Selective Hearing Round Table: Breaking America

The last discussion revolved around Korean pop artists crossing over into Japan and the possibility of Japanese pop artists doing the same. What about North America? There have been attempts by Asian talents such as Rain, Seiko Matsuda and BoA to break into America. Even homegrown talents such as Utada, Coco Lee and Jin have not been able to break through and have moved on to other markets outside of America.

After reading an article on allkpop (which inspired this month’s debate)  some of the Selective Hearing staff have some opinions on the subject.


Asian music has been recently prominent in the Billboard charts recently but it isn’t the first time it has been cracked. A Japanese singer by Sakamoto Kyu is the only Asian artist to hit #1 although due to Americans lacking sufficient Japanese skills the song was called “Sukiyaki.” The original title, “Ue o Muite Arukou” or “I Shall Walk Looking Up” was a success and a push for the crossover but never really panned out because of the change in times. Add in twenty years later, you have Pink Lady but it was a language barrier that prevented any more progression. Now, we find ourselves with different varieties of people.

Asian artists have been in groups like Linkin Park but for primarily Asian groups and soloists there has been little success. The future lies with the changes, the American market is in tune with what people like, which for the past few years has consisted of Hip-Hop and Pop music. I do see them succeeding in the long run but it’ll be in stages. Bruno Mars has been in the business for a while so Asian artists haven’t appeared out of nowhere but they have to hit a bigger market.

Now to oversee the potential of groups, first off there has to be separation of anime and Japanese music. They seem to go together and once you can pull them apart and people may seem the songs as more than anime music. Second, they have to find a company to invest in them which is the hardest of the objectives. Wonder Girls latched onto the Jonas Brothers but they are a small niche group, maybe latch on to a larger artist to support, like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, etc. If that happens, they can at least learn a little bit, work on what they need to do and then come with something huge.

Third, sampling works! I have noticed that if you sample a sound, they will listen. I heard a sample from “Video Killed the Radio Star” on a Nicki Minaj song and it helped bring some familiarity to a (relatively) unknown artist (outside of Hip-Hop circles). An attempt to gain popularity, take a little hit or one hit wonder and go big.

Finally, get creative, be more out there, I mean don’t be sheltered all the time, with caution, here are a few suggestions:

  • No boyfriends (ruins a lot and no sense having them)
  • Be more open with sexuality (if it works in Korea, it will probably work here)
  • Be friendly with your fans (Many have succeeded with fan participation)
  • Hit the hot spots with little Asian populations (Win there, win everywhere else.)

This will last a while but it will die again until someone can push the Asian Wave as a movement and can open up a big hole for other people. No groups will succeed in this process unless the U.S. can open it up for Japan, Korea, China, Philippines, and other Asian countries to let their music flourish within their borders.


There’s an Asian music wave? When did that happen? I haven’t seen any promotion of the several major pop artists out of Japan and Korea trying to break North America. None of the local Asian acts I know of are getting any play. Obviously all the major retail outlets outside of iTunes must have missed the memo.

Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit but seriously, it’s nice to see some Asian acts getting a bit of shine. It’s really quite amazing to see acts like BoA, Utada and the Wonder Girls releasing material directed at the North American audience. Will this be a lasting thing? That’s rather iffy to predict. I think that perhaps this may go longer than the Latin explosion of a few years ago. At least I hope so.

I think a lot of Asian pop can be easily transferred to suit an American audience with a few tweaks here and there. Japanese pop will have an uphill battle. As Kuro mentioned, until people can separate J-Pop from anime the genre will have a tough time gaining credibility in the American market. No matter how great the song, no matter how many individual accomplishments the artist has, if they do an anime song they get forever stuck as an anime group. For some it’s a tough pill to swallow but it’s the truth.

Many idol groups such as those out of Hello! Project, AKB48 and the various Johnny’s artists are also popular outside of Japan, when looking at the big picture they only appeal to a niche market. I highly doubt that they will ever gain a wide acceptance in America. They are just a little too Japanese for the current attention deficient generation of MTV, MuchMusic and Top 40 listeners to appreciate or comprehend. For some that’s a God send, for others who want them to be successful as possible, it’s a huge road block.

Japanese Hip-Hop and R&B acts (or those who have some influence of the two) may have a better chance. Acts like Zeebra, SoulJa, m-flo, Thelma Aoyama, BENI and Name Amuro have a sound that is similar to American Urban music but has that Japanese twist that makes it unique and fresh to those who have never heard any of those kinds of songs before.

Korean pop on the other hand doesn’t have as much as a climb as evidenced by Perez Hilton showing his support for the Wonder Girls on his blog. It’s much closer to American pop and tends to show that influence blatantly sometimes. K-Pop tends to have a more overall international type of sound whereas J-Pop is more uniquely Japanese. Not to say that it has less international appeal, but when comparing the two you can kind of get the idea of what I’m talking about.

