Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Girls Generation on Letterman (소녀시대 on 레터맨)

Must read post by The Metropolitician, who isn't sold on Kpop making it in America.
Rebecca at A Blog Abroad points out that while people are talking about Asia-Asian acts making it in America, we're still waiting for Asian-American artists to get the recognition they deserve.
also at

A few notes:
1. Letterman seems blown away at the end. And yeah, they did a pretty great performance.
2. They really downplayed the Aegyo (but you have to: that just won't work in America)
3. I agree with the people who say this ISN'T Girls' Generation's best song.
4. The way the English lyrics to the song fit with the music, it's pretty clear the song was written in Korean.
5. They KILLED on the dancing parts. For comparison, here's the Korean version of the video.

 I still think Gee was SNSD's greatest song, their best video, and probably the encapsulation of... not just everything Girls Generation is, and the best they can be, but everything the current K-pop model brings to the table, and everything that makes boy band/girl band Kpop. If an human from 8000 years in the future asked me to explain Kpop in one video, Gee would be it.

 Like it or hate it, this IS Kpop:


 Put your own reactions to the Letterman performance in the comments.

While I'm impressed that they scored a Letterman gig, and they did a pretty good job, I'm still sticking with my old view that, given what it takes to make it in the US market, 2NE1 and IU are the two groups that have the best shot at making it in the USA... but for more reading, here's my piece on why NO Korean group can conquer america anymore.

And some other Korean music that I think deserves a look.


wetcasements said...

I've made my hater credentials pretty well known, but that performance struck me as wooden and/or robotic, as does all K-pop. They look thoroughly bored with their own performance. Take, say, Lady Gaga -- there's a chick who seems to love what she's doing (even if she is faking it, but I don't think she is).

And for the nth time, why do the packagers put so many damn people in the group? This comes across more as a cheerleading squad or a dance performance than a musical one.

There's a reason the biggest boy bands of the 90's had five or fewer members. More than that and you aren't doing music, you're doing choreography.

Sorry, but this will never fly with an American audience.

Also, my man-crush on Bill Murray knows now bounds.

wetcasements said...

Also, Snoop Dogg did a remix of this track so that's probably why they chose if for their US debut.

Scott said...

Not sure what you mean by 'killed' on the dance moves, but an OK performance. David seemed to give his usual amount of enthusiasm for musical acts.

The Korean media will milk it.

It was forgotten by the majority of Letterman viewers about 1 hour ago.

Burndog said...

I quite enjoy K-Pop...but I agree with Rob...2NE1 are Korea's best chance doing any business in America...or maybe their male equivelant Big Bang. At the end of the day, SNSD made it big in Korea by being cute and fun...and I think they're better when they do songs like 'Gee' and 'Oh', than they with songsd like this.

I think it's worth commending Dave for his passable '감사합니다'...hopefully that proves to people such as my former nemesis that it's not such a terrible thing to try to address people in their native language. Much respect to Dave for pulling that rabbit out of the hat.

Bill Murray didn't look particularly over joyed with the performance did he? Still...100% with westcasements about the man love for Bill Murray...the man's an icon!

Janine said...

I don't think that Gee would have appealed to the American audience. I don't think they like the whole 'cutesy' thing, more sexy and attractive?

Burndog said... seems Bill Murray did enjoy himself.


Unknown said...

Singing in Korean hides the banality of the lyrics, which comes out in English. I thought the dancing was wooden and that there are 2-3 women on that stage with no apparent necessary role -- and they are not great contributors in the eye candy department. I understand why these girls lip synch -- they have to, with their thin voices.

Anonymous said...

I'm an American male who has followed SNSD and K-pop in general for about 2 years now. I thought they were awesome! They are beautiful, charming, multi-talented, have bodies that most American women would die to possess and extremely hard-working and humble. I know Americans don't understand why there are 9 of them - but that is their power. Remember the Rockettes? Having 9 girls participating in complicated choreography while singing, switching the lead vocals constantly and the dance formations so every girl gets her chance to shine is amazing and takes hours and hours of practice. I admit I don't like "The Boys" as much as some of their other songs, but it was produced by Teddy Riley who has produced and choreographed Michael Jackson, among other US talent. Their English also needs work, but that is because they are simultaneously learning Japanese, Chinese and Thai for their Asian performances. This is just the beginning, give them time - they will improve in every facet of their performances. They have already conquered most of Asia!

