By Nadine Kam I
When watching BTS as presenters tonight on the Grammy Awards show, let’s not forget that there are dozens of K-pop artists equal to the task of conquering America. BTS has worked hard to get to its place of recognition on the American music scene, but this is an exciting time for K-pop in general.
Red Velvet kicked off its first solo American concert tour Feb. 7 and 8 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. And EXO’s Chinese member and solo artist Lay Zhang (Zhang Yixing) is also attending the Grammy show.
But most significantly, girl group BlackPink made its American debut during Universal Music Group’s pre-Grammy Showcase concert yesterday. The group will also perform on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Monday night, Feb. 11, and fans can wake up to the group’s appearance on “Good Morning America” on Feb. 12.
K-pop artists have been trying to crack the American market for 30 years, with the blessing of the South Korean government, hoping to use the soft power of music to spread love for Korean culture around the globe. The groups picked up fans worldwide, but in the United States the Hallyu Wave stopped far from shore, a niche market at best.
The entertainment companies, with government financial support, did their best to package group shows, and band members often stood outside venues passing out free tickets. But the timing wasn’t right to support a bunch of Asians singing in a language few Americans understood.
The future of K-pop in America brightened last year with BTS’s phenomenal success in topping the Billboard charts, and appearing at top American award shows, major magazine covers and talk shows. They also spoke up for youths and human rights at the United Nations. The message sent back to the South Korean music industry was, “This is finally our time.” It all seemed to re-energize the industry and they put renewed focus on conquering America.
? Watch: BlackPink’s hit “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du”
I sensed this back in September, when addressing an anti on my Facebook page. I assured her the Koreans were coming and the next group likely to make it big is BlackPink, a women quartet, part of the YG Entertainment family in Korea. They have it all, the ability to sing and dance, the looks, the style and the attitude. This is an important point because in the past, South Korean girl bands met a Korean male producer’s fantasy of the dichotomy between madonna and whore. These groups were packaged to be either sickeningly saccharine cutesy, or slutty playthings for men. I find both extremes obnoxious, and likely, so would most women in the United States.
Today, groups like BlackPink and Mamamoo are projecting a new ideal, of women who can still be beautiful and sexy, but also strong and independent.
Just one month after my prediction, BlackPink signed with Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records, which means more promotions outside of Asia for the group, already slated to be the first women’s K-pop group to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California on April 12 and 19.
We’ll see whether a majority of the United States truly has become more open to outside cultures. In the past when it comes to Asians in the mainstream, it’s been demonstrated that Americans can only tolerate one or two minority actors at the same time, one woman, one man, because in mainstream eyes, sadly, all Asians look alike.
What’s different today is there’s a younger generation who grew up with the world in their palms, and thanks to social media, groups that would have been obscure in the past are finding a way to reach a global audience and seduce adoring fans by showing up and sharing their abundant talent.
? Watch: BlackPink Jennie’s “Solo”
Some are speculating the deal will mean a possible English-language release from the group. That’s quite possible considering Lalisa (Lisa) Manoban is hapa Thai and Caucasian and grew up in Thailand fluent in both Thai and English languages. Rosé (Park Chae Young) was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and raised speaking English and Korean in Melbourne. Jennie Kim was born in South Korea, but lived in Auckland, New Zealand, for five years and is also fluent in English and Korean. Only Jisoo (Kim Ji Soo) speaks no English.
Having the English speakers will be very helpful for the group because interviews with K-pop bands in the past have been few and awkward because of the language barrier. This makes media more open to have them as guests and interview subjects.
? Watch: Taemin’s “Danger” dance practice
I’m hoping there will be a place for SHINee’s maknae Taemin (Lee Tae-min), who’s pursuing a solo career while his hyung Key (Kim Kibum) and Minho (Choi Minho) join Onew (Lee Jinki) the South Korean military in March. His solo album “Want” drops Feb. 11 (10th in the Western world).
And everyone’s waiting to know what Big Hit’s TXT (Tomorrow X Together) will sound like when they debut March 5 (4th in the West). There’s a lot of buzz surrounding this band, only the second from Big Hit, the company that spawned BTS.
? Watch: Mamamoo’s “Egotistic”