A series of K-pop album releases, concerts in Japan in limbo amid trade row

August 6, 2019

An unprecedentedly large number of high-profile K-pop concerts and album releases are set to hit Japan from August onward as K-pop is enjoying a heyday in the neighboring country, but an accelerating trade row between Korea and Japan is feared to pose uncertainty over their future.

Pushing its diplomatic relations with South Korea to the lowest point, Japan imposed, in early July, curbs on exports of three essential high-tech materials to South Korea.

Last week, Japan took a further step by removing South Korea from its whitelist of trusted trade partners, stripping Korea of its preferential treatment in trade with Japan.

Against this backdrop of worsening diplomatic ties, K-pop super band BTS had a successful run in Japan, selling out some 210,000 tickets for its four solo concerts in Shizuoka and Osaka last month.

Early this month, South Korea’s biggest music label, SM Entertainment, also successfully staged joint concerts of some of its most celebrated artists, such as Red Velvet, EXO, NCT 127 and TVXQ, defying the diplomatic tensions between the two countries, thanks to K-pop’s unprecedented popularity in Japan as of late.

This photo shows Japanese fans ahead of BTS' July 6 concert at the 47,000-seat Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka. (Yonhap)
This photo of BLACKPINK is provided by YG Entertainment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo shows Japanese fans ahead of BTS’ July 6 concert at the 47,000-seat Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka. (Yonhap)


This week alone, two high-profile K-pop bands — WINNER and Mamamoo — are scheduled to release their new Japanese albums, launching a major test of receptivity of K-pop music among Japanese consumers, which could serve as a barometer for how other K-pop artists could be received in Japan after them.

WINNER is set to drop its latest Japanese EP, “WE,” on Wednesday while the four-piece girl group Mamamoo will release its first Japanese album, “4 Colors,” on the same day. With the album release, Mamamoo is scheduled to throw special events in major Japanese cities, including Tokyo and Osaka, to celebrate their debut in Japan.

Later this month on Aug. 21, girl band IZ*ONE, whose second Japanese single, “Buenos Aires,” topped the Oricon weekly singles chart in July, is poised to launch its first Japanese solo concert series as part of its ongoing world tour, “Eyes on Me,” starting off at the Makuhari Messe convention center, just outside Tokyo.

The same day, boy band Monsta X will release its second Japanese album, “Phenomenon,” and kick off the Japanese leg of its on-going world tour, “We Are Here.”

Next month, the world famous girl band, BLACKPINK will drop the Japanese version of its globally successful album “Kill This Love” and launch local promotion of the 10-track Japanese album before opening a Japanese concert series that will run from December to February next year.

October is sure to be the highlight of them all, with three heavyweight K-pop bands — EXO, Seventeen and TWICE — scheduled to kick off Japanese concert series that month.

So far, there have been no signs that the K-pop events in Japan would come be affected by the bilateral diplomatic and trade strife, as exchange of popular culture between the two countries have tended to remain immune to any political tangles.

If further aggravated, however, the Seoul-Tokyo row could possibly seep into the cultural front, weighing on the high-flying careers of K-pop artists in Japan.

“So far, the cultural exchange front (between Korea and Japan), including ‘hallyu’ has experienced little impact,” Hwang Seong-woon, the head of the Korean Cultural Center in Japan said, adding that “still many Japanese people take culture separately from politics.” Hallyu refers to the global wave of K-pop and other Korean cultural content.

He added, “But the mood is feared to get worse if reports of (Korean) rallies against Japan continue,” referring to a growing boycott of Japanese products in South Korea.