Selective Hearing Round Table: The Next K-Pop Wave in Japan

There is another wave of Korean pop artists crossing over into the Japanese market with great success. The Selective Hearing staff has come together to discuss this topic through a series of questions exploring whether this will be a lasting trend and to see if the possibility of Japanese pop artists crossing over to the Korean market would be equally successful. Each staff member was asked the following:

Do you believe this next wave of Korean stars will make an impact on the Japanese market or is this just a musical phase or fad? If you were in the J-Pop industry who would you crossover to the Korean pop market? Do you think Japanese artists would be successful singing their hits in Korean?


On the 17th of August, it was announced that K-pop group KARA had arrived. With their debut Japanese single “Mister”, they had broken into the Top 10, being the first ever group to do so since the Nolan Sisters in 1980. They appeared on a variety of shows, from Sukkiri, to Happi Music, to Waratte Ii Tomo, where their biggest celebrity fan Gekidan Hitori introduced them to the Japanese audience. Soon, in September, they will be joined by 9-member So Nyuh Shi Dae, with their debut Genie.

Of course, Japan is no stranger to the Korean wave, both inside and out of music. From the Yon-sama phenomenon, to BoA’s (and TVXQ, amongst others) presence in the Japanese mind, it’s obvious the public has no qualms about Koreans in their music scene. But KARA and SNSD’s entry marks a different path. These groups are the first girl groups to make it big, and one can probably expect them to have some level of permanence in the scene, even if all they do is release singles once in a while.

From the point of a J-pop fan, this will probably come as a literal invasion, with Korean groups taking up airtime that would be better used promoting . But at the same time, one wonders if the entry of these Korean girlgroups would further evolve the J-pop scene. For one thing, one only has to glance at a K-pop performance to see how well and crisp the dancing is. And one only has to listen a little longer to get ‘GEE GEE GEE GEE GEE’ stuck in their head for a very long time. But will the likes of Akimoto Yasushi come up to meet this challenge, and put out their own infectious hooks and drill their girls to perfection? One has to wait, and hope.

I, for one, am hopeful, in that maybe AKB48 would move away from the ‘appeal’ of Heavy Rotation, and move towards the more mainstream appeal of a hit like Gee. Perhaps there needs to be a further explanation of this. For one, SNSD manages to pull off ‘sexy’ without going anywhere near ‘skanky’. While I don’t mind either way, I feel a move towards this type of appeal would further benefit everyone. One does not have to be reminded of how so many people were excited about the release of a fashion book that was done in collaboration with SHIHO, to see that this really does attract people. It would be a further evolution of the AKB48 style, and a welcome change of feel for the girls, I’m sure.

That said, with the success of these Korean groups, would the inverse be true?

In the opinion of this writer, no. A Japanese pop group in Japan would probably not make it in Korea at all, even if the ideological differences were absent. Aside from the stylistic differences, K-pop has a different kind of feel, a different kind of sound. That, along with how differently the Japanese view ‘attractive’, puts Japanese chances of success at a very slim percentage.

Although if one had to champion a group, Perfume would be the answer. Catchy hooks, great electronic sound; they probably wouldn’t even need to sing in Korean. Not to mention, A-chan and Co. do fit the K-pop look more than Acchan and Co.


My feelings toward the Korean music acts crossing over to Japan is just the continuation of the mass Korean movement in the early part of the millennium. As Winter Sonata became a hit with the middle-age women in Japan, I think they will have some early success if they do push themselves into the market and probably will indirectly compete against other Japanese acts. However, I see a roadblock with the culture differences between both music styles. I have a feeling they will not make it past two years and get them to retreat unless they can establish a plan to do what many have been doing in Korea, which was to get themselves known on television, if they can do that, I believe they will have a good run like BoA.

In addition, the songs used by KARA and SNSD is Japanese translated rather than an original song. In my honest opinion, I would consider that if they want to continue in the industry, they should take on an original song that each can take in part of and the hopes of establishing some credibility in Japan will indeed go up. Unfortunately, I also think of the language barrier which can hamper all successful moves as they have to learn Japanese, and to be successful they have to learn the language.

Now for Japan to go into Korea, probably would be a bad idea as the Koreans have strong feelings toward them as history is an indicator but I also think of the pride aspect as they still see it as a downgrade, however if a group can start in Korea as a J-pop artist, the potential might be there. I don’t like the feeling of J-pop artists singing Korean but I think many have learned Korean (Niigaki Risa) which is not a bad idea for real life but a business move I think there are more barriers to face than if the Koreans were to invade Japan.

