Korean pop rides 'Gangnam Style' into U.S. music scene

Piya Sinha-Roy
Reuters Middle East

* YouTube seen as main conduit for K-pop to U.S. audiences

* Psy plans to branch out into English lyrics to widen


* Genre still too small to generate major concert ticket


LOS ANGELES, Nov 30 (Reuters) - "Gangnam Style," the catchy

Korean song by rapper Psy, may have danced its way into the

American charts but the Korean pop industry isn't horsing around

when it comes to capitalizing on the singer's phenomenal U.S.


With "Gangnam Style" topping the current Billboard Digital

Songs chart and becoming the most-watched video on YouTube ever

with more than 800 million views, fellow Korean pop, or K-pop,

artists are positioning themselves for similar U.S.


Korea's pop music industry is thriving. Over the past two

years, a handful of K-pop acts including girl group 2NE1, boy

band Super Junior and nine-piece band Girls Generation have

embarked on mini-promotional tours around the United States to

build their audience.

"Psy has opened doors and is shining a spotlight on K-pop.

People are paying attention to what's being done there," Alina

Moffat, general manager at YG Entertainment group, which manages

Psy, told a recent entertainment industry conference in Los


Psy's vibrant music video, featuring his invisible

pony-riding dance, also featured K-pop artists Kim Hyun-a of

girl band 4Minute, and Deasung and Seungri of boy band Big Bang,

all of whom are attempting to crack the U.S. market.

"YouTube has really changed the awareness of K-pop. Both

American kids and second-generation Korean American kids are

discovering it," Kye Kyoungbon Koo, director of the Korea

Creative Content Agency, told a panel at a Billboard and

Hollywood Reporter conference in Los Angeles in October.


For U.S. companies looking to invest, K-pop is being

marketed as the next big thing, boasting young, stylish and

influential artists who command devoted fan followings.

Moffat said car companies and mobile phone brands were among

those being courted at KCON, a convention held in October in

Irvine in Southern California that showcased K-pop artists.

"Kids are coming, they're engaged, they want to spend money

and sponsors saw that," Moffat said.

Whether Psy or other K-pop artists can command a global

following to rival Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Rihanna remains

to be seen, but John Shim, senior producer at MTV World,

believes