Friday, October 21, 2011

"K-Pop's chances in America dim," argues local expert.

Sa-Rah Ahyoga Hwang
Reflecting on K-Pop and Korean Nationalism

I asked my fourteen-year-old daughter about the possibility of Korean pop music becoming successful in America. She likes K-Pop and loves Girls' Generation, so I thought that she might have a strong opinion. Here's what she wrote:
K-Pop's Chance of Succeeding in the U.S.
Recently, K-Pop has become a big issue in many places around the world. Artists of SM Entertainment performed in Paris early this year, and many Korean Idol Groups had their debut in Japan and have gained popularity, too. SM Town -- Artists of SM Entertainment -- is planning to perform in Sydney, New York, and more cities sooner or later. From these examples, K-Pop seems to be very successful around the world. The big question, though, is this: "Will they succeed in the U.S.?" Because K-Pop groups like Girls' Generation (also called SNSD), Big Bang, TVXQ, and Super Junior have become very popular in Asia, big Korean management companies like YG, JYP, and others seem to be thinking about going to the U.S., too. Personally, I think it would be difficult for K-Pop to succeed in the U.S. There are exceptions, though, and I will be explaining them in the latter part of my essay.

One reason for the difficulty of K-Pop's success in the U.S. is that the U.S. is BIG. The music market is huge, and there are many talented artists out there. So, it is harder to succeed than in Korea or other smaller Asian countries. Even if a Korean idol group debuted and got their song onto the Billboard chart, it would be hard to gain popularity and continue to be popular. For example, the Wonder Girls debuted in the U.S. and succeeded in getting a song to hit number 1 on the Billboard Chart with "Nobody," but almost nobody -- must be the song title's fault -- knows them in the U.S. They even lost most of their popularity in Korea, too. This shows that to succeed in America, you also need to continuously perform and sing in America. You can't continue to be popular if you go back and forth from one country to another. You have to stick to one country for a long time, but that would be hard for K-Pop groups because risking their money and popularity in Korea to go to the U.S. is not so wise.

Also, the way that artists debut in the U.S. is different from in Korea, too. In Korea, many idol groups are trained for years and then have their debut, but in the U.S., artists usually make their own music and slowly create their fan base underground, then have a contract with a record company, and that's how they have their debut. Ways of becoming famous are different, too. Most Korean idol groups go on TV shows and act funny and make themselves appealing. There are not many ways of becoming famous other than going on TV many times and creating a good image. By contrast, American artists do more concerts and go on TV shows, but they don't have to do ridiculous things, and they sing and perform more. In other words, K-Pop groups are more about image, and U.S. artists are more about talent, so it would be hard to become successful as the usual K-Pop style group.

Of course, it would be possible to gain a small mania fan base, but that's not worth spending so much money and time without getting much of a reward back.

However, there are exceptions. Groups like Big Bang and 2NE1 are different from most idol groups in Korea. Their music is mostly Hip-Hop and Dance, and their style is more American. This doesn't mean they have copied the American style, but that they have a combination of Korean and American music styles. Their performances are also very energetic and full of confidence. Their music and performances make you want to spring up and jump around! Of course, we don't know if they would be able to succeed in the U.S., but I think they have more of a chance than other normal cute and pretty K-Pop groups. There may be a market for cute and pretty K-Pop groups, too, but I don’t think they will be earning a profit compared to what they invested in going to America. It's not worth the risk.

Besides the exceptions that I have given above, mostly, I think there's not much of a chance for K-Pop groups to succeed in America. As I have read in a recent online news site, SM Entertainment's representative director, Lee Su-Man said that "A huge music market will soon form in Asia, and there will be no need to go to America to show K-Pop. Going to America is not worth the risk anyway. We have better ways to appeal to foreign music lovers." He surely has the right idea. Such a wise man you are, Mr. Lee!
I was somewhat surprised by Sa-Rah's opinion. She's such a strong K-Pop fan -- especially fanatical about Girls' Generation (whom I call "Girls' Degeneration") -- that I expected her to puff K-Pop for the American market. Instead, she offers an analysis for why it largely won't succeed in the States, and some of her remarks suggest a critical attitude about the K-Pop system.

Our kids always surprise us . . .

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At 12:14 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

That's some great insight into the biz.

By the way every generation has its "degeneration." If I recall correctly, not everyone was/is taken in by the likes of Al Jolson, the Andrews Sisters, the Beatles, Elvis, Sinatra, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, or Beyonce. I believe it is called, suum cuique pulchrum est (or her own as the case may be).

Personally (thanks to my parents' subliminal influence over the years), I enjoy music I can actually understand even if it predates me like this wonderful piece by Doris Day and Howard Keel.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I actually like Girls' Generation and only call them Girls' Degeneration to annoy my daughter.

Thanks for the Doris Day link. As a kid, I liked her.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:25 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Looks like Sa-Rah has a career waiting for her as an A and R woman in a big record company. Take her out of school, Jeffery, and put her to work in the K-Pop industry. Perhaps she could exploit her youth as a publicity stunt? It is not unreasonable to expect her to make her first million before she's sixten, then you could retire and write poetry full time, perhaps Sa-Rah could set up a little poetry writing office for you in the back of her Gulfstream Five?

Really, Sa-Rah has a bright and active mind. You must have a devil of a time arguing with her! I'd hate to have her train that analytical spotlight on me! How on earth do you manage to exert fatherly authority, let alone survive the give and take over the dinner table?

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

"I actually like Girls' Generation and only call them Girls' Degeneration to annoy my daughter."

Ugh! I also had an academic for a father. Groan!

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Carter, just call me Dr. Frankenstein.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:44 AM, Blogger Lam said...

I actually agree with your daughter.

I first heard of k-pop probably two years ago when my younger sister started listening to it (though she doesn't anymore).

Call me old fashioned, but I like how artists and bands start from the beginning and slowly evolves. I have high regard for self composed songs and self written lyrics. So it's hardly a surprise when I say that I dislike mainstream k-pop, which I think is overproduced and relies heavily on images.

At 3:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lam, I agree with you that K-Pop is usually overproduced and relies on image -- an image often enhanced, I might add -- by plastic surgery. The stuff seems to be popular in Asia, though, and appealing to some in Europe and the States. I don't exactly dislike it, and in fact do like some songs, but I much prefer something by Leonard Cohen . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like what you said about groups like 2ne1 and BIGBANG. I have been a fan of BIGBANG for a while now and was happy to learn that they write their own music (well, at least the leader writes and produces most of it. The other members write too.) It was refreshing to see a kpop group that didn't care all too much about their image. Unlike other clean-cut for-the-family groups, they actually take risks. And though they have gotten in LOTS of trouble and LOTS of scandals, their fans are the most loyal. I feel like BIGBANG is a group too big for kpop.Their creative, take risks, and don't worry too much about image. Somethings that your average kpop group doesn't do. BIGBANG is, in my opinion, more like a US group.

At 2:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll pass your comment on to my daughter.

Jeffery Hodges

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