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  • From Seoul to Copenhagen: Migrating K-Pop Cover Dance and Performing Diasporic Youth in Social Media
  • Chuyun Oh (bio)

A group of around a hundred teenage girls and boys are standing in a circle in a public outdoor place. After a countdown from five to one, a cheerful, upbeat K-pop (South Korean pop music) song is played. Some of the crowd immediately jumps into the center of the circle, cavorting and twirling their hands above their heads with excitement. They perform the same choreography in unison with each other. The song lasts around thirty seconds, and then the next song is played after five countdowns. As the structure is repeated, some new people join in the circle and start dancing, while others leave the circle. Some of them lip-sync the lyrics to the songs in Korean while dancing. Others waiting for their turn to perform give big cheers and claps, stomping their feet rhythmically. The event lasts around one hour and forty minutes, until everyone joins in the circle and dances to K-pop girl group TWICE’s recent hit dance song “TT.”

I draw the scene from the video “K-pop Random Play Dance in Public” which documents a performance presented on October 27, 2019, in Copenhagen, Denmark, by COED9. CODE9 is a Copenhagen-based female dance crew, and the biggest K-pop cover dance group in Demark. CODE9 was first formed in February 2018 with nine members. Currently it consists of twelve young women in their early twenties, five of whom are original members, but the group still keeps their name CODE9. This choice is inspired by the K-pop boy group Seventeen—a group that initially had seventeen members but debuted with thirteen. Since 2018, CODE9 has posted around sixty dance videos on its YouTube channel CODE9 Dance Crew which has 5,800 subscribers. The crew regularly hosts major K-pop related events in Copenhagen, including K-pop Random Play Dance in Public and K-pop Meet Ups, facilitated by their official profiles on Instagram and Facebook, and their YouTube channel.

In 2019, CNN reported that “K-Pop is now the biggest transnational pop culture phenomenon since hip-hop” (Yang 2019). In 2018, the K-pop boy group BTS became the first group since The Beatles to have three Billboard No. 1 hits within a year, and the first foreign language No. 1 album on Billboard in twelve years since Il Divo’s “Ancora” in 2006 (Mendez 2019). Until 2017, PSY’s “Gangnam Style” (2012) had in fact been the most viewed music video on YouTube and had resulted in a large number of “Gangnam-Style-horse-dance” flash mobs performed and recorded across Europe, the Americas, Asia, and beyond. As such, K-pop is a good example of how dance is “shared, copied, embodied, manipulated, and recirculated rather than preserved [End Page 20] for the professional and elite dancer” (Bench 2010, 1). In this article, I refer to the concept of “K-pop cover dance” as fan-made music videos that imitate the choreography of original music videos. From global flash mobs to viral cover dances on YouTube, K-pop fans not only listen to but also perform K-pop. YouTube is the primary site of the global circulation of K-pop (Kwon and Ono 2013), and K-pop fans’ cover dance videos on YouTube illustrate an increased “accessibility” of dance in digital space and interactive involvement of users (1). Online K-pop fandom sheds light on the participatory nature of contemporary popular dance in transnational media. Digital platforms provide a politically less regulated space through which “alternative or radical dancing bodies” could emerge (Dodds 2014b, 414).

In the words of Julie Malnig, popular dance refers to a local, vernacular, and social dance tradition that becomes popularized and “spread[s] beyond local contexts” as a “worldwide dance phenomena” (2009, 5). The current style of K-pop dance emerged in the mid-1990s in South Korea, and is characterized by young idol musicians-dancers’ synchronized and visually spectacular dance routines (Oh 2014). The genre employs various dance styles, such as folk dance, martial arts, acrobatics, gymnastics, tap, jazz, swing, hip hop, footwork, vogue, urban, and...


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