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Monday, 24 October 2011

The Korean invasion: New Yorkers are screaming for the new wave of pop stars

Boy band SHINee hits the stage.
SM Entertainment
Boy band SHINee hits the stage.
 
 The symptoms are uncontrollable shrieks, intense heart palpitations, soaked palms, speaking — and squealing — in foreign tongues.

Now arriving in New York City: The South Korean phenomenon known as "hallyu," or "Korean Wave."

Already a craze in Asia, the wave has opened the floodgates of K-Pop in France, Brazil, Germany and Australia. Now it's about to take over New York.

Fans will pack a sold-out Madison Square Garden Sunday night for a concert presented by SM, one of South Korea's biggest record labels. The lineup: Girls' Generation, f(x), BoA, Kangta, TVXQ, Super Junior and SHINee.

If you don't know the names, don't worry. Think of the show as a combination of the annual Jingle Ball extravaganza and a big helping of Seoul Train.

And if fans are pumped, so are the performers.

"It is absolutely a dream come true," Tiffany Hwang, 22, one member of Girls' Generation told the Daily News. "I'm so excited. All I've been looking forward to was this weekend for a pretty long time."

A previous SM concert in Paris sold out in under 15 minutes. A second show was added and tickets went in less than 10 minutes.

Korean pop has been causing a frenzy in NYC, too.
On a recent Monday afternoon, hordes of fans outnumbered tourists in Times Square, holding colorful cardboard signs outside of MTV's TRL studios. The cheers weren't for Katy Perry or Justin Bieber, but for a group of South Korean acts including B2ST and 4 Minute. One fan issued a familiar cry.

"Oh my God, this is a dream come true!" exclaimed Nicole Asmat, 19, who was part of the lucky audience inside TRL studios. A flood of tears drenched her face after one of her favorite stars held her hand from the stage.

"I haven't seen this in years," Peter Griffin, executive vice president at MTV said while peering at the crowd outside. "It reminds me of when 'N Sync was here and the fans lined up around the studio."

Just one day earlier, 40,000 fans screamed as K-Pop heartthrobs 2PM and TVXQ, among others, performed at the New York Korean Festival in Overpeck County Park in Bergen County, N.J. The next morning residents complained to authorities about the crowd noise.

"They mean so much to me. I started dancing again because of them," Ana Ciprian, 15, shrieked from her seat, wildly clapping her hands.

Others, like Katerin Morales, 21, traveled from Texas to get her up-close and personal dose of K-Pop. "I'm having a moment," she said, her left hand covering her mouth. "They're so far away that I never thought I'd see them."

Ashley Diomedi, 20, drove eight hours from Virginia; Kharla Salazar, 22, took a red-eye flight from Miami; Virgine Cote and five of her friends traveled from Quebec.

"Korean pop stars are beautiful, and I love them because they care so much about their fans," said Cote, sporting a bright shirt with the words SHINee — her favorite band — emblazoned in bold letters, while tugging on her art book, filled with sketches of Korean celebrities.

"We don't have singers like them in Canada."
 
It's fandemonium (l.) at MTV's TRL studios in Times Square as lovers of Korean pop wait for a glimpse of their idols. (MTV)

Hwang admits that she and the rest of Girls' Generation consider fans the most important people in their lives.

"Words cannot describe [our fans]," she says. "They are our inspiration and the foundation behind our music. Without the fans we wouldn't be here."

Performers hold regular fan meetings in Seoul and keep up with them on SM's Facebook wall.
Korean pop is serious business, too. Since the turn of the millennium South Korea has been pumping out dramas and music videos as a means of influencing the broader culture throughout Asia. South Korean president Lee Myung-bak ranked K-Pop as one of the country's greatest achievements in an August speech celebrating Korea's independence from Japan.

K-Pop videos are "just slick, extremely well produced, always have different themes that really capture audiences' attentions," says Cedarbough Saeji, a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA in culture and performance with a focus on Korean culture.

"The production value is very sophisticated. Every K-Pop video is as high-quality as any top American act like Lady Gaga or Britney Spears, but the image is a lot cleaner, less sexualization."

Saeji says one appeal of Korean pop music is that the stars become friends with their audiences. And Korean singers perform multiple times on several TV networks a week.

"People like these Korean stars because they seem like someone they can be friends with," she says. "They're taught to be humble, friendly. There's no diva attitude. And they're fun."

This sense of fondness for these artists has everyone from teens in London to singing groups in Vietnam remaking Korean pop songs or emulating their dance moves and fashion styles.

"Social media has definitely impacted how accessible and easy it is to find these groups," says Young Ji Park, who founded a website dedicated to K-Pop called SeoulBeats.

"Twitter and Facebook have made these groups widely known and Korean pop groups are even featured on the top music videos of the day on YouTube. It's very visible."

So eye-catching in fact, that a live K-Pop invasion was inevitable. Here's one example:

Hip-hop sensation 2NE1, a four-girl group that sings and raps about girl empowerment, has become designer Jeremy Scott's muses. Scott created a shoe: the JS Collage Wings x 2NE1, which will debut next month.

The group's look — high fashion with a colorful, punky twist — has even inspired some updated costumes in the new production of Broadway's "Rent."

Rapper and producer will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas fell in love with the group after watching one of their videos online. He's now producing their first all-English album.

And singing isn't the only thing these young performers do. The American tween market gets its introduction to K-Pop next year when the Wonder Girls — a five-member group that once toured with the Jonas Brothers — star in a made-for-TV movie for TeenNick.
K-POP'S SECRET WEARPON: GIRLS' GENERATION HAS BEEN GROOMED TO ZOOM UP THE CHARTS
Korean pop has become an alternative for audiences bored with the current top-100 charts.