Overall, I think the Koreans entering the Japanese market would be a great idea as it is relatively close and do not have to fight the Wonder Girls in the U.S. However, at best, I can see limited success unless they can get themselves on the media. I am curious to see if people are willing to buy it but I like K-pop in Korean and J-pop in Japanese


I came into the Asian pop scene through Japanese music and I have explored many different genres, styles and artists but I have never encountered anything like K-Pop. There is something about it that is so damn entrancing that it’s not difficult to see why the current wave of groups like Big Bang, Girls Generation and KARA are successful in Japan. I don’t consider it an invasion but more of the next logical step in ones career. It’s always good to be successful out of your home market in case you get stale.

Some may find the current sound of K-Pop to be nothing more than repetitive Electronica fueled dance tracks with little or no substance, but there’s no denying that what’s coming out of Korea is getting a lot of attention overseas. You have the Wonder Girls touring America and Canada, 2NE1 worked with and SM Town Live 2010 in Los Angeles was by all accounts very successful. There is something about the music that just makes it so damn (and sometimes annoyingly so) infectious.

And it’s that rare, intangible quality that I believe is good for the J-Pop industry. Maybe some artists, producers and record labels will be inspired by what these fresh faced Korean artists bring to the table. In the case of girl groups, it’s a well needed shot in the arm. K-Pop girl groups are miles above their Japanese counterparts in just about every aspect. All you crazy ass fan boys or girls/wotas don’t get your panties in a knot. Objectively compare the two. Do you honestly believe that a group like S/Mileage can ever compete with SNSD on a serious level? If you said an emphatic “YES!” you need to get your head checked.

As for J-Pop artists going the other way? There was a recent article on Tokyohive that pretty much sums up the feelings of Korean fans. Netizens are rather harsh about Japanese groups coming into their territory. While the Japanese may be open to Korean singers crossing over into their music market the same cannot be said about Japanese singers trying to break the Korean music market. As Mal and Kuro have mentioned perhaps it’s a combination of cultural differences and historical animosity that is hindering that process. As nice as it would be to see a J-Pop artist attempt such a feat (and I agree that Perfume is the right choice) it would be like committing career suicide.


I’m not sure how I feel about this current influx of Korean artists into the Japanese music market. It’s not a foreign concept for this type of decision to occur, from Korea to Japan or from one country to another. It’s certainly not a bad thing. BoA being the most obvious example was extremely successful in doing so. DBSK is another act that has done the same. So there is precedent for both a musical and a monetary lucrative venture.

But this tidal wave of sorts from Korea to Japan puts me in an indifferent emotion. One the one hand, I am glad that KARA and Girls’ Generation are capitalizing on their following outside of the Korean border. But I also see it as a passing fad. It has that feeling when everyone in your school goes to get a toy from a popular cartoon show then as quickly as it came, just as quick those same toys are thrown away never to be seen again.

As Kuro mentioned, the songs that are being promoted aren’t originals. And with the Internet allowing people to follow music acts from other countries, quite possibility the majority of Japan knew of KARA and SNSD before they hit their shores. I agree with Kuro with the thinking of if they truly want to stay in the market that they should release original music for Japan.

Yet, I am at a loss. It would be nice if the Korean artists stayed in the Japanese market and Japanese acts made their way to Korea but as of this writing there isn’t enough evidence for me to say one way or another whether or not this is a legit change or just a fad.


I think that that it’s okay to head into a new market with older material. There is a bit of a comfort level to help groups like KARA & SNSD get their feet wet. I do agree that original compositions will probably be a good marker of whether this will end up as a fad or a long lasting thing.

I think the perfect group to help establish this recent crop of Korean artists is m-flo. Their whole “loves” concept was retired with Cosmicolor but I think it would be okay to dust it off one more time. Imagine what KARA, SNSD & Big Bang would sound like over Taku Takahashi beats accompanied by Verbal.

If that’s not possible how about teaming these Korean artists with Ravex? Their collaboration with DBSK was one of the best tracks on the Ravex album. I think further goodness can be acheived with this newest batch of groups.

Going in the direction I stated above would probably be these groups best shots at making the most impact with original material.


I’m on Greg’s side of the material fence.