Anonymous said...

I thought their performance was ok, but the song sucks. Since ROK is supposedely "conservative" is "Girls brings 'the boys' out" a phallic reference by such coy and angelic-looking Koreans? :/ sarcasm

I know we women refer to our breasts as "the girls".

Scott Walker said...

You're totally wrong on #4. The English version is the original, or they were parallel compositions (I'm beginning to think the latter). It was actually released simultaneously with the Korean version back in October on the Korean music services. (I got it off Soribada before they cut me off. Jerks. I do understand why they did it, though.) The only public performance of the English version prior to this was at SMTOWN New York.

What always bugs me about the other commenters is how arch and smug they come off as being. Probably an accurate perception, though. I'm not even in Korea (and never have been), but I've at least come to accept how things are (or at least how they look from over here) and deal with it accordingly. SNSD are nine members, Super Junior 12 (Han Geng is likely never coming back), and there's a bunch of other huge groups. So it is. It all comes down to whether or not I like the end result. The rest is nitpicking, and while I can nitpick with the best of them, even I get tired of it sometimes, and when I get tired of it, I get tired of others doing it too.

Anonymous said...

Kpop is actually pretty popular here now, as a subculture, much like emo was in my day. It takes a special kind of weirdo to turn to Korea in times of crisis but there are hundreds of thousands such kids in the US...

those of you who are over 30 or have been in Korea for more than 2 years are going to have a hard time internalizing the above truth.

As for the performance, Teddy Riley's song, frankly, sounds like crap. but they managed to find an arrangement for Letterman that was palatable.

The girls' performance had an energy level that I've basically never seen from a Korean studio recording. I was very surprised how good the song sounded and how good the performance looked. Regis couldn't stop blowing his whistle lol.

I would have agreed with you Robo, even 6 months ago that 2NE1 was basically the one who would come closest to crossing over but the sand is shifting under us. The press and fan response has stateside has been strangely intrigued and... irrespective of the Korean media spin... even positive.

Although it's hard to believe a country so firmly divided along racial lines when it comes to the consumption of pop music as the US will ever actually accept Kpop. I mean... black people won't buy Country and whites won't buy Spanish Latin pop but they'll buy SNSD? Dunno...

Anonymous said...

@wetcasements the packagers put 9 girls in the group because they're the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

the point is that they basically look alike but each scrub can pick his "favorite" from the bunch

it's self-evident. if you can't figure that one out you shouldn't be posting polemic on the internet

@Anonymous "bring the boys out" is urban lingo. not a phallic reference lol. google it if you've been in Korea so long that you don't know what it is (or if you just that old)

Unknown said...

I'd rather listen to the "Treme" soundtrack. Antoine's band is always a feel-good delight, Annie is eye candy and a joy to hear (because she always shows her heart), Davis is a hilarious rip on whites ripping African-American music, and "Big Chief"'s jazz fusion brought my Yankee and Confederate halves into harmony.

GG lacked soul- period.

BTW, can any man or woman actually like to see woman stuffed into those boots? It's no secret that women wear clothing and makeup to signal to other women, not men. My wife curses when she wears her boots, walks slower and more painfully, and can't wait to pull them off. But, she always wears them when we go out. To be honest, I only like to see them flapping in the air if my wife pulls them off before she stumbles to the toilet. I just kept asking myself what those girls would look like in a mugshot and where the sex tapes their chaebol boss has on each of them are lurking.

Anonymous said...

what is the problem of having 9 girls in a group?just because that was in the 90's?
well let me tell you guys that the cloth right now is what people in the 80's wore just saying....
i think they did a pretty good job they just have to choose a better song and it takes marketing skills to make it to america because lets face it singers in america aren't the best ones either
and i prefer this than a rapper singing about sex drugs and parties

This Is Me Posting said...

Rather than reiterate my disdain for the atrocity that is K-Pop, I just want to comment on point #1 that you made.

I didn't at all view Letterman's reaction as being "blown away." In fact, he couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the performance right from the moment he gets up from his chair:

"Oh there we go, there we go. Come on, let's *laughs* Let's *laughs* what is that? Thank you..."

