Brave Brothers and the Culture Industry

K-pop exists in a strange musical universe in which the biggest labels can afford to take creative risks and produce the most diverse range of music while the smaller labels have to play it safe and bet on already successful names. While the big three companies (SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and YG Entertainment) often buy songs from foreign songwriters (SHINee’s Lucifer, Girls’ Generation’s Run Devil Run) or use in-house producers, all the smaller labels rely on outside Korean hitmakers to write and produce potential chart toppers. While there are benefits to both methods, the reliance on using the same third party producers is having a negative effect on the creativity of the industry.

In recent times, Brave Brothers (Kang Dong Chul) has been one of the most successful of third party Korean producers. Ever since Sistar’s Alone in 2012, he has been the most prolific and profitable. This song, which promoted Sistar from a lower tier girl group to the top tier of Korean girl groups, gave him a template to work off in order to continue creating commercially and critically successful music. That template is one of a simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure with similar melodies and usually some sort of hook with “oooohs.” With this template Brave Brothers has led K-Pop into a conveyor belt system.

This may not seem strange to any regular viewer of pop culture as all other pop music markets are the same, but the timing of this for K-Pop makes it even more disheartening. The music landscape of South Korea had been going in an interesting direction with the trend of songs that played with the structure and average traits of a pop song instead of simple “template” songs.

SM were the leaders of this direction with EXO’s Mama, Wolf and Girls’ Generation’s I Got A Boy amongst others. These were songs that required and rewarded repeat listens. They played with the idea of what a pop song could strive to be and saw something so much more than just another cookie cutter production. When they were jarring, they were meant to be so in order to make the listeners actually think about what they were hearing. Even when they weren’t jarring, it was because the songs were produced so masterfully that it was not as noticeable but still always there. They were songs with no obvious chorus or hook, the exact opposite of what Brave Brothers produces.

This style of pop song is not one that is ever consistently popular, however. The fact that this trend lasted over a year in Korea was really exciting. One could see a possible changing of the industry with songs that did not conform to a factory accepted product, somewhere where creativity was put ahead of economy. This was all wishful thinking however, as the paying public did not agree and the companies reverted back to tried and tested ways. Focusing just on SM Entertainment we can see where this failure came from. I Got A Boy was a small seller in terms of the Girls’ Generation giant and received a lot of backlash from fans while EXO experienced their biggest hit with Growl, which was a more standard kind of song compared to Wolf and MAMA.

Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: Sistar

At the same time as this progression, Brave Brothers’ regression was also happening. After the success of Sistar, songs like Gone Not Around Any Longer by Sistar19, Love Options by BESTie and 4minute’s two singles, What’s Your Name? and Is It Poppin? (which sound somewhat different but are in fact structurally the same with a few new bells and whistles) were the biggest hits for these groups’ careers. The simple structure and catchiness of these songs were the final forewarnings before his total takeover in 2014.

AOA’s Miniskirt and Short Hair, BTOB’s Beep Beep, Hyorin’s One Way Love, and Hyomin’s Nice Body were all big hits for these singers. Even JYP Entertainment succumbed to the trend, with Sunmi’s Full Moon bringing rave reviews. SM’s most trendy group, EXO, released another simple song Overdose and was again hugely successful at the same time as F(x)’s more ambitious Red Light faltered in terms of sales in comparison.

You might think this is not so bad. These are mostly great songs but there is something deeper going on here and this can be explained with help from German philosopher and critic Theodore Adorno. A little bit of history first. Adorno was part of the Frankfurt School, which was a Marxist school of theorists who wrote about many ideas regarding society but mostly centred on media and communications, which was active from around the 1920s to 1950s. Adorno was a major figure in the school and wrote extensively about popular culture and its effect on society at large. He wrote about pop culture as a culture industry, in that it had ceased to be an artistic endeavour and became a purely money making business.

This is where Adorno connects for us. We have seen that this is where K-Pop has reached finally but that is still not the most troubling thing. Adorno’s theory continues to say that this culture industry eventually does more than just make money but also serves the state in keeping the masses in line with their views. In musical terms this means that these songs are being created in an identical way in order to stop us from critically thinking about them and in turn nullifying our ability to critically think about any aspect of our lives.

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For me the work of Brave Brothers falls directly into this category. His recent work has had a profound influence on the rest of the industry and continues to be some of the most recognized. This is a direct problem for the state of music in South Korea and indicative of the conservatism of the country itself.

Considering pop music’s effect on society and how it reflects society is crucial for understanding and helping it grow. Right now, K-Pop is in a precarious position of completely yielding to the Brave Brothers template and being forever stuck with it. If the answer is not in I Got A Boy or Red Light then there is another way out there which we have probably seen before. It could be the melding of western and eastern styles we see so often or in the trot tradition of South Korea itself. Ultimately though, I don’t think there is an answer that can truly change the status quo.

Do you think Brave Brothers’ music is bad for the industry or do you love his music? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Why Are K-Pop Year-End Comebacks Scarce & Disappointing?

Year-end comebacks are, by nature, tricky things in the K-Pop world. A comeback is usually teased at least a week before the release and it involves numerous amounts of promotions, not to mention singing and dancing to the same song over and over again. But in K-Pop, there are multiple events to close out another year. With that, it is difficult to calculate when to schedule a year-end comeback in order to get the most recognition. Alas, it would be nice to have a few comebacks that are memorable around this time of year. Here are a few reasons why this year’s end of the year comebacks were disappointing.

When end of the year comeback is mentioned, the thoughts of a new song, a new dance, and a new video are all related to the phrase. Instead of an actual single, relatable all year round, the fans get season-appropriate songs and music videos. Don’t get me wrong, at times these are just what we need during the holiday season, but we don’t always need them. We also don’t need a slew of them. Because after a while, things just get recycled and are not special or different or interesting anymore.

There were a few holiday releases that were used to help further promote a group or capitalize on their popularity, as seen last year. One of those was EXO’s 2013 release Miracles in December, which showcased the four guys’ spectacular vocals, but nothing else. It was a nice treat for fans, but an actual comeback with all of the members would, obviously, be more enticing.

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Park Bom and Lee Hi got together and did their rendition of All I Want For Christmas last year as well. In my opinion, that cover should have never happened or should have been done differently. Taking such an iconic Christmas song and completely altering it is extremely bold, but hard for fans like myself to appreciate.

kpop year end releases 2014

via Tumblr

And then there was Crayon Pop’s Lonely Christmas, which capitalized on their rise to popularity after Bar Bar Bar. In these instances, the songs seemed like an afterthought; just there to release to the public to get a little more attention and intrigue before the year ends.

kpop year end releases 2014

via fanpop

It would definitely alter the dynamic if K-Pop groups released a Christmas and/or holiday album once in their career. A full-album with appropriate songs that highlight the season would be a nice treat. Aside from one holiday/season-related single that didn’t receive the same amount of attention (behind the scenes) as a normal single, a whole album that is produced well and thought out, yet still season-specific, could make a nice year-end treat for fans.

