[ENTERTAINMENT]BoA wraps herself around Japan popTOKYO One recent day while walking through the streets of Shibuya near the heart of this city, I spotted two things that were impossible to miss: a huge fashion mall called 109, and a 10-meter-tall poster on the front of the mall that featured the Korean pop singer BoA.
"Happy Birthday" the sign proclaims, celebrating the mall's big day, not BoA's.
In Japan, the 15-year-old singer has already released an album and five singles. The album "Listen to My Heart" topped Japan's pop charts on March 13, and has thus far sold about 800,000 copies. In local record shops, BoA often gets a special section, complete with scads of posters.
Isa, a teenage part-time worker at a large record shop called Wave at a Seibu Department Store in Shinjuku, told me that BoA is a huge pop star in Japan nowadays.
If you turn on the television, there's BoA chatting on a talk show in fluent Japanese, of course. Kim Joo-kwan, BoA's publicist in Japan, said, "Considering that the Japanese pop market is going slow these days, the fact that BoA's record is selling so well is remarkable."
Born in 1986, BoA was raised like any other ordinary kid who loves singing and dancing to pop music. But in 1998, when she was just 12 years old and still in elementary school, Gwon BoA decided to follow her brother when he went to audition to be a dance singer. While her brother was filling out an application form at one of Korea's biggest pop agencies, SM Entertainment, somebody started talking to her. Only BoA did not recognize who he was the president of the agency, Lee Soo-man. He asked her to sing a song. Without a sign of balking, BoA sang a ballad by the agency's most successful girl band, S.E.S.
Her brother did not make it big, but BoA did. From then on, BoA was completely immersed in an education program designed to turn her into a pop icon, not only for the Korean music scene but for the world.
"SM Entertainment was looking to make the first Korean pop star for the world, and she showed up just in time," said Kim Tae-shin, one of BoA's publicists in Korea.
The first place she tried her luck outside of Korea was Japan. According to a carefully arranged agenda, BoA was taught to speak both Japanese and English perfectly. She was sent to Japan and stayed at the house of an NHK-TV anchorwoman during summer and winter vacations.
BoA was unveiled in 2001, at first in her home country with a hip-hop influenced dance album, titled "ID: Peace B." She did not shine as expected, but once in Japan, she gradually made a name for herself.
It didn't hurt that SM Entertainment was teaming up with an influential Japanese partner, Avex.
"In Japan," BoA said, "a rather feminine and jazzy style of dancing works best for the public, while in Korea it's masculine and hip-hop style."
She temporarily came back to Korea to release her aptly titled second studio album "No. 1." It has done well, although it has yet to hit No. 1 on the local charts.
"Based in Japan, BoA is planning to attempt to make it in the American music scene sometime in the foreseeable future," said Ms. Kim, BoA's publicist.
by Chun Su-jin