Think back to 2014. It was when K-pop was still finding its voice, and even YouTube was relatively young. This is when 1theK got its start. Nearly a decade later, the headline numbers are massive: 33 million social media subscribers and 23 billion cumulative channel views. And 1theK isn’t slowing down as it continues to be a bridge for major K-pop acts to reach global audiences.
So naturally, we had lots of questions for Leslie about her role as the Director of the Distribution & Media Marketing Department for Kakao Entertainment’s Music Content Division. She got her start taking charge of Melon’s licensing business in 2006 and used her years of experience in the music industry to launch 1theK.
We sat down with Leslie recently to ask how 1theK fits into the Kakao Entertainment business and IP landscape, and what comes next. Her immediate answer is pure Leslie: “It’s time for 1theK to evolve,” she said before expressing confidence in the bright future ahead. “Combining IP with music and video is powerful, and we’re working on new ways to build synergy between 1theK and platforms like KakaoPage, Kakao Webtoon, Kakao TV, and Melon. The opportunities are endless.”
Here is a rundown of our interview.
Q. Tell us about yourself and how 1theK began.
Leslie: I was originally at LOEN Entertainment, handling everything from licensing to investment, distribution, and artist labels. LOEN is the predecessor to Kakao Entertainment’s music content division, and in those days we were the largest operator in Korea, distributing music from companies like Big Hit Music(HYBE), Starship, and Woollim and running Melon, which was the core of our business. 1theK emerged as an idea to strengthen the music value chain with fun and creative video content supporting all the artists.
Q. Why launch it on YouTube and not Facebook or Twitter? Or even cable TV?
Leslie: True story — at one point, we considered buying a TV channel. But we knew that new media was the place to be. YouTube also made sense as a content archive, while Twitter and Facebook were for sharing. We’ve also opened channels for the Chinese market.
Q. How is your division organized and what’s the shared culture like?
Leslie: There are three teams. One house our music business and distribution gurus who study all the big trends. Then there’s our marketing team and our production group, which creates all the trendy content for Gen Z and millennial fans.
Culturally, two key words sum us up: perseverance and entrepreneurship. It took a while for K-pop to heat up, and honestly, the first few years were hard. Our only benchmark was VEVO, the music video network produced by Sony and Universal. There were times when we wondered if we made the right choices, but we worked hard and suddenly hit a million subscribers. Then it took off, growing by several million each year.
Q. What is 1theK’s status today globally and within the K-pop industry?
Leslie: I’m really proud of 1theK’s success because I believe in my heart it played a big role in establishing K-pop as we know it today. BTS had a debut showcase on 1theK and Melon. All of IU’s music videos are available on 1theK. And global fans are 90 percent of our subscribers, so it really is the key hub where K-pop artists meet the world.
Q. What are some of the projects 1theK is working on?
Leslie: It’s nine years since we launched, and we need to evolve to keep momentum. K-pop stars seek us out because they want to be on our platform. That’s great, but we can’t rest on our successes. Since 2021, we have been creating hit content to solidify our influence as a leading K-pop channel, while at the same time focusing on marketing to help new idols emerge. We know what fans want, and that helps us plan and produce digital campaigns for artists and videos. The landscape keeps changing so we have to move fast too.
Q. Fans really love 1theK original content like “Look Me Up.” Where do the creative ideas come from?
Leslie: I think it all comes down to fan communications. “Look Me Up” is fun because fans get to ask their favorite artists things they want to know. We film the artists searching themselves on the website and talking in a fun way about what they find. It’s always hilarious because the stars find stuff about themselves online they didn’t know. We once had Lee Hi talk about her agency transfer. Jessie shared her feelings about her tough image. There are so many great stories like that, and it’s led to another series called IDDP, a similar format where idol groups appear together.
Q. What’s the plan to create synergy between 1theK and Kakao Entertainment?
Leslie: We need to start by strengthening existing business lines. I think there are so many potential projects that can bring synergy!
The way I see it, music fans and people who consume webtoons and web novels are in the same age bracket. So 1theK can also be a global conduit for Kakao Entertainment’s content. Idols could promote their favorite Kakao Entertainment stories, or even have singers and illustrators collaborate on new webtoons for each idol.
A third way would be to go back to the drawing board and get creative about harnessing all the amazing Kakao Entertainment IP with a completely new content category.
Q. Tell us about 1theK’s short-term goals and long-term vision.
Leslie: Going forward, we’re going to try a lot of different things to make sure we create hit content to maintain our position as a leading K-pop channel. Long-term, I want us to focus on 1theK’s content and marketing capabilities and create a media stronghold with a high value-add, including incubating new idols. Overall, I see tons of opportunities for synergy and to add value within the Kakao Entertainment community.