Given that both SNSD & KARA have tried and tested songs in the form of Genie and Mister, there’s no reason for them to sink more money into something that could have failed. Although I do have to concede just changing lyrics does feel a bit tacky, at least it didn’t turn out like the English version of Nobody. In any case, re-hashes feel like rehashes, and it would probably be best to invest some time and money to get the jig going. Although that does present the problem of finding someone who can write a Japanese Kpop song..

Kuro’s point about the language barrier is an important one, I think. The PR blitz in Japan is all about appearing on TV, then appearing on more TV. As an example, KARA gained major points appearing on Shabekuri007. As expected, they did well, mostly because they could converse with the hosts. Gyuri is fairly decent at Japanese, so she led the way to quite a few laughs. It’s just something I don’t see happening if the language barrier is so great. After all, it’s not like SNSD and KARA can lift heavy weights or do slapstick action comedy. There’s a good reason why everyone from Korea that made it speaks Japanese decently.

Maybe it’s just a way to counteract the intrinsic Japanese xenophobia.


I don’t think that a Japanese K-Pop type song is necessary. Rather a solid, original, straight up J-pop song would be sufficient. I’m sure there are some songwriters & producers out there who are up to the task/risk. It could pay off big time if done & timed properly. If that option is unavailable there’s always dipping into the well of previously released Korean songs a few more times.

That would not be a good thing for a lasting career but maybe a necessity if suitable original songs are not found.

It’s cool that KARA are able to be just as charming & funny in Japanese. Hopefully SNSD will follow suit. As Mal has said TV promotions are the driving force in promoting ones music. It’s similar to how radio airplay works in North America. Much like how you hear the same 5 songs on the radio, you see the same 5 artists on all the music programs in Japan (& Korea).

But yes. You definitely get brownie points from the fans if you can communicate with them without the use of a translator. It’s difficult to show any personality or feeling when your words are coming from someone else. Too bad Utaban has ended because I would love to see Korean girl groups do silly things like Morning Musume did back in the day on that show. SNSD musical chairs anyone?

It would certainly help endear them to the public.


I think Greg has a good idea going with trying to promote the K-pop music groups in Japan and Mal brought out some great points in trying to open them up to influx.

Now, to something I would like to add to my previous comments,  for how much its hurts me to say, I am slowly getting off the fact that it might help to prove my point. I saw the “Gee” video, and my first thought when they announced it as a single was that they were “revamping” to modernize the look but still keep the same feel and my fears came true unfortunately.  However, I would like to put on the table that if they can put one new single out there for their Japanese fans, I would support that no matter how crappy it would sound, (and being honest here, that is gutsy).

I do know what they are trying to do, and hopefully it is a short-term. Other than that, I’d rather mute the vids than listen to the music.


Damn Kuro that’s pretty harsh but it is true. The Gee video was basically a hyper cute version of the Korean original and neither the song or video did much in terms of bringing anything innovative to the table. I think I’ll still keep the  sound on vids for a bit longer though. I probably won’t be as supporting as Kuro when it comes time for any of these recent crop of Korean groups to release original Japanese material. If the song(s) suck, I will call them out and probably only then will I will put the video(s) on mute.

Speaking of that, there is the announcement of such material coming out the KARA camp and one can only hope that their song is great and sets a positive precedent for the other groups to follow. Otherwise, this will probably be a short lived love affair with the Japanese market.

Too bad it’s damn near impossible for a Japanese act to crossover to Korea. It would be interesting to see if they could indeed make even a minuscule impact on that market.


I think it’s already having an effect; Have a look at AKB48’s Beginner, it could pass off as a KARA song. SNSD’s Gee is exemplary of an earlier point, it was pretty obvious the girls know very little Japanese (or at least, very little experience speaking it), and it results in very awkward and halting songs.

As I’ve said before though, I hope they’re here to stay. Girl groups in Japan have been exclusively Japanese, and a dose of K-pop influence will do the whole scene some good. Personally I prefer the movement from Korea-Japan rather than vice-versa; Korea just doesn’t seem very receptive to any sort of foreign entities in their pop music industry, especially not Japanese. And I think it’d just waste resources for anyone (even Akimoto Yasushi) to devote a whole lot of resources to breaking the market.

And this discussion has officially ended. Unfortunately TOZ could not participate fully due to previous commitments but many thanks to him for finding the time to put a few words in.

We hope you have enjoyed our take on this topic. 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.