Friday, December 06, 2013

Who's Coming to SXSW 2014?

What is the future of international K-pop?

The early stages of K-pop's foray into the international arena was dominated by idol groups, backed by strategic, long-term corporate planning and funds. The dominance was such that the term "K-pop" mistakenly come to be equated to "idol pop," despite the fact that "K-pop" plainly stands for "Korean pop music." Ignorance of the deep history and the broad range of Korean pop music, and focusing only on the internationally visible part of it, caused many prognosticators to make their prediction only on the continued viability of idol groups outside of Korea.

Then Gangnam Style came along and changed everything. From the domestic perspective, Gangnam Style is not a major break from the history of Korean pop music. PSY was a known quantity in Korea for more than a decade; his music, though evolved over time, retained the same character throughout his career. But internationally, Gangnam Style broke new ground for K-pop. That a goofy song, almost entirely in Korean, sung by a chubby rapper doing a funny dance, would be one of the greatest worldwide pop culture phenomena, is the last thing that those who only focused on idol pop could have expected.

The lesson: the next phase of K-pop will not be the continuation of Korean pop music that is internationally visible today. Rather, it will be a sudden explosion of K-pop's as-yet unexplored potential--vibrant and dynamic within Korea, but not yet widely available outside of Korea. In short, it will be the international introduction to Korea's indie scene, with its highly sophisticated line-up of hip hop and modern rock standing ready to make their marks.

Which brings us to South by Southwest (SXSW) 2014. SXSW is a pop music conference held in Austin, Texas since 1987. Almost since its beginning, it has been a reliable gauge on the worldwide trend in pop music. More to the point--SXSW 2014 will bring more Korean indie musicians to America than any other occasion before. The lineup so far includes 13 Korean artists, including such luminaries as Crying Nut, Nell, Jambinai and Kiha & the Faces, as well as the up-and-coming bands like Glen Check and Idiotape. If you want to see the future of international K-pop, there is no better place to be.

Now, the question is...

Normally, the Korean would simply travel with the Korean Wife in blissful anonymity, and all will be well. But SXSW 2014, which happens March 11-16, unfortunately conflicts with the Korean Wife's own performance schedule. (Sadly, SXSW 2014 was not interested in opera and classical music.)

So: who's coming with me? The Korean will be honest: SXSW is a huge, week-long event with more than 30,000 attendees. Travel will not be cheap, and neither is the ticket. Right now, the "Music Badge" is $725--ultimately a deal considering the number of artists making an appearance, but a steep amount nonetheless. As of now, the Korean is not even certain that he can make this trip next year given the constraints of time and budget; but it will make his decision a lot easier if he knew he would meet some cool people along the way.

Consider this as a public gauging-of-interest. Who wants to come to Austin, attend SXSW 2014, witness the future of K-pop, and hang out with the writer of this humble blog? If you are interested, please do NOT leave a comment--instead, SEND AN EMAIL directly to the Korean, with a short introduction of yourself. If it looks like we will have a party going, the Korean will update further.

The website for SXSW 2014 is here. The preview for Korean talents appearing at SXSW 2014 can be found here at Let's make this happen.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. That would be awesome. Completely impossible for me, but awesome.

    (Also, through your influential k-pop artists series and the glory of "related videos' on youtube when watching SHINee and No Brain videos, I have started also becoming a fan of trot, or at least the current trot-westernish pop(?) hybrids. I need this to become popular outside of Korea because there is pretty much no information in English on trot, and it isn't sold on iTunes or the foreigner version of soribada.)

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  3. You're coming to SXSW? I live in Austin.

  4. You are right that Korean popular music is much more vibrant than the well-known idol groups. Unfortunately, I think the term "K-pop" is now firmly and more or less exclusively associated with idol music (and Psy) in most people's minds. Korean indie groups might reach more ears if they just try to be "indie" and not "Korean indie" in order to avoid inevitable references to their chubby countryman doing a horsey dance.

    Something I do see happening in the near future is: 1) Korean indie groups will become more successful outside of Korea. 2) Korean entertainment companies (who hold an oligopoly on entertainment media in Korea) will see the profit in this and sign indie groups to their labels. 3) Korean indie music will be absorbed into the Korean mainstream and will suffer from the problems that plague the Korean mainstream (contrived songwriting, image control, slave contracts, etc.)

    Of course, perhaps I'm wrong about #3 and indie musicians will be able to maintain their artistic integrity, like Psy did. But Busker Busker, a talented indie-pop group, was already suckered into and abused by the Korean entertainment system:

  5. I am commenting, rather than sending an email, only because at the moment I cannot envision the sort of miracle that I'd need to allow me to afford this. Should I be struck with one, though, I will be emailing you, because I want to do this SO badly for so MANY reasons, including the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. I'd likely leave from Dulles, but if I find the money and you'd like a travel companion, as well, I'd take that into consideration.

  6. Like Patricia, resources are thin, but I'll send you an email if something changes. Mostly I need a friend or two to book the hotel with me, or someone to offer me their couch. I have a lot of friends who live in Austin, but I imagine they get hit up a lot for couch space every March. :)

    1. Brittany, maybe we should talk. I have some acquaintances in the Austin area, but no close friends. The hotel cost is a big hurdle in my budgeting.

  7. Why don't you apply for a press badge? I doubt many American music sites will be specifically covering a lot of the visiting Korean artists. That way you can save yourself the pricey music badge. Full disclosure I am a music writer who occasionally strings for MTV Iggy (their international division)

  8. I catch the South Korean groups at SXSW every year since 2011 without a badge. No need for a badge unless you want to get into a ton of shows, specifically top names - SK bands play several shows around town besides the main showcases. You can get into the showcases without a badge - just have to stand-in line and pay a cover ($5-25) depending on the venue.

  9. f(x) is coming. My niece LOVES them, but the event is for 21+. I may check them out anyway.

  10. F(x) was last year. Hyuna and Jay Park will be here though!

  11. hey i'll be there. with some african bands. also suffer from genre ghettoization! i am going to try to get to the shows on the 12th. we're playing on the 13th at Psych Fest and then again on the 14th at International Day Stage and then at globalFEST stage. I'll send you my phone number if you want to connect. you have a great blog. i learn alot from it. thanks


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