But aside from holiday-related comebacks, there are also the comebacks that just seem to show up without any notice. Granted, a lot of that has to do with the entertainment company and their PR approach. There is also the fact, at least in my case, I am at work for the majority of the day, I am in a different timezone than Korea, and I don’t spend all of my free time hounding the internet for K-Pop/Korean- related stuff, that I do not hear about these comebacks or see much promotions for them. Thinking about this year in K-Pop, I only really remember songs and mini and full albums that came out early in the year and during the summer. They were teased well and promoted well and therefore stick out in my mind.

In general, there aren’t many year-end comebacks that aren’t holiday related. And to me, this is unfortunate. I would love to round the year with a few bad-ass, amazing songs, dances, and music videos. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few good ones that have been released recently, such as Yoon Mirae Angel, Hi Suhyun I’m Different among others, but I would like to have a single from some veterans who then release their second single in the new year.

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Aside from these examples, there have not been very many noteworthy K-Pop releases. Is everyone taking a break until the new year (doubtful)? Obviously there are certain groups and solo artists who are preparing for the year-end events, whether they are actually performing, presenting or just attending. But the end of the year always just seems a little bit empty and forgotten. What if Big Bang released a new single and music video the first week of December, or SHINee, or any other well-known K-Pop group? People would go crazy and they would go unbeaten on the charts! I mean, end the year on a high note and make this time of year memorable for more than the MAMA awards and Gayo Daejun.

Until my wishes come true, the end of the year specials will definitely keep my thirst at bay. Do you wish there were more year-end comebacks? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

What Will SM Entertainment Look Like In 2015?

A lot happened at SM Entertainment in 2014 and very few of those things were good. Multiple artists leaving the company in very public scandals reflected badly on SM, as opposed to its main rival YG Entertainment that has kept stock prices high despite a few scandals of its own. That’s why in order to maintain its place as one of the top entertainment companies in K-Pop, SM Entertainment needs to have an extremely solid year in 2015.

In case you missed what happened during the tumultuous year, here are a few things that happened to the company itself and its artists that you should know before reading KultScene’s analysis of what 2015 will potentially bring.


  • January
    -Sooyoung of Girls’ Generation confirms relationship days after YoonA confirmed to be dating Lee Seung Gi

  • February
    -Baljunso, an indie music label, acquired by SM Entertainment
  • April
    -Girls’ Generation’s Tiffany confirms relationship with 2PM’s Nichkhun
    -Girls’ Generation’s Hyoyeon reported for assault on ex-boyfriend
  • May
    -Kris (Wu Yifan) leaves EXO
    -SM Entertainment stock falls 10 points
  • June
    -Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon and EXO’s Baekhyun’s relationship confirmed
  • July
    -Sulli goes on hiatus from f(x)
    -Super Junior’s Leeteuk discharged from army
  • August
    -Red Velvet Debut and Music Video Controversy
    -Sulli confirmed to be in relationship with Dynamic Duo’s Choiza
  • September
    -Girls’ Generation renews contracts with SM
    -Jessica removed from Girls’ Generation
  • October
    -Luhan leaves EXO
    -SM stock falls 10 points
    -SM Entertainment releases statement implying outside forces are affecting EXO
  • -Zhoumi debuts as solo artist
    -SM Entertainment surpassed in market value by YG Entertainment
  • November
    -Kyuhyun debuts as solo artist
  • December
    -Super Junior’s Sungmin gets married
    -SM Rookiez Taeyong’s cyberbully past exposed, SM Entertainment releases apology

Separate entertainment agencies’ (Woollim, Baljunso) artists under SM not included in this list.

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Until April, everything was developing fairly well for SM Entertainment. Artists were releasing music, appearing in dramas, variety shows and films, and holding concerts. The dating scandals, once devastating to idols’ careers, were accepted with grace by fans. Even Hyoyeon’s potentially devastating assault case was relatively quiet.

Starting in May, SM saw multiple members leaving from some of the top groups; Girls’ Generation, EXO, and f(x) all lost members. But the company has seen mass exoduses before. In 2009 three members of TVXQ (who are now known as JYJ) and a Super Junior member (Hangeng) left their groups while two others went inactive (although Kangin has returned to the group).

How did SM get over the changes that time? It promoted different groups like Super Junior and SHINee to fill the void when TVXQ’s two members were almost entirely inactive. Super Junior, despite members leaving, is a large enough group that it was able to make up for the losses. EXO may very well do the same this time around, but with further rumors that members will be leaving, SM Entertainment may change its entire format for the upcoming year. Furthermore, Sulli’s hiatus from f(x) and Jessica’s departure from Girls’ Generation are also troublesome for the company, which has lost serious face.

The ongoing struggles between artists and the company have led stocks to drop extremely low, and both shareholders and fans have little faith in it. SM Entertainment needs to make 2015 one of its best years ever, otherwise face the signs that it may not be the top entertainment company in South Korea anymore.

What SM Is Likely To Do:

-Release a new SHINee album in the first quarter of 2015. SHINee is SM Entertainment’s only group, other than Red Velvet, that hasn’t seen any lineup changes since it debuted in 2008. The group’s stalwart songs will likely be well received and raise faith in SM. A SHINee member is likely to debut as a solo artist, joining the youngest member of the group.

– Debut more solo artists. SM Entertainment has confirmed that f(x) rapper Amber and at least one male artist will promote as soloists in 2015. EXO and SHINee members are likely options due to popularity.

TVXQ: Yunho will likely join the army in 2015, which means that TVXQ will probably release at least one song, possibly an album, before his enlistment. There are some rumors that Changmin will be attending the army at the same time, but it is possible that he will join the list of SM artists who have been going solo.

-Girls’ Generation:Two options-

1. Nothing will change. Despite Jessica’s departure, Girls’ Generation has been doing well, holding concerts in Asia. More members will likely have acting roles in dramas, films, and musicals. Girls’ Generation’s nine members, including Jessica, renewed contracts with SM in September.

2. Girls’ Generation will disband. The girl group’s members will stay under SM and subgroup Girls’ Generation TTS may stay active. Many of the members have their own lucrative specialties that they may take as their sole career as they get older.

TRAX: Both members of SM Entertainment’s only band group are out of the army. Jungmo has been visibly active at the company, and will likely release a song on his own if not with fellow member Jay. TRAX has a small but strong fanbase, and SM needs to remind older fans why they like the label.