At the end, he was polite, he gave them a football, and then it looked like he was going to walk away from them without even shaking their hands. Now, I could be wrong on that last point only because it cuts away at that moment, but it certainly looks, to me at least, that he's trying to escape from being on stage with them.

That doesn't exactly scream "blown away" to me. That was mildly amused... and for all the wrong reasons.

Just my two cents.

Also, watching that one girl off to the left at the beginning of the video trying to hold her position while they were bantering is really awkward and uncomfortable to watch.

Anonymous said...

So you know what the writers meant by the refrain, "bring the boys out". GG did not strike me as being urban or hip.

wetcasements said...

"the point is that they basically look alike but each scrub can pick his 'favorite' from the bunch"

This is a contradiction in terms. The "classic" (LOL) boy-girl band formula is three to five beautiful young people, each with a "personality" (the hot one, the shy one, the cute one, etc.) Put nine people on stage who, as you admit, look exactly alike, and the formula doesn't work. You don't have a girl band, you have a cheer squad.

And going by sales numbers, Girls' Generation has yet to become "pretty popular" in the States:

Sorry, but being a fan doesn't change the reality -- Kpop will only enjoy niche status in the US.

wetcasements said...

btw, here's how you kill it on Letterman:

ZenKimchi said...

Speaking of conquering in most any field, that's something that needs to be excised from Korean or any other types of heads. On Planet Money they interviewed the guy who made the successful Instapaper app. I agree with him that it's really good to be able to just make a living--a good living. There's no need to dominate a market, and it's almost impossible now to do so. That's for the sociopaths.

wetcasements said...

"There's no need to dominate a market, and it's almost impossible now to do so. That's for the sociopaths."

I agree, but this is a feature, not a bug, of the K-pop industry. It's a purely manufactured, for-profit model. Much like the reason the US record industry is close to dead with the rise of the internet (and no, it wasn't piracy that killed it), the K-pop "model" is based on high front-end input (years of training not just one, but lots of young girls and boys) that can only "pay off" with the kind of 1980's mega-hits that don't really exist any longer. (Too many different options, and nobody listens to radio any longer.)

So while my subjective sense is that K-pop sucks the big one, objectively it's also doomed to fail outside of Korea and Asia.

A singer-songwriter type might be able to achieve big success in America (again, for all her flash, Lady Gaga was an organic phenomenon and she writes her own music) but more than likely they'd have to move and live there full time, if only to perfect his or her English.

Which would effectively not make them part of "the wave," since they'd be American.

Katherine said...

Agreeing that I don't think they "killed it." They didn't fuck up, but it didn't seem like they really got the audience to get into it. (Compare: Stephen Colbert and the Roots Crew performing "Friday" with Jimmy Kimmel.) Compare this to, say, Todd Rundgren's appearance in December 2008 (went to YouTube and picked a Letterman music guest at random).

Would also like to state that, for the record, Gee is a fucking awful song. The whole aegyo of it and their chipmunk-esque vocals drive me up the goddamn walls.

Rebekah said...

I have to agree with others who thought the performance looked lackluster. While the dancing was technically decent, I thought they looked rather bored, unlike their Japanese performances where it looked like they were enjoying themselves—mind you, those were full stage shows.

I also think that if a K-Pop group is to break into the N.A. scene,it will be 2NE1.

Their music style better suits American audiences and they convey a more mature "sexy" image which appeals to a wider range of N.A. listeners/viewers (from both genders). SNSD's more Aegyo style, I think, appeals to a smaller niche market.

As a sidenote: I thoroughly enjoy your blog and have been a 'lurker' for quite some time now. I thought I should come out of the shadows and express my appreciation. :)

WC said...

I think GG doesn't have to change lol. I mean if you like it you like it, if you don't you don't. Its like asking someone to change, because you don't like their personality or customs.

What do you think of 윤도현? or 자우림? They aren't exactly Korean pop but I feel 윤도현 probably has a chance.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking after watching this that the same things they would have to do to get publicity in the USA would destroy their career in Korea (drugs, sex tapes, brawls, stages vegas weddings, public breakdowns, warddrobe malfunctions). Therefore, they cannot succeed.

Anonymous said...

