Young Thais are increasingly trying to break into K-pop following the success of several Thai artists in the industry. It’s a trend actively encouraged by South Korean entertainment companies hoping to find the next stars.
Thailand’s K-pop boom is being carried by stars like LISA, a Thai-born member of K-pop girl group BLACKPINK.
LISA’s debut single “LALISA” was a smash hit in Thailand last year. Even Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha praised her, saying the government was ready to promote the country’s soft power “to increase the value of the creative economy”.
A dozen Thai artists have made a name for themselves in K-pop entertainment.
Follow in the footsteps of a teen idol
Fourteen-year-old Panida Panyo takes lessons at a studio in Buriram province, in the northeast of the country. It was launched jointly by LISA and the South Korean government in 2021 to help local young people learn K-pop dances.
The studio is set up in a local school and, much to Panida’s delight, dance lessons have been incorporated into the program. She hopes to one day become an idol like LISA.
“LISA is a huge inspiration. She motivated me to get into dancing and do it well,” says Panida. “I also want to improve my singing skills here.”
Whenever Panida feels tired or discouraged, she looks at her LISA photo collection. The superstar’s dazzling smile and glitzy costumes always keep her going.
Shortly after joining the classes, Panida was given an opportunity that many young Thais dream of. One day, while dancing in the studio, she caught the eye of an official from a South Korean entertainment company. She was offered free exclusive lessons with professional dancers.
The teenager says she wants to succeed so she can help her parents, who are farmers. Her parents are optimistic about their daughter’s future.
“It is difficult to have a stable future as a farmer. We have worked hard for many years, but we still have financial problems,” says Panida’s father. “If she can have a better life than us, we’d like her to pursue that.”
An ideal K-pop talent hub
In Bangkok, South Korean entertainment groups hold tryouts for young Thai teenagers who want to join the K-pop industry. The auditions mainly focus on dancing and singing. Only a few will be good enough to win trips to South Korea and potentially become professional artists.
A candidate says she has been patiently waiting for this moment for years. “Since I practiced for so long, my effort must have exceeded 200 percent. My confidence is pretty high now,” she says.
Audition judge Lee Ju-yeong, who works for FNC Entertainment’s casting team, said his company is focusing on Thailand, which has so many enthusiastic supporters for its industry.
“Thai youngsters have a lot of energy. I enjoyed watching their performances. I think we will come to Thailand more often,” Lee said.
This year, Silpakorn University began offering an entertainment major to help meet the growing demand for K-pop culture. Classes not only cover singing and dancing, but also makeup and wardrobe management, as well as practical business skills such as social media management.
First-year student Tunsaporn Sakulpaet says the program will help her learn the skills to become an artist.
“I’m really happy that this kind of specialization is offered in Thailand. I can learn both performance and behind-the-scenes skills. They’re not easily found elsewhere,” she says.
Kim Jin-woo, chief researcher at music charting firm Circle Chart in South Korea, explains why Thailand can produce many K-pop artists.
“The country presents itself as an open and free environment with more potential for cultural development,” says Kim. “Thais are very receptive to other cultures, and that’s a big plus for the Korean entertainment industry.”
He says Thailand can serve as a Southeast Asian hub for South Korea, promoting K-pop culture among other countries that have their own young people who dream of becoming the next big thing in K- pop.