Super Junior: Super Junior will be holding Super Show 6 around the world. Members will continue to appear on variety shows, dramas, and radio shows. The group will likely release a new album at the end of the year. Leeteuk will appear on more and more variety shows to return to the role he held before the army, possibly gaining a MC spot. Siwon, for his part, will appear in a drama or film, and Kyuhyun will release a follow up to At Gwanghwamun probably at the start of the year. At least one member, if not more, will head to the army.

Sungmin’s marriage is problematic, but he had few solo activities that will be affected. If he leaves the group, it will be traumatic for fans. But Super Junior will likely continue on as it has, unless other members decide that the group is too old to promote.

Also on KultScene: Hello Venus And Sexism In K-Pop

SHINee: See above. Barring any scandals where a member leaves, the group will likely become SM’s headline group in 2015.

f(x): Amber will release a solo album in the first half of 2015. With or without Sulli, f(x) will continue on and most likely promote Krystal even further into the spotlight. Luna will possibly appear on variety shows and Victoria will continue on with her activities in China. The group will make a comeback in the summer.

EXO: The group is once again in the midst of rumors, hinting to further member’s suing SM Entertainment, and rumors are already flying about their disbandment.

EXO should be another Super Junior-esque situation, but it’s turning more and more into a TVXQ-like one, where fans have lost faith in SM Entertainment’s management. TVXQ took nearly a two-year hiatus when three of its members left. The group is planning a 2015 comeback, but things in EXO can change at a minute’s notice. If the rumors prove true once again, SM Entertainment may very well move the group to a backburner and have individual members promote without forcing the whole group together.

Red Velvet: With Girls’ Generation and f(x) in trouble, Red Velvet will likely start appearing in dramas and variety shows. They will probably make a comeback in the second quarter.

SM Rookies: Due to EXO’s issues, SM Entertainment may release a new boy group sometime in 2015.

Woollim Entertainment: Also under SM are INFINITE, Nell, Tasty, and Lovelyz. INFINITE and Lovelyz are technically rivals of Red Velvet, SHINee, and EXO, so they’ll likely not promote at the same time. INFINITE will probably make a comeback shortly after EXO does, and the same with Lovelyz following a Red Velvet comeback. Tasty will probably release Chinese music, but the duo hasn’t been overly popular in Korea so its unclear whether there will be a comeback. Nell needs to become SM’s rival to YG’s Epik High, as a group that attracts more mature listeners.

Everything, essentially, is up in the air. Some groups are more stable than others, but many of SM Entertainment’s groups have a lot of question marks.

What do you think SM Entertainment needs to do to make 2015 the reverse of 2014? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Hello Venus and Sexism in K-Pop

The release of Sticky Sticky has completely transformed what kind of a group Hello Venus is. This is not a new type of change either; it is one which we have seen more and more in the past two years. The sexy concept has become a staple of the K-Pop industry to the point where if a girl group is not doing so well, they immediately revert to it. I think this comes from Sistar‘s success with Alone, which may not seem too sexy right now but it was at the time. After Alone, Sistar gradually became one of the most popular girl groups in Korea. So naturally other girl groups would follow but at what price?

Hello Venus had been one of the more popular girl groups who debuted in the busy year of 2012. Their quirky, cute sound stood out in a crowd of groups who offered nothing new to being cute. What Are You Doing Today? was one of the songs of 2012 and Would You Like Some Tea? got to number six on the Gaon music chart. These songs were also interesting enough to foreshadow Hello Venus becoming big. I imagined them growing gradually and maturing in a similar way to Girls’ Generation who had started slowly and became megastars, with the multi-talented Lime becoming their star of Hello Venus. This was not to be though, as a big change occurred that caused Hello Venus to change.

Pledis decided to pull out of the deal with Fantagio to co-produce the group and took the Pledis members, Yoo Ara and Yoonjo, with them. Fantagio kept the other four members and the Hello Venus name, so added two more members and decided to continue with their promotions. It also gave Fantagio a chance to alter Hello Venus’ style quickly in order to pander to current trends. As I said, they went the sexy route and went for it in a big way.

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As this trend grows, it becomes more of a problem. There was a time when sexy concepts were used to differentiate from the regular and shock an audience. Even at this time it is a tenuous subject as there is always a problem of objectification and fetishization of the body. As sexy songs continue to sell, women’s bodies will continually be used as objects to help these sales. This activity reinforces a sexist agenda in society and punishes women who do not conform. It even punishes those who act on sexuality, even though they are taught this is what woman should be like. Especially in a conservative country such as South Korea, girls cannot be seen to be sexually active even if being sexy is the hot topic of the time.

If this type of performance is allowed to become normal, the sexism of the K-Pop industry will never stop. Girl groups will forever have to strip in order to succeed. Female idols will forever be seen as sex objects to sell records. Their bodies will forever be fetishized into whatever their company decides. There is already criticism of these things in the K-Pop industry to some degree, and girl groups becoming sexier to sell their music will just make the criticism even worse.

The reason I’m singling out Hello Venus for now is because they are the most recent group to go this way, and also because of the increased effort they are putting into grabbing attention with their “sexiness.” Hot off the viral success of a fan cam of EXID’s Hani, Fantagio obviously saw an opportunity to drum up some publicity for Hello Venus with their own viral hit. The recent release of a dance practice video to Jason Derulo’s song Wiggle Wiggle, in which the Hello Venus girls danced along to the song, was their attempt at creating a sensation. I am not condemning the girls themselves here but those who led them to this. I fully believe people can do whatever they want with their own bodies but this video does not show us a group of girls who are just dancing for fun. This is blatant pandering to a male audience to stare at young girls gyrating their bodies, a cheap way of drumming up attention by essentially exploiting these girls.

This is not specific to Hello Venus though. We have seen recently Girls’ Day move from their cute comedic songs like Twinkle Twinkle to sexy songs like SomethingExpectation and Female President. This change also brought Girls’ Day new success to the point where they are winning weekly music shows. AOA had a similar change of fortune when they adopted the sexy concept. Miniskirt boosted their sales in a big way and only grew with subsequent singles Short Hair and Like A Cat. It is clearly a trend which is in full flow but all trends eventually die, whether it’s a few weeks or a few years. So do we wait and let it pass over?

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I think we should not. Another trend will take its place immediately after and the issue will be forgotten. Allowing this to pass over means the patriarchal reign on K-Pop will always remain whether through sexy concepts or something else. I don’t think sexy performances should be completely eradicated but I think the decision making has to be changed to allow female idols to speak up if they do not agree. At this moment in time female idols are not at an equal level to their male counterparts. We as fans must speak up against this; we must not allow this to continue. It’s time for there to be a level playing field for genders in K-Pop.

