The Cultural Influence of YouTube Reaction Videos on K-pop

© Copyright 2018 Mijeong Ki, Ryerson University.


Introduction: A Reaction Video reacting to K-pop on YouTube

The Korean Wave ©Da’wah Media & Communication 2015

“Wow!” “That is so cool” “Oh my god!” These are the exclamations Youtubers make while watching K-pop music videos. Have you heard of a reaction video on YouTube? There are many reaction videos on YouTube about so many things such as internet games, pop songs, movies, and dramas. The genre of reaction video started when a dad took a video of his kids who reacted happily after they got the “hot” Nintendo video game. Reaction videos are the videos which someone or groups of people talk about the interesting visual contents or recent hot topics. If you search on YouTube, you can find 22 million of reaction videos about EXO, one of the most famous K-pop boy bands.

K-pop Music Video

As a Korean exchange student in Canada, I wanted to talk about K-pop more deeply and argue about its position in America. Even though K-pop did not get that popular in North America as it did in neighbouring Asian countries or South America, YouTube reaction videos have played an important role for K-pop to be recognized. If famous YouTube stars who have thousands of subscribers take videos of themselves reacting to the music, people who didn’t have any knowledge on K-pop before have a chance to listen and actually enjoy that new kind of music.How much knowledge do you have on K-pop? Maybe PSY’s “Gangnam Style” I guess? Released in 2012, “Gangnam Style” earned a lot of attention all over the world and YouTube played a huge role. It is hard to believe how many people saw it on YouTube. It had been the most featured video on YouTube for quite a long period. Following that, there was also a huge boom with effective YouTube marketing within music entertainment in Korea due to the big success of PSY. If you are slightly more interested in K-culture, you might know BTS as well. BTS is also a very famous boy band along with EXO and Big Bang. After their debut in 2013, they got a bunch of people’s attention with their fabulous dance abilities and American swag. Their American tour went really well, and the result was amazing. What is special about BTS is that they succeeded in North America, while other Korean artists didn’t get that huge reaction. They performed on famous American TV shows and got applauded. In fact, we can see millions of reaction videos about BTS on YouTube.

Even though K-pop has quite a lot of problems both inside and outside of Korea, most of Korean people feel quite proud of the fact that our content is being consumed by foreign people. K-pop is putting so much effort to be internationally popular and be more consumed by North Americans. One significant way among those is to use content channels on YouTube. It is clearly shown that YouTube’s role on K-pop is noticeable because it gets almost the same amount of attention as the TV shows does.

What does a Reaction Video do? How does it work?

This is a genre of a video, which mostly started outside of Korea. Mostly YouTube stars or general public participate in these videos trying to express their thoughts and interpret the contents they are looking at. People who have interest in K-pop music videos create reaction videos. Therefore, they show viewers how foreigners react to the K-pop music videos. There are a lot of types of reaction videos.

Snapshot of Youtube Reaction Video on K-pop “YouTubers React To BTS” ©YouTube, 2016

Professor Kim said that K-pop reaction videos have a generic form separated in three parts. First, there is a short introduction part where the YouTubers say hi and simply introduce the object which they are going to discuss and react to. In the middle, they watch the music video and respond to it. Facial expression and gesture are efficiently used here with simple comments while watching it. As you can see above, the music video is typically placed in a smaller screen on the right top of the screen with lowered volume levels. After the music video ends, they start to discuss their feelings, sense-making of it. They evaluate the value and express their opinions.

The number of people who appear in them does not matter. A single person or multiple people translate and interpret the MVs based on their own criteria. This is what makes these videos interesting. First, people usually do not know much about Korean culture and society. They interpret the music videos and express their feelings. Therefore, their reviews on K-pop are mostly about the visual aspects of the MV. YouTubers react to the “visuals” of the performing artists, the choreography, and the background scenery of the MV in addition to the melody and qualities of the music.

