Sep 14, 2015

    K-pop not a big hit in US: experts


    WHILE K-pop is quickly rising as a key cultural symbol in Asia, it remains much on the sidelines of the United States and European music industries, international experts said at a forum discussing the prospects of K-pop abroad.

    "The success of K-pop in the world is somewhat different from how it is perceived in Korea," said Rob Schwartz, the Tokyo bureau chief of American music magazine Billboard, at the Seoul Music Forum, held from Sept 11 to 12.

    A handful of industry insiders were present to discuss the reasons behind K-pop's popularity, its current international reach and the future steps needed to ensure its expansion and longevity.

    Many agreed that K-pop's international success, contrary to how it is often portrayed in local media, could be more accurately described as concentrated and segmented rather than ubiquitous.

    "In the US, K-pop is not as successful as people in Korea think," Mr Schwartz said.

    The glitzy image, as well as intense sound and meticulous choreography of most K-pop groups are still regarded as unfamiliar and unrelatable by the average American consumer, industry insiders have commented. While Psy's infamous Gangnam Style video has achieved the most widespread reach, it is largely considered a viral one-hit wonder that is somewhat independent from the K-pop wave.

    Even so, artists and production companies should emphasise, rather than tone down, K-pop's distinctiveness when going into the US market, Mr Schwartz added.

    "If K-pop is going to appeal in the US, it has to play more on the differences than the similarities," he said.

    In other parts of the world, however, such as South America and the East and South-east Asian regions, K-pop has had "tremendous success", said Mr Schwartz.

    According to Billy Koh, founder and CEO of Amusic Rights Entertainment, K-pop has now risen as a key cultural identity of the Asian region.

    But several tasks remain to be tackled in K-pop's future, said forum speakers.

    FNC Entertainment CEO Han Seong Ho emphasised the need to diversify genres in K-pop, which mainly focuses on dance music.

    "Limiting K-pop to (a) certain colour will curb its longevity," said Mr Han, pointing to the success that the agency's groups FT Island and CNBLUE - bands that make rock music mixed with elements of pop and Korean ballad - have garnered in Japan.

    He further suggested that K-pop artists exploit different routes in establishing an international fan base. Until now, the equation for a K-pop group's rise to stardom was to debut in South Korea on a major music programme, appear in variety shows to gain public appeal, then branch out overseas.

    Structural difficulties present another type of obstacle, said Mr Koh.

    "(The Chinese government) has a quota for foreign films, songs and TV drama series," he said.

    "They limit how many hours of Korean dramas can be aired, and even how many concerts K-pop groups can hold in China in a year."