When idols decide to take their chances Stateside, fans like us often hope for the very best and expect the very worst. Questions and concerns that cross our minds usually take the groups we adore, in the context of the Korean pop scene, plant them in the midst of the fast-paced, occasionally vicious American entertainment industry, and allow the nausea to ensue.
Take for example YG’s attempts with Se7en in 2007 and SM’s efforts with BoA in 2008. Se7en and YG took their venture in baby steps; a few featured singles here and there, a couple fan signing events, and then a single featuring Lil’ Kim in 2009. It was a respectable effort, but some factors fell through, and Se7en was pulled back to Korea to pursue Asian comebacks and save some face with his Asian audiences.
BoA, on the other hand, was able to make a bigger splash. She was able to release a full length English album titled BoA, and went on to earn spots on four Billboard charts. However, in 2010 BoA returned to Korea to produce her 10th debut anniversary album and has been active primarily in Asia ever since. Oh, and don’t even start with me by bringing SNSD and The Boys and that maxi-single into this. We all know that is going nowhere.
JYP seems to know what he is doing though. Cue the Wonder Girls, 2009. The girls began their US expedition with an English version of Nobody, and that about accomplished everything every K-pop act prior to them had insofar managed to do. But then JYP announced that the Wonder Girls would be opening for The Jonas Brothers’ North American tour, and suddenly we had a game changer on our hands. This wasn’t a one-time gig, this wasn’t some fleeting appearance (not to say that they hadn’t already done both). This was a chance for the Wonder Girls to be heard in front of an audience of thousands, across the country, on several separate occasions. It was an outrageously unexpected and ingenious move to come from the JYP camp, a move that had the potential to project the Wonder Girls into a serious Stateside music career.
And, for the most part, it did. The Wonder Girls went on to showcase their talents in their own North American tour, with first leg opening act 2PM (I went to one of the concerts in the first leg, and cried like a baby when I saw Jun.k) and second leg opening act 2AM, with their new American single and MV “Two Different Tears.” That is, without argument, farther than both Se7en and BoA had been able to get in their American debuts.
Looking back on it, I was skeptical of the Wonder Girls working in the US, even after their prolonged exposure to the US market. I felt that somehow maybe JYP was overestimating the substance in the Wonder Girls’ success and perhaps was going to perpetually beat a dead horse for the remainder of the Wonder Girls’ career. But with the girls’ return to the spotlight here in the States and the recent release of their new song “The DJ is Mine“, the Wonder Girls may be proving all my suspicions about them to be wrong.
“The DJ is Mine” is a guilty pleasure. I know Yubin’s English rapping still has some rough edges, Sohee is painfully nasal, and the School Gyrls, whoever the hell they are, do a better job with the vocals and presentation than the Wonder Girls themselves — but the song is addicting. I can sit here and give you a long and painful list of all the things that went wrong with that song and that music video, but it won’t change the fact that “The DJ” is a song you can’t help but have stuck in your head.
We all know that “The DJ” is also functioning as a small look into the Wonder Girls one hour Teen Nick film feature The Wonder Girls at the Apollo. While this movie will undoubtedly be painful for me to watch, it is yet another smart move on JYP’s behalf.
Nickelodeon is a major TV network with a targeted demographic, and the small screen is easily accessible to millions of kids across the country. It will be without doubt another clever way in which both JYP and the Wonder Girls can reach out to US audiences and make themselves known. The girls and JYP recently walked the red carpet for a sneak-peek premiere on the 20th, and held an interview with Access Hollywood to promote their movie.
What I have come to realize and respect about the Wonder Girls project is that JYP is in this for the long haul. He is ardently working to make this a noteworthy breakthrough into the American market, and while the Wonder Girls have yet to make it big, they have undeniably made it the farthest. When BoA and Se7en failed to bring in the money both SM and YG most likely hoped to gain, both acts were pulled to resume their more successful positions in the Asian entertainment industry. And there’s nothing wrong with that, quite frankly — a business venture is a business venture, it’s obvious now that BoA and Se7en in the US were both business ventures, and an entertainment company has every right to work in their best interests. Plus, I’m sure BoA and Se7en had no problem returning to fans that actually gave a damn about them.
The Wonder Girls, however, have held their ground despite bumps in the road and long dry spells, making it apparent that they’re attempting something much more than a business venture. JYP himself, despite his sometimes annoying presence in every Wonder Girls MV and song, has obviously invested himself and his money into making the Wonder Girls into global stars and is their biggest motivator. While I do roll my eyes sometimes when I see him in nearly everything the Wonder Girls do, including their movie, it’s important to remember his physical presence is probably one of the most influential factors in keeping the Wonder Girls persistent in their American music career.
What happens next, I couldn’t tell you. The Wonder Girls have been working themselves into the ground pursuing both American and Korean music careers, with JYP cheering them on the whole way as their #1 fan. To what extent they have been successful is obvious–they are still adored by Korean audiences, and are growing increasingly present to American audiences. At this point, I would really like the Wonder Girls to pick up on a more stable American role in the entertainment industry, because it seems like both they and JYP are serious about making a breakthrough. But until then, the Wonder Girls will obviously continue to be persistent with themselves and their music here in the States. I’ll be there watching closely, and I suggest you all do the same. All it takes is one song to step into the mainstream scene here in the US, and I doubt any of us would want to miss out on that song and that moment when persistence evolves into stardom.