[Essay] Asia Media Attention to Vietnamese 'V-pop'

This case of music originating from Vietnam spreading worldwide through a Chinese platform demonstrates a global trend, even though it's a one-minute-long song, it has accumulated billions of views worldwide since 2020. It's a case where an exotic yet Eastern rhythm became a global trend.


Author : JUNG Hojai | K-pop Columnist

Date : 2023.Jan

The Chinese newspaper Guangzhou Daily's sister publication ≪Southern Window≫ recently published an article titled "Mass Production of Kwon Ji-yong in Vietnam," which provides a detailed analysis of modern Vietnamese popular music ("V-pop") in relation to the country's economic growth (Southern Window, 2022.11.21).

The main content explains that Vietnamese pop music has grown rapidly along with the country's recent economic growth, and introduces popular songs under the name "V-pop" along with their history and characteristics. The article suggests that the characteristics of V-pop have been evident since the 1960s, particularly influenced by American popular music during the Vietnam War (1955-1975), Chinese and Hong Kong popular culture in the 1980s and 1990s, and Korean and Japanese idol culture since the 2000s. In sum, it suggests that the formation of Vietnamese popular music has involved significant contributions from surrounding cultural powers such as the United States, China, Japan, and Korea.

A particularly interesting point is the title of the article, which refers to "Kwon Ji-yong," a representative idol in Korea around 2010. Kwon Ji-yong is the real name of G-Dragon, born in 1988, the leader of Big Bang under YG Entertainment. The phrase "mass production" suggests a critical approach to Vietnam's production of cheap imitations of K-pop, while also praising Vietnam for having the socio-economic infrastructure to produce idols close to G-Dragon, considered one of K-pop's greatest achievements.

Since 2010, the popularity of Hallyu, particularly K-pop, in Vietnam has become widely known, with Vietnam competing with Indonesia for the forefront in the ASEAN region. Watching young people imitating K-pop dances in central squares in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is common, and visits by Hallyu stars are considered important news for Vietnamese youth. Furthermore, many popular V-pop songs have either copied or adopted the atmosphere of popular K-pop songs, indicating the influence of K-pop. Therefore, V-pop officials do not deny that they are influenced by K-pop.

This imitation trend can be seen as a continuation of the strong influence of American popular music before 1975, Hong Kong and Taiwan's popular songs in the 1980s and 1990s, and Japan's J-pop since the 2000s. Just before the K-pop boom, Japanese entertainment companies began collaborating with Thai and Vietnamese agencies to create local idols based on Japan's idol system. This is a clear result of Đổi Mới, which began in 1986, indicating that despite appearances, Vietnam has continuously engaged in cultural exchanges with East Asian countries.

The Intersection of Southern China

While Vietnam's economy has recently attracted global attention, serious research on its popular culture is still in its infancy. It is practically a challenge for popular media in countries like the United States, South Korea, or Japan to develop an interest in Vietnamese popular culture. It is also difficult for ASEAN countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. South Korea also does not pay much attention to the rapid growth of Vietnamese popular culture.

Communist Vietnam is famous for its hostile attitude toward China, and officially rejects the use of Chinese characters. However, upon closer examination, South China and Vietnam historically share significant cultural, linguistic, and racial similarities. As a result, Vietnamese popular culture has similar consumption patterns to those of the Chinese diaspora in ASEAN societies. In fact, in the 1980s and 1990s, popular songs from Hong Kong and Taiwan also gained significant popularity in Vietnam. Against this background, it is almost exclusively the southern region of China, centered around Guangdong Province, that takes Vietnamese popular culture seriously. It is reasonable to see the recent article in Southern Window as an expression of this background.

The reason for the initial publication of the Southern Window article is remarkable. Recently, music produced in Vietnam has gained worldwide recognition. One such example is the song "Hai Phút Hơn" (meaning "Two More Minutes"), released in February 2020 by Vietnamese singer Pháo and music producer CM1X. Today, the song's official music video has garnered over 30 million views on YouTube, gaining immense popularity. While some may question whether this number is significant on YouTube, it tells a different story when looking at other platforms. In particular, Chinese users of the TikTok platform noticed this dreamy melody.

It emerged as a meme of the "zero to dance" culture and later became the official background music. This case illustrates how music from Vietnam, despite being a short one-minute edit, spread globally through Chinese platforms, receiving billions of views worldwide since 2020. This phenomenon was repeated in 2022 with Hoàng Thùy Linh's "See Tình" (also known as the "Ting Ting Tang Tang" song), which gained immense popularity in China through TikTok. There's also an interpretation that attributes this phenomenon to the similarity in tone between Cantonese and Vietnamese, leading to familiarity.

Given that the origin of the short video platform TikTok is Chinese and the prevalent 'vertical viewing' culture of the smartphone era, Chinese users of the younger generation chose a somewhat exotic song as background music, which happened to be a song from Vietnam. This phenomenon repeated in 2022, with Hoàng Thùy Linh's 'See Tình,' gaining enormous popularity in China based on TikTok. This can also be interpreted as a result of the similar tone between Cantonese and Vietnamese, creating a sense of familiarity.

