The last entry in this series focused on the unrealistic or far fetched expectations of K-Pop fans when any act makes an attempt to break an overseas market. In this final part we’ll look at who actually has a realistic shot at making an impact outside of Korea. For simplicities sake this will be focused on breaking into America.
As always, the opinions stated are my own & don’t necessarily reflect those of the other Selective Hearing staff.
Sink or swim?
There are a plethora of groups & soloists coming out of the K-Pop cloning factory hidden deep in an underground lab in Seoul and I bet every single netzien would love it if they all suddenly learned English and invaded America’s pop air and video waves en masse. As much as some of you would love for every B and C-level group (who those actually are is extremely subjective) to come to America, the harsh truth is the majority of these look & sound-a-like artists would get eaten up & spit out by the American pop industry as one hit wonders or completely ignored by the general population.
Let’s face it, at the moment it looks like K-Pop’s best opportunities for American stardom will most likely come from one of the big 3 of K-Pop labels/agencies YG, SM Entertainment and JYP. They appear to have the resources, the artists and the drive to continually bang their heads against the brick wall that is America until they bleed success. With that said let’s look at who may have the best chances of finally knocking that wall down.
Again I’ll pause for another break & mention that I will immediately disqualify boy bands. We who live in North America know that the age of the boy band is long dead & probably isn’t due for another resurrection until most of us are too old & gray to pay attention with whatever hearing we may have left.
The Wonder Girls
Oh yes, The Wonder Girls. They who toured with the brothers Jonas and pretty much got nothing in return. Their American journey so far hasn’t exactly been as smooth as expected of a major selling Korean girl group. Sure their tour around America and Canada managed to sell out, but to mostly hardcore fans or screaming fan girls expecting to see 2 PM or 2 AM. Their album? Where the hell could you find it other than iTunes?
They sure has hell tried didn’t they? Their 2 Different Tears mini-album was actually pretty good stuff, even if most of it was recycled material. Now they’re treading water pandering to the Nickelodeon tween crowd.
All is not lost for them though. They showed a glimmer of their real talent during Billboard’s online program Mashup Monday covering B.o.B. & Bruno Mars’ Nothin On You. Perhaps if they can some how take what they did for that and make it work for them the next time they try America they might be able to capture the ears of adults with some actual spending power.
With her American album BoA made some progress to mainstream success. It was hampered by shitty promotion & too many similar sounding songs but it was still fairly decent. I would consider her American debut a warning shot rather than a complete failure. She does have a small but loyal following & that’s better than nothing.
It wouldn’t hurt for her to port over more of her Korean or Japanese material should she decide for a 2nd round battle with America. Or maybe convince SM to cough up the cash to pay the fees for some upper tier American producers with some name and/or brand recognition to help endear her to those who aren’t club kids or Asian pop fans.
Factors that could further hinder her progress are making more direct to video type dance movies (Cobu 3D) that could lower her profile unless the film turns out to be some sort of surprise Oscar caliber work. Hmm… Not likely. She will probably have a kick ass song on the soundtrack that may make up for said possible shit movie. That is the least we can expect I guess.
BoA is the safe bet when it comes to crossover appeal because of her adaptability and experience. That of course has not proved anything as of yet.
The catalyst to this entire series of articles have recently thrown their hat into the competitive world of American pop with their single The Boys. The song does not play up many of the strengths of the group and some even say its against character. There is still time to right the course of SNSD’s crossover attempt if they decide to release a single that isn’t produced by a throwback to the glory days of 90’s Urban music.
Much like BoA a more recognizable and current mainstream producer would be of great benefit. Playing to type would also be great. Well maybe not completely. The super cute K-Pop stuff may not fly completely with American fans and unlike in their home land the average age of of girl group fan is not in their middle age years and beyond. Nor do I think they should whore it up and get all sexified for the sake of cheap pops and the fulfillment of many horny males fantasies about Asian women.
To be honest, the one good thing about their The Boys promotions has been their look. They just need to find the right music to match what they’re trying to portray. Whatever that is. Continuing to improve their English and actually sing the lyrics to their song live next time would be cool as well. Yes, I watched the YouTube vid of the SMTown NY performance & it was way too obvious that their mics weren’t on.
Outside of those two there isn’t much left in the SM tank besides their boybands who would not be welcomed with open arms (Again, the age of the boyband has long passed.) and f(x) who might be potential candidates to cross over if nothing about them is changed too drastically. They are still rather raw & unpolished compared to other SM acts so perhaps another year might do them some good before being thrown to the wolves.
YG have some interesting prospects with 2NE1, the individual soloists in Big Bang (mainly the pair of GD & TOP and Taeyang) & the recently acquired Tablo from Epik High. 2NE1 are the most high profile of the bunch who also have the best chance for American success.
Their affiliation with will.i.am already gives them some instant cred. Being endorsed by one of the top modern (a.k.a. relevant) producers of the past few years should give them a boost into cracking the American top 40. While that is a nice benefit the group also has enough swagger & charisma to charm (or maybe bully) their way into the hearts of fickle American fans on their own. Even without all that their current sound combined with whatever producers YG can pony up the cash for should be enough to give them a fighting chance on the charts.
What may hold them back is their image. Will they be presented as the bad ass Urban chicks or will they end up like the clusterfuck of cute that is their Japanese image? It would be ideal that if YG does decide to import 2NE1 to American shores that they stick with what works image wise in Korea and stay way far away from what they’re doing in Japan.
Let’s cross his Big Bang buddies GD & TOP off the list right now. For all their skill and talent on the mic they probably would not be taken seriously within Hip-Hop circles without a drastic makeover to make them less like the typical boy band dudes who can rap. Taeyang on the other hand can take on the Mr. Lover Man, R&B crooner role similar to Usher. (Best exemplified by I Need A Girl and You’re My… and Wedding Dress)
If one member of Big Bang were to be chosen to try to crack America a a solo artist I would have a lot more confidence in Taeyang at least having a credible opportunity.
Brown Eyed Girls
Nega Network’s Brown Eyed Girls are a lot like the 90’s R&B female groups and En Vogue seems to come to mind the most for me. They would fit perfectly in modern Urban radio if given the right songs and beats. Each member of BEG can sing lead (Yes, even Miryo) and much like YG’s 2NE1 they already have a very marketable image.
Whether their label would actually give them a run at America is another question altogether. They would be an interesting option should the Hallyu wave start running out of stars from the big 3.
What I listed are the only few I could seriously think of and I’m sure there are a lot of acts many of you can probably put in their place. But as I said, B and C level acts don’t really count in the grand scheme of things unless you want some cannon fodder while the big guns are busy getting ready to conquer.
All of the above is just speculation based on past history. Any K-Pop act could come overseas and knock one out of the park or fail miserably like so many of the fallen before them. Would it be nice if an influx of these acts would take America by storm? Sure. Will it happen? Maybe.
With the musical divide between nations becoming ever smaller thanks to the Internet there is a higher chance that an overseas fan base will be strong enough to support K-Pop where labels will want to send their artists over more than once or twice a year and do some real promotion work instead of just visiting for a quick cash grab.
So far history has shown massive crossover failure and extreme disappointment from fans who want K-Pop to succeed. This probably won’t change any time soon. Who knows? Maybe there’s a great K-Pop hope out there who will break through the glass ceiling. I have a feeling that the 2nd coming of Jesus may happen first but you never know.