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.
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?