What K-pop needs to go globalTo call Korean K-pop “Hallyu” (or “the Korean Wave”) might be a misnomer. A wave comes and goes; it comes in and goes out. That might be a metaphor for the many Korean singers that have gone to the United States in search of global stardom (a little about Psy later), crashed on the shore and returned home to Korea, somewhat less but humbler for at least trying.
Rather than the Korean Wave, an “ocean” might be a better term, since there is a vast supply of highly talented singers, songwriters and musicians that have real ability, depth and versatility. The Korean music industry has no doubt tried to reach across to different continents, to really be global, and to spread not just Korean music but the richness of the Korean culture. But for it to really succeed, it must overcome two of its biggest hurdles.
The first obstacle it has to overcome is language. Korean singers must realize that to really be a superstar, one must come to the masses, not the other way around. Korean singers must make an attempt to sing their songs in the language of the country in which they are performing. If a boy band of eight members cannot sing an English song, with each guy roughly having to sing only a small portion of the entire song, it doesn’t speak well for their respect for their audience.
Case in point: Psy. I don’t know how many times he has been referred to as the “YouTube sensation” guy or the “Internet sensation” guy, rather than the professional rapper and singer that he is.
One doesn’t have to go back too far to find the great singers and bands such as ABBA know that to sing in various languages will only bring them more fans, greater appreciation and a global base for marketing other than songs. ABBA sang in Swedish, English, French, German and Spanish. That should be a lesson on how to win a global audience. If Psy can’t sing in English in the United States for people to sing along to, he will be forgotten pretty soon. K-pop groups have been singing Japanese, which is a language and country much closer to Korea and Korean, but when they stage a show in Paris, they should at least make an attempt to sing in French, even if a group only performs one song and it lasts for two or three minutes.
The other factor is cloistering. Whether it is to protect the esteem of the Korean singers, it seems that most Korean singers, when they perform overseas, will sing predominantly in areas with expat Koreans. That is not always a recipe for success, as JYP Entertainment has found out in the United States.
To really determine if K-pop has any legs, drop 2NE1 or Exo in the middle of Alabama or at the University of Utah. If they can survive and do well, then their success can be guaranteed. And their music and their performing of it will be considered an international success.
But when Korean groups perform in Los Angeles, Vancouver or New York, it is really hard to tell if the public appreciates them or it is just the overseas Koreans filling the stands. I don’t know how many countless singers have sung at LA Dodgers stadium. How about trying Busch Stadium or Fenway Park, or even PNC Park in Pennsylvania?
Korean companies should have faith in their singers that their music can stand up in any locale, not just among their compatriots. Having Kara perform in Arizona, or Super Junior in South America, will truly go a long way in bring the ocean of Korean music and culture to other places.
K-pop is definitely on the rise. But it shouldn’t be coming and going in waves. It should have a lasting effect. If Korean music companies can overcome the challenges of bridging the gap between cultures, it might be easier and more financially lucrative than they think.
*The author is creator of the Periodic Table of William Shakespeare and author of “The Holy Cow: The Bovine Testament.”
by Eric J. Pollock
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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