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December 7, 2010

Koreaboo | The success and failures of Korean artists in the US Market

The fact that K-pop has found immense popularity all across the sphere of Asia is pretty impressive. It’s like Asia has been introduced to this new drug that they just can’t seem to stop taking. But, this makes K-pop’s lack of success on American soil seem all the more perplexing. Why is it that Americans just don’t seem to “get” the one thing Asians are crazy obsessed about? I’m not trying to discount the mild reputation it’s recently gained due to a few high-profile artists and groups - notably Bi/Rain, BoA, and Wonder Girls - it’s just that, despite their best efforts, I would hardly say any of them have really made a true “breakthrough” in the states.

Let’s take a closer look at the Wonder Girls: They did extensive and heavy promotion under JYP’s direction, even scored the opening act for the Jonas Brothers on their first American tour, but did all that exposure satisfy a desired outcome? I personally don’t think so. They were quoted as being the ones to "change the landscape of American music", but for a group that had such a huge impact, why have they gotten such little recognition? Why are so many people still clueless as to who they are? I would even go as far as to say that their ranking on various music charts can almost wholly be attributed to the die-hard Korean-Americans desperate to see an Asian group succeed in the United States.

I’m not condoning these people for showing their support, but they’ve got me pretty convinced that the Wonder Girls’ "success" only covers a narrow demographic of America. However, that demographic is the one that has been supported them even before they crossed over to the US. It's clear that the American market, as a whole, is not receptive to Asian artists and groups coming over from Asia to break into the US market.

Here are two of the biggest reasons, that I think their chances continue to be hampered: quality of music and "Engrish".

Popular Korean artists and groups enter the US music scene hyped up as global conquerors and forces to be reckoned with, and then these mind-numbingly simple songs with repetitive lyrics are produced for them. Not only is it embarrassing, but it doesn’t give Americans any incentive to listen to them. Americanized K-pop isn’t impressive or creative enough to stand out. Koreans may be able to overlook the simplicity of K-pop music because they place a lot more emphasis on other things like engaging music videos, good choreography, solid performances, and fun costumes. For many Americans, basic and boring music only amounts to basic and boring music.

The argument that fans may present is that Western pop isn’t really that impressive either. This may be true, but when you weigh a mediocre American artist who’s backed by an established company trying to find success versus a virtually unknown Korean artist coming overseas trying to find success, it isn’t the same thing. One has to win the audience while the other has to fight for the audience. Starting from these two very different points makes a world of difference.

Korean performers are at a severe disadvantage because of their "Engrish". A lot of people grumble that Americans are predisposed to not like Asians because they’re racist. I don't agree with that. It’s been a long time coming, but we can see Asians are finally breaking into the mainstream market. Can we give a holler to Bruno Mars (yes, he’s Asian), Charice and Far East Movement right now? Woot! I think they’ve proven that race and ethnicity aren’t barriers to success. It may be endearing for a lot of Koreans to listen to their own fellow Koreans speak in broken English, but for Americans, it’s awkward and uncomfortable having these foreigners try to sing songs that they can’t pronounce the words to nor understand the meaning of. Even as an avid supporter of Korean crossover acts, I have to say it’s sometimes hard not to cringe.

Of course, there’s more than this, but extrapolating on every reason why Korean artists continue to fail in the US would make this editorial longer than it already is. I’d like the end message to be this: I’m not an anti or a hater or a basher. I’d like to see K-pop go global as much as anyone else. If that’s going to happen though, companies need to start sending artists/groups not because they’re popular and well-established in their home country but because they could offer something fresh and new to what the American market already offers. They need their own unique identity. They need to be familiar enough with American culture to be able to communicate and convey themselves effectively.

This should be without question.

Check out some of the US debuts of Korean artists below:

BoA "Eat You Up": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km7EJH3LFMU

BoA "Energetic": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE05Bv1e_fo

Wonder Girls "Nobody": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA7fdSkp8ds

Wonder Girls "Two Different Tears": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iVPPqF7Xv0

Se7en "Girls": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=depOL5JsTXk

Crown J "I'm Good": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWjUBLeUEd4

Editorials on Koreaboo.com reflect the opinion of individual Koreaboo writers and not of Koreaboo.com as a whole. Thanks to Shannon Duncan, one of our readers, for requesting that we write on this piece.

Posted by stellaraffect @ Koreaboo

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