The United States: a mystical land where K-pop careers go to suffer. And yet, fans continuously mark certain idols with the cumbersome burden of “being able to make it in the West.” Few idols have tried and none have succeeded.
What is it about a K-pop star ‘making’ it in the English speaking world that fascinates our imaginations? Is it the validation that K-pop is ‘good’ in a musical sense? Or perhaps wanting our biases’ talents and full potential to be on display for one of the largest music markets in the world?
Regardless of the reasons why, the fact remains that there is a lot of money and recognition to be made in the West, and while companies exporting their idols to the US has considerably cooled off, it never completely died. Enter, the latest idol to announce a debut in the US, none other than vocal powerhouse Ailee.
Based solely on her qualifications, Ailee seems like a great candidate. Born and raised in the US, Ailee speaks English fluently and understands American culture. She also possesses impressive vocal abilities that align with the style of pop music currently favored.
But is that enough?
Breaking into the American music industry is tough enough, but, on top of that, it is also notoriously sexist and incredibly discriminatory toward Asians. Even though Ailee is working with famed producer Shea Taylor, responsible for hits sung by Rihanna and Beyoncé, there is no guarantee that she will make a lasting impression on the public.
However, just the fact that she is working with someone who has produced for such celebrities puts her in a more advantageous position than her predecessors. As her producer, Taylor has numerous contacts that can be beneficial to Ailee, and contacts are what she needs.
Let’s face it: just because an artist has a good song doesn’t mean that they will get noticed. Just to get a song played on the radio takes tremendous effort, especially if you are virtually unknown.
One path to increase an artist’s visibility is to have them feature on other artists’ tracks until they’ve built up enough popularity to promote a single of their own. While this may be feasible for some singers, it still requires important contacts and a lot of time.
Time is a double-edged sword for Ailee, as a well thought-out debut will take some time. And while it seems she can manage that, it raises the questions whether this will impact her career in South Korea. If she takes too much time away from the K-pop industry, she may inadvertently hurt her career. However, if she rushes this US debut, it will ruin any hope of her succeeding the way she wants to.
This US debut also raises the question of what Ailee’s future goals are. If she makes it big in the US, will she forgo her place in the idol industry? Or will she try to balance both?
Of course, it is premature to discuss such questions as Ailee hasn’t even debuted yet. She has a plethora of obstacles to overcome, two of which are inherent to who she is — her gender and race. And yet despite these impediments, the fangirl and optimist in me still believes that she has a chance to succeed. After all, she has an exceptional voice for pop, understands American culture and has stage charisma. If any idol can succeed in the US, it’s Ailee.
What do you think? How do you think Ailee can succeed?