The Korea Herald


Why is K-pop going to America?

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 10, 2012 - 13:33

    • Link copied

Although Asia-centric, major entertainment companies seek to reap U.S. benefits

Since Girls’ Generation appeared in two major U.S. talk shows and Wonder Girls launched their TeenNick television movie, “The Wonder Girls,” last week, the buzz has been overwhelming.

Yet, underneath all the hype lies a question: Why is Korean pop looking to America?

“Insofar as America is the world’s biggest music market, we, as a company and for our artists, want to take it on,”said an S,M. Entertainment representative.

“If we succeed, it is a market which can earn us massive side benefits,” the representative explained via e-mail. A significant boost in the name value of a musician or group internationally once they achieve success in the U.S. market is an obvious example.

For YG Entertainment, the collaborative work with The Black Eyed Peas’ on a forthcoming English album is not solely about broaching the U.S. market.

“We decided that we need (an official U.S. album) because English is the most effective language to convey the message of 2NE1’s music to overseas fans who want to understand it but who do not know Korean,” said YG Entertainment PR team leader Hwang Min-hee.

Right now, S.M. Entertainment’s Girls’ Generation and YG Entertainment’s 2NE1 are still in the fledging stages of entering the American market.

After releasing their U.S. debut single “The Boys” last December, the nine-member Girls’ Generation appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “LIVE! With Kelly Ripa” last week.

Meanwhile, 2NE1 started working with in 2010 on an album whose release date has yet to be set.

JYPE’s Wonder Girls were the first Korean group to make foray into the United States in 2009, touring with Disney Channel-stars, the Jonas Brothers, and made history by being the first Korean act to get on the Billboard Hot 100. The following year, the group launched a 20-show tour in the United States.
2NE1 performs at the MTV Iggy’s Best New Band 2011 concert which was streamed live in Times Square, New York in December. (YG Entertainment) 2NE1 performs at the MTV Iggy’s Best New Band 2011 concert which was streamed live in Times Square, New York in December. (YG Entertainment)

Last month Wonder Girls launched the original soundtrack single, “The DJ is Mine,” for the TeenNick TV movie in which they star. The first episode of the movie aired last week.

Patrick St. Michel, a journalist who wrote an online piece, “Does Korean Pop Actually Have a Shot at Success in the U.S.?,” for American publication The Atlantic, thinks Wonder Girls is on the right track by “trying to woo one of the most profitable pop-music demographics, tweens and early teens.”

“Considering how fragmented the American pop market is, turning attention to the tween market is extremely smart,” St. Michel said in an e-mail interview.

“We see it as a demographic that is the least likely to have formed many biases,” a JYPE representative said on why Wonder Girls is targeting the tween demographic.“Also it is a market that really knows how to enjoy music and culture and avidly consumes pop music.”

Having started off by touring with loved-by-tween hotties, the Jonas Brothers, Wonder Girls is now targeting their market more aggressively with the eponymous TeenNick movie.

“From a tween/teen perspective, I think it would be a success,” said St. Michel of the movie.“The movie introduces the group, establishes personalities and loads up on song-and-dance scenes.”

“More importantly, it treated Wonder Girls like real protagonists,” he added.

In regards to Girls’ Generation’s U.S.-based activity, he said, “They got a big boost from landing on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ last week.”

Girls’ Generation’s U.S. debut single and talk show appearances are, in fact, part of a larger, carefully-planned promotional strategy focused on differentiating themselves from the crowd, according to S.M. Entertainment.

“From the very beginning we planned on carrying out a promotional strategy different from the norm,” said a company representative, emphasizing the successfully heightened awareness of the S.M. Entertainment brand through YouTube, Facebook and overseas concerts like those in Paris and New York,

“One can confirm the influential power of Girls’ Generation and of our strategy through the group’s appearances on major American television network talk shows,” said the representative.

Furthermore, according to the representative, in regards to Girls’ Generation, specifically, the group’s U.S. activity including signing with Interscope Records, is part of a bigger global plan that is primarily focused on Asia, not America.

“Not just for Girls’ Generation but for all S.M. Entertainment artists, the most important market is Asia.”

No doubt, Asia is a crucial market for Korean pop, which is why the unprecedented popularity of S.M. Entertainment artists in Europe made headline news last year.

Given that, one cannot ignore the possibility of K-pop catching on in a major way in America, and in St. Michel’s opinion it will not be so much about how Korean pop groups like 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation style themselves as it will be about the music.

“It will come down to how their English songs sound, whether they embrace the maximalist rush present in their Korean singles that has prompted all this media coverage in the first place or they bend to American trends.”

By Jean Oh (