Why K-pop playlists are grey

And why K-pop fans are not happy about it.

(Source: My Spotify ;_;)

If you know anyone who is a fan of IU, SF9, Momoland, Epik High, Seventeen, MAMAMOO or Cherry Bullet, you might’ve noticed them raging or whining while scrolling through a greyed-out Spotify playlist this morning. Try to be kind to them; licensing disputes between Spotify and the South Korean music distribution site Kakao M have resulted in K-pop fans around the world waking up to find hundreds of K-pop songs removed from Spotify. Effective 1 March 2021, have all been stripped from Spotify’s global music distribution platform.

If I knew that that would be the last time I heard this song on Spotify…

K-pop fans and K-pop artistes are mourning the loss of global support. Based on some , it seems that nobody saw this coming. Tablo (Epik High) has stepped forward to voice his disappointment.


Fans are notably distressed as well. Some expressed annoyance as their hours of music are now gone; those who use music for relaxation, comfort and escapism find their routines disrupted.

Nobody is sure who exactly is responsible for this, but Kakao M and Spotify’s online statements regarding this issue nuance that they are engaging in some sort of blame game (although fans reeeeeally can’t be bothered — they just want their music back).

In light of this worldwide grey-out, there are two things to note:

  1. While K-pop is global, Korean companies remain very much local.
  2. Unless local distributors can make their platforms more “globalised”, they will remain under the hegemony of global companies.

The latter is easier said than done, of course. Considering how local distributors would be competing with platforms that have been established for way longer than they have (think: Facebook, YouTube and Google), the expansion of local sites are limited by their ability to collect data, use data, and of course, distribute content across countries’ regulations. Even global companies like Facebook face issues with media regulation and data controversies — what more smaller, local companies like .

To break it down: Just because they’re big in Korea, doesn’t mean they have the ability to expand as easily in China, or in the UK. Unless Kakao M is willing to invest into dealing with licensing and data protection, we may not see the platform emerging in the global market just yet.

In order to prevent another K-pop “grey out” however, it is important for Korean companies to look into these matters and decide to invest into it. Once that happens, the day Asian creators can stand on their own two feet is near.

Has a special place in her heart for dogs, memes, and handsome men.

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