Reproducibility is central to Korean popular music, or K-Pop, with the industry churning out performer after performer and song after song, each with varying degrees of differentiation that seem all but invisible to the casual observer. Such has been standard since the industry’s roots in the 1990s, but with the international success of K-Pop most evident in the viral success of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on YouTube, the reproducibility of K-Pop has revealed itself to be not only mechanical, but also digital.
This paper will perform a close reading of music videos and television appearances by a number of key K-Pop performers such as Park Jin-young (JYP), BigBang, Wonder Girls, and Twice. The success of K-Pop hinges on its transmutability, with audiences mimicking their favorite dance moves and uploading their efforts onto platforms such as YouTube. But this is a practice that both consumers and producers share, as K-Pop idols constantly imitate one another. In doing so, these so-called idols reveal the true conditions of their culture industry subjectivity, as commutable units. And yet, in their reproduction, which extends past the supposed ontology of gender, with boy groups covering girl groups and vice versa, K-Pop performs a type of auto-critique where idols rupture the aura that the industry so frantically produces. It is here, in its insistence on reproduction, that we also find K-Pop’s insurgent energy, its ability to cross borders, its reintroduction of the play in gender, and its potential to critique itself.