The Atlantic recently wrote an interesting article on a topic that some of us may already be familiar with - the launching of Korean pop music into the American pop culture.
The author cites the Korean girl groups Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation and 2NE1 as the forerunners in the game to break into the Western market. With the Wonder Girls’ history of touring with the Jonas Brothers and with their brand new made-for-TV movie on Nickelodeon (airing on Thursday), along with a pending English debut album, the author seems to lean towards the idea that they have a good chance of succeeding unlike their predecessors and perhaps unlike their competitors.
Moreover, Girls’ Generation is set to perform on “The Late Show With David Letterman” on Tuesday (tomorrow!) and “Live With Kelly” on Wednesday, “making them the only Korean musical act to ever appear on American daytime TV.” (You can also catch the girls at the Union Square Best Buy on Thursday.) They even have a track with Snoop Dogg featured on their remixed all-English track, “The Boys.”
And we can’t forget 2NE1, a group that has been attracting attention with their praise from will.i.am and recently was announced “the best new band in the world” on MTV’s Iggy (well, despite the fact that they’re hardly “new”). They’re also working on an American debut album.
In any case, the author then cites a few Asian players that had broken into the American market in the past, and I mean way way back. Think 1963 when Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto’s "Ue o Muite Aruko" reached the Billboard top charts (number 1!). Then in the late 1970’s, another Japanese player named Pink Lady reached the Billboard charts and even snagged a variety show gig on NBC. But this endeavor ended on a rather tragic note, with their show now “regarded as one of the worst TV shows ever.” Because of these endeavors, the Asian market took a break from the American market. But later in the 90’s, Utada Hiraku and BoA attempted to go West, but even these two did not reach considerable success and focused their attention on their Japanese and Korean audiences.
Perhaps what separates the Wonder Girls from another huge Asian sensation like BoA is that they simply did not assume their success in Asia would translate over to the West. Unlike BoA who simply entered American without much introduction, the Wonder Girls have slowly made worked their way in with their exposure from the Jonas Brothers tour and now, a rather cringe-worthy yet strategically marketed Nickelodeon movie catered to tweens.
It’s certainly exciting to see Asian faces in the mainstream media, but it’s troubling how even the author concludes with “Even [if the Wonder Girls are not successful], becoming the Korean Cheetah Girls wouldn’t be a bad gig either.” While it makes sense that the “queens” of K-Pop in Asia cannot be expected to meet the same success in a totally different market, it still troubles me that becoming the Korean Cheetah Girls will be considered successful for them. We’ll see, shortly, what will become of their success in the American market. Perhaps most ideally, these Asian girl groups won’t be seen just for their Asian-ness but rather, for their talent and drive.
(Source: The Atlantic)