A Video named “YouTubers React To BTS”

I will mainly study one selected reaction videos on YouTube and its influence. I specifically chose this one among so many other videos because it shows different styles of songs that BTS have, which is interesting enough to attract people of different music types. It also shows YouTubers talking about K-pop in relation to YouTube. First, its format is pretty much the same as the rest of reaction videos I mentioned above. This video is about 15 minutes long. There are a lot of YouTubers, like 12 individuals participating in the reaction process. Then the producer edited the videos combining each one’s video, so scene changes from one person to other ones continuously. The smaller screen of K-pop music video is still placed as typical with lowered volume. Then the reactors are first informed to watch some of MVs of BTS. From the starting point the reactions of them are different from each other. One female YouTuber seems to have known the group quite well and liked BTS. On the other hand, most of the others were not aware of them even though they have heard of K-pop.

Let’s see some of their opinions. “They all are pretty.” “The scenery looks fabulous” Most of them are about the appearance and clothes, which are seen by eyes. A male YouTuber in this video mentions, “To see the American influence on the culture there and then to see that kind of regurgitated through another culture’s eyes is fascinating.” This may mean that K-pop was influenced by American pop but has developed its own originality. What is special about K-pop is the harmony of the song, dance, and performance. Especially, Korean idol bands’ fabulous group dances and stage performances are the best all over the world. They are seriously trained for at least 2 years and at most 10 years in their company after they go through strict auditions. If they cannot be recognized because they are not good enough, they can never succeed as a group. This shows how competitive the Korean society is. What could have been better if the reactors knew was this strict society because it emphasizes how talented BTS members are to be recognized. After the video play, they are informed some cultural aspects of Korean MV by the producer and then talk about them.

What is the limit?

As simply mentioned before, because American YouTubers who watch them do not know the language, they do not fully understand the cultural meaning of these videos. Even though they get partly informed about the background of the MV, it would be hard to understand for foreigners to deeply understand it. Some of them seemed to go through “culture shock” in some of the videos because they had never seen such things.

Oh (2276) explains this situation in his paper. For the YouTubers, the practice of decoding tended toward seeking preferred meanings (see Hall, 1999), but because they lack the cultural and linguistic knowledge to fully understand the text, their first readings are negotiated. As such, their readings are hybridized. As negotiated readings, the YouTubers’ lived experiences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway are brought directly into the reading of the text (see Fiske, 1987). As they learn the “true” meaning of the songs and music videos, they generate hybrid connection as they internalize the meanings of a different cultural terrain into their worldview, articulating themselves differently into the local culture. (Oh, 2276)

Conclusion: What is special? The new way of critiquing

Reaction videos now seem to become another new way of critiquing. Even though foreign reactors have limits mentioned above, the videos still have value as a critical thinking tool. The initial reaction videos were just about exaggerated facial expressions, laughs, and simple feelings. However, as it comes to criticism, they became with more discussion and “story” has been created on the videos instead of mere body language. Besides, they add emotions to the commentary, which cannot be delivered by letters on the paper. For example, a YouTuber delivers impression by shaking his head to the rhythm and moving his eyebrows curiously. Shinsik Kim, the professor in Korea refers that phenomenon as “the emergence of a new critical language”, analyzing the fact that the number of people who seriously make content where they observe and react to music videos like the judges of an audition program are highly increasing. Reactions that convey the feeling of music and the lyrics are creating new kinds of criticism instead of writing in words.


Works Cited

TheFineBros. YouTube, 2 July 2017,

Oh, David C. “K-Pop Fans React: Hybridity and the White Celebrity-Fan on YouTube.” International Journal of Communication,

Kim, Y. “Globalization of the privatized self-image: The reaction video and its attention economy on YouTube”. Routledge handbook of new media in Asia (pp. 333– 342). New York, NY: Routledge.

Palladino, Valentina. “The science behind the insane popularity of “react” videos on YouTube.” Ars Technica, 3 Apr. 2016,

Jung, Sun, and Doobo Shim. “Social distribution: K-Pop fan practices in Indonesia and the ‘Gangnam Style’ phenomenon.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 17, no. 5, 2013, pp. 485–501., doi:10.1177/1367877913505173.

Shim, Doobo. “Hybridity and the rise of Korean popular culture in Asia.” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 28, no. 1, 2006, pp. 25–44., doi:10.1177/0163443706059278.


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