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[60thAnni] Are girl groups riding next hallyu wave?

2010/10/28 | 888 views | Permalink | Source

Girls' Generation

By Han Sang-hee

While some argue that “hallyu,” or the Korean wave has seen its limits, others are discovering yet another one slowly making its way to Asian television channels, newspapers and magazines.

Girl groups have become a new source of hallyu entertainment. The young and pretty girls have been criticized for being all talk and no true talent, but it seems they have evolved into another important pathway to spread Korean culture.

The pink wave

Girls' Generation's song “Gee” hit the second spot in Japan's weekly Oricon chart last week — the first non-Japanese Asian group to do so and the second foreign female group in 30 years, while Kara also reached top 2 in the Oricon album charts.

Other girl groups like 4Minute and Brown Eyed Girls followed suit, attracting fans with their sexy and edgy images.

The first generation of hallyu was based on dramas and their characters, touching the hearts of mostly women in their 40s and 50s.

Nowadays, however, it's easier to find younger foreign fans walking the streets of the fashion district of Myeong-dong and also near major television networks waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars.

“It's my second time to come to Korea. I love shopping, especially for cosmetics because some of my favorite singers and actors promote them,” Maggie Delores from Singapore told The Korea Times in Myeong-dong last week.

In Thailand, it's easy to hear songs by groups like Girls' Generation and 4Minute, with many young fans listening to their music and also watching them perform through the Internet.

“The performance of the singers is different. Korean singers perform better than Thai ones,” Sirisak Ormnork, a 25-year-old airline staff member, told The Korea Times. Ormnork's favorite singer is Girls' Generation member Yoo-na.

“Honestly, the first thing I see in a Korean singer is the good looks. The second would be the professionalism found in their shows,” he said.

Another Thai fan mentioned the overall performing talents.

“The most sharply different thing between Korean and Thai singers is the dancing style. Korean singers are more creative. Another main point is the singers' appearances: they all look cute and beautiful, and finally the good music, lyrics and beat,” said 24-year-old officeworker Jatuporn Buranasakulsatid, who is a big fan of 4Minute's Hyun-a.

A ripple or a tsunami?

According to Masahito Ichikawa, the former editor of Japanese entertainment magazine TV Pia, “Hallyu in Japan has indeed seen a great transition in paradigm” and the main cause of this change is Korean dramas that started to attract a broader range of viewers and especially the debut of Korean girl bands.

“From last May, four Korean girl bands — 4Minute, Kara, Brown Eyed Girls and Girls' Generation — made their Japanese debut and their fans are mostly young females,” the editor said during the 2010 Broadcast Writers International Forum held in Busan last week.

“Fans dressed in similar outfits, and while dancing to the music was seldom seen in the past, it has become the norm,” he added.

As fans pointed out, the looks and dances have worked to their advantage, but another interesting factor is the overall concept. Japanese girl bands mostly cater for male fans. The members are young, cute and almost naive looking, while Korean groups go for both images: cute and sexy.

Japanese sports newspaper Nikkan Sports wrote that “Korean girl groups' vocals and dancing are of very high quality. They also have somewhat contradicting images of 'cute' and 'cool' in one package.”

Such a distinctive difference has made young female fans pay to see their favorite members, while others show off similar outfits and learn dance moves.

“The first impression I got when I saw Girls' Generation was 'Japan is in trouble. I didn't think we would be able to top them',” a music producer said during an interview with broadcaster SBS in its weekly documentary “We Want to Know,” Oct. 16.

Another meaningful factor is that the groups have managed to catch the attention with K-pop, not localized moves and tunes, albeit already well established in Japan. While BoA and TVXQ topped charts with a more J-pop style, the younger girls are offering their original Korean numbers.

In other words, the new hallyu is mostly “made in Korea.”

“Korean bands go through a long period of training. Some spend three to four years and others more. Through all that training, they learn how to sing, dance and basically work together as a group,” songwriter Kim Hyung-seok said.

“For Japan, spending such time on training can be considered time-consuming, so introducing already famous groups in Korea can be an easier way to go,” he said.

Is the wave worth riding?

Such success and interest may be a good sign, but some experts and critics are worrying about the local music industry being too driven by idol bands.

“The 'attack' of the girl groups is like a result of a special forces unit investing everything they have into one single mission. There is a fancy outcome, but behind the glitter is our bare music industry,” wrote culture critic Ha Jae-geun on a local webzine called Mediaus.

“A desirable structure would be having diverse bands and singers being recognized overseas. We need to have more than just idol bands. Now is not the time to just enjoy their popularity. We still have problems of our own regarding Korea's music industry and also such idol bands. The worries and criticisms regarding the local music industry have dwindled and this is a problem,” he added.

Japanese experts also noticed such limitations, advising that there needs more to be done than just relax and enjoy the ride.

“It takes about three years for a trend in Japan to die down. (Korea) must come up with other measures in case this dies down,” Hirozumi Yoshioka, editor of magazine Nikkei Entertainment, said.

Worries and doubts may seem a bit early, as the girls and bands have just started to show off their talents. But they, along with their producers and agency, should keep in mind that the entertainment industry and fans can get a bit picky, just like the first wave that dwindled after a few years.

“We tend to only consider them through their images and appearances, but they are actually very well made Korean cultural content. They have all the right values as cultural human resources,” said Shim Sang-min, professor at Sungsin Women's University's department of Media Communication.

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