Monday, May 06, 2013

Still Think Asian Pop Stars Can't Go Mainstream?

Dear Korean,

I am an avid reader of Korean pop news. I know this might be old, but popular Kpop stars such as BoA and Se7en are planning to enter the US mainstream market. Some people have deep doubts about their ability to make it. I, being a skeptic and cynic, too have my doubts. But a part of me wonder, if cross-cultural singers such as Ricky Martin can go mainstream, why can't us Asians? What do you think the problem is? Is it the cultural difference that block Kpop artists way to the Grammy's or is it racism? A friend of mine mentions how Kpop music is "behind" in mainstream America because the idea of pop idol stars', boy band's, girl band's era are over. And BoA and Se7en carries the "dead pop" act that is widespread in Korea that is essentially "old-fashioned" in America. But how the hell do you explain the ugly and painful phenomenon that is the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus?

Slightly Confused Non-Crazy Fangirl

This email is from February 23, 2009. Yes, the line of unanswered question is actually that long. More than 1,400 questions, accumulated over four years, about which the Korean thought worthwhile to write a post. By the way, this question is not even the oldest question in the queue--that honor belongs to a question sent to the Korean on September 26, 2008.

Now, about the question itself. If you are wondering, no, the Korean is not planning to answer this question. This guy made the question moot:

(Come on, play it one more time, for old time's sake. 1.5 billion people did it already.)

In the early stages of K-pop, so many critics argued that K-pop could only be a limited attraction within Asia. Others mistakenly took a crabbed view of K-pop, reducing it to upbeat dance music performed by pretty young things--which became another reason why K-pop could never succeed in America. They made all the same points that the questioner raised--that K-pop was too staged, too behind, too Korean, too Asian.

Oh, how they were wrong. We now have a K-pop star, not particularly beautiful, singing entirely in Korean, who became a record-breaking worldwide sensation. Sports stadiums would play his music during breaks in the game. College marching bands would play his song during halftime, and the cheerleaders would dance his dance. For Halloween, American people would dress up not just as him, but as the entire cast in his music video. South Park episodes would feature his looks. Saturday Night Live would make a skit out of his song. He would seamlessly blend in with American icons like Madonna and MC Hammer. He would perform at the White House Christmas party, then in the center stage of the Times Square on the new year's eve.

Amazing how things change in just a few years, right? But just you wait, because K-pop's best days are still ahead.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. "But just you wait, because K-pop's best days are still ahead."

    WUT??!!! I thought it was supposed to be my line!!! And, as far as I remember, I used it... like two years ago!!!
    That's it - from now on I am copyrighting everything.

  2. "Not particularly beautiful..." Psy is actually good looking up close (without his signature sunglasses), especially when he smiles. He has unique charm and obvious charisma.

    I wonder what is going to happen when mainstream America discovers Lee Min Ho. Girls are going to go wild. No, wild is not exactly the word. They will go bonkers. I am glad that "I want to be Lee Min Ho's wife" Facebook page has only 6,000 followers. If it is going to be 6,000,000 it might get dangerous.

    1. I'm a bit late to that discussion but City Hunter was the third K drama I ever watched. Lee Min Ho is simply delicious.

      The German aka 40 year old Kdrama watching, Korean learning Mom of four... And if thinking LMH is delicious at my age makes me wrong, I never want to be right again.. Lol

  3. I would wait until the fourth song. It seems rare to me that acts fronted by anyone more than half-Asian get more than three songs go mainstream in America. Whatever happened to the Far East Movement? Psy has been really successful in terms of being all over the place, but it has not yet been a year since it started.

    Psy's Youtube page has three songs between "Gangnam Style" and "Gentleman". The new song got 20 million in nine months, which would be amazing if it were from anyone else. The songs from her earlier years have gotten just over 1 million and almost 2 million in two months. Quite respectable, but nowhere near 300 million, let alone 1.5 million. Almost no one around here knows about those songs or cares to know about them.

    And has any other K-pop performer or act managed to benefit from Psy's fame? If Psy can get only mild success with his songs not starting with "G", then what about the Korean pop acts who are not Psy? Maybe Hyuna or Brown Eyed Girls?

  4. "But just you wait, because K-pop's best days are still ahead."

    I kind of thought that K-Pop's best days died in 'Korea' at the end of the 1990s. 김경호's voice was reduced to the vocal equivalent of grinding two pieces of sandpaper together. All of the 80s superstars either died from liver disease, or were just forgotten about. Oh well! At least we get to hear bastardized versions of elderly classics in badly-edited episodes of 'I am a Singer'.

  5. I'm still of a wait-and-see mindset about PSY's continued success in the US. "Gentlemen" is proving to have a shorter tail than "Gangnam Style" and while PSY does seem to have lodged himself in pop culture memory, at least as a two-hit wonder novelty, I don't know if that will really extend to the rest of kpop at all. I still see PSY as a novelty fad and while I hope to be proven wrong and that kpop become something more than niche, I don't see it happening. That said, I do think the kpop niche will grow and will (continue to) have an impact on mainstream Western artists.

    While less kpop and more broader Korean entertainment, what I also see happening is more shirtless Lee Byunghun in various action movies. It's a quiet start, but I think he's got potential to become a genre fixture, although I don't quite see anything in the way of sustained leading man success for him.

  6. This is an interesting post. I will follow up with an article as well at

  7. Really? A terrible song became a novelty hit and THAT'S an indicator that we should expect more Kpop stars to have more? I hope not.

  8. Kyu Sakamoto had a huge worldwide hit with Sukiyaki in 1963 which translated into very little purchase for the Japanese musicians who were inspired to try to replicate his international success. Psy may have created a window of opportunity for Korean music to be noticed internationally, but it will have to be the actual music that grabs people's attention - because all the local context media-glitter and ultra-choreography that seems to resonate so much with Koreans I don't think means a lot to western audiences.

  9. Korean boybands are the obvious next phase after Beiber. Its just as likely as anything else and the Korean ent. industry already has the system down pat. Imagine worldwide fan girls ready to consume a steady release of mini album music. Bigbang proved the market is out there and rising. Girl groups will be popular, but the boys will incite mass frenzy. I predict it!

  10. Remember that numa numa song that went viral a few years back? Where is the romanian-pop craze that I was promised?

  11. I just hope that as Kpop comes to America it remains Kpop.... meaning I want the majority of the words to be in Korean. I don't want english songs. That would defeat my purpose and love for the music.

  12. Sorry to say this but i think the writer sugar coating it!

    Truth It's going to be VERY DIFFICULT for any Korean artist to bring back the BOY BAND craze. The Jonaas Brothers had a good run but that was 3 years ago. Miley had a few hit songs but now all she does is twerk on YOU TUBE and appear on magazines shoots. Not saying it's impossible but everything Kpop is recycled material here in AMERICA. If you want to break into the music industry they are going to have to bring in a new flavor this MEANS STAYING AWAY FROM boy bands. If they are lucky they can get 1 hit if they work hard idk best of luck


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