SNSD in America: Will the West Ever Truly Embrace K-pop?

This past week the popular K-pop group Girls’ Generation (also called SNSD) made their US prime time debut, appearing on both ABC’s morning show “Live! with Kelly” as well as on “The Late Show with David Letterman”. This is the latest attempt by a K-pop group/artist to infiltrate the global mainstream music industry, with the US being the final obstacle needing to be overcome in order to truly break into the global music scene. A lot has been made of SNSD’s performance and their subsequent media exposure in the US, but perspectives are divided on not only if they could succeed but also whether a Western audience could ever accept K-pop in its entirety.

The “Korean Wave” has been a much-publicised cultural symbol of Korea’s attempt to market their local talent and culture to the world. K-pop, in particular, has proven to be a bigger winner for this notion as many of Korea’s neighbouring Asian countries have embraced K-pop and its idols. Cultural similarities play into the factors that make K-pop’s transition into Asia a success, but the US has proved troublesome as cultural dissimilarities and unavoidable differences in their approaches to music industry hinder K-pop’s ability to become fully recognised.

This transcends the simple matter of personal taste and instead raises questions of cultural identity and cross-cultural transference. SNSD performed their new hit song “The Boys”, which was sung in English, the biggest cultural barrier, but is this simple change in language enough to create interest in this Asian pop group? If the blogosphere is anything to go by the answer is an unequivocal no. Having followed a number of recent postings on SNSD’s performance, there seems to be a number of issues that continual come up, most notably the contrast between Korea’s approach to popular music and that of the West.

On “Live! with Kelly” the group was asked how they all met and came to be the popular

group they are today. The response was that anyone with a basic knowledge of the K-pop industry would know. They were train, almost manufactured, into the form they now hold. There was no real ‘story’ of success in their rise to fame and popularity. This kind of narrative is particular important to Western audiences as pure on-stage presences in but only one dimension in a multi-faceted disco ball of how artist come to be recognised, supported, and loved. When the story of a group such as SNSD amounts to little more that cogs in a machine, the necessary emotional attachment to those artists just isn’t there. I use this term ‘superficial’ in the sense that K-pop groups like Girls’ Generation struggle to establish themselves beyond their flashy on-stage performances. They have the moves, the looks, and possible the skills but that is a small part of becoming a star.

Shows like “American Idols” and the Korean talent show “Superstar K” taps into this phenomenon as fans become attached to artists and their stories of success. Humans love conflict and we find ourselves more willing to lend our favour to groups and public figures that have persevered and triumphed in a way that hasn’t been artificially created. It’s that narrative of their lives that grabs our attention and cements our admiration to them as stars and idols. And when SNSD answered that question about how they got together, I cringed knowing that that was not the response that would trigger a favourable response from the American audiences.

My point is that on a fundamental level the problematic transference of K-pop groups to the West seems to be somewhat rooted in the philosophical differences between the two industries. This applies largely to the most popular K-pop groups and less so to some of the smaller music groups that weren’t cultivated in the same manner as SNSD. I am not personal apposed to the world experiencing great Korean music, but Korea’s mainstream industry seems too tailored to the Asian market that they might just be using the wrong bate. I have seen many a small Korea rock group perform at bars and clubs that have heaps of personality both on and off the stage, and it is these kinds of groups and artist that would, in my opinion, fair better in the West.

Groups such as Girls’ Generation are facing obstacles in the West that they might

not be able to inherently overcome; but why is that the goal here? Why are the US and the West so important to the K-pop industry? SNSD are hugely popular in Asia and that is not something that can be ignored or undermined. Again it is the nature of the beast as the K-pop industry feels an incessant need to branch out and maximise its efforts, even at the risk of alienating its own culture through culturally specific marketing and the questionable presentation of its idols. Is the international music scene highest level of musical being? And does failure in the US somehow constitute a failing on the K-pop industry or taint Korean pride? These kinds of questions are subjected mostly to the harsh rubric set forth by the Korean media and the K-pop industry itself.

