Note: This is the opinion of me, the writer, not of Soompi as a whole. These are to the point honest opinions, not fact, and I hope it’s obvious I love and believe in K-Pop groups!
Another note: Many people are commenting asking why I have not mentioned Wondergirls, BoA, or Jay Park. As I mention below, none of these artists are talked about on the level as Justin Beiber or Lady Gaga, I am talking about that level of exposure and none of those three artists are talked about on that level here.
Agree with it or not, it seems the main place to reach with K-Pop internationally is America. The same way that Hollywood is painted as the gold standard of movies, a lot of importance is placed on the American music market and its influence. Putting it simply, the overall feeling seems to be that if a K-Pop group makes it in America, it will make it across the whole world. But so far, no K-Pop group has managed to have a major mainstream success in the American music market. To be clear, what I mean by this is that K-Pop is not as talked about in America as say, Lady Gaga or Justin Beiber.
To touch on Gaga and Beiber quickly, their monumental popularity comes from, (well obviously their music’s popularity) but also from the highly dedicated fan bases, Gaga’s “Monsters” and Beiber’s “Beliebers.” Does the concept of dedicated groups of fans with a fan club name sound familiar? So what’s the difference?
First, let me address boy and girl groups, and as an example I will use JYJ and Secret. (chosen at random) A little fact about me to support my next point: I live in New York but I was born and raised in England. Growing up, the 90s and early 2000s were absolutely dominated by pop groups. America was crazy for Backstreet Boys and N’SYNC, and for us it was all about the Spice Girls and Take That. So, pop groups have been famous in America, England, and such places. But take a quick look back to the dates I mentioned. A group like that nowadays would not be as popular. (Take That are still popular, Robbie Williams returned, and with a new sound they’re still big. But they’re already established.) To show the 90s to modern change, I will use Take That as an example, one I’ll emulate later with a K-Pop group.
Take That’s “Relight My Fire” from the 90s (If you know Robbie Williams, yes, this is his debut group; You’ll know his song “Angels,” I am sure.)
Take That’s “Patience,” released in 2006
See the evolution of sound? Hard to believe it’s the same group! Groups of guys and girls dancing and singing in that 90s have taken a back seat to what I like to call the “auto tune club generation.” Auto tune and club beats, as well as rap, are big draws in America. But the huge pop names that do not fit into this category are generally solo. Large male or female pop groups seem to have had their time and have been replaced by a new generation of musicians with a different style and sound. Can a pop group from Korea really make it here?
So, to use my example, first is Secret. They are a well known K-Pop girl group who are very entertaining to watch. But compare them to a gritty popular rap song here, and suddenly it feels like people unfamiliar with K-Pop will simply see Secret as a novelty.
Secret – Shy Boy
Eminem ft Rhianna – Love the way you lie (MV ft Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan)
See what I mean? This isn’t looking down on Secret; they are one of my favorites, but the comparison to what can be shown in American MV’s to K-Pop MV’s is also a big part of this. America is known for its freedom of speech, and this certainly goes into the lyrics and concepts for videos. Rap especially has very daring lyrics, and one of the most daring lyrics in K-Pop I have heard is “you make me pissed off” in U-Kiss’s “Man Man Ha Ni.”
Then we have JYJ, who had released an English album the Beginning, and even had huge star Kanye West feature. So, why didn’t they succeed? The most obvious thing to me is (and remember this is my opinion) if you look at the “Ayy Girl” music video, the style is just not for America.
I will be completely blunt here: when guys wear makeup, they will most of the time be judged immediately as gay. In America, the general opinion is that gay men are the only men who wear make up. JYJ releases a music video here, and it’s obvious there is some make up; can you imagine what the general reaction is? (Note: New York legalized gay marriage yesterday but most states haven’t yet, so like it or not, gay people do not have equal rights.) Before anyone misinterprets me, there is nothing wrong with being gay, I support equal rights, and have gay friends. But for men to wear make up in a music video, America is not used to it, and generally it won’t go over very well.
When it comes to girl groups, who do I think would succeed? I think every K-Pop group has the talent to make it, but when it comes to the expectations of the American market, three groups and one song strike me as big potentials.
The first is 2NE1. Not only do they have Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas helping them, but they have cultivated a fresh style as well as a confident “swagger” that would fit in well. Not only do they have daring lyrics, “you a’int sh*t without your crew,” (which they’re just too cute to make sound tough) but also their “sound” is also something America would warm to.
