K-Pop taking over the world? Don't make me laugh

K-Pop taking over the world? Don't make me laugh

K-Pop is great for Asia, but don't believe the hallyu hype about global domination. The world's biggest music markets simply don't care

Having followed the Korean media for some time, I’m all too familiar with the unrestrained embellishment of hallyu.

Every time I read an article raving about how successful the Wonder Girls are in the States, or how Rain is a “world star,” I can’t help but cringe.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that K-Pop is being listened to outside of Korea and that it has an international fan base, but the media’s coverage of hallyu and K-Pop feel-gooderies is ridiculously one-sided.

Crash and burn

When BoA debuted in the U.S. several years ago, every major Korean news website claimed that she was spearheading the hallyu movement in the Western hemisphere, saying BoA might just as well stand for Bring On America.

Unfortunately, she didn’t Bring On America; she bombed instead, even though her American album “Eat You Up” was produced by Thomas Troelson and featured tracks by Bloodshy and Avant, a duo that has worked with Madonna, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.

Se7enSe7en admitted on the show "Golden Fishery" that his U.S. foray was a failure. Like BoA, Se7en also tried to find success in North America and worked alongside Mark Shimmel, Rich Harrison and Darkchild. The result? Complete flops.

More than with their disastrous results, I was intrigued with the Korean media coverage that touted these singers as ambassadors of K-Pop to the U.S. 

What I'd like to ask is, if a singer, regardless of nationality, debuts in the U.S. with English songs produced specifically for an American audience, is that artist still a part of the Korean Wave?

Take Jay Park (aka Park Jae Beom), a Korean-American and ex-member of the boy band 2PM.

After leaving the group in 2009, he reappeared on YouTube and his rendition of “Nothin’ On You,” originally sung by Bruno Mars, reached well more than a million views.

Korean news websites immediately claimed Park was on his way to becoming an international hallyu star.

These types of articles always puzzle me. Yes, Park is ethnically Korean and debuted in a Korean boy band -- but calling a Korean-American singing in English a hallyu star, and even a promoter of K-Pop, seems to be a wild leap in logic. 


Before stamping the word "hallyu" on every song with a connection to Korea, it is crucial to first deconstruct the notion of the so-called Korean Wave. 

BoA and Se7en have sung songs in English that were produced by Americans, and were transformed and marketed (albeit, unsuccessfully) in a way to suit the American public. Is there, therefore, anything that is so specifically and exclusively “Korean” about their U.S. debuts or their music?

Instead of simply glorifying the concept of hallyu and obsessing over the “exclusivity” and “uniqueness” of K-Pop, the Korean media should understand that when artists are debuting in the U.S. with English songs, people don’t care if it’s J-Pop or K-Pop.

Once these artists cross over to a different cultural arena and play by its rules, the notion of hallyu no longer applies.  


The opinions of this commentary are solely those of Esther Oh and do not reflect the views of CNNGo.

Esther Oh, a California native currently residing in Seoul, is a freelance writer for CNNGo. She received her B.A. in East Asian Cultures from UC Irvine and obtained her M.A. in Modern Korean Literature at Columbia University. She currently works as an online news editor at CJ E&M.

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