At the beginning of the K-Pop phenomenon was a solo artist that coincidentally also made the first K-Pop single that I ever heard of: BoA. After becoming a massive star in her native Korea, this little catholic girl then continued to blow up in Japan as well, becoming one of the first Korean artists to do so. in 2008, She went for the American market with this single and video, called “Eat you Up” which was coincidentally written by a bunch of Danes.
This 9-piece girl-band launched in 2007, but had their real breakthrough in 2009 in Korea with the song above, “Gee” (I am particularly impressed by the sheer number of cutesy facial expressions in the above video). Known as SNSD, meaning “Girl’s Generation” which is also the name they are known under outside of Korea, come from the record company “SM Entertainment” which is putting together loads of these bands, coming from their dedicated Pop-Star boarding schools. They hold auditions all over the world for new (Asian) girls. SNSD are currently (unsuccessfully) trying to break the US as well, but instead of keeping their sound they are now pretty American-sounding, and it’s all weirdly half-baked. Their US-single is called “The Boys”.
K-Pop Japanese Style
Usually bands just translate their songs for the Japanese market and make new videos, almost exactly like the old ones, just differing in details and the other actors. Occasionally however, there will be original songs for the Japanese market. This one in particular, straddling between K-Pop and J-Pop, shows why K-Pop is internationally relatively popular and J-Pop is, uh, more of an acquired flavor.
This is probably one of the more impressive music videos I have seen coming out of K-Pop recently. 2NE1 have been put together like most of these bands (through auditions and boarding schools) and while they are probably the most international-sounding band in Korea right now (they are apparently currently recording an album for the US with Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas, something I can totally see), something they share with most other bands is that their members speak different languages and are form different cultural backgrounds. 2NE1 have one American-raised member who speaks/raps in absolutely native-level English, one of them speaks fluent Japanese, etc. In bigger bands there is usually a good number of English, Japanese, Chinese and English speakers.
One of the more impressive recent launches of bands has been the Korean/Chinese project “EXO”. This 12 member band splits up into sub-bands, a 6-man Chinese and a 6-man Korean band. They sing the exact same songs, in Mandarin and Korean, and they can appear separately for TV appearances in different countries at the same time. They also serve as backing dancers in each other’s videos. While EXO was set up this way (by the same record company as SNSD), many other bands divide into subgroups only for certain songs or promotions.