Take “Can’t Nobody” for example. The strong beat and club sound is something that would not be out of place in an American club for example. If you take the lyrics away, especially the chorus, it sounds like a stereotypical hip hop or RnB song. If done carefully, (which Will.I.Am will help with) they have the right sound and visual attitude that would appeal.
Next we have Big Bang, who certainly changed since debut!
With “La La La,” their sound and look reminded me of 9’s hip hop groups that just didn’t seem “tough enough.” As much as I adore Big Bang beyond words, this style was replaced by one that suits them much more! Anyone who watches Big Bang can see their incredible presence and talent, but nowadays the “look and style” of a group is just as important. Right now Big Bang has reached a musical and visual style that could really take off in America. (especially Taeyang!) For this I will use an example that doesn’t feature them all, but represents where Big Bang members are right now.
You guessed it, “High High.” The music video looks just like one you would see from some American artists. The sound is also a very club orientated sound with the addictive melody, but also most importantly, that incredibly thick pulsing base and consistent beat. (That “ninja” part stands out though.)
But also, there is a secret weapon in Big Bang that is something I think will be a major focus: T.O.P. His rapping style is very unique, and rap is big in America, especially those with a unique rap sound. I honestly believe that T.O.P would be a HUGE hit in America. Check out this song called “Friend” that is T.O.P and Taeyang for the “Friend, Our Legend” OST.
A powerful and consistent beat that allows the focus to slip effortlessly between RnB vocals and rap sounds like the perfect recipe for an American hit! For a perfect example of T.O.P’s rap, go to 2:11. (PS: This is one of my favorite songs that I have ever heard in my 24 years on this planet. The vocal melodies are so amazing and there is so much power behind the song!)
Please, be aware that these are just opinions. I love all of Big Bang and all five of them are colossal talents that are just amazing. They all make Big Bang, and no member is better than the rest.
Then we have the one song I mentioned. The reason I say a song, not a group is because the singer of this song is actually from Secret! Yes, the song I am talking about is “Going Crazy.” Not only is the rap very manly and strong, but the song in general is very powerful and well, let’s be honest, you must feel it has a similar style to, well compare the two videos below.
Again, to dissuade annoying misinterpreting what I am saying, I do not in anyway think that “Going Crazy” is remotely copying “Love the Way You Lie.” They just have a similar format and power, both amazing, and the comparison suggests that this kind of song is one K-Pop could bring to America and have it be well received. Powerful songs with great vocal hooks are always popular because who doesn’t want to sing along!
And now we have the final group and this might be one you may not expect considering all that I have said so far. The third and final group is, SNSD. Now, some may be saying “NO WAY,” but hear me out. Well, first, watch this video.
Check out Seohyun at 1:02! They all look so cute back then. Anyway, I love the song, but everything about the sound reminds me of the 90s, going back to my 90s point I made earlier. (Remember, with Take That?) But, SNSD being the phenomenal talent they are, they grew, they kept changing, and they now have two things that make them strong contenders.
First, and let me get this out of the way, it’s their looks. Guys don’t care in general about other guys’ looks but girls do pay attention to other girls’ looks. This means that SNSD will amaze the men with their beauty, but also the girls will love their style and their feminine charms; they would be great role models.
“Oh!” us a music video that would have the guys all “WOW” and all the girls thinking, “how cute!” The super bright and colorful concept is captivating, and even if they didn’t like the music, they would definitely remember the video. (PS: How can anyone not love this song?)
Okay, had to get that out of the way, and to make sure people are clear, I don’t think their looks are their main draw, nor is it their only draw.
What I think their greatest weapon to break into the American market is their ability to adapt and evolve. If you check out the following video, then compare it to the “Oh!” MV you will begin to see what I mean.
Pay attention to “The Great Escape.” It’s very different, and it has a very “mature” sound. There is a powerful club sound and a consistent beat (things I keep repeating), but if this song played in a store in a mall, or at a club (albeit with English lyrics,) it wouldn’t stand out. SNSD has this amazing ability to, with each concept and style, make it look like it’s their natural look. They own every look and every song, and their style, especially their Japanese album, has touched deeply on what I call the “universal modern sound,” which is popular with acts like Gaga. So yes, I think SNSD could be strong contenders to break into the American music market.
So, I hope you enjoyed this look into possible obstacles of K-Pop breaking into America, and the groups I think could make it. But please, let me reiterate once more, I love all K-Pop groups, they’re all amazing talented, and all deserve worldwide fame. However, the American culture is very different so things won’t just integrate smoothly. Hopefully the groups mentioned will succeed and also that all Kpop will. To have K-Pop go to every country, (especially NY please) would mean international fans get to see them live!