Over the past decade or more, several K-pop artists have tried unsuccessfully to break into the U.S. music industry. Not only K-pop but J-pop as well (think of Jin Akanishi). They have tried everything including collaborating with hot artists and producers only to have their attempts go largely ignored by Americans. However, 2017 saw two Korean artists make strides that had yet to be accomplished by others.
In July of 2017 Roc Nation, spearheaded by hip-hop legend Jay-Z, announced that they signed Jay Park to the label. Jay is an American born rapper of Korean descent. Although his music career began in South Korea, his talents were honed in the land of good and plenty. He also has a b-boy background and candy vocals. After leaving 2PM, a K-pop group, Jay Park forged his own path with his own record label, Above Ordinary Music Group a.k.a AOMG. His gritty, expletive lyrics were seldom broadcast appropriate to air anywhere near South Korean airwaves, yet his popularity still grew. Jay has featured on various K-pop songs all while maintaining independence. He truly turned the misfortune with 2PM into fortune. What attracted Roc Nation to Jay? It could be because Jay does things his way, flawlessly mixing American style rap with Korean lifestyle music. He makes songs in both English and Korean, sometimes mixing the two. With the support of genius beat maker, ChaCha Malone, Jay has beaten the doors off of Korean hip-hop just by doing what he likes.
Then we have BTS. These guys have really been embraced by the international market in an unexpected way, particularly by the American music industry. They recently performed on the AMA’s after their fandom propelled them to win the Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artist last Spring. It was also recently announced that they are the most tweeted about celebrities of 2017. Since their AMA performance, several A-list celebrities have voiced their interest and support. BTS comes from a smaller agency, so popularity in South Korea has only grown after they received international recognition. So how did they do it? Their fandom is a significant part of it, but the support is valid because the music they create is authentic, unique and impactful. Their songs all have a meaning, which has always been a critical part of the art. Like Jay Park, these guys are just being themselves. Their music speaks the lives they live. It tells the world about their sorrows and joys. They express their concerns for the future and their happiness of today. BTS is living in the moment. More importantly, they aren’t trying to be American or European in their style. They do things the Korean way because they are Korean. They sing in Korean with only a few borrowed English terms here and there, with the exception of member RM (formerly known as Rap Monster) spitting whole verses in English, as a fluent English speaker.
The commonality between these artists is that they were not imitations of what’s hot. Do they have similarities to other groups, particularly Black American music? Yes, that’s how influence works. However, they didn’t don masks and hope to pass themselves off as the same. They simply learned the style and applied it to their work. This genuineness is what seems to be the attraction the international market has to them.
What do you think about Jay Park and BTS’ entry into the U.S. music entertainment industry? Do you agree that being less factory-made than other K-pop groups has helped them? Let us know in the comments.