What do you think about Hello Venus’ comeback and of the sexy concept? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Has Wa$$up Found its Musical Niche?

Wa$$up made a splash in 2013 with their self titled debut Wa$$up, but failed to find a place in the K-Pop world as anything other than controversial rookies, who gained attention for being the first K-Pop girl group to “twerk.” With their new release Shut Up U, Wa$$up are taking a trend from 2013 and using it to find their own style. This 2013 trend was the use of abnormal structure in songs, and was led by SM Entertainment with songs like I Got A Boy, Wolf, and Mama. These were songs that required and rewarded repeat listens. They played with the idea of what a pop song could be and saw something so much more than just another cookie cutter song. These genre-defying songs sometimes had no obvious chorus and never brought the listener to where they expected. They are songs that ask the listener to really think about production and the meaning behind it.

This trend, however, was quickly thwarted by the old ways as Brave Brothers and other production teams stuck to their templates of easy, instantly satisfying songs. Will Simms was the leader of this abnormal song trend as he was the writer of the previously mentioned songs and more. Even though he has been writing a lot for SM and their biggest groups, his style has not caught on elsewhere. As he continues writing for K-Pop, this style can live on and with his latest song he might have found the perfect group.

Wa$$up have been near enough to this style of song for a while but more in the sense that their songs were a mess rather than the calculated structure bending that Simms creates. Songs like Nom Nom Nom tried it by mixing Nada’s rapping in the verses to cute singing in the chorus but this was jarring and not thought out. With the release of Shut Up U Wa$$up and Simms have come together for the first time and prove to be the ideal marriage.

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Even with someone with an original style like Simms’ will reuse some of their old methods so Shut Up U sounds like a mix between Girls’ Generation’s I Got A Boy and f(x)’s Rainbow, which were also written by Simms. Shut Up U has a sound and look so suited to Wa$$up that it’s hard to imagine Simms writing for anyone else from here on out. This image is inherently messy due to both parties not playing by the typical K-Pop rules, be it through song production or more western ideas of pop. What happens when they come together, however, is far from messy.

Each part of the song contrasts and compliments its corresponding part perfectly. The Diplo-esque dancehall and hip hop beats continue throughout the whole song acting as a through line for all the competing vocal elements. The “yeah hey boy chants” start the song off with a clear hip hop tone. This quickly moves into auto-tuned verse which is a good way of connecting to the chorus, which is more clear and light. The transition from auto-tune to clear voices also works well at a lyrical level; in the verse Wa$$up are questioning the qualities of a boy but in the chorus they are clear about not wanting to know him any longer.  

Parts are reused seemingly at random but are always used to connect all the parts of the song. The “work for me baby” part is always used before the chorus so it becomes a signifier rather than a random element. The chants at the start are also repeated to usher in Nada’s rap as they have similar tones. Clarifying the group’s image has also allowed Wa$$up to stop relying on Nada, who has been the most iconic member of the group to this point. Even though she is fierce at an unparalleled level, a group has to assign lines to help keep a song fresh and Shut Up U finally shows Wa$$up’s vocal range.

Wa$$up’s image helps this as well. They debuted with the nickname of ‘twerk-dols’ as they were to be the first idols that did something close to twerking. The girls were sexy, confident and trashy enough to pull it off. A certain amount of trashiness was required to pull-off a concept like their debut. Although they didn’t have the songs to really make a mark as anything more than provocative rookies. Coupled with a similarly calculated trashy type of song which Simms is the master of creates the perfect storm. The look is in no way trashy just confident and enthusiastic. The song is tight and interesting not all over the place.

Also on Kultscene: T-ara and the China Influence

This all culminates in the performance which, given their nickname of twerk-dols, should be a focus for them. They are confident, exciting, and most of all, fun. The focus on trying to be sexy has been toned down, and the girls are all the more sexy for it. There is a small bit of twerking but it actually fits considering the influences on the song and it wouldn’t be a Wa$$up performance without it.

The combination of Wa$$up and Will Simms could provide the group a way of bringing their niche to the forefront and gaining success. They have always garnered lots of attention in the press but this has not equalled any sort of big success for them. With their strongest song and most complete performance to date this could change. Simms’ songs have been big but not consistent sellers, EXO for example had a boost of one million in sales after dropping him for Growl. There is something about the combo with Wa$$up that makes me more hopeful that it could go well. The products of this team could prove to be interesting and the future for both will be one to watch if they remain together.

Do you think this collaboration could help Wa$$up? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

T-ara & the China Influence

Amongst idol groups, scandals in K-pop have rarely had a lasting impact on the success of those on the receiving end. Members have bitterly left, got caught up in accidents, said something controversial, but in nearly all cases, these are forgotten or pushed to the side to allow the group or artist to continue their career. T-ara is one of the rare cases. The departure of Hwayoung and its aftermath have had lasting effects on the success and popularity of T-ara.

Before this scandal they were on their way to become one of the top three most popular girl groups with the massive hits of Roly Poly and Lovey Dovey, selling 4 and 3.7 million copies respectively. However, sales of their singles have been dropping ever since, with Sexy Love selling one million, Number 9 600,000, and Sugar Free 120,000.

To turn around their fortunes, T-ara had to get creative with their marketing. Sales and views in a foreign market for Number 9 gave them a unique opportunity. Not only was this market willing to help T-ara, it was also one of the biggest in the world, China. K-Pop has had a link with China for a while now, especially through SM’s use of Chinese idols. These idols were picked specifically to appeal to China, including having sub-units like Super Junior-M.

However, this approach has been mostly exclusive to SM, and while it has been successful, it has never had a huge crossover hit. There has never been great success over there like in Japan, where Kara in particular became household names. T-ara however, have begun to attack this market in order to make up for their losses in Korea, and their unprecedented success poses new possibilities that SM artists have not yet encountered.

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The popularity seemed to come out of nowhere. All the singles leading up to Number 9 did not light up the Chinese public’s imagination any more than all the other K-Pop groups. For seemingly no obvious reason, Number 9 has gone on to be the most watched video on China’s version of Youtube, Yinyuetai. It has 116 million views, one million more than the number two spot, which is Psy’s worldwide hit Gangnam Style, and over 50 million more than the number three. At the time of Number 9’s release, T-ara had seven of the top ten videos in the Yinyuetai Korean music real time chart with this song at the top.

What sort of effect will this have on T-ara’s career and the Korean music industry as a whole? For T-ara, they continue pursuing success over there as they have just released their first Chinese single, a Korean remake of a comedy viral hit Little Apple. The success of a group with no obvious connections to China offers up some possible effects on the industry that could cause big changes, similar to Kara in Japan. Now any group can aspire to make it big in the most populated country in the world.

