Posted : 2013-05-14 17:22
Updated : 2013-05-14 17:22

How K-pop can make it in US

By Eileen H. Hong

In the last 20 years K-pop has become globally recognized with acts such as Rain, Wonder Girls, and Psy creating a window of opportunity for Korea's celebrated pop culture.

With the recent success of Psy's "Gangnam Style" and "Gentleman," Korean entertainment agencies are competing to devise the perfect blueprint that will successfully advance their artists into America.

However, this formula may prove to be ineffective. For my senior project at Brandeis University, I have analyzed K-pop's previous ventures into America, and constructed a formula to help future K-pop acts break into America.

Korean pop music definitely has a long way to go before it is able to successfully break into America's music market. Previous attempts have introduced this sensation to America; however, K-pop still does not hold a strong presence in the West. Therefore, in order to sustain their presence in America, rather than a fleeting spark, Korean artists need to rethink their master plan.

In order for Korean artists to even consider tackling the U.S. music market, they need to perfect their English. Without being experienced in English, artists restrict not only their overall image but also their promotions within America. For example Ye-eun, a member of the Wonder Girls, emotionally expressed the obstacles she faced, "I could easily express myself in Korean. But in English I had to be cautious with every single world…"

As a result K-pop acts need to first master English; take it from Ye-eun who not only received constant criticism for her English, but also found her career short-lived in America.

Not only do Korean artists need to perfect their English, they also need to become familiar with America's culture. Yes, it is difficult to understand a culture, especially when you are not from that country.

However, Korean artists need to be adaptable. CL, the leader of 2NE1, epitomizes this versatility. She not only knows how to appeal to a Korean audience, she also understands the humor and culture of America needed to attract a Western audience; therefore she possesses a global fan base.

Essentially Korean artists need to be flexible and immerse themselves in Western culture in order to successfully secure their presence in America.

In order to achieve this cultural familiarity, Korean agencies could also increase ethnical diversity within their pop groups. By having members from various nationalities, a group is automatically able to appeal to various demographics. For example 2PM, a five-boy band, is known for having ethnic diversity, through Nichkhun and Taecyeon. Nichkhun is of Thai-Chinese descent,whereas Taecyeon was raised in Boston. By having these ethnically diverse members, 2PM is known to have a worldwide fan base.

This formula is not 100-percent fool-proof, however, these are preliminary steps Korean artists need to make in order to jumpstart their western careers. Once these requirements are met, they need to start from the bottom and carefully market their careers.

Korea and America are polar opposites, therefore the success Korean artists receive in Korea will not always translate in America, and therefore Korean artists need to be willing to start from the bottom up.

Jessica Aeyoung Kwon, a representative of U.S. Liaison to CJ E&M Music, said in this regard, "They need to start from grassroots campaigns, do the radio promotions, and start from the bottom up like all American artists do to get to that commercial success in America—fame comes at a cost!"

Come on K-pop artists, don't you want to sustain your fame in the U.S. music market, rather than disappearing when a new video goes viral on YouTube?

The writer is a senior at Brandeis University majoring in Communications and Media. Her email address is

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