Analyzing Asian: Asian pop music is no longer second to its American counterpart

As 8 p.m. steadily approached, I downed my last shot of vodka and took off from the campsite. It was dark now and the air was rapidly cooling, but I still went forward, undeterred. I was about to witness history. Crowds of people surged around me, some in my direction, others heading to different acts in what I can only describe as a bad decision. There was quite a lot of overlap at this period of time; The 1975 was playing at the Coachella Stage, as was Ella Mai at the Outdoor Theatre. But neither of these acts were comparable to what I was about to see. As I neared the massive stage at the Sahara Tent, I heard the screams of the crowd unmistakably announcing the start of what was to be the first set by a female Korean pop group at Coachella. I broke into a full sprint — I couldn’t miss this.

Entering the crowd, I arrived just in time to see the four members of BLACKPINK announce their arrival with a performance of one of their most recognizable hits — “DDU DU DDU DU.” I screamed. Everyone around me screamed. A fellow Asian guy in front turned to me and asked, “Who’s your favorite?”

I couldn’t say. I don’t know any of their names.

K-pop’s rise has been an overnight phenomenon. Growing up, I never described myself as a big K-pop fan. I’ve known a few big hits here and there from groups like SNSD. But I still stuck primarily to my comfort zone, listening to easy pop songs you could sing along to at talent shows — “If You Seek Amy” by Britney Spears, for example. I believed that K-pop would just be a genre of music confined to its native country, never reaching international prominence American pop music did.

Boy, was I wrong. K-pop has not only broken out of South Korea, but it has also become a full-blown global sensation. Spearheading this revolution are groups like BTS and BLACKPINK, which have cultivated online fandoms surpassing acts like Ariana Grande and One Direction. The numbers don’t lie — BLACKPINK recently broke the record for most watched YouTube video in 24 hours (previously held by Grande’s “Thank U, Next”), with its “Kill this Love” video. BLACKPINK has also surpassed One Direction as the musical group with the most followers on Instagram — 17.1 million — compared to One Direction’s 17.

The girls’ historic Coachella performance was live-streamed in Times Square. Social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon discovered that BLACKPINK’s online presence during Coachella was 10 times that of Childish Gambino, who holds second place, and more than 20 times that of Grande. BLACKPINK seems unstoppable at this point.

But what really drew me to their Coachella set wasn’t the fact that they’re quite literally dominating the world. A K-pop group, whose music is primarily in Korean, breaking into the mainstream on such an astronomical level is something I never thought I would live to see. In addition to BLACKPINK, Perfume, a Japanese pop group, also made history as the first J-pop group to perform at Coachella.

Asian pop is no longer on the backburner to American pop, and is no longer a niche genre of music only popular among Asians and weeaboos (a western person obsessed with East Asian culture, usually Japanese). Standing in that Coachella crowd, seeing thousands of people dancing to their music, gave me the exact same feeling I had when I watched “Crazy Rich Asians” for the first time. Or when I saw Sandra Oh cry as she thanked her parents during her Golden Globe acceptance speech for “Killing Eve.” Or even when I first watched “Kill Bill” and saw Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii in what was my first time seeing an Asian American in a leading role.

To me, BLACKPINK’s achievement is a sign of progress and acceptance. It was one small step for BLACKPINK, and one giant leap for Asiankind.

Albert Qian is a junior writing about Asian American identity. His column, “Analyzing Asian,” ran every other Wednesday.