"Look at American pop music today — it's great, it's very high-quality, but there is a sameness to it," says Nusrat Durrani, general manager at MTV World.

"With something like K-Pop, you're seeing something very different. I mean, the visual vocabulary of this music is completely different, as you'll see. It's like, sometimes you feel like this is, wow, David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust period — but South Korean.

"Why should pop music be only American-dominated?"
It's a question Durrani will answer in January with the launch of MTV K. The channel will be an American resource for all things Korean pop-related and will be streamed on all MTV platforms. This means K-Pop elements will play throughout programming on MTV as well as at MTV.com.

"The other thing, too, is I think it reflects a certain innocence and naivete missing from the American pop-culture scene. This is pop idols as they used to be, with a certain innocence about them that I think the audience misses," Durrani says.

While turn-of-the-millennium pop featured sleek dance moves and heartthrobs like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, today's audience is missing out on bubblegum pop, he says.

But what differentiatesK-Pop, Durrani says, is that it's so refined, with every dance move in sync, every note precisely hit.

"K-pop is very interesting because it comes from a place of great discipline," he explains.

"A lot of these acts have been professionally trained for years and years. A lot of K-Pop acts actually have gone through very rigorous training, gone through a lot of discipline and have worked extremely hard. So the quality you see in K-Pop is quite extraordinary."

Tiffany Hwang can attest to that.


Born in San Francisco and raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Diamond Bar, Hwang was discovered at an open casting call for an L.A.-based Asian-American talent show called "Kollaboration." After practicing in her room, the 15-year-old auditioned with Christina Aguilera's "The Voice Within."

She didn't make it onto the show but did catch the eye of record label scouts there.

"I guess I got the bigger end of the deal," she says.

The company, SM Entertainment, agreed to train her in all aspects of pop stardom: singing, dancing, acting and language courses.

"I practiced a minimum of 4-6 hours every day," she recalls. "Being there alone gave me a lot of motivation to keep going on."

Hwang and Girls' Generation would top the Asian charts for seven weeks with their single "Gee." The group maintained the same level of success in Japan, topping all the charts there. That's what drew the attention of Steve Berman, vice chairman at Interscope, and Max Hole, chief operating officer
at Universal's international divison.

"They're obviously a pretty impressive-looking act," says Hole. "They're nine girls doing incredible dance routines and are great singers. For me it was the songs, and it always comes to the songs. Their songs are really, really strong."

Berman says that he was impressed by the fact that the group would book venues like L.A.'s Staples Center in a matter of minutes.

"When you dig a little bit deeper and you realize that the makeup of the audience of these shows are 75-plus percent non-Korean/non-Asian," he says. "Then you realize what the incredible potential here is."

"Now is the Girls' Generation moment," says Hole. "K-Pop is here."

Their first English single, "The Boys," was released on iTunes and zipped to No. 52 — without any promotion.

But with a music market dominated by the Lady Gagas, Rihannas and Beyoncés, can a fairly unknown group from a very faraway country succeed?

"We're definitely ready," says Hwang. "I'm not nervous. We're looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to it."

5 MUST-HEAR GROUPS:

Ready to dip your toe into the Korean Wave? Here are the top five South Korean acts that will help immerse you in the world of K-Pop:

2NE1
Unlike other Korean girl groups who capitalize on sex appeal or being saccharine and cutesy, this group rose to the top of the charts for their anthems on girl power and boy bashing. When they aren't dominating the charts in Korea and Japan, the group — Dara, Bom, Minzy and leader CL — are making a statement in the fashion world. Often described as "fierce," this fearless foursome express their style through fashion houses like Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Proenza Schouler, Balmain and Jeremy Scott, who has become one of the band's biggest supporters. Catch them repping South Korea as one of the Best Bands of the World nominated by MTV Iggy.
Download this: "I Am the Best," a catchy electronic beat with a bass-friendly undertone.

Big Bang
After debuting their signature hip-pop sound in 2006, the five-member team dominated the South Korean charts and later did the same in Japan. First topping the charts with the upbeat single "Lies," the band has since become one of Asia's most recognizable acts. And with a collaboration with Major Lazer's Diplo on one song by members G-Dragon and T.O.P. called "Knockout," it seems like Asia's not the only place they're receiving attention.
Download this: "Tonight," a perfect mélange of rock and electronica
with a bumping beat.


Super Junior
How do you get attention from tween girls everywhere? Stick as many good-looking guys as possible on a stage. The 12-member Super Junior has already been deemed one of South Korea's biggest "hallyu" groups by the BBC and they have a far reach of fans from Slovenia to Peru, where they were named one of the 30 "Sexiest Men in the World." Their heavy pop tracks and slick dance moves have already made them nationwide sensations with an international presence.
Download this: "Sorry, Sorry," a heavy pop track that comes with entertaining choreography that was once a South Korean craze.

2PM
While other boy bands captured attention through their pretty-boy images, this group capitalizes on their masculine look. Each member sports six-pack abs, regularly revealed onstage to the delight of thousands of screaming fans. The six-member group focuses on heavy acrobatics and intricate dance moves and has become almost Chippendale-like — without the cheesy bow ties.
Download this: "Heartbeat," a dramatic track that starts out with a melancholy piano riff.

 
Two members remain from the quintet TVXQ. Concert fans. (SM Entertainment)


TVXQ
The Backstreet Boys in their heyday have nothing on this band. After some member drama last year, where three performers decided to leave, the two survivors, Max Changmin and U-Know Yunho, carried on. With tight choreography and impressive pipes, this dynamic duo has become the epitome of K-Pop: slick dance moves, stellar musical productions and big voices to boot.
Download this: "Before You Go," a soft ballad that showcases just how refined and beautiful voices in Korean pop music can be.

Source: NY Daily

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