[ENTERTAINMENT]Facing the truth: One star's reluctance

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Facing the truth: One star's reluctance

Koreans are usually impressed when one of their own becomes a success abroad, especially in the United States. Think of the baseball player Park Chan-ho, who has achieved the seemingly impossible American dream with plenty to spare. Recently another Korean has been making a pitch for stardom in America, this one in the entertainment business: the rhythm and blues singer Kim Bum-soo. But while Park's face is on just about every sports newspaper's front page every day, Kim's face is a rare thing to see.

Kim, who goes by the more English-friendly BSK, released a single stateside last October, "Hello, Goodbye, Hello," that emerged on Billboard's charts the following month. The local press made a fuss, extolling Kim as "the first Korean and third Asian to make the Billboard charts." The single peaked at the 51st spot on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart for the week of Dec. 22. The press was disappointed that the single didn't climb higher, but still sang Kim's praises for his achievement in the birthplace of R&B. "I think we have upgraded Korea's status on the international music scene," said Kim's spokesman, Lee Bong-bae.

Kim first gained notice in Korea in 1999 with his crooning ballad "Yaksok" ("A Promise"). Critics and fans liked his R&B style and wide voice range.

His strategy to stand out in the local entertainment scene was unusual, though. On the cover of his debut album, Kim is depicted with his hand covering his face. On his second album his upper body is highlighted but, again, his face is obscured. He has shunned television appearances, considered essential for gaining popularity on the peninsula, where outward appearances and wit usually determines which artists make it.

Kim's faceless tack even extended to his videos, in which he used big-name actors to cover for him.

The plan to stay mysterious and be judged primarily as a singer has worked well here, so Kim decided to try it in the United States as well. On the cover of the single, an English version of a cut ("Haru" or "One Day") from his second album, no trace of Kim can be found. Instead, a couple of fuzzy toys are depicted next to the letters BSK.

The single sold about 250,000 copies in the U.S., and has been lauded by plenty of industry figures. A producer, Keg Johnson Jr., whose father was a famous jazz trumpeter, offered Kim a deal to release an album in the United States after he heard the single. Also, Bernie Grundman, an engineer who mastered Michael Jackson's latest album, reportedly complimented Kim's voice for being true to the R&B spirit. "Grundman didn't even notice that the single was by a Korean," Kim's spokesman said.

Kim will fly back to the United States soon to perform a few shows and work on recording for his third album to be released in Korea. He is also planning to join a group called Full Force, made up of six U.S. songwriters and producers, including a few who worked for big names like Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. It remains to be seen, though, how long he can keep playing his faceless card.

by Chun Su-jin

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