later contributed to the localization of foreign music and creation of unique Korean popular music. I would not specifically say that this extensive influence of American music on Korean popular music is a form of assimilation, however. In a world of increasing globalization, cultural soft powers are continuously being used in international exchanges. Despite the existing American elements in Korean popular music, Korea is able to reconstruct its popular music in a way that it can be used in transnational cultural advances. Moreover, Korean popular music has developed in the past years since the establishment of AFKN, and has transformed and reintegrated itself to become a unique genre instead of mere imitations.

  8. Hi everyone!

    Thank you for your essay and responses. Everything has been marked and grades have been sent back to the appropriate people.

    Have a great weekend!

  9. Just wanted to say, SNSD group, that you guys have really good participation, the best of any group (all students have participated with substantial comments, earning a full participation grade). Thank you for really thinking through these ideas together, and engaging with the class content for more than a rushed 5 sentence comment. When you return and make second comments (as you have), it shows that you are reading every member’s comments, not just those who wrote before you. Thank you again.

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