K-Pop’s previous move into the Japanese market and Hollywood’s recent collaborations with China show us some possible directions K-Pop might follow in its own journey to China. For a long time now, K-Pop groups and artists have been attempting to break into the Japanese market in order to tap into the biggest music market in the world. Kara were one of the early success stories as they became as famous in Japan as they were in Korea. They did this by playing to Japanese tastes with cute concepts and J-Pop style electro music. Kara’s success led other groups into this new market.

The usual formula was for a Korean group to become somewhat popular in Korea before releasing Japanese versions of their most popular songs there. It worked well for some like Kara, Girls’ Generation, and 2pm, but many were forgotten quickly before eventually giving up on Japan. In recent times, sales have been dropping for all Korean releases in Japan and most groups have given up on the market entirely. This leaves a hole in the Korean industry which loses a lot of money and coverage for its groups. However, it is a hole that China could fill.

Entering this market will likely not be the same as Japan, of course. It’s a different culture, so it requires different attention. China’s lack of cultural diversity and output means there is no obvious aesthetic to latch onto. While Japan is also a fairly closed off society it has a discernible global image for foreigners to use if they want to break into that market. However, China lacks this image, so groups must find alternative ways of appealing to the public. If we take Number 9 as an example of something that can succeed, then all we’re left with is generic EDM inspired pop. There’s no discernible element of that song that makes it a good test for what the Chinese audience wants.

Hollywood’s activity with China might show what could happen if K-Pop pursues this country. In recent years, Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers 4 and Pacific Rim have started using China as a location more and more. Some films like Iron Man 3 have different cuts that are shown in said country, which featured Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. This is because China is the fastest growing cinema market in the world, and Hollywood is exploiting this by appealing to the Chinese masses with recognizable locations and actors.

So in the future, will we see China-centric K-Pop? Will there be collaborations between IU and female Chinese soloist Jolin Tsai? Or will there be just Chinese versions of K-Pop songs and a push in performances and promotion over there?

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Comebacks We Need NOW

If we take T-ara as the potential leaders of a Korean movement into China then it seems it will most likely be a mix of both. Ever since their growing success there, they have made many more appearances in China and are holding large concerts. They have also made a video in China for their single Do You Know Me? However, their new release of Little Apple is an example of direct collaboration with a Chinese artist, The Chopstick Brothers, which they will be used as a marketing ploy.

If T-ara does continue promoting in China, they could replicate Kara’s success in Japan and usher in a flood of K-pop groups attempting to break that market just like them. Like in Hollywood, this could cause companies to focus on appealing to Chinese wallets rather than the artistic qualities of the song, essentially making money the most prominent style. Whether K-Pop uses its own tried and tested method or more in line with Hollywood’s, China is going to have a big effect on the industry thanks to T-ara. Who could have predicted one member leaving a popular girl group could have subsequently caused such an impact?

t-ara gif china

via jphip

Do you think China is K-Pop’s newest frontier? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

YG Entertainment Wants You to Know It’s Different

SM Entertainment is polished. JYP Entertainment is relaxed. YG Entertainment is different. Or, at least, that’s what several songs from YG  have been telling fans of the Korean entertainment agency.

WINNER’s Different and Hi Suhyun’s I’m Different were both released in 2014, when the Korean entertainment industry has been reeling from multiple scandals relating to YG and SM (JYP has been relatively untouched in 2014). The songs, or at least their titles, appear to be an anthem for YG.

The company has not made headlines for the normal abuses of the Korean entertainment industry. While SM has struggled with contract disputes, YG artists have not sued the company. Instead, they’ve been involved in drug scandals. Drugs are taboo in South Korea, but rather than completely destroying the company’s image (Korean netizens do heavily criticize for this,) it instead sets YG apart from other Korean entertainment agencies.

I’m different
I’m special
Don’t compare me

— Hi Suhyun’s ‘I’m Different’

It makes YG seem a bit more dangerous, a bit more foreign, a bit more different. Everything that it does as of late, is different. It has become a trendsetter that has surpassed SM Entertainment, the longtime leader of the industry, in many ways.

If SM is the old, stalwart company of the Korean entertainment industry–with idol groups that were sure to do well, actors that were very clean cut, singers who were talented but not exactly unique as they promoted dance songs and ballads, all who are in fashion but perhaps not the people who are pushing fashion to its limit– YG Entertainment is the new company that’s different in all of those regards; the antithesis of the old, typical K-Pop model.

YG Entertainment from the start was different– hip-hop reigned ever since the company’s first acts. Jinusean and 1TYM, were hip-hop acts with R&B influences. BIGBANG and 2NE1, the company’s next popular acts, took this hip-hop style and applied it to a more typical, idol model- dance songs, ballads, but infused with hip-hop. As both groups became more and more popular, their styles have become very distinct in an industry where it is hard to stand out. Epik High and Psy, two imports to YG from other companies, also brought the type of music that is atypical in K-Pop.

Also on KultScene: Did SM Entertainment Treat Kris & EXO-M Unfairly?

With the newest crop of YG Entertainment artists (AKMU, WINNER, iKON, Lee Hi) YG Entertainment diversified, going into new types of music that are popular in Korea, but not typical idol music. AKMU’s folksy, WINNER is artistic, iKON is supposed to be hip-hop (so YG’s origins), and Lee Hi sings jazz-influenced songs.

Add to that that YG Entertainment produces most of its music in house and you have a very different, unique entertainment agency in Korea, where most company’s outsource.

But it’s not their music alone that has led YG Entertainment’s artists to stand out– it’s their fashion, their attitudes, their personalities. At a certain point, an attitude of being better, being different, a sort of swag even, became the very thing that made YG known as YG Family. The company is freer with its artists, allowing them more chances to be artistically involved in what music they produce and how they live their lives.

Different is good, and YG’s done a great job promoting its artists as something different from the norm in K-Pop. But it’s also dangerous– Park Bom of 2NE1 was involved in a drug smuggling scandal because medicine she was prescribed in the United States is illegal in Korea; G-Dragon of BIGBANG has been involved in several minor drug rumors; iKON came off too strongly at a BIGBANG concert in Japan even though YG Entertainment’s confidence is usually a key selling point of its new groups.

I’m just different
I’m just different
Don’t expect kindness
I’m Angel and Demon
Misunderstanding can be harmful

— Winner’s ‘Different’

Many Korean entertainers come under fire during different points of the career, sometimes for big things and sometimes for silly little things. YG Entertainment’s artists have faced all sort of problems, but they also, as of late, have gained a reputation as troublemakers.