To the person who said the girls lip synched, you're Did Not lip synch for Letterman's and Kelly's show. As for K. Koba who's being driven nuts by gg and kpop's goddam awful songs, well the solution to your problem is simple....Don't Fucking Listen To It! Why torture yourself by clicking and then bitching afterwards? Vicious cycle eh? That goes for the rest of the grownups here bitching about gg/kpop that's targeted for tweeny market. Grown m/f trying to make sense out of the popular music videos teens like watching/listening and then bitching afterwards because they can't make any sense is beyond me. Get over it you old folks, you were all teens at one point in a different era.

The only Kpop group that has ability to gain success in the states based on their talent is none other than BigBang, not 2ne1 nor IU. BB with its ultra catchy music, each member with abilities uniquely different, they can sing/dance/rap. I went to their electric tour concert in Japan, my my what energy....they rocked the soldout house. Only if their English was up to par, but even then America is not ready for Asian faces entertaining them. Europe will be a little more open, Asia has been conquered, South America has been picking steam, parts of Middle East also has large fan base. GG are out in the good ole US of A just to test the water much like Boa and Se7en, their agency's expectations are little to none. Kpop is doing great and it will continue to receive much love elsewhere without America.

Roboseyo said...

Anonymous: please be respectful to the other commenters, or your comments will be deleted, not because I disagree with you, but because you're being rude.

feld_dog said...

The whole revenue model for K-pop consists of getting famous enough to do cell phone and fried chicken ads. THat's obviously not gonna happen in the U.S. Maybe SNSD can get famous enough to do maybe a dozen shows in medium sized theaters in cities with a heavy Korean-American continengent. That's about it. And given the enormous overhead and promotion costs for such an undertaking (you ever wonder how much they had to shell out to get on Letterman?!), I doubt SNSD, or any K-pop act is going to make a lot of money in the U.S. Go ahead, SM Entertainment, knock yer selves out!

Katherine said...

As for K. Koba who's being driven nuts by gg and kpop's goddam awful songs, well the solution to your problem is simple....Don't Fucking Listen To It! Why torture yourself by clicking and then bitching afterwards? Vicious cycle eh?

I lol'd.

John from Daejeon said...

Had they been on the "Super Bowl" or "American Idol," it would have been a big Madonna-like deal, but the "Late Show with David Letterman" isn't even seen by 1% of the U.S. population on a nightly basis (and Tuesday tied Monday for Letterman's lowest ratings of the week), and those who watch Letterman aren't exactly teeny boppers and tweens. It also didn't help when they aired on a night when CBS populated its Primetime line-up with repeats of it's top-rated "NCIS" franchises which always lowers of the amount of available viewers on those nights.

It amazes me that so many are making a mountain out of this mole hill.

Emma said...

Honestly, I think if SNSD wants to make it in the US they need to target the teen-boppers. Go back to the cute "Gee" style and get in with the pre-teen/teen group, which I think would be more open to such a large group. Or just a girl/boy group in general.

I know this was supposed to be their "sexy" debut or whatever, but I just don't think they can do the type of sexy that sells in the US. (BTW, in agreement about 2NE1...)

Also, I got a kick out of the person who thinks their choreography is complicated... My high school dance team did more complicated stuff nine years ago...

Levi Kaufman said...

I always really admire Rob's enthusiasm, positivity, and optimism...but, I gotta disagree. Groups like this are just copies of lame boy/girl bands that originated in the late 80's/early 90's in the US. There's nothing nostalgic, ironic, or hip about them...the concept of the group is so blatantly unoriginal that even American audiences that crave banality and repetition were tired of this type of entertainment twenty years ago shortly after it become popular. No one else remembers that?

"How is this kind of music still popular" is the question I have to ask. It's stale.

Re-packaging something totally unoriginal and then changing all the words to Korean only works in Korea. They're from a totally different country and yet the end result is a product that's been drained of any cultural integrity or exotic appeal.

Roboseyo said...


Last time I talked about Kpop I had a similar comment to this one, suggesting that Boy Bands and Girl Bands were pretty much invented in the late 80s with New Kids On The Block, and saw their heyday end when N-Sync broke up.

That's just factually untrue, and a simple visit to Wikipedia puts the lie to this dismissal.

The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, and on the female side, The Supremes, were all boy and girl groups that followed the template K-pop boy and girl bands still follow (albeit differently) - they had roles in their groups (George Harrison was the quiet one; Paul McCartney was the cute one), and the idea of bands without a main lead singer came from the old Doo-Wop and barbershop groups of the early and mid 1900s.