Year 2022~2023's Hit challenge on Tiktok Video flatform is Ting Ting Tang Tang
Hoàng Thùy Linh's orogianl hit song "See Tình", also known as the "Ting Ting Tang Tang" song

Formation of V-pop

First, let's get the terminology straight. I'll refer to Vietnamese popular music as V-pop. Although it's often referred to as "Vietnamese pop" or "Viet pop," the term V-pop has recently become widely used. This name is contextualized within the framework of Korean K-pop, Japanese J-pop, and Chinese C-pop, drawing attention to the national identity represented by the English abbreviation "V". This signifies the differences in popular music cultures across East Asia by nation, and serves as evidence of the significant influence of Western culture, even to the extent of being represented in English within their own countries.

There is no universally accepted definition of V-pop. Within Vietnam, it has been broadly divided between the music of older generations and the songs of younger people, known as "Nhạc trẻ". Among these, music heavily influenced by the West has sometimes been pejoratively referred to as "yellow pop" since the fall of Saigon. After the opening up of Vietnam and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vietnamese music appropriately harmonized tradition and outside influences, creating Vietnam's unique pop culture, which has been categorized as V-pop since around 2005.

Considering the inevitable repetition of naive definitions in describing popular culture, V-pop can generally be defined as music sung primarily in the Vietnamese language by Vietnamese people, with songs created by younger generations, especially in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, since the 1990s, more precisely after the globalization attempts in 2007.

Is V-pop Competing with K-pop?

Until the early 1990s, Korean music, which had followed in the footsteps of J-pop, underwent a transformation and began competing with J-pop under the new name of "K-pop" in the early 2000s, creating a competitive dynamic in the Asian market. At the time, a common question in Korean cultural discourse was whether K-pop could have its own independent future, a question that could be asked in 2022 about China's C-pop and Vietnam's V-pop. In essence, it's a self-examination within the context of how popular music from the Third World can stand on its own.

With the rise of V-pop, it's important to examine its relationship to K-pop. Just as K-pop initially imitated J-pop and eventually overcame it to find its own identity, V-pop deserves to be examined in relation to K-pop, which could be an effective approach for Koreans. In fact, this article began with the question, "Is V-pop a competitor to K-pop?" This question arose from my thoughts during my extended stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, shortly after the end of the COVID-19 lockdown in May 2022. Until my visit, I hadn't considered V-pop as a competitor to K-pop. However, after spending long hours in cafes and watching live performances on weekend nights in Ho Chi Minh City, I naturally realized that, at least among the youth in Ho Chi Minh City, V-pop and K-pop were competing on an equal footing. V-pop was widely used as background music in cafes, and it practically overtook K-pop in the repertoire of live performances.

The popularity of Hallyu, especially K-pop, in Asia, including Vietnam, is a well-known phenomenon. Typically, K-pop leads global trends, and various Asian regions directly imitate K-pop or adapt it to their own characteristics, spreading a clear trend. However, a competitive dynamic with K-pop, as seen in V-pop, is not a common occurrence.
This perspective on cultural trends or competition based on countries within the same Asian region is closer to a marketing perspective in business management than to a perspective in the humanities and social sciences. However, it's not completely meaningless. It implies the importance of comparing V-pop not with popular music from Western societies, but with Korea within the same East Asian region. Even a simple comparison can provide new insights.


In recent times, "Hybe(하이브)," which holds overwhelming influence in the Korean K-pop industry, debuted a five-member girl group called "New Jeans" in the summer of 2022. This group comprises four Koreans and one Vietnamese member, Phạm Ngọc Hân, born in Melbourne, Australia, in 2004 to Vietnamese parents. Though there have been Vietnamese K-pop idols in the past, "Hanni" from Newjeans is the first to garner significant attention from the media. One regrettable aspect is that she didn't grow up in Vietnam experiencing the growth of V-pop firsthand. Considering the rapid development of V-pop since the 2000s and the success of many Thai talents in the K-pop market, it can be seen that Vietnamese talents have emerged relatively late. It took considerable time for Vietnam, which only recognized the influx of Western popular culture in the late 1980s, to produce talents comparable to those of Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. From the perspective of popular culture as a kind of competitive product, her experience of Western culture in Australia during her childhood can also contribute to her understanding of the characteristics of K-pop and V-pop.

As mentioned earlier, V-pop now has its own distinctive name, indicating that Vietnamese popular culture is rapidly asserting its presence worldwide. In areas such as YouTube, TikTok, and gaming, Vietnam is already showing remarkable achievements in terms of quality and quantity, ranking just below Korea, China, and Japan. At the intersection of such cultural exchanges and intersections, it is not yet clear whether V-pop will emerge as a new competitor surpassing J-pop and K-pop or whether it will merely be interpreted as "Vietnamization" as bestowed by Westerners in the past, moving towards a greater identity, namely "Asianization." However, one thing is certain: V-pop, although similar to Korean, Chinese, and Japanese popular music, has formed its own competitiveness and identity to the extent that it is categorized separately. This is why the future of V-pop is even more intriguing.

Like Hanni in <NewJeans>, the nationalities of the members of K-pop groups are still a hot topic for the global K-pop community.

JUNG Hojai is in SNU Asia Center as a visiting scholar