Can G-Dragon (GD) rock the global music scene as Psy did with "Gangnam Style" last year?
The leader of five-member boy band Big Bang is undoubtedly a K-pop juggernaut adored by hundreds of thousands of fans in Korea and many other Asian countries. Nonetheless his presence in the two trendsetting markets — the United States and Europe — is still meager and fragile.
Yet various signs hint that things are changing. Unlike several years ago when the audience of his concerts in the regions were mostly Korean or those ethnically rooted in Asia, the makeup of these days is literarily globe-spanning.
"I like GD because when he performs you can tell he loves what he does," said Priyashika Giri, 20, a GD fan living in London, in an email interview. "He's a true leader and an amazing performer. Every time he performs he has this aura that's just really special." Watching Big Bang's London concert live in March last year, Giri said, "He is so versatile and is amazing at what he does. So I can't help but be in awe when he performs."
Carolina, 25, is another GD fan in Italy. She asked to be printed by her first-name only.
"I think he is a good rapper and he definitely has style. Contrary to the great majority of Korean singers, his career does not seem to be based exclusively on appearance," Carolina said. "I have seen him live at a Big Bang concert, and I was actually impressed by the effort they all put into trying to make a good show, even when they were obviously exhausted." She said there is a big online community of Italian fans.
Jessica Mangrum who saw his performances live in Los Angeles last month said, "G-Dragon is so sexy. He is awesome."
Nyein Aung, 20, living in Singapore, extolled the musician's fashion, saying GD has a lot of "crazy fashion sense."
"He doesn't stick to one kind of fashion — he is always evolving. And I think that kind of rubbed off on Big Bang," Aung said. She expressed regret for having rare opportunity to see GD with the naked eye since he, as well as Big Bang, hardly does a world tour.
"But that's okay," she said. "I follow GD on Instagram. So I see what he's doing from day to day."
His rise seems to have been felt by U.S. musicians and producers. Award-winning American hip hop star Missy Elliott joined the production of GD's second solo album "Coup D'etat." Another U.S. musician Pharrell Williams recently expressed his desire to collaborate with the Korean "newcomer," for which GD responded positively saying, "Do it Let's Do it!!" in his tweeter. Other collaborators of the singer include Diplo, Baauer, Sky Ferreira and Boys Noize.
Fashion outshines music
GD's rise seems undeniable by all accounts. But opinions vary when it comes to its propeller.
His fans would definitely become upset if someone claims GD's escalating recognition in the U.S. is more driven by his fashion than music. Regrettably that's the view of American fashion magazine COMPLEX — although his latest album entered the Billboard 200 at No. 182 last Friday with more than 2,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"Unlike labelmate Psy, G-Dragon isn't making a name in the U.S. off of a gimmicky song, or, for that matter, any music at all. Instead, it is the uniqueness of G-Dragon's personal style that has piqued the curiosity of American tastemakers," the magazine claimed in its cover story headlined, "G-Dragon: Frequent Flyer."
GD seems to admit it to some extent.
"It would be better to be recognized first for music, but people go with what they like," the musician was quoted as saying in an interview with the magazine. "If I'm here because I'm recognized more so as a style icon, then if I'm smart enough, I will use this opportunity to share more insight about my music."
In a media briefing in Seoul on Sept. 4, GD said he tries to make himself and his album "a bit eccentric."
"I think people like me because of this," he said. "It works because I'm still young. Perhaps I will drop it as I get older... Anyway at the moment that's my style."
Who is G-Dragon?
G-Dragon, also known as Kwon Ji-yong, was born in 1988. At the age of eight, he joined Korea's biggest music label SM Entertainment as an unsigned trainee. He moved to the second largest label YG Entertainment to make his official debut in 2006 as the leader of boy band Big Bang.
He has been involved with writing, composing, and producing many of the band's hit tracks, including "Lies," "Last Farewell," and "Haru Haru." He released his debut solo album "Heartbreaker" in 2009.
It went on to become one of the most successful albums of the year, garnering sales of over 200,000 copies and winning the M.net Asian Music Awards for Album of the Year. He released his second full album "Coup D'Etat" early this year.