October 20, 2022
SEOUL – K-pop idols must be camera-ready at all times and able to sing, dance, and show off their charms and talents simultaneously on TV shows and in interviews. But there’s one thing you wouldn’t have seen multi-talented performers do on screen: drink.
Despite being an integral part of South Korean culture, the topic of drinking alcohol has been mostly off limits to K-pop celebrities. And if they do have a drink or two, it’s often done in secret, away from the cameras.
But in recent years, celebrities have stepped out of their comfort zone to promote themselves and their albums more flexibly, breaking the taboo that idols shouldn’t drink or show they do.
In 2016, the now-disbanded Wonder Girls took to Dingo’s “Tipsy Live,” a YouTube channel where artists get drunk and sing their songs, to promote “Why So Lonely.” It was also a scene that fans may have never seen before in the K-pop world. In 2018, Seungyoon and Jinwoo of boy group Winner appeared on tvN’s “Life Bar,” a talk show program where hosts and guests share their life stories over drinks.
As more and more people are open to seeing more down-to-earth sides of K-pop idols, alcohol is a central marketing tool in several on-air shows and trending YouTube channels. .
Recently in July, Hoshi of boy band Seventeen made a special appearance on rapper Lee Young-ji’s YouTube program titled “My Alcohol Diary” to promote the group’s fourth LP, “Face the Sun.” Monsta X’s Hyungwon was also invited to appear on the show, where fans enjoyed watching their easy conversations.
Lee’s YouTube series, in particular, is one that many fans want their favorite singers to appear on, mostly because it’s refreshing to see them promote their new music and album while just being themselves.
Itzy’s Chaeryeong and Tomorrow x Together’s Soobin appeared on the show to promote their albums, and BTS’ Jin episode was scheduled to air on Thursday.
K-pop singers have a lot to do when it comes to the responsibilities of being an idol, and staying away from alcohol has been one of the top priorities. After a rather awkward start, many idols end up getting comfortable by the end of Lee’s 20-minute show.
As of Wednesday, the two videos featuring Hoshi and Hyungwon have racked up over 11 million and 10 million views on YouTube, respectively, which is also the second and third most viewed clips on the channel.
K-pop idols weren’t the only ones who benefited from being on the show. Apart from the singers, fans also enjoyed seeing a new side to their idols through the program.
“I actually find it more interesting to see idols drinking on YouTube than promoting themselves in high-profile programs aired through terrestrial broadcasters. Appearing in trending programs on YouTube triggers my curiosity about who they are and their music,” 15-year-old K-pop fan Seo Min-chae told the Korea Herald.
The singers themselves have also dabbled in hosting shows where they interview guests while serving them booze. One of them is “Things That Make Me Groove,” a series airing on YouTube channel “15ya,” hosted by Super Junior’s Kyuhyun. The channel currently has over 4.74 million subscribers.
Heechul from the same group is also the host of a similar show called “Alcohol Street Fighter 2”, where he invites guests to drink, eat and chat. Recently, EXO’s Xiumin and NCT’s Doyoung made appearances.
While demand from idols’ mostly young fan base has played a role in driving the trend, experts say YouTube and the platform’s looser content restrictions have also played a key role.
“Advertising in broadcast media of products such as alcohol and tobacco is restricted under separate laws, apart from the Broadcasting Act. In addition, there is a broadcasting law which includes the Youth Protection Act and the Fair Labeling and Advertising Act, which is why YouTube has become a lucrative option for content creators,” said a Korea Communications Commission official told the Korea Herald.
Producers prefer to upload this content to YouTube because they would have a lot more latitude in how they storyboard their shows, without worrying if they would violate broadcast censors, the official added.
Years ago, K-pop idols often went to popular terrestrial broadcaster TV programs to promote themselves. Now, this formula is no longer the main marketing strategy.
While YouTube used to be considered a video sharing platform for idol music videos, the social media giant now has over 1 billion monthly users visiting the platform. In the world of K-pop, it is a full-fledged platform where fans and target audiences are called subscribers, and idols are dubbed as content creators.
There, K-pop fans gravitate around idol-related content and also create and share that content and connect with other users. Now, the platform itself can create marketing funnels faster than any other social network, and alcohol-based marketing has recently garnered the most interest.
Additionally, Generation MZ, a local term combining Millennials and Generation Z, are flocking to YouTube as many opt for short music videos rather than hour-long programs. As most of them are primary media consumers, many young users are getting used to shorthand content and memes on social media services like TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts.
“YouTube is like a blind spot for content creators. There are many restrictions regarding alcohol (in TV programs), so many of them try to place the idea of alcohol by broadcasting content on YouTube,” said Yoo Seung-chul, associate professor of media convergence at Ewha Womans University.
Yoo added that social media algorithms also promote content that interacts with users, which paves the way for more views since the platform is user-centric.
“This is called a filter bubble phenomenon. (Videos) will get more views, and YouTube recommends videos to users’ tastes. In this sense, alcohol marketing could be smart because it attracts users with similar interests,” Yoo said.