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K-Pop: A Secret Weapon of Korea for Future Cultural Domination?

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Girls' Generation

“Gee, gee, gee, gee, babe, babe, babe, babe.” What does it sound like?

It is a “hook” by an idol girl group who fascinated more than 65 million viewers on YouTube. And the list goes on. There are many other Korean pop groups who have millions of followers or fans around the world: Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, KARA, TVXQ, 2NE1, SHINee, 2PM, you just name it.

American pop music industry, beware! Like a pied piper, these idol groups from Korea are captivating fans in North America. For the sold-out concert at the Madison Square Garden in NYC, tens of thousands of star-struck teenybopper-comrades across the country — even from Canada and Mexico — to be mesmerized by the glittering and flashy idol bands from Korea.

Paige from Detroit burst into tears as one boy band was going to the army. Monica came from Mexico, making her friends jealous. You think that’s hardcore? Two brothers from Canada drove non-stop for 36 hours. Dora from Colorado missed two days of school, one to buy the ticket online, and the other for the concert. From Asia to NYC, to flash-mobs in Paris and Istanbul, global K-Pop seems to be afoot.

The International Business Times on February 4, 2012, states, “The catchy and energetic songs are making inroads in the United States… ” like the recent performances on American television (such as CBS’ Letterman Show and ABC’s Live! With Kelly) and Billboards launching a top 100 chart for Korean Pop… also, Turkish tweeters dwarfed Katy Perry by overwhelmingly demanding ‘Turkey Wants KPop.’

As America has been the leader of the world, its pop music industry has held its kingship in the global entertainment industry. Iconic stars like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and many others thrilled audiences in the world throughout the past decades. Again Madonna’s performance as a Pharaoh at the Super Bowl XLVI evidences how American pop stands out in the world as an empire. Back then, school boys in Korea, like me, had to remember constantly the changing names on America’s Billboard Hot 100.

And now, what is happening? The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article about the Korean pop saying that these groups “aren’t just a random act of globalization. They are the secret weapon in Korea’s next push for worldwide youth-culture domination.”

Are these Korean pop groups really Korea’s secret weapon?

The U.S. has long believed that it would lead the world, partly thanks to its overwhelming “soft power,” probably with pop culture at its forefront.

However, as the world becomes more and more “flat,” per se, exchanges and communications become astonishingly bidirectional. And hybrid products are born through this bidirectional “flattening,” process as you easily find in all manufactured and cultural products.

Case in point, great successes and recognitions built on the world stage by Yo-Yo Ma, Lang Lang of Chinese descent, Japan’s Seiji Ozawa and Kyung Wha Chung of South Korea demonstrates how classical musicians from Asia have been transcending nationalities, through a blend of Western tradition, Asian talents and their own investments.

Let us examine this unfolding new environment: the new generation of the globe equipped with new outlets of technologies is exposed to millions of choices in the sea of web. They can freely select their menus from the vast global resources, and their appetites cannot be fixed. So too are the global availabilities of resources from the producers’ point of view. The sensational surge of K-pop is another product of phenomenal application of interface and interfusion, making “Certificate of Origin Criteria” difficult.

As universal sources come into play in making Apple iPhones or Samsung products, Korean entertainment producers are smart enough to know how to blend ingredients for universal attraction. Best and innovative choreographers, song writers, and skilled musicians from the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world join the production, highlighting the talents and beauties of artists. Even some artists are recruited from the U.S., China, Thailand and elsewhere.

And, within a single song, the singers easily switch from using Korean and English — back and forth, even in mid-sentence — so that English speaking listeners, too, quickly share the same feelings. K-pop artists are extraordinarily good at presenting a mix of music and exhilarating dance in multiple languages wherever they go; thus, inviting fans to get excited and react.

Yes, we should admit that the appetites of the new generations across the globe are transient, unreliable and even capricious. But, what is truer is that they are more ready to interface with each other. Therefore, pop culture is speedily eroding boundaries of nations, as any multinational companies do.

The New York Daily News on October 23, 2011, asserted that Korean pop music “has become an alternative for audiences bored with the current top-100 charts.” It further added by quoting MTV World’s general manager, Nusrat Durrani, “Look at American Pop music today — it’s great, it’s very high-quality, but there is a sameness to it. The visual vocabulary of [Korean] music is completely different…This is, wow, David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust period — but South Korean. Why should pop music be only American-dominated?”

The newly bred pop music that Korea presents can no longer be a secret weapon, anyway; it is too well-known now. But, can anyone complain about a chef who provides a fancy-looking hybrid menu?


Written by Young-mok Kim. This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post, and was republished with the author’s permission. 
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Young-mok Kim Since August 2010, Ambassador Young-mok Kim has been serving as the Consul General of the Republic of Korea in New York. As Consul General, Kim seeks to promote trade and investment between Korea and the United States, spearhead activities for the Korean American community, and position New York City as a spring board for the Korean Wave.


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Re: K-Pop: A Secret Weapon of Korea for Future Cultural ...

If you think kPOP is going to go as big as American POP in America, you're dreaming. The only thing Kpop has going for it right now is it's novelty and that will fade like all novelities do. Being a hater of pop music myself, even I can see there is no comparison. Kpop music is worse and the dance moves predictable, almost to the point of being annoying. You can find better moves on any sports team cheerleading squad. They'll get their 15 minutes to be sure but they won't last. As more and more come to America, they will get to see what we see here in Korea. That they are even more cookie cutter than US pop and they all just blur together with nothing distinctive to set them apart.

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