KEY POINTS

  • Streaming platforms pushed album sales down these last couple of years
  • Loyal K-pop fandoms reversed the listening trend in 2021 by boosting album sales
  • Four of the top 10 bestselling albums in the U.S. were by K-pop boybands

The growing popularity of K-pop in America is reviving the dismal sales of physical albums in the U.S.

Before K-pop artists entered Billboard charts, the number of Americans buying music albums was dwindling. The arrival of iTunes changed the landscape as it gave music fans the freedom to just pick the individual tunes they want as opposed to purchasing full collections. Then, streaming platforms like Spotify gained popularity, further pushing album sales down.

According to a Forbes report, album sales continued to decline across every format from 2019 until 2020 and the downward trend of album sales dipped overall by more than 9%.

But in 2021, loyal K-pop fandoms have seemingly reversed the trend. According to MRC Data’s 2021 year-end report that analyzes the biggest, most-streamed and bestselling music titles and albums with the help of Billboard, Americans seemed to have supported albums more than they ever did in the recent past.

The resurgence of vinyl as a music distribution format helped make the turnaround but CDs became popular once more, thanks to South Korean musicians.

Four of the top 10 bestselling CDs in the U.S. in 2021 were by K-pop stars, according to MRC Data's report and Billboard. The fifth-bestselling CD in the U.S. last year was “The Chaos Chapter: Freeze” by Tomorrow X Together (TXT). A total of 215,000 fans bought the boyband’s album which shows that the boy group, has really entered the American music market.

At No. 7 is another South Korean boyband, NCT 127 with their latest album, “Sticker.” The said album sold 211,000 CDs.

Not to be outdone is the supergroup BTS which had two bestselling albums in 2021. The septet’s 2020 album, “Map of the Soul: 7” comes in at No. 8 with 210,000 copies sold while its other 2020 album “BE” is at No. 10 with 187,000 copies sold. “Map Of The Soul:7” was 7th among the bestselling physical albums in 2020 in the US and “BE” was fifth on the same list.

Loyal K-pop fans are also credited as the driving force behind the booming sales of physical music records in South Korea. What is also worth noting here is that it is not unusual for fandoms to hoard their idols’ albums in order to influence their chart performance and to solidify the stars’ presence in the highly competitive K-pop industry.

This handout photo courtesy of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. / ABC shows South Korean band BTS accept the Favorite Pop Duo or Group award onstage during the 2021 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles This handout photo courtesy of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. / ABC shows South Korean band BTS accept the Favorite Pop Duo or Group award onstage during the 2021 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles Photo: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. / ABC via AFP