Around 200 students, faculty and community members filled the Nelson Mandela Auditorium to watch K-pop soloists, duets and dance groups battle for first place in the Department of Asian Studies' K-pop contest.
Organized by Ji-Yeon Jo, an associate professor at the Department of Asian Studies, and her colleagues, the UNC K-pop contests have been met with larger audiences each time it has been held. K-pop night has quickly outgrown each venue they’ve had, starting with 50 audience members their first year and increasing ever since.
The increased interest of UNC students in K-pop follows current trends in music types. The Korean boy band BTS hit the Billboard Hot 100 with their song “Love Yourself” in September.
“The popularity of K-pop is not just limited to the U.S., it's everywhere — Latin America, Europe, wherever you go. K-pop is mainstream youth culture nowadays," Jo said. "UNC has seen the influence of the global popularity of K-pop."
Korean professors have even started incorporating K-pop into their curriculum to expose students to this major aspect of Korean culture.
Eunji Lee, a lecturer with the Department of Asian Studies, said there was diversity among the students who performed. Most of them took classes with the department, but not all were Korean.
“K-pop is getting so popular, students are taking Korean because they like Korean music and want to listen to the music without any translations,” Lee said. “But now they actually know better than me — better than the teacher! To keep up with the students I have to listen and watch K-pop songs.”
Due to high volumes of students demonstrating interest in the Korean language, the Korean department has become overstretched, with one professor overloading her classes to accommodate all the students. Recently, at a past event on the topic of North Korea, more than 90 people were in attendance.
“We usually don’t expect that many people for just a talk,” Jo said.