The term iljin, or “bully” has been connected to several of YG Entertainment’s younger artists; whether the new crew actually bullied people in high school or not, the phrase has been tossed around enough that it’s stuck, likely because of the company’s hip-hop background. Netizens in Korea freely discuss the iljin trainees that YG Entertainment will promote in upcoming years. That, along with the “druggie” label that Park Bom and G-Dragon have gained from their scandals, has seriously hurt the company’s image.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: YG’s Luck With Damage Control

But despite the image issue, YG Entertainment’s never done better. The company has continuously produced hit after hit. Even the differences that are seen as being negative (i.e., such dramatic, illicit scandals), aren’t able to counteract the fact that the music from YG Entertainment is great.

Both WINNER and Hi Suhyun sing about being different in a relationship. Even though the lyrics don’t apply full heartedly to the brand, YG Entertainment has proved in 2014 that it’s different and those differences are what will get the company ahead of the game.

yg family gif

via rebloggy

Do you think YG Entertainment is different? Would you like to see profiles like this about other Korean entertainment companies? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

VIXX & its Successful Use of Themes

In 2012, VIXX were just one of a multitude of new groups in Korea. The amount of group debuts that year was approximately double from 2011. Competition for attention and sales was fierce. Some groups had the backing of a big company, like EXO, and others used strange gimmicks, such as AOA’s half angel concept. However, most were forgotten as they had little marketing coming from a small company (Phantom, Skarf), were too generic to stand out (Tahiti) or were just not good enough (Two X). So how did a group from a relatively smaller company at the time, with a low-key debut end up with eight music show wins and upcoming solo concerts in Chicago and New York?

The answer to that is theme. Or rather VIXX’s use of themes in their songs. Most groups take a concept with each new release, like a sexy, aegyo, hip-hop or dark, and use it as their visual scheme. But very rarely does it influence the rest of their song. VIXX on the other hand, starting with On and On took a theme and expressed it in every aspect of their release. The music, lyrics, costumes, choreography, and delivery are all tied to one theme. This offers a thoroughly satisfying and cohesive song whereas we are used to snippets of a concept.

What they did was to take a dark fantasy concept and built upon themes based on this niche. This helped them first of all to stand out from the crowd of boy groups doing powerful concepts like Beast or hip-hop concepts like Big Bang, but it was the clarity of their themes which raised them above in terms of quality.

Starting with On and On, we see the much used vampire concept. This concept does not exactly inspire great confidence as a start. However, VIXX’s execution of the concept did, as we were seeing vampires as more than just a costume. The theme started with the visual, which was instantly striking as all the members wore contact lenses for the video and their performances. This set the other worldly feeling they were looking for, and they followed through with all other aspects.

As soon as you start listening to the song it is compounded with a sample of the theme song from Phantom of the Opera which not only sets the tone but fits thematically with the lyrics. These are about a dangerous woman whom VIXX cannot stay away from. They are willing to become vampires just to be with her. This mirrors the story of the Phantom of the Opera as it also revolves around a dangerous relationship similar to On and On.

With nearly every one of the lyrics, they match the choreography along with it too. For example, Leo sings, ‘She pokes me again and runs away’ as an arm stabs through him. In one line of a performance, everything comes together: music, lyrics, visual. and choreography. This is well thought out pop music. This happens many more times in the one performance, like in the chorus when they sing the line ‘I’m on my knees and ready to get hurt,’ where all the members except Hongbin are on their knees while he mimics ripping his heart out, ready to be hurt. There is even some vampire imagery in the dance, the hands across their chest as if they are in a coffin and Leo going to bite Ken in the neck as the other members crowd around him. It is this consistency of theme which makes VIXX’s performances so satisfying to watch, but it may not be obvious all the time

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discover: Crush

On and On brought VIXX into the eye of the public and was their biggest selling single at the time. It was an obvious choice to continue with this type of concept. What we expected was a lesser version of the same thing, but what we got was so much more.

Hyde was based on the character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson, which is about a doctor who invented a serum that turns him into a huge hulking man. The story is associated with split personalities, and this is where VIXX takes their inspiration. The song is about a boy who said some nasty things to a girl but cannot believe he said them and begs the girl to believe that it was not the real him.

Again, the theme is fitted onto every element. The visual is one of black and white, usually split half and half between the six members. The choreography right from the start is in line with the lyrics and concept. At one point, Leo sings,

There’s no way I said those words
There’s no way I said I’d leave you

He utters these words as he looks at his hands as if it is the first time he has seen them and moves his body as if something is trying to get out.

Throughout the whole performance the duality motif is kept up. Most of the dance moves are mirrored on both sides by the two opposing colors. This means that when some of the choreography does not fit the theme that there is something still there going on to connect to. It’s utterly satisfying for a viewer and is just as much a reason for the quality of their performances as their powerful movement. The attention to detail is masterful and elevates VIXX above their contemporaries.

In contrast, G.R.8.U was a disappointing follow up to these two singles. VIXX had continued success with it, but the theme was not as well thought out. There was no real engagement with a theme to speak of at all. There was an interesting rewind effect in the video, but this did not factor into the performance in any real way. They delivered a snippet of a concept rather than a complete song.

For example, they reused a move from Hyde, where the members’ line up form a shadow like effect as they each move out a bit. In Hyde, this symbolizes VIXX’s change from the human Jekyll into the monster Hyde. In G.R.8.U, it is little more than a cool move. Also, unlike the previous two singles, the rest of the choreography does not back up any of the lyrics. This is by no means a requirement of every song, but it is somewhat disappointing considering what VIXX can achieve. If it was supposed to be a Jekyll version to Hyde, it also doesn’t work as there is no sense of darkness here.

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Stand Out Remixes Part 2

After that misstep, VIXX were back on thematic form with their preceding singles Voodoo Doll and Eternity. The theme of Voodoo Doll is obvious, but their use of a prop pin was the inspiration –before it was censored, of course. Their puppet-like dancing was perfect. On the other hand, Eternity was not as dark as the others, but stuck with a theme of time, and performed it excellently.

This leads us to today with Error, which VIXX have been promoting for the last few weeks. It feels like the culmination of their hard work as it is their highest charting single to date and comes right before their landmark concerts in the U.S.

This time VIXX are cyborgs who are trying to forget a past love. Hongbin laments:

I was afraid that I’d get cut by your sharp, knife-like words
I just need to breathe and eat to endure through this

It is almost as if he wished they were actual cyborgs because it would make everything much easier. The choreography of this part smartly helps this idea, as Hongbin seems to be a robot booting up and Ravi sticks his arms through Hongbin’s as if they were a robots.

