It discusses the way Kpop has been facing an increased demand in different countries of the world... a topic sure to get the we'll-repost-every-Korea-article-from-any-foreign-news-source Korea Promotion-type people all hot and bothered.
As you can see from these four videos, K-pop has swept the entire world and every human on the planet now loves Dongbangshinki and Shinee and 2NE1 and Girls' Generation.
and the crowds are no longer just overseas Koreans. See that white girl in the corner of the Geneva video? The one who doesn't really know the dance?
But sarcasm aside, the article brings up some of the usual complaints about the way often the management companies themselves are bunging up the delivery of a great product ...
and K-pop is a great product. It's not art (though there are Korean musical artists to be found if you know where to look) but as performance goes, it's a highly polished act that they've nearly got down to a science. Actually, down to a business model is probably the more apt phrase.
The article also suggests that these days, thanks to YouTube and stuff like that, K-pop has found enough overseas fans that they don't need to try to "convert the masses" the way JYP tried to do, booking The Wonder Girls with the Jonas Brothers: Kpop already has fans in all kinds of places, and they'll do a great job of selling out all kinds of venues... so long as their bookings are in keeping with the size of the fan community in their target cities (but who are we kidding? Ambition will win out. Wembley Stadium cancellation, here we come).
Some people might be a little disappointed if Kpop chooses to cater to that smaller niche, rather than aiming to hit the mainstream...
I'm not. And you know why?
Barenaked Ladies. That's why. And no, that's not a reference to the new look I hope SNSD takes on.
Barenaked Ladies (or BNL) is famous for that one song that gets stuck in your head. The chickity china one. You know it. They've had a handful of hit singles in America. That one catchy song was in 1999. What many people don't know is that in Canada, they first broke out in 1993, with this song:
They got some measure of success in Canada, but to get big in the USA, they toured, hard for a long time. Basically, from 1993 until 1999 when "One Week" broke through, they were releasing albums and achieving slowly increasing levels of fame around the USA, so that by the time the did have a radio hit, they also had a polished act, a solid back catalogue to fill out a full length show, great stage banter, a pre-existing fan base who could act as their missionaries to those who thought they were one-hit-wonders, and live favorites that new fans could get into, while old fans could sing along.
And if a Korean band really wants to make it in the USA, they're probably going to have to do the same. This whole "hitch our wagon to the Jonas Brothers" thing won't quite do it, and here's why:
He tries to crack up the audience, but his delivery is twelve kinds of "off." It's kind of cute to see him fall on his face, but it's not a speech that will set another million tweens' hearts aflutter, the way the Beatles were charming and cheeky and funny in their moptop era interviews.
In Robotics, they talk about the "Uncanny Valley" - when robots begin to resemble humans, humans feel more empathy towards them. We empathise with R2D2 more than Robbie The Robot because R2D2 looks and acts a little more human than Robbie does.
Mr. Incredible than with Rodney Copperbottom, because he's more human-looking... but then something strange happens.
Call it the Polar Express effect. There's a point where the imitation gets close enough that it becomes weird instead of more and more charming. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was so lifelike... that it freaked everybody out. It was so similar to human that the small differences became the focus, instead of the big similarities.
And Korean stars trying to act the way American popstars act will fall into the uncanny valley - that "almost there, but not quite" zone, that will win over those niche audiences, and people who are willing to take Kpop, its awkward English its aegyoish stylings, and its boys wearing eye makeup on its own terms. It won't win over "the mainstream" in the way that would make the Kimcheerleaders feel validated. (Then again... jimmying music chart results for a meaningless number one single (see here) validates them, so maybe it would).
See, Rain's video up there-- he tries to make a joke - a simple pun - and bombs completely. Because rehearsing softball interview questions is not the same as actually appearing cool enough during a live appearance/interview/whatever, that a teenybopper (they're the audience for Kpop) would go "I want to make THAT person my idol." Making a joke that's culturally acceptable, and delivering it in a way that's funny to a widespread audience, is a very, very culturally specific performance, and you can't traipse across an ocean and expect to be the coolest kid in the class when you don't even speak the language. And that's the level of cultural acclimatization that would be necessary to reach "the mainstream." Lady Gaga knows the culture well enough that she can turn it inside out and play off defying its conventions, but you have to know it to subvert it.
(that uncanny valley goes the other way, too: the two mixed-race girls in Chocolat freak me out because their not-quite-Korean faces look really really weird to me in Korean kpop makeup, Korean kpop fashion, doing Korean kpop dances and aegyo. Big noses and aegyo are like apricot jam and pizza to me: both alright, but not together. Don't ask me why specifically - the whole thing about the uncanny valley is that you can't quite put your finger on it - but it's weird to me.)
Oh yeah: Unless you can do this (Shakira), or something like it.
In which case the rest is kinda moot. (Thanks, Youtube)
That may still not be entirely true: Shakira backs up her talent to back it up, with a really strong stage show, and she was a proven performer in Spanish (and had support from that fan base) before she tackled the VMA's.
But the other rub is this:
There's just no such thing as a mainstream anymore. When the Beatles came across the pond in 1964, the average TV owner had something like three or six channels to choose from, period. It's a lot easier to get astounding tv ratings when you're twenty five percent of all that's available! Even in the days of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," there were few enough methods of media distribution, that probably every person in America had heard "Billy Jean" on the radio, and could hum along. These days, thanks to Youtube, Amazon's long tail and iTunes and online personalized specialty radio stations, you can have an album or song hit number one in the charts, with vast swaths of America's population still saying "Justin Whober?" or "Whoby Keith?" or "Isn't M&M a candy?" Arcade Fire had some good chart results, and they still got the Who the Hell is Arcade Fire? backlash when they won Album of the Year. Modest freaking Mouse had a number one album...because in 2007, that's possible. Wouldn't have happened to the Pixies in the '80s.
That's good for music, because it means anybody can find their niche, and it's good for me, because I don't have to wait through radio crap to find songs I like and buy their albums.
Stornoway. Courtesy of a facebook status update. Song: Fuel Up.
But that same diversity in music means that you can't sweep America, or take America, or the world, or Europe, by storm. At very best, you can take one country, or one demographic by storm - like Justin Bieber did, setting youtube and twitter records while people older than me have NO idea who he is, and couldn't be bothered (at the same time as those tweeners really can't be bothered about Arcade Fire and The National). You could be an indie sensation, or a country sensation, or a teeny-bop sensation, or a CCM supadupastar. If you've got the chops.
And that'd be a pretty impressive accomplishment. But you can't take over America anymore. There's just too much ground, and too diverse, with too many pockets of people looking for something too specific, to be taken. What was the last album that took North America by storm? Has anything since Jagged Little Pill had the same impact across demographics?
The group that has the best chance at it will have every member good enough at English that they can do unscripted stuff, and come off cool. They will be legitimately talented, and also very hard-working, and they'll pay their dues: they won't whisk into L.A. from Seoul, book Staples Center, and sell it out because "The Whole World is Being Swept By the Korean Wave." They'll make it the way BNL made it in America. 200 cities a year, for five years. And then suddenly they'll appear out of nowhere.
The way Bobby Kim did in Korea: by being really poor for a while.
So that's what I think. Now go read the article at SeoulBeats.