I would be interested to here other people’s opinion here on whether or not K-pop groups, such asGirls’ Generation, would inherently be able to make a serious and lasting impact on the Western music scene. Or will the Korean Wave never amount to more that a ripple on the shores of the Western music mind-set. Alternatively, does is even matter if mainstream Korean pop groups aren’t able to penetrate into West? I believe that many smaller indie and rock groups in Korea would do great if given half the backing bigger more popular groups had. Please feel free to share you thoughts in the comment section below. Discussions are welcome but please be respectful and keep the unadulterated fanaticism to a minimum!


About asia4you

Hey guys I'm Maya(Maryam,Maria) and I'm living in Germany but I was born in Asia.(Y) ..=D .. please..please..please leave comments I want to know, if you like my posts.
This entry was posted in K-PoP and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to SNSD in America: Will the West Ever Truly Embrace K-pop?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your observation is very well thought of and perhaps correct. However, understanding the machinery that K-POP is employing to propagate and gain fandom should be noted. I believe this is the real source of power behind the phenomenon that has been overlooked. The strength of K-POP comes from overwhelming bombardment of Contents and the way it draws in the fans. A group like SNSD might not have a simple ‘Story’ of how they came to be, because they were ‘manufactured’ by a company. However, there are flood of information and insight into each member and as a group that are readily available in internet. This personalizes them to the fans and creates nearly fanatical fanbase. Once you become a fan, it is very difficult to get out of.
    For example, a fan who happens to get interested in SNSD would use youtube to view some of their MV at first. The second stage would be watching the clips of them in variety shows, live performances and reality shows. Third stage would watch the shows in full and expanding to Dramas, movies etc. Lastly, the productivity of group like SNSD is ridiculously high, such that you are able to follow them as a fan and something new would be available almost daily. (There are nine of them after all, who seem to work around the clock in collaborations, TV shows, dramas, musicals etc.)
    This level of massive content production is amassed for years and provides the potential nourishment for the fans to feed on. In case of SNSD, the contents are available from their pre-debut teen years till now, where you can watch them grow up in front of your eyes. They are usually themselves and their tears, laughs, hardship and triumphs can be felt in earnest. Compared to American pop artist, where you get to see few new MV a year and hear some stories of their suspected love life or their drug/alcohol problems, a K-POP star can be a lot more personable once you get pulled into the genre. If you just look at last few month of SNSD’s content production, one or all were involved in numerous concerts and TV appearance in Asia, US and Europe, as well as their own TV show, a drama, a musical, and countless live performances. Which are available all via internet.
    America produces highest quality contents. However, if you look at American TV shows, you get 12-16 episodes year and reruns rest of the year. K-POP fandom is like a favorite TV show that has new episode or clips everyday……..from years from past and years to come. The question to ask is if K-POP has enough staying power to gather enough Internet driven American fans to become mainstream or relevant. I have no answer but in times of itunes and internet where a foreign album or a song can be purchased with a click of a mouse, it might no longer be a factor. For example, SNSD’s appearance in David Letterman might have been futile in cracking US’s mainstream market but, existing ‘nearly fanatical fans’ will cheer on and spread the groups to others with certain pride and a frame of reference they didn’t have before. —“They were even on Letterman!!!” Oh.. and these fans will buy the albums even if K-POP artists were not main stream anyway. If K-POP can keep this level of productivity and quality long enough, they might actually gain acceptance in US market someday.

    As you might expect, I am SNSD fan, a sone. Funny thing is that I hated most Korean music in the past and loved groups like Queen and Pink Floyed all my life. I was actually ashamed of listening to their music and watching them in shows at first. After much soul searching, my conclusion is that you cannot correctly analyze this phenomenon by labeling SNSD or K-POP as just a genre of music. It is a multi faceted form of entertainment, where music is the medium that hold it all together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s