Like their previous singles, the robot motif sticks throughout the rest of the song and dance. It blends seamlessly with their choreography and, thankfully, never delves into cheesy robot dances.

These are rare complete performances from VIXX, tonally and thematically, as they hit the mark on every aspect of their song while connecting them all together. This type of craft is rare in pop music, let alone just K-Pop. Themes are so important to all forms of art. How a piece engages with a theme conveys to us what that piece really wants to say.

While pop music is not expected to be a politically striking, there should still be an engagement and commitment to themes. This is what VIXX has been doing; creating pieces of music which can be enjoyed on every level and the use themes to infuse each of these.

If any of you are lucky enough to see them in Chicago or New York, try taking some time to notice this. A lot of hard work has gone into it, and it’s a big reason why VIXX are standing on that stage.

What do you think about VIXX and their use of themes? Let us know! Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

4 Male K-Pop Idols Who Defy Gender Roles

Despite K-Pop being a mainstream genre within a somewhat conservative culture, there are some idols who push boundaries with their lyrics, clothes, music videos, looks, etc. So it comes expectant that even in a country that has Confucian dogma you can find some black sheep in the bunch defying other aspects of society that ultimately end up damaging individuals, like gender roles.

What are gender roles, you ask? It’s the set of behavioral norms one “must” follow depending on whether you’re male or female. You know, blue and toy trucks for boys, pink and dolls for girls –that type of thing. But the problem with binding gender roles goes far beyond pants and dresses. Trouble arises when society limits people to these set rules and don’t allow or look down on the ones who choose to flourish outside of them.

This list is exactly about that; those male idols who choose to push and bend society’s notions on gender and are successful at it.

1. FT Island’s Hongki

honki gender roles

Hongki, the charismatic lead singer of the Korean pop rock band FT Island, embodies what we regularly associate with the word “rockstar.” Onstage and through his TV appearances, Hongki always displays his I-don’t-give-a-damn persona, whether he’s being snarky with his remarks or challenging FNC Entertainment’s CEO publicly. Hongki takes his strong personality everywhere he goes and doesn’t only do it for show.

But the thing that’s most “punk rock” about the singer is probably his love for nail art. Hongki wouldn’t be the first rockstar to don nail polish to compliment his style, but he definitely is unique in that he released a book completely dedicated to nail art called Lee Hong Gi Nail Book. The 144-page long book includes the singer’s stories and insight on nail art and is a best seller in Korea, Japan, and China.

Over the years, men have pushed through the taboos and social awkwardness of getting manicures and pedicures, and it’s no longer a rarity to see a man at a salon getting these procedures. But to rock full-on designs and flashy colors? That’s not what many heterosexual men would willingly do. Nail polish has always been marketed for women, and with that, branded as a feminine product. The fact that Hongki got past his and other people’s prejudices to the level of rocking and spending $45,000 a year on nail art is commendable.

Nail art doesn’t take away anything from Hongki’s personality or look, it merely enhances it. After all, it’s just paint and design on nails.

2. G-Dragon

g dragon gender roles

Rappers and fashion have come hand-in-hand since the ‘90s, when artist began flexin’ their designer clothes and jewelry in music videos and lyrics. However, no rapper has ever reached fashion icon status and respect from the fashion world like G-Dragon has. A man liking clothes and shoes and accessories has been periodically accepted over the years, but a love and fascination for it is almost exclusive to women and gay men.

This is where G-Dragon makes his mark. He’s a rapper, a producer, and a lyricist, and is respected as an artist in the entertainment business. The fact that his artistry translates over to his amazing range in his fashion styling does not detract from his musical talents or his “manhood.” With his fashion, the BIGBANG leader is a chameleon; he goes from avant garde to streetwear in a second and kills it every time. His style is always changing and evolving with time and trends, and he has never shied away from pushing gender boundaries with his fashion. A good example of this is last year’s Vogue Korea editorial, where he posed with model Soo Joo, both of them styled identically to look like twins.

Androgyny is not a look that has been on the mainstream and widely accepted, it is mostly reserved for the arts. But G-Dragon, with his small built and extraordinary fashion, has been making a case for bending gender since his debut. Can anyone logically make a good argument against a man wearing a skirt? Well, G-Dragon can make a good one for it.

3. NU’EST’s Ren

nuest ren gender roles

Even before debut, Ren made headlines for his appearance. Not because he had ulzzang status or beast idol features, but because he was pretty. No, not handsome, pretty. You know, that term society uses to describe girls exclusively and is somehow demeaning to tag boys with that…

NU’EST’s maknae personifies the group’s concept: being different and unique and not being afraid to show it. Ren contrasts his pretty boy image and charms with powerful performances. With this, he challenges society’s notions of masculinity and femininity by living somewhere in between them under his own terms; he even calls himself pretty.

Just like androgyny, a man having feminine traits does not make him any less of a man. Ren promotes a healthy lifestyle that works well for him. And if anyone thinks that someone’s “manliness” is challenged by a guy listening to Lady Gaga or knowing all of the girl groups’ choreography and can deliver them spot on, is only unsure of their own identity.

4. 2AM’s Jo Kwon

jo kwon gender roles

2AM’s Jo Kwon has made a name for himself for various reasons, but most of it comes from his innate talent. The singer prides himself in having been a JYP Entertainment trainee for seven years before debuting and is a member of that agency’s ballad male group. Standing on stage wearing a suit and serenading the audience with his powerful vocals, Jo Kwon is a completely different person than what he showcases on TV: the male diva.

Viewers witness Jo Kwon’s flamboyant personality when he fiercely dances girl group choreographies on variety shows or when he wore Jeffrey Campbell’s heel-less hoof shoes during his solo promotions. Furthermore, he recently took part in the Korean adaptation of the musical Priscilla, playing the dual roles of Adam and Felicia.

Because of this, the singer gets called gay left and right. Everyone has an unsolicited opinion on his sexuality, but the reality lies in that Jo Kwon has repeatedly denied those allegations. That being said, the public must respect his stance. And, of course, the reality we live in is not that simple. The singer garnered lots of criticism and hate over his participation in Priscilla, leading him defend himself on Instagram, when he obviously didn’t need to do so.

The fact that a straight man undertakes what society perceives as effeminate traits and behaviours and displays them for the mainstream audience shows how forward thinking some youth are. What Jo Kwon does is good entertainment and is well-received by the public; his sexuality is irrelevant. Even if he’s not gay himself, he’s paving the way for future queer celebrities to be accepted.

Who’s your favorite male idol who defies gender roles? We’d love for you to share your picks with us, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, so you can keep up with all our posts.

