K-Pop Won Over Asia: Can It Win Over US?

Oct 30, 2006

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Staff Reporter

Music knows no boundaries. Even language is not a hindrance. Nowhere is this more apparent than the K-pop explosion throughout Asia.

Rain, who is with JYP Entertainment,
will advance to the U.S. market next year.

K-pop music is already becoming one of Korea’s top cultural exports to other Asian countries. Pop stars like BoA, Rain, Se7en, TVXQ and Shinhwa are overcoming the language barrier with their music, even drawing thousands of fans to their concerts in China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Encouraged by K-pop’s massive crossover success in Asia, Korean entertainment companies are making a big push in perhaps the world’s biggest and most important market – the U.S.

In an unprecedented move, two of Korea’s top entertainment companies JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment are set to launch their most popular male singers, Rain and Se7en in the U.S. market next year.

Both singers have earned comparisons to superstars such as Justin Timberlake and Usher. They have already proven their popularity in Asia.

On Oct. 13, a preview of Rain’s world tour concert attracted some 40,000 fans, with a fourth of the fans coming from all over Asia. Se7en has also performed in sold-out concerts in Japan, and was undeniably the star attraction of the recent YG 10th Anniversary concert tour in the U.S. earlier this month.

Both stars have talent, but it is a big question whether they have what it takes to make it big in the U.S.

Se7en, who is with YG Entertainment,
will also target the U.S. market next year.

American Dream
K-pop music nowadays is already heavily influenced by American hip-hop and R&B.

During a press conference in New York on Oct. 16, Se7en announced his plan to debut in the U.S. next spring. He said he wanted to be known not just as a Korean singer but as an R&B singer in the U.S.

"I’m so fond of R&B and hip-hop. The U.S. is the mainland of R&B and hip-hop, I want to start a career here, a new beginning starting next year," he said.

YG Entertainment, Se7en’s agency, is working with American music executive Mark Shimmel and producer Rick Harrison. Shimmel, who now heads Mark Shimmel Music, is a former CEO of LaFace Records and has produced records for Usher. Harrison, who will produce Se7en’s first single in the U.S., has worked with stars such as Beyonce, Janet Jackson and Alicia Keys.

In a message on the company’s Web site, YG Entertainment president Yang Hyun-suk said it was good to have a chance to establish good partners and enter the American market.

"Honestly, compared to the fact that we have obtained the chance to debut in America, the thing that makes us more happy is that Se7en has received recognition from the best of the American music industry… Se7en met Shimmel for the first time and he told Se7en that it seems everything will turn out fine," Yang said.

Rain is also in the middle of his preparations for his U.S. debut. He already has a head start, with a highly successful concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden last February, and being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential people in the world.

Add the fact that Rain’s street credibility boosted by the support of influential hip-hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs, who appeared during the February concert. JYP Entertainment CEO Park Jin-young has already laid down the foundation, establishing connections with the hip-hop industry.

However, reviews of Rain’s sold-out concerts were lukewarm. The New York Times said the Rain concert "sounded like a nostalgia act," adding his music was reminiscent of 80’s American pop music.

Also, tickets to the recent YG Family 10th Anniversary concerts in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. were not completely sold out, according to some fans who attended the concerts.

Asian American Fan Base

The K-pop music industry is hoping to tap into the small but growing K-pop fan base in the U.S. Fans are mostly composed of Asian Americans, so the true crossover appeal of K-pop has yet to be seen.

The Asian American population, according to the U.S. Census bureau, is 12.4 million or 4.2 percent out of 300 million. Since Asian American artists and performers do not have a major presence in the entertainment industry, most of young Asian Americans seek out Asian pop culture.

On the Internet, there are hundreds of Web sites and forums devoted to K-pop, bringing together fans from around the world who share their common passion for the music and idols. Even without understanding Korean, these fans are impressed with the quality of K-pop music.

Excluding the Korean-American population, it is not clear how established the K-pop fan base is among other Asian Americans in the U.S. Even the fans are divided whether K-pop can actually make it in the highly competitive U.S. market.

In e-mail interviews with The Korea Times, several fans in the U.S. said they are supportive of K-pop stars’ plans to break in the U.S. market.

Maree Yang, a student living in Los Angeles, said fans are hopeful stars like Rain and Se7en would become successful.

"I believe that if K-pop artists don;t give it a chance to break into the U.S. market, they’ll never know how successful they can be in this market. There will be a lot of competition, but it’s worth trying… I believe if they come out with the right material, I’m sure their fans will support them," she said.

Another fan, Monica Galang, who lives in California, said K-pop artists should be able to show the American market that Asian pop music is also good. "This will give opportunities for Americans to learn not just about Korean culture but Asian culture. Its a good way to show that other music is just as good," Galang said.

On the other hand, some fans believe the American mainstream market is not ready for Asian entertainers. Fans emphasized K-pop artists should come out with hip, quality music, as well as speak good English to be accepted by the American market.

K-pop stars can take some advice from Latin American stars such as Ricky Martin and Shakira, who have successfully managed to crossover to the American mainstream market. Both Martin and Shakira were already superstars in Latin America, before releasing English-language albums in the U.S.

Chor Moua, a fan who has attended several K-pop concerts in the U.S., said K-pop artists have to work on improving their English-speaking skills to make it in the U.S.

"As long as they can carry a conversation, they should be fine, a little accent here and there is still good. Look at what Shakira and other Latin singers are doing. The crossover is very hard but with determination and hard work, Asian artists will be just as successful," Moua said.

Source: The Korea Times