Some of these bands were even manufactured to cash in on the popularity of the genre, just like K-pop bands (The Monkees). The Platters (1950s) featured lineup changes, including the lead vocalist.

So... let's just put that "Boy bands and girl bands were a '90s fad" thing to rest now, thanks.

Like suspenders, fedoras, saxophone solos, and jam bands, boy and girl bands will cycle in, then out, and then back in again, to the pop culture relevancy.

Levi Kaufman said...


Who knows? If Kesha can become popular, I guess anyone can. She's absolutely horrid.

wetcasements said...

Just thinking out loud, but if one of the many managers of the K-pop scene could make connections in Hollywood and get Glee to do a K-pop episode well, problem solved.

Roboseyo said...

If one of the Kpop production companies managed to score such a thing, it'd be a big win for them.

But as I think about this topic more, @Wetcasements, I feel like K-pop's attempt to "take over America" is plagued by what I think I'm going to call "magic bullet thinking" -- the same flawed thinking that believes if we can just find the right "visit Korea" slogan, the tourists will come pouring in, if the right hollywood star can say something nice about Korea, or if Korean ads can appear in the right magazine/advertising space, everything will figure itself out. This "magic bullet" thinking is common in Korea: my studies of the 1988 olympics showed me that (after the fact) the 1988 Olympics were portrayed as the "Magic bullet" that lifted Korea into the leagues of modern nations, when in reality, the olympics were one (spectacular, yes, but just one) step in a process that started long before the Olympics, and ended long after them.

But crediting the Olympics for it is a much cleaner simpler narrative... and perhaps excuses all the villages and low-cost neighborhoods and communities that were disenfranchised in order for the Olympics, and Seoul's redevelopment, to take on a sheen of newness.

So yes, a "Glee" episode would generate a crap-ton of buzz - even more than SNSD on Letterman - but it fails to recognize that gaining a market in USA will not be a matter of scoring the right "magic bullet" score, and then sitting back and letting the fever spread: it'll be the result of a sustained, diligent effort to find fans, and convert marginal fans into superfans, and until they figure out that announcing a concert in "Madison Square Gardens" won't be enough to unlock every door and unroll every red carpet, people will continue seeing a disparity between expected and actual result.

Scott Walker said...


Everyone seems to forget Menudo, except of course for all the Boricuas, and some of the Chicanos. Menudo sort of bridged the gap between the Jacksons and New Edition, which were the precursor to NKOTB.

What group's formation was inspired by NKOTB going to Britain? Take That, who had a sizable following in Korea back in the early '90s -- enough that MNet carries their post-reunion albums. Take That will likely have some role in the Olympics this summer, I might add, though exactly what is still not quite certain.

Take That in turn inspired the forming of Backstreet Boys, N*Sync and The Spice Girls, and may possibly have given Lee Soo-man the idea to form H.O.T., as Take That had its day in Korea about the time LSM likely would have been selecting the prospective members of H.O.T. for training.


I doubt your high school dance team sang at the same time, or did the routine in heels. In fact, I'd like to see you try it; put up or shut up time -- get a camera, record yourself, put it on YouTube.

Scott Walker said...

Having just seen Madonna's halftime show at the Super Bowl, I have to reconsider the possibilities of success for songs like "Oh!" and "Gee". They would have to have gone up somewhat: from nil to 1 in a million -- not much of an improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.

John from Daejeon said...

Looks like it is a little late to jump onto the Glee bandwagon as less than 3% of the U.S. population regularly tunes in anymore. Due to this fact, the program has been put on hiatus for the next seven weeks, but it will have a Menudo connection when it returns later in the season.

Seeing as this in one of the most important months ratings wise, this does not bode well for the series.

Becks said...

Without wanting to beat a dead horse, I came across this Al Jazeera doc today that was interesting, complete with commentary on the possibilities of K-pop making a go of it outside of Asia. So if you or anyone else is interested:

A Closer Look From the Outside: K-pop on Al Jazeera-

Roboseyo said...

Better yet, older people-if you can't get any new music, QUIT LISTENING TO CLASSIC ROCK! All that you're doing is damaging your musical palate anyway.