Kuro brought up the point of Asian acts latching on to more popular ones in America to help expose them to the market. This I agree with. The Wonder Girls touring with the Jonas Brothers did bring a few K-Pop fans out of hiding to subject themselves to the torture of screaming pre-teen fan girls to get a few moments of Wonder Girls goodness and I’m fairly sure they made a few new fans as well.

There’s also Charice Pempengco who was pimped by the queen of all media herself Oprah Winfrey. She has worked with super producer David Foster and is the first Asian artist in history to land in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart. She has recently joined the cast of Glee. For those of you who missed her, she’s the little Filipina who completely whooped ass on her rendition of Listen from Dream Girls.

Yet there’s still doubt that this Asian wave is for real. I believe that the surface is being scratched and that the best is yet to come. If JYP is actually serious about promoting his roster to American audiences I think that he may have to tweak his productions just a little bit to fit within the current climate. Honestly I don’t think the Wonder Girls are the act to go to unless they drop the bubblegum image and sound. Miss A is probably a better choice for an American breakthrough.

If I were to pick an act to crossover next I would say 2NE1 is the favorite. They are probably the one act out of K-Pop who has a real legitimate chance of breaking America successfully. They’ve already got a well known American producer ( who is on their side and can probably gain support from others from their affiliation with him. Imagine a Timbaland or Danjahandz collaboration. That would be some truly epic work.

As for J-Pop? I have a very difficult time picking an act that would even have a small chance of making an impact. The two acts I would love to see here are m-flo and Perfume. The m-flo sound is pretty universal and appeals to many different people from House to Hip-Hop heads. Perfume, as cutesy as they may be at times, have some very solid songs that would be a good fit in the current Electro pop climate of North America. Everything else I can think of is either too Japanese or just not plausible.

At the moment The Far East Movement is the first Asian American act to top the charts. (Starting the weekend of October 23, Billboard Top 100) It’s an impressive feat that can inspire many others and show that Asians can do more than kick ass on America’s Best Dance Crew.


Greg has brought up a lot of valid points in his discussion However, I would like to bring up the topic of perception. What do the people perceive as “Japanese”, “Korean”, “Asian”, or “Chinese”, etc.

Anime: People have gotten a lot of the music from their favorite shows, like Naruto and Bleach, and movies like Miyasaki’s films. In essence, what does it do for the audience? It brings them into a new perspective of listening into their particular music, but it may not let them dig into what’s new, recent developments, or becoming a fan of the band.

So, as I said previously, they have to have them come out and do events for the “true” fans of the music. Although, I am for one who did get into Asian Kung-Fu Generation because of Naruto, and by choice I only like that particular song rather than their collection.

  • Popular Misconception: This is one that grinds my gears every so often. What you see on the Internet, is not what’s going on.
  1. Dramatic Chipmunk, totally WTF moment of the Asian movement, as many do know where it came from and was popularized by an instant movement and put into a music video by Weezer, now it may not deal with crossing over put its the start to having a misconception.
  2. Yatta! It was made to make everyone happy in the lyrics itself, it is a happy song but as many do know, the Japanese are quite fearless and take their opportunity to embarrass or expose their creativity. Underwear + Big leaf= late night success, comedians being very fearless is very entertaining but not Japanese music in general.
  3. Asian celebrities singing. Artists from Asia try to be very, very well-rounded, in all arts and humanities. Singing in their own languages, is perfectly fine, heard them, great. Singing in English, WTF moment has arrived.

Jackie Chan singing in Rush Hour, in fact the acting, terrible in everything except kicking ass.

Manny Pacquiao, when he went on “Jimmy Kimmel,” the usual talk leads into him singing, not his forte in English but he does everything correct except for karaoke.

Lastly, Bai Ling, just don’t do anything any more, hope someone just shuts her up and at least cover her up some way.

I am going to reverse the topic into Americans going to Asia to be successful. Jero, Tiffany and Jessica from SNSD, melody, Jake Shimabukuro, and Utada Hikaru, just to name a few. Especially with Hawaii becoming the spearhead for this movement, you find that they are quite warm and receptive to them coming in.

This hasn’t always been the case for some, like a Coconuts Musume, in which the language barrier was a pretty high issue as two that could speak the language had to translate back to the hosts of talk shows for the other group members, leading to only them surviving (Ayaka & Mika) until they left show business altogether.

However, the majority have been embraced with open arms and yet did face ridicule because of cultural differences. To define their success is quite difficult as some have risen and peaked quickly, and some are slowly getting there.

Now, going back to the main question, how can it be that Japan and Korea accept the foreigners and it can’t happen the other way? The main road blocks are culture and connections, without any, no one will ever survive. Is it possible? Yes. Can it be done soon? Depends on who you ask. Finally, how? That will be left in creative minds and once that can be solved, it will then be less difficult for any act to get into the scene.


