Do Copycat JPop Acts Promote KPop?

Before BALLISTIK BOYZ debuted, they were compared to BTS, due to the groups’ similar names, number of members, visuals, and music style. This wasn’t the first time that KPop fans accused groups from other parts of Asia of copying KPop, with acts such as China’s OK Bang and Thailand’s Candy Mafia garnering the same comparisons.

This is ironic due to the fact that KPop is a blend of various music styles from around the world, primarily the US and Japan. However, it has now gained its own identity, one known for mixing genres and having a focus on eye-catching choreography and music videos.

So why have KPop companies not taken on these alleged copycat groups? Dong Sunhwa of The Korea Times spoke to a number of music industry officials to find out why.

“Korean music labels tend to believe that the emergence of copycats proves preeminence of the original KPop singers,” said Lee Gyutag, a professor of arts and science at George Mason University Korea. “Knockoff groups usually cannot beat out or replace KPop artists in terms of music and other features. But their attempt to emulate shows that KPop is their ‘reference,’ leading people to think the genre is something of quality and original.”

According to entertainment lawyer Kang Jinseok, taking on KPop copycat acts in court is not an easy feat. “Every country has different laws concerning trademark and copyright, so it is challenging for the Korean labels to lodge a complaint against the imitators unless they are well acquainted with foreign laws,” he said. “Proving the copycat’s guilt is demanding too, because the companies would have to corroborate that the consumers are overtly ‘confused and mistaken’ by the emulation.” This is hard to do even in Korean courts, he said.

As far as what the future holds for KPop groups and their imitators, Professor Lee said that the copycats are “unlikely to outperform” those they emulate. “Since 20 years ago, some have claimed KPop will falter in the future following the expansion of music markets in competitive Asian countries including China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.”

He added, “But to take a lead role, these countries need to meet both political and economic conditions. China has money, but the government censors the market and hinders the production of inventive music. Japanese artists have more freedom but do not strive to blaze a trail to the global market as they can make a living solely with domestic demands. Southeast Asian countries are not yet prosperous enough to actively boost their own music industry.”