South Korea Feature
In the past decade, South Korea has become Asia's new entertainment powerhouse. The Korean Wave, or Hallyu, that started with the export and overnight success of Korean TV dramas in Japan and China has exploded into a full-fledged cultural export industry. Recently, even the government has jumped in, proclaiming Hallyu a form of soft power.
While pop-culture exports are nothing new for Asia—Japan once took the region by storm with manga (comics), anime, and movies—the Korean Wave is unique in its concerted effort to capture international investment and imagination. Although Korean TV shows and their actors were at the front of the Korean Wave in Asia, it's K-pop music that's taking the West by storm. The over-perfection of major groups like Girls' Generation, 2NE1, and Big Bang comes across as both derivative and strikingly original. These groups may be treading familiar moves and rhythms, but they are doing it better, more flawlessly, than anyone else on either side of the Pacific.
The B Side of Hallyu
The negative flip side to this flawlessness, however, is that bands and band members start to blur together. Artists' public personas are so tightly choreographed and controlled by their agencies that few stand out as individual stars. It is a music scene that has been built around manufacturing super groups with broad appeal, but discourages artists striking out in new directions. With such tight agency control, the K-pop scene seems unlikely to produce powerfully independent stars like Lady Gaga, Beyonce, or Madonna. For now though, K-pop's emerging popularity is a refreshing addition to the world music scene.
Top K-pop Groups
If you're not familiar with the K-pop sensation, here are a few of the most popular groups worth checking out.
Girls' Generation: The most internationally-known K-pop group, in 2012, Girls' Generation became the first to release a full-length U.S. album.
2NE1: Winners of MTV Iggy's 2011 Best New Band award, 2NE1 attempts an edgier, hip-hop sound. The group plans to release their first U.S. album (featuring the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am) sometime in 2012.
Big Bang: Although the girl groups are getting most of the international press, it was the boys who made the first inroads into Asian markets. Named "Best Worldwide Act" at the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards, Big Bang is set to be one of the most influential K-pop groups in the near future.
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