Front Burner

K-pop's promise and peril

Today on Front Burner, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Asia editor, Matthew Campbell, explains what life is like in a Korean entertainment "cram school" and why 2019, K-pop’s banner year, also exposed its troubling underbelly.
BTS accept the award for top duo group at the Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday, May 1, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

This was a banner year for K-pop. South Korean pop music — known for aggressively catchy hooks, flawless choreography and highly photogenic performers — had been popular in the West for decades. But 2019 seemed to be a turning point, as the biggest acts conquered the market outside Asia. The boy group BTS broke a Beatles record, with three Billboard number one albums in a single year. They sold out stadiums like London's Wembley, and performed on Saturday Night Live. The quartet Blackpink became the first female K-pop act to play Coachella. But at home in South Korea, the industry was tarnished by multiple scandals involving sexual assault, corruption and suicide. Today on Front Burner, Jayme Poisson talks to the Asia editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, Matthew Campbell, about what he learned seeing the K-pop machine up close.

Subscribe to Front Burner on your favourite podcast app.