A few weeks ago, who would have thought that we would be living in world where K-pop sensation Girls’ Generation would storm mainstream American TV?
Lo, it came to pass that week when the 9-girl strong singing and dancing machine performed not only on The Late Show with David Letterman but Live! With Kelly to boot. When you’re suddenly hanging out with the likes of not only Dave Letterman and Kelly Ripa, but also (bizarrely enough) Bill Murray and Regis Philbin, you have to figure that some kind of breakthrough has occurred. Now the question is how far can Girls’ Generation go?
Girls' Generation on Letterman. Old white guys Dave and Bill Murray at right.
An interesting essay by writer Jeff Yang on today’s Wall Street Journal website entitled “Can Girls’ Generation Break Through in America?” explores these ideas.
Clearly, it’s a question that’s worth asking. A similar piece, titled "Does Korean Pop Actually Have a Shot at Success in the U.S.?" ran in last week’s Atlantic magazine and focused not only on Girls’ Generation but also efforts to market 2NE1 and Wonder Girls abroad as well.
Girls’ Generation is, of course, already massively popular, “In Asia, that is” writes Yang in the WSJ. “The Girls have topped the charts in Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan and especially Japan, the world’s second largest music market.”
They’re also gaining traction in Europe where a concert in Paris sold out in minutes. But can Girls’ Generation really win over Uncle Sam?
The Girls' Generation sings and dances in an effort to please Live! With Kelly co-host Howie Mandel.
The Atlantic piece points to previous Asian pop stars that failed to crack the market here: mostly Japanese ones like Pink Lady and Hikaru Utada. But I think the entire nature of the music business has dramatically changed since their day. In the past, record labels had the lion’s share of the power over how music would reach outlets like radio and record stores. Much effort was put into how to “westernize” foreign acts for US consumption, which may have watered down the original appeal of such acts (heck, Puffy AmiYumi had to become cartoon characters before anyone could take them seriously). But now, anyone with an Internet connection can not only discover K-pop groups like Girls’ Generation, and watch their original videos, but also buy their back catalog music with the click of a mouse.
To these eyes, the very fact that Girls’ Generation have already stormed mainstream US TV last week would seem to indicate that they’ve already “broken though” in America. And my feeling is that the buzz that brought them to the stage came not from a marketing decision in a meeting room somewhere, but from the sheer number of fans they’ve already amassed, both in around the world and in the States.
But…how far can it go? And does success in America even matter anymore when the rest of the world is already at your feet? I guess we'll find out soon enough.