K-pop album exports soared in the first six months of 2023, setting a new record high. Notably, the United States surpassed China to become the second-largest market for K-pop music exports after Japan. This indicates that K-pop has firmly established itself as a genre in North America.

According to the export and import trade statistics released by the Korea Customs Service on July 18, the export value of K-pop albums from January to June this year amounted to $132.934 million. That’s approximately 168.5 billion KRW, a 17.1% increase compared to the same period in 2022. This marks the highest total for the first half of 2023.

When examining the target countries for album exports in the first half of this year, Japan topped the list with $48.523 million (approximately 61.5 billion KRW), followed by the United States with $25.519 million (approximately 32.3 billion KRW), and China with $22.64 million (approximately 28.7 billion KRW). They were followed by Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Canada, the UK, and France.

The fact that the United States, often considered the world’s largest music market, has surpassed China to become the second-largest market for album exports says a lot. On an annual basis, China has been the second largest export target country after Japan since 2012, except for 2020.

K-pop stars’ remarkable achievements

Despite the absence of group activities from BTS, K-pop stars have achieved remarkable results in the United States in the first half of this year. BTS member Jimin made history when he became the first K-pop solo artist to debut at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with his debut solo single “Like Crazy.”

Stray Kids and TOMORROW X TOGETHER topped the Billboard 200, the main album chart in the United States, with their recent drops. ATEEZ, BTS’s SUGA, SEVENTEEN, and TWICE also made waves. Lastly, FIFTY FIFTY achieved what others thought was impossible when they charted within the Hot 100 for 16 consecutive weeks with their easy-listening song “CUPID.”

As K-pop achieved these results, the U.S. music market analysis company Luminate announced in its mid-year report that Korean was the third most streamed language in the United States, following English and Spanish (based on the top 10,000 songs).

Room for growth

Choi Kwang-Ho, the Korea Music Content Association’s secretary-general, said, “K-pop, represented by BTS and BLACKPINK, established itself as a genre in the North American market. It takes time for content to hit in a specific region after a certain trigger. It took years for K-pop to settle down after BTS received their first award at the U.S. Billboard Music Awards (BBMA) in 2017.”

He believes K-pop can go even further. “There were concerns about the enlistment of BTS, but the solo activities of BTS members and the performance of junior singers SEVENTEEN and Stray Kids are good. The K-pop physical album market has grown, but as seen in the success of ‘CUPID,’ there’s still a lot of room for growth in the streaming market. The peak of K-pop is not yet here.”

— K-pop News Writer

Featured Image: With their Billboard chart success and performances at KCON USA, Stray Kids is actively leading the growth of K-pop in the US. Source: KCON USA/KCON USA’s official website.