In case you haven’t heard, Aziatix has signed a $12 million contract with American hip-hop label YMCMB (home to Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Drake), making it the largest contract between an American company and a Korean group. For those of you who don’t know, Aziatix is a Korean-American R&B group comprised of rapper Jay PakFlowsik” and vocalists Nicky Lee and Eddie Shin. Formed in 2010, they’ve already made good impressions in the music world; they’ve performed at SxSW, topped the American, Korean and Japanese iTunes R&B Charts, and come through as 2011’s Mnet Asian Music Award’s “Best New Asian Artist Group”. While they don’t promote in South Korea, they’ve got some ties with K-pop. Artists like G.NA, Brian Joo, and JYJ have all featured Flowsik in their songs, and Eddie Shin has established himself as a singer, as well as songwriter/composer to K-pop artists (since 2005). His most recent offering is the Korea G20 Summit song, “Let’s Go”.

I personally love Aziatix (especially Eddie Shin’s fabulous hair) and am proud of them for scoring such a mainstream label. But I can’t help but wonder how on earth they did it. Yes, the members of Aziatix are talented, but a lot of their music is pretty generic American pop or rehashed R&B – songs like “Nothing Compares To You” fit right at home with the cheesy R&B love songs that were popular when I was in middle school, and MSN even calls them “three Asian dudes crafting music like they’re Boyz II Men“. And some of their stuff verges on being a little K-poppy – their website describes vocalist Eddie Shin as “R&B-meets-Kpop”, and Billboard even mistakenly called them a “South Korean Boyband”. You can expect stuff like this from the trio:

I can’t be the only one who’s gotten some K-pop vibes from that video, especially from those back-up dancers.

With that in mind, Aziatix’s record deal is probably less representative of their uniqueness as musicians than it is about the current trend of American labels going global. While American popular music has historically been pretty dominant on the world stage, today’s music scene is being filled with international influences; we have the British pop invasion (One Direction, Adele, The Wanted, Jessie J), European EDM, and now Asian pop. With that in mind, American music labels are recognizing the importance of expanding their markets and audiences by diversifying their roster – Scooter Braun signed PSY, Interscope signed SNSD, and now YMCMB has signed Aziatix as a part of their new “worldwide focus”. As YMCMB A&R Scott Berkman puts it, Aziatix’s signing represents how YMCMB is “reaching out more internationally now — it’s a global thing.”

And with K-pop trying to break into the American market, Aziatix’s progress might look like a hopeful sign for other Korean musicians. Because hey, if, an “R&B-meets-Kpop singer” like Eddie Shin can make it, why can’t our idols? Maybe the bubblegum pop idols might not work, but perhaps this shows the more hip hop/R&B acts have a decent chance?

Honestly, I doubt it.

My two cents? Despite YMCMB’s claims of wanting to reach out internationally, Aziatix’s music is not international in the slightest. Yes, they’ve all individually worked in foreign music scenes, but as a group, Aziatix performs and promotes in English, and makes music that is generally undistinguishable from American pop and R&B. The fact that they’re being pushed as a part of a “worldwide focus,” despite all of the members being American, really just goes to show how terribly underrepresented people of Asian descent are in the U.S.’s popular music scene. I mean, Nicki Minaj’s family is from Trinidad, and Drake is freaking Canadian, but somehow it’s the three Asian-Americans that are being pushed as an example of “international”.

And while such advertisement might sound odd, it is actually pretty strategic. Through signing Aziatix, YMCMB gets more attention in the Asian music markets the members were previously based in, and the company gets to promote a music group that is already safely within the overall look/sound of mainstream American music. In contrast, Interscope is going to have an uphill battle mainstreaming a group of nine girls with questionable songs (*cough*IGAB*cough*) and even more questionable English skills, and I’ve no idea how Scooter Braun is going to manage to make PSY anything more than a one-hit wonder. Even more hip hop-oriented idols are going to have some trouble assimilating their image for American audiences – if the image of three Asian-Americans singing standard American R&B in flawless English is already being perceived as foreign, then where does that leave people like G-Dragon?

If Aziatix ever makes it big in America, it will be interesting to see how their image will be molded based on the popular Asian acts that have come before them, and how that will affect the musicians that come after them. Will they be called another Far East Movement, or will their K-pop links tie them to the realm of boybands, girl groups, and PSY? Or will they manage to carve a completely different image? Regardless of what they do, this record deal is still a huge step for them and I’m excited to see where it goes – I’m looking forward to seeing their future works with backing producers like RedOne. It’s always awesome to see more Asian-American representation in the American music scene. So, congratulations to Aziatix, and best of luck in their future endeavours!

(Aziatix’s Official Website, MSN, Billboard)