[Renders: michiru92, dyoomma]

K-Pop Idols And The Formidable American Debut

CL joins a line of K-Pop idols who have decided to enter the American music market, but the history of idols in the United States isn’t something that the 2NE1 leader will want to necessary emulate. The most talked about idols to have attempted to enter the American market to date are Rain, BoA, Se7en, Girls’ Generation, SPICA, and The Wonder Girls. Their efforts have done much for Korean music in the US, but the popularity that Korean idols find in many countries didn’t transfer over, and no Korean idols became superstars in Hollywood.

K-Pop made national headlines with the explosion of Psy’s Gangnam Style, the success of which Psy himself admits was a complete accident. In comparison, the other attempts to break into the US were hardly accidents, and were met with varying levels of success.


In one of the more bizarre debuts into the American entertainment industry, Rain gained national attention after beating out Stephen Colbert for the number one spot on a reader-ranked Time 100 Poll in 2007. Rain had already appeared on Time’s 2006 World 100 Most Influential People list following his immense popularity in Asia, and on CNN’s TalkAsia in 2005. But Stephen Colbert took Rain’s win personally, and his Comedy Central audience soon learned a little bit about Rain.

Rain continued being ranked on Times’ lists for the next few years, and had a short guest appearance on the Colbert Report where the two had a dance off.

Even though he gained fame in Asia first as a singer before becoming an actor, Rain made his formal debut in the U.S. as an actor, taking roles in Speed Racer in 2008 and Ninja Assassin in 2009. He even won MTV’s Biggest Badass Award for his role in the latter film.

Rain stopped all of his American activities due to military service, but appeared in August 2014’s The Prince with Bruce Willis and John Cusack. The film was poorly received and Rain has yet to announce future plans to act in the United States. However, following Lee Byung Hyun, Rain is one of Korea’s most impressive action exports to Hollywood.

Success Rate: 80% — He’s still active, and if he lands the right role, Rain could do really well in Hollywood as an action star.


BoA and Rain are best of the top solo idols that Korea has seen, both known for their singing and dancing, and both headed to the United States. BoA tried entering the American market through an album release in 2008, with the English language album BoA. The album included singles Eat You Up, Energetic, and I Did It For Love, as well as Look Who’s Talking, which was originally partially written and recorded by Britney Spears but never publicly released. The album and songs appeared on Billboard charts in the United states, as well as several foreign charts.

BoA performed at MTV Studios in Times Square and appeared at the 2008 Jingle Ball. She also performed at the 2009 San Francisco Pride Festival, where Solange Knowles also performed. The singer also starred in the movie Make Your Move, alongside Dancing With The Stars’ Derek Hough. The movie was released in 2014, after several years in post production. BoA hasn’t really pursued the American industry in some time, instead choosing to focus on Korea and Japan.

Success Rate: 40% — BoA’s songs are as great as any of her Korean ones, but they didn’t gain the attention that they deserve. Make Your Move was not very well received.

The Wonder Girls

Perhaps the most daring, The Wonder Girls devoted themselves to an American debut. The girl group had reached success with addictive hits like Tell Me and Nobody, and JYP Entertainment decided that the five member group would do well in the U.S. The members released some of their songs in English and went on tour with The Jonas Brothers in 2009, acting as the opening act. The Wonder Girls became the first Korean group to have a song on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart when the English version of Nobody entered.

However, Sunmi left the group in the middle of American promotions, and Hyelim replaced her. The Wonder Girls then returned to Korea and released 2 Different Tears in English, Korean, and Chinese. The group then went back to the United States and had several concerts. After some more Asian activities, The Wonder Girls returned to the United States with The DJ Is Mine, and appeared in Teen Nick made-for-tv movie, The Wonder Girls. After releasing Like This in Korea and making a Japanese debut, The Wonder Girls returned to the U.S. in July 2012 with Like Money, featuring Akon. Despite the efforts, Like Money didn’t reach success in the US.

Success Rate: 60% — The Wonder Girls tried really hard, but broken up international activities meant that the group didn’t spend enough time in Korea, the U.S., Japan, or China. World domination would be nice, but The Wonder Girls overextended themselves and hurt their chances in both North America and Asia. the group released some great songs and did some amazing things, so it’s really unfortunate that they didn’t reach American fame.


In 2007, Se7en announced that he would be heading into the U.S. market. However, after a collaboration with Fabolous, This Is My Year, was leaked, Se7en’s American debut showed signs of problems, even though Verizon Wireless helped sponsor some of his events. The singer held a showcase in New York City and released Girls feat. Lil’ Kim. The song charted on Billboard‘s World Chart, and the music video aired on BET on June 2nd, 2009.

Success Rate: 30% –He’s the first one to really have tested out the waters of what it would be like for an idol to try making it as a singer in the US, but his test didn’t turn out so well. Se7en gained a major company’s sponsorship, but after the song leak and Girls failed, he returned to Korea and went back to making music that is more suited for him. It’s likely that Se7en decided to cut his losses and head back to Asia.

Girls’ Generation

With two Korean-American members (now only one, after the departure of Jessica from the group), one of the most popular girl groups in South Korea and Asia couldn’t resist the temptation of the United States and Hollywood. Girls’ Generation signed with Universal Music Group in the U.S. in 2011, and the group promoted The Boys there the following year. Girls’ Generation became the first Korean group to appear on Late Night With David Letterman and Live! With Kelly.

Since then, Girls’ Generation has performed at KCON in the USA, and has regularly had songs appear on Billboard charts. Girls’ Generation TTS, the subgroup, has also charted.

Success Rate: 60% — Just like the Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation gained a lot of hype, but the songs aren’t gaining traction outside of the K-Pop community. With Jessica’s removal from the group, they’re down an English-speaking member, making it less likely that they will attempt further major promotions in the U.S.


The latest girl group to try it out in the United States is SPICA. SPICA released the power, inspiring song I Did It in 2014 and debuted it at KCON the same month. SPICA also performed on a local Los Angeles morning show, Good Morning LA, and held a showcase performance, which Kultscene covered.  The group then went back to Korea and it is unclear whether SPICA will return stateside.

Success Rate: 0-100%  — SPICA has the sound and style that could make it big in the United States, but if the group doesn’t come back, then I Did It will still be a great song, but nothing more. It’s too early to really say whether the group is a success, but I Did It is possibly the best attempt of a K-Pop group to sing a song in English.

CL is trying her hand at it next, and its unclear as to how she’ll compare to the other idols who have attempted to break into the U.S. market. The odds don’t appear to be in her favor, but another imported female rapper — Iggy Azalea- is one of the most popular rappers in the world right now, so what’s to stop CL from seeking success?

How do you think CL will fare in the U.S.? Should any of these idols give America another whirl? What other idols would you like to see try their hand in Hollywood?