Thank you for writing this article. This has been what my friends and I have been ranting talking about lately. Exactly our thoughts.
Credits to my friend Leni for sharing this. 🙂
In the past years, the Hallyu Wave as we know it has been expanding across the whole wide world. With the success of the artists in Japan, China, Taiwan, and other Asian countries, there have also been debuts in America and sold out concerts in Europe. It all started in the middle of Asia, in the Korean pop market. When someone felt it was right to go and try to conquer another country’s music business with the release of original material in that said country, many others followed.
While it started off with the impression the drama “Winter Sonata” left, and its corresponding popularity, the Hallyu Wave has been shifting to mainly music in the past years. With the debut of TVXQ and BoA, both successfully integrating their music into the Japanese music business, the Korean music business, SM Entertainment was off to a great start. Top Korean groups like Big Bang and SS501 were also eager to take their shot at the foreign market, and were able to note down their popularity as being K-Pop’s top groups. But the success was mainly for a select amount of groups and lots of debuts went by unnoticed, some even selling as less than 1,000 copies of their singles.
With the constant releases from big groups in Japan, however, Korean pop has become more popular than ever and has managed to open up Japanese music lovers, slightly turning the whole emergence of K-Pop in Japan into a whole movement, or as it’s known now, the Hallyu Wave.
But of the hard work that the original Hallyu stars had to put into their foreign career, seems to go unnoticed these days. Currently, many well known companies are using their popularity in Korea and the force of the Hallyu Wave to break through the Japanese market while trying to do as little as possible. SHINee, Girls’ Generation, T-ara, and 2PM are just a few examples of groups that are living on their Korean popularity, and are being boasted as K-Pop’s next best thing. Their debut songs all reached the top regions of the Oricon charts pretty easily, even conquering top spots with debut releases. Back in the day, however, TVXQ and BoA didn’t have their popularity to fall back on, meaning they had to crawl from the bottom, up to the top regions themselves. BoA’s debut song, for instance, sold 14,740 copies on the first day; showing a figure at nearly half or even a third of what Korean groups sell nowadays on their first day. No, back in the day, popularity in Korea and in Japan were seen as two separate things, while today companies seem to be expecting popularity as soon as their groups have a hit in their home country.
Are companies going too easy on the whole Japanese debut?
Fans might look at the whole thing in awe and admiration, saying that their beloved groups are doing awesomely well, but in my opinion lots of them are taking the easy route laid down before them, instead of fighting their own way in. It’s a music business; it’s a place where only the best are meant to survive and it’s fighting for a part of the spotlight. But in this day and age, and especially with the Hallyu Wave in place, there’s not so much “sweat and tears” behind a Japanese debut anymore. When groups have had a certain hit back in their home country, they are sent to Japan to rerecord it in broken Japanese because their companies don’t even bother preparing them decently and are just throwing them in because the time seems right, or maybe just because there is money to be made in Japan as well.
I’m not saying this is the fault of the groups themselves, more likely the companies behind them, but BEAST, 2NE1, Girls’ Generation, Rainbow, T-ara, and I’m sure I’m missing a lot of them, have all tried and managed in one way or another, to break into the J-Pop scene by just simply rerecording their original hits in Japanese, whether or not they actually knew anything about the language at all. BEAST’s “Shock” is a prime example of this, not only including lyrics in Japanese and English, but Korean as well. Many Japanese reworkings also suffer from a lack of flowing sentences and words, making it obvious that the song wasn’t written to be combined with Japanese lyrics to begin with.
But are all the Hallyu groups and companies like that?
Of course they are not, only the biggest chunk of them are. Every once in a while there are companies who take the alternative route, and search for their own way by preparing their group’s debut in a foreign country with care. Supernova, for instance, made their debut with a three week consecutive release in 2009, trying to get their name out. And even though their amount of sales might be lower than what some other Hallyu groups sell, they have now managed to become one of the most well-known Korean groups in Japan and have released 13 singles and 4 albums up to date.
Another example lies with The Boss’s recent debut. This five member group left for Japan shortly after the release of their first Korean mini album in July of last year, but instead of releasing something right away, the boys went into language training while their Japanese company was preparing original debut songs. After having studied Japanese for over half a year, the group released their Japanese debut single. Because of their language skills, the group is able to promote on variety shows without an interpreter and can converse with their fans by themselves, resulting in a closer bond with the fans. The Boss is slowly climbing their way up on many popularity charts in Japan. These groups, just as with SMASH, SHU-I, and F.Cuz, lack the Korean popularity to ride the Hallyu Wave, yet they are establishing a stronger core fanbase by starting from scratch, yet setting an example. Even popular Korean groups 2PM and MBLAQ are trying to get into the Japanese market by releasing original, J-Pop inspired songs, rather than reworking their older hits.
All these groups and companies are free to go and release things wherever they want, but with the Korean showbiz already having more debuts than it’s able to swallow, how long will it take for the Hallyu Wave, and especially the market in Japan, to come back at the artists and chase them back to their beloved home country? Because what strikes me the most is that people seem to be forgetting that Japan and Japanese music lovers don’t only have to be able to take on their own groups popping up everywhere, but every single K-Pop debut in Japan as well. This year alone has had the debut of Rainbow, Secret, The Boss, SHU-I, F.Cuz, T-ara, SHINee, Super Junior, 2PM, ZE:A, JUNO, MBLAQ, 2NE1, After School, and others to be added to that list in the short future including Infinite, Block B, B1A4, IU, U-Kiss, Code-V, Gummy, 2AM, f(x), and many more. Count to that list every single K-Pop debut that still has to happen, and they will most likely be shipped off to the country in no less than a year after their debut, and you’ll understand what I mean when I feel that Japan is getting flooded, and still K-Pop fans take it for granted that the Japanese music lovers won’t complain and will accept any Korean group with open arms.
With every single group heading for Japan these days, won’t the Japanese netizens get enough of the Koreans trying to invade their music market? Starting next week on Wednesday, up until the end of December, will see the release of close to 30 releases by K-Pop artists, and I’m sure the list will grow the closer we get to the end of the year.