K-pop has tried to enter the American consciousness for years; with the largest music industry in the world, who wouldn’t try and break into the American music market? The cross-over of K-pop into the western sphere has been a topic that we here at Seoulbeats have discussed ad nauseum. With forays into the Westerm music markets by BoA, SNSD, Wonder Girls and Se7en, it is a topic that is widely debated and August Brown of the LA Times discussed this in his article “K-pop enters American pop consciousness.”
The article focuses on the use on internet to market K-pop and how Korean entertainment companies are trying to expand into the global market. The author brings up good points, discussing how K-pop, though new to western audiences, is still “uncannily familiar” and the importance of the internet and social media in the spread of Hallyu. However, the author focuses mainly on SNSD as a representation of K-pop. I will concede that SNSD is an immensely popular girl group in K-pop, but this genre of music is not just pigeon-holed into the image of 9 gorgeous, long legged women with aegyo. The writer does touch on international collaborations that JYJ, GD&TOP, and 2NE1 have done and mentions Drunken Tiger, F.T. Island, and C.N. Blue in passing. He fails to even mention BoA or Se7en’s work in the United States. He does discuss the work of Wonder Girls in the U.S. but completely fails to mention the movie they starred in or the fact that they were the first Korean act to enter the Billboards charts. What about Tablo, who managed to rank first in iTunes’ hip hop charts with Fever’s End Part 2? A notable achievement, but one that wasn’t even mentioned.
Not only that, but it is fairly obvious that the author is new to K-pop. He writes
Traditional Korean culture can be patriarchal, but K-pop’s most famous acts, whose members often have roots in California, are groups of women deploying butt-kicking superhero imagery.
Any seasoned K-popper will know that is not the case. That K-pop is heavily dependent on a construed image and that image–even if it is one that is of independent, fierce woman– is made by men and that these women rarely have actual autonomy over their music.
Brown goes on to attribute the selling out of Madison Square Garden to SNSD, which other news sources such as NPR have also falsely claimed. SNSD was not the only act to perform in Madison Square that day and he manages to ignore the fact that SNSD was just one part of the SMTOWN Live in New York Concert, where other groups such as DBSK, Super Junior, BoA, and SHinee participated. He also refers to BoA and Super Junior as “rising K-pop acts.” I would hardly call Super Junior or BoA “rising,” seeing as that they have already hit incredible popularity. It’s this kind of skewed journalism that has me worried for SNSD and 2NE1‘s actual debut in the U.S.
Is it true though that K-pop is expanding world-wide? Yes, there is no doubt about that; however, is it to the extent that the media generalizes it? No. An important aspect that many of the articles from western news sources fails to mention is the incredible persistence and dedication of the fanbase of these idols. If you watched SNSD’s appearance in “Live with Kelly,” the loud cheering for the girls was not by new fans but rather already established SONEs. The almost religous devotion of these fans are definitely a factor to the promotion of these idols. Was Rain really the second most influential person in the entire world in 2008? No. But his dominance in the polls attest to the power of Clouds. Even just looking back at the comments on our Ideal Type polls on Seoulbeats is evidence enough at the dedication of some of these fans.
While it is nice to see that K-pop is gaining attention world wide, it is unsettling to see how narrow the coverage on the actual genre is. Most of the articles on Western news sites only use SNSD as a reference point, and while they are arguably one of the biggest groups in K-pop, they are not the only successful ones. Though it is a step up from citing netizens as a source, it is nonetheless misleading and not actually comprehensive of the actual genre.
What are your thoughts, Seoulmates? Leave your comments below!