Okay so everything that Kuro mentioned is definitely descriptive of the issues that are hindering Asian artists from being taken seriously. Yes, some people still think that chipmunked, hyper, Eurobeat inspired songs are all that come out of Japan & that Korean Pop must be something completely new because it’s been overshadowed by its Japanese cousin. (Based on the comments from the previous discussion, it is possible.)

The Yatta! performance that he mentioned is also something that is uniquely Japanese but not at all representative of the mainstream market. But most North Americans would probably not dig that deep into finding out if that’s true or not sadly.

I’ll have to take issue with Jackie Chan. Even though I personally think that Jackie Chan’s musical endeavors are not as epic as his film career. He is a trained singer back from his days in the Peking Opera School and to his credit he is fairly successful all over Asia having released 20 albums to date. So yes, singing War in Rush Hour was not the best example of that success.

Anyway, back on topic. How connections are made can vary. Sometimes American producers or artists see an act on YouTube or maybe on local television while they’re touring and initiate contact. Sometimes it’s the reverse and an Asian artist or label reaches out to a like-minded (or hot/flavor of the month) American producer or label to help them break the market. Other times it’s just dumb luck that brings two forces together. Whether those connections result in something worth listening to depends on factors like personality conflicts, schedules and most importantly, whether they (somewhat) share the same vision.

When you reverse things it is interesting that Asia is more open to accepting foreign acts. Cheap Tricks “I Want You To Want Me” would not have become the classic rock radio station staple it is if it were not for Japan. It didn’t even chart in the U.S. when it was released. That overseas success then allowed them to become famous back in their American homeland.

It’s pretty normal to see that situation where supposedly no-name or washed up American artists are megastars overseas and end up coming home as the next big thing. (i.e. The Backstreet Boys)

I’m surprised that Coconuts Musume was brought up. Halation Summer is arguably considered to be one of the worst songs Hello! Project has ever released. This was not the fault of the members, more management choosing to let a few who did not have proper Japanese language training sing lead. But even though the song is (in my opinion) crap the Japanese fans still accepted and supported them.

That whole concept would not work in America. If you had a group where 3 of the 5 members were not fluent in English and were expected to play an integral part in the group they would immediately fail to gain any support. They might have nice voices, but if the average listener can’t understand what they’re saying there’s going to be a problem. The only way I could ever see it working for an Asian group is if they resorted to using stereotypes to mask the linguistic deficiencies until they can fix them.

This goes against trying to break perceptions but sometimes you have to resort to appealing to the lowest common denominator to get the job done. The best thing for any overseas act to do is to learn to speak English somewhat decently to help break down the barriers and communicate with the potential new fans without the use of a translator.

Now that we’ve pretty much milked the main parts of this topic, lets discuss how we as fans can do our part to help our favorite acts make the transition over to America.


Support is the main key for the fans and online promotion is the most accessible avenue for most. For example, Greg and I are part of JPH!P and we support the artists by buying their newest albums or listening in to their newest songs and writing about them here. However, once you learn you must teach and I have done so with the very close friends I have made over time.

They teach what I have passed on to them and visa versa. I have an open mind to all but support is very important no matter where you live, be it LA, NY, Hawaii or other locations around the world.

Again, SUPPORT whoever you want, they can be small, big, up and coming, or slowly dying, but if you can push for them add with people, who have the same enthusiasm, you can make anybody come. It can happen because of YOU!


Kuro nailed it. You must find some way of promoting your favorite Asian pop artists in a constructive way. Whether its forums such as JPH!P, communities of like-minded writers like International Wota, chat rooms or social networks. Spreading the word about any musical act that you think deserves a bigger audience is key.

As futile as it may be at times online campaigning does work. Labels are paying attention and groups like Morning Musume and AKB48 would not have come to America and Europe if they weren’t paying attention to their expanding overseas fan base.

Sometimes the drawback is that the labels will pick some of the more typical events or locations to showcase their artists such as anime conventions, cultural festivals or cities with large Asian populations. (as Kuro had mentioned) But hey, getting acts to actually show up is a bonus.

Speaking of futility, you can also try to get your favorite Asian pop acts songs on the radio or into rotation on your favorite music video station. (If they still play videos) These are long shots but hey, if you want to give it a go I’m not going to stop you from doing it. Just remember that playlists are heavily regulated so the odds are against you if the program director or on-air talent hasn’t heard of what you’re asking for. You’re going to need a compelling argument prepared to get them to listen to you.

The the most efficient way for fans to get their point across is definitely online. It’s fast, instant and with the amount of connected technology available you can pretty much show your support from where ever you are. And yes, support who you want. If people disagree then make your case for why you think the group is awesome and let them decide for themselves.

And this discussion has officially ended.

We hope you have enjoyed our 2-way take on this topic. Obviously Kuro & I are on the same wavelength so feel free to add your own comments if you like. Just a reminder to keep it clean and somewhat sensible, there’s no need to get overly sensitive and emo about this. Thank you very much for reading.