How Some K-Pop Acts Find More Fame Overseas Than At Home
One thing that’s for certain in K-Pop is that there are a lot of performers competing for your attention during any given year. With so many different acts releasing songs and MVs, as well as filling up slots on the weekly performance shows, it can be hard for some content to stand out. Thankfully, as we know, K-Pop is hardly restricted to staying within the borders of South Korea, so many acts choose to promote overseas when they find it’s time to expand their horizons.
Sometimes, popular acts will promote in Japan and find that their success at home doesn’t translate. On the other hand, some acts find that they’re more successful in Japan or elsewhere than at home. What’s worth noting is the differences in the details of how each act approaches the foreign market – where and how they promote, whether they’re using original or translated music, and how they’re presented all affect chances at success overseas.
One act that has done really well overseas is 2PM, JYP‘s veteran boy group. Although the act has some hits in Korea, they’ve achieved considerable success over in Japan. After establishing themselves early on with original compositions for the market like “Takeoff,” the group turned into a touring monster in the country, and they now boast a collection of well-selling albums.
In contrast, one act that has had their eyes on the international stage from the start is KARD. After releasing an English version of their song “Don’t Recall,” the group eventually made an official debut in Korea that was promptly followed by an international tour. They made several stops across America and Europe, and even though they weren’t topping charts or selling millions at home, the performances managed to elevate the group’s profile in a way that staying in one place couldn’t have.
Another interesting case of a K-Pop group doing better overseas comes in the form of U-KISS. On top of having several successful tours that took them to the United States, Latin America, Europe and Japan, the group enjoyed a considerable amount of success on the Oricon charts with their original Japanese material. By promoting through several Japanese TV shows and continuing to release new music even in the face of lineup changes, U-KISS made a name for themselves in Japan and ended up releasing 5 albums and several EPs there, compared to their total of 3 in Korea.
There’s a variety of factors at play when any K-Pop act becomes successful overseas. In the case of KARD and U-KISS, an argument can definitely be made that they used availability to their advantage. By making their presence felt through tours and TV appearances, they had many opportunities to connect with the curious. In some cases, it was enough to simply be a K-Pop group performing in an area with K-Pop fans; small discographies or light budgets can be forgiven by an inherently receptive audience.
Another factor that you might notice at play among acts that promote in Japan is original music. There are times when a group has a monster hit that gets translated to their benefit – just look at Girls’ Generation or KARA‘s early years in the country, or TWICE more recently. However, the original material allows K-Pop artists to adjust their sound for the Japanese market, and many artists find that change pays dividends. The clearest example of this would be a group like TVXQ, one of the first but certainly also one of the most consistent Korean wave acts. TVXQ has 8 Japanese albums almost entirely composed of original material (as well as four greatest hits compilations), all of which boast sales figures that drive home the point that they resonate with the Japanese audience.
Although the ways that each Korean act finds success overseas vary, one thing you can bank on is said success being capitalized upon in Korea. Acts like BoA and TVXQ both benefitted massively from this effect, and it almost became part of their narrative, with fans considering bonafide international stardom something to be proud of. One thing for certain is that the allure of international activities continues to be a selling point for K-Pop fans and artists alike, and with Hallyu seemingly reignited this year through the work of BTS and TWICE, it’s an exciting and promising time for all involved.