When pop culture crosses borders
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On Aug. 25, 1970, 23-year-old Elton John held his first performance at the Troubadour, a popular nightclub in West Hollywood. That day, he was introduced by Neil Diamond, another young singer. Until this performance, he was an unknown singer whose first album in Britain had failed. He lived in a spare room at his mother and stepfather’s house with songwriter and friend Bernie and barely made a living as a session player. But when he returned to Britain a month later, he was deemed “the saviour of rock ’n’ roll.”
Elton John was different from The Beatles, which was already popular before coming to the United States. But, he continued the legacy of British singers sweeping the U.S. music scene in the ’60s, known as the British Invasion. While it seems natural for Britain and the United States to be able to share pop culture as the two countries use the same language, it was uncommon for artists to top both Billboard and Britain’s Official Charts at the same time.
On July 6, 2018, the K-pop boy band Ateez, whose members range in age from age 19 to 21, performed at Madison Square Garden in New York eight months after its debut, along with four other groups that had debuted in the previous two years. It is the same venue where Elvis Presley performed in 1971, Led Zeppelin in 1973 and John Lennon made his final appearance at Elton John’s concert in 1974.
More than 20,000 K-pop fans filled the venue, dancing and singing in Korean. A 15-year-old named Alison, who came from North Carolina to see Ateez with a friend, said that she started her days by watching the band’s music videos in the morning and it helped to put her in a good mood. Korean teenagers today and adults who listened to British and U.S. pop and rock ’n’ roll 30 or 40 years ago would think the same.
The new single by BTS, which topped Billboard and the Official Chart, ranked at the top of Japan’s Oricon Weekly Chart last week. The discord between Korea and Japan led people to boycott Japanese products and refrain from visiting Japan. Politics, economy and culture are separate. It doesn’t help to mix problems and go to extremes. It is fortunate that the Korean government has set a direction toward resolving the issue with talks and diplomacy.