K-pop is betting that it can reverse its slowing global growth by becoming less Korean. This is a mistake: Without the "K,” the music is plain pop, undistinguishable from — and unable to compete with — the dominant American kind.

There is no question the K-pop wave is waning. Bang Si-hyuk, whose Hybe Co. is behind such acts as BTS and NewJeans, believes the industry is in crisis. South Korean customs data shows that K-pop album exports in 2022 grew just 4.8% to exceeded $230 million, compared with 62.1% in 2021 and 82.6% in 2020.

This is in no small part because BTS, far and away the industry’s biggest act, went into hiatus at the end of 2022 to allow the seven band members to fulfill their mandatory military service and pursue solo projects. At the time, there were fears of a decline in the United States market, where BTS accounted for a third of all K-pop sales and streams. The U.S. is K-pop’s second-biggest export market, behind Japan.