Top Korean pop stars are riding Hallyu’s second waveWhen The Beatles hit the United States in the early 1960s, they helped launch what would eventually become known as the British Invasion.
The Asian equivalent is hallyu - the Korean Wave of drama, film, music and culture that took Asia by storm beginning in the late 1990s. Beginning with television dramas and originally restricted to Asia, hallyu is now going through a second phase, with music groups leading the way into the coveted American market.
One of the groups that has been popular in the U.S. is girl group Wonder Girls, whose hit song “Nobody” reached No. 76 on the Billboard charts last October. On Jan. 7, the band was invited to be the opening act for a concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of Earth, Wind and Fire in Las Vegas. The concert featured performances by the band and tribute performances by major artists, including Stevie Wonder.
After the show, Noel Lee - the president of Monster, a cable and headphone manufacturing company, and the host of the event - said that the Wonder Girls are “putting Asian pop culture on the map.”
Another Korean artist who had success in the West is Taeyang, who is a member of the group Big Bang. His album “Solar” reached No. 1 on the Canadian iTunes R&B sales chart and went to No. 2 in the U.S. in the beginning of last year - a first for a Korean singer. His success was even more impressive because the songs on the album are all in Korean and his competition consisted of top pop names such as Usher and Ne-Yo. It was the first time that a Korean singer had topped North American charts.
Taeyang’s popularity was amplified when two Canadian singers and b-boys by the name of J. Reyez and Tommy C. became YouTube sensations with their cover of Taeyang’s song, “Wedding Dress.”
Song Gi-cheol, a Korean pop culture critic who has studied this phenomenon, said, “K-pop has started to achieve the quality of American pop. The music that we’re producing now is well-produced and the singers themselves show a lot of talent.”
Another band that has had success in the North American market is the nine-member girl group, Girls’ Generation.
When the group participated in an event in Los Angeles organized on Jan. 8 by the fan club Soshified - which is a combination of the shortened Korean word for Girls’ Generation, Soshi, and the English word “satisfied” - 500 of the group’s 120,000 members worldwide were present.
One fan club member said, “I’ve started learning Korean because of my love for K-pop. It is hard for people of all ages to enjoy a single genre of music but K-pop doesn’t seem to have that kind of limitation.”
Last September, a concert held by SM Entertainment, the largest entertainment management company in Korea, produced a concert in Los Angeles with some of their most popular groups, including Girls’ Generation and Super Junior. All 15,000 tickets for the concert were sold out a month in advance.
That was just one strategy that entertainment companies have started using to market their acts.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 13 that Korean singers and groups are using social networking to promote their music. According to the article, “YouTube’s video-management features are gaining traction in emerging markets where local content producers are seeking a cheap way to reach overseas audiences and create demand for its artists without having to open offices or partner with labels in other countries.”
It also reported that SM Entertainment had used the video sharing site to distribute video of its acts, and said that its two biggest competitors in South Korea, YG Entertainment and JYP Productions, and about two dozen smaller labels had done the same thing.
Meanwhile, the increased interest in K-pop has also attracted American producers. The new EP by the Wonder Girls, due out in the U.S. in March, is being produced by Rodney Jerkins, famous for his work with the late pop icon Michael Jackson.
The new album by JYJ, a trio that consist of former members of the boy band TVXQ, is being produced by Warner Music Group with the participation of renowned hip-hop singer Kanye West.
In a recent study, the JoongAng Ilbo examined the popularity of K-pop by surveying 923 video clips of Korean acts - specifically those managed by SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, the country’s top three management companies - that were uploaded to YouTube in the year 2010.
The results showed that the videos by the Korean performers got 793.57 million hits from people in almost every country worldwide. Over 500 million views were from the Asian continent, 120 million from the American continent and 55 million were from Europe.
Lee Won-jin, the managing director of Google Korea, said, “The fact that K-pop videos had almost 800 million hits from viewers all over the world proves that K-pop has the potential to succeed in any given market.”
By Chung Kang-hyun [firstname.lastname@example.org]