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Is Big Bang Ready for the West?

2012/04/05 | 661 views | Permalink | Source

Idol group Big Bang are certainly getting their fair share of attention these days, but they are getting their just due; their latest mini-album "Alive" is breaking records on Korean music charts and earning critical praise for its six singles on the EP. Their "concept" this go round is one of their most...unique so far- tattoos, oxygen masks, blue hair, the usual mélange from the YG stylist closet, and whatever G-Dragon happens to feel like throwing on when he wakes up in the morning. However, as has been closely noted by V.I.Ps (official Big Bang fan club), the music is what is attracting all the attention – from popular American blogs, sites, and international music insiders. They broke the Billboard 200, and placed high on other album charts (Independent, World, Heatseekers) demonstrating a pretty widespread appeal. It's interesting given that while it appears many in K-pop are still trying to find the magic formula for recognition in the West (Rain, BoA, Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation) it seems as these guys are getting it and barely trying. Of course, now the group has a global tour lined up with Live Nation and YG Entertainment is opening a company branch stateside; but Big Bang is probably one of the most popular K-pop groups that has never intensely focused on expanding outside of Asia. Now it all looks set to change. Is (supposedly) the least prepared group for crossing over actually the most equipped to succeed?

La La La

I've heard even from non-V.I.Ps that Big Bang stands as one of the most "Western-friendly" K-pop groups. Even in the sugar-coated world of Korean pop, the guys manage to promote an image that goes beyond one of a "boy band", which I believe helps them curry favor with non-Asian males and Korean-Americans. However, even from their humble beginnings as a rookie group, Big Bang maintained a sound that was derivative of modern contemporary hip-hop music while remaining distinctive.


2006's "Lies" crossed that important threshold of establishing the group as an independent force that draws from its own creative well. In a sense, YG Entertainment and Teddy cultivate music that can sound very mainstream and imitative of other songs – however, they always seems to fit the talents and abilities of their artists.

These songs may fit perfectly within the dance music quality of popular music today, but as opposed to appearing conformist, Big Bang's extensive fan base can attest to the fact that it makes the music more appealing and more open to crossing linguistic and cultural boundaries.

"Alive" is an evolution of that, and if anything proves that the group has hit a significant peak in their growth as artists to the extent that others have noticed. Global concert music and production company Live Nation have established a partnership with Big Bang for their first world tour, which promises to be an event of Lady Gaga proportions.

Big Bang is receiving what appears to be unbridled praise from sources as diverse as the Vancouver Sun, and ; and my goodness, was Gawker the outlier for me. A long running news blog, Gawker and its sister blogs cover everything from news, publications, politics and pop culture. All of it is covered with a thick layer of snark, the writers never hesitant to interject a mean or sarcastic comment regardless of its inappropriateness. Ripping apart people, places and things are part of the natural fabric of Gawker society. I, being a longtime reader of the blog, can only feel a sense of extreme dread to see any K-pop act highlighted on the site.

Except that the article was actually complementary, to Big Bang and K-pop itself. The author waxes poetic about the song and MV for 'Bad Boy', calling it "so perfect it transcends language".

Now Gawker wouldn't be what it is without the trademark sarcasm, but even the "isn't Asian stuff crazy?" bit is tempered with dare I say it, affection for the group:
'Bad Boy', the first music video from Big Bang's new album Alive has the group twirling around underneath the JMZ subway tracks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, dressed in outfits that would draw stares even in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Why, for instance, does G-Dragon, Big Bang's leader, have half a bath mat sewed on the back of his jacket?) But the weird outfits obscure a perfect pop R&B song, with delightfully tag-teamed verses that make you wonder why we haven't had a hit boy band in the states since the beginning of the Bush Administration.

Of course all this leads to the writer's conclusion that K-pop dominance in the States is imminent which while conjecture, isn't the most important part of the piece anyway. Besides the fact that they are complimentary, the Gawker piece is very telling; even among their own peers, Big Bang's fashion and music are considered unique. Many assume that individuality coming from a foreign act will seem too alien for non-Koreans to understand. However, Big Bang is emerging as the rare K-pop group that can elicit similar (positive) reactions from both sets of fans. In an atmosphere where it seems many idol groups are trying to formulate the best strategy for conquering the West, Big Bang may be the one group to bag global fame – simply by being themselves.

By Ashley Turner Intern

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