Girls’ Generation (소녀시대 or 少女時代), known as SNSD in the Western region, released their new song “The Boys” to Korean and American audiences this week. It is the first time one of their songs is released in English. Another popular Korean pop girl group, The Wonder Girls, have been in the United States since 2009 attempting to break into the American music industry with very limited success (however they have a Nickelodeon movie and music to be released next year). Next month SNSD will actually face off against Wonder Girls as they both make a comeback in South Korea (SNSD has been busy taking over Japanese music charts). Time will tell if SNSD can hold American interest or if they will join previous Korean hopefuls, such as BoA and Se7en, who failed to climb the charts to fame in the United States.
SNSD in “The Boys”
SNSD in “Gee”
Personally, I found “The Boys” music video and song to be less than captivating. The video shows a more mature SNSD who seems to be attempting to be more “sexy”. The lyrics and beat sound more like a bad stomp yard song. While many of the fans love them for their beauty, this new style stretches far from the “cute” image most Asian stars project and I personally think it is less appealing.
Indeed, SNSD is experiencing their “grow up” phase that several stars undergo as they begin to age, though nothing extreme like Britney Spears (that would never be accepted in a conservative place like South Korea). Their English was below average at best with a strong Asian accent present in their voices with obvious computerization used to make them sound more fluent in English. Songs like “Gee”, “Tell me your wish”, and “Hoot” are more enjoyable, in my opinion.
Not all American artists have great voices or talent (hello Ke$ha)…what I think really matters to American audiences are whether a song is catchy enough to be played in a club and danced to. “The Boys” is not a song I could find myself dancing to and most Top 40s music today falls into club songs (discopop has overtaken almost every singers agenda in the previous year and a 1/2). I have been clubbing in South Korea during my stay here and Korean people hardly dance in clubs (they actually just stand around), it is the opposite of being in American nightclub where everyone dances like crazy.
Americans also care about the story behind their artists and the story behind girl groups, such as SNSD, are not that interesting – they train to be singers in the same way every other Korean pop star does and the days of Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls are long gone. Even a star like Ke$ha has some story behind her uprising (the popular saying that she was born at a party). Mainstream American music has few Asian sensations, though there is certainly plenty of talent out there.
My history with Asian pop music and Asia
I would consider myself a frequent listener to Asian pop music. My first exposure to Asian pop music occurred during my early teenage years when Japanese pop songs were frequently featured as ending themes to anime television shows. Eventually, I started hearing Japanese pop on websites, such as Xanga pages. Some of my favorite artists early on were Mika Nakashima and Ayumi Hamasaki. I continued to follow Japanese pop artists until around 2007, when Japanese music companies became stricter about video and music postings on the internet – Japanese music basically disappeared from the internet. This limited access curbed my listening to Japanese music and exposure to Japanese media.
Late 2008 my friends introduced me to Korean dramas. After watching Goong, a story about an imaginary modern day Korean royal kingdom, I became more interested in South Korea and watched many dramas online. After hearing the ballads from the Korean dramas I started listening to more Korean songs and eventually started listening to the Wonder Girls – the hot buzz at the moment. As Korean media hit the internet and YouTube I became exposed to more Korean music and started listening to it regularly.
Nowadays, my iTunes playlist has more Korean music than Japanese music because Korean music is more accessible and more buzzed about online (smart marketing!). Although I do enjoy Korean music, it would be nice if Japanese music companies would market their music talent more to outside audiences and make it easier for other people to listen in.
If Japan hopes to keep its place as one of the leaders of Asia, their various industries have to become more competitive and marketing better to outsiders. Their car companies and electronics do a great job at this, but recently their game industry is being overshadowed by American developers because Japanese companies refuse to put their pride and stubbornness aside and do what fans/consumers want (Mega Man Legends 3 and endless Final Fantasy remakes – while ignoring fans calling for a sequel to FFVII). This thinking will hurt Japan in the long run and on the flipside opens the gates for South Korea to reach more success.
With the newly signed USA – South Korea Free Tree Agreement – South Korea now has a free trade advantage over Japan with the biggest economic power in the world. Japanese companies have already suffered several losses by the strong yen and declined tourism due to public fear of nuclear radiation in Japan. Korean pop or the hallyu wave is the power behind Korea’s tourism and Japan would do well to promote its many cultural components. In my opinion, if Japan doesn’t wise up then Japan may find itself left behind and South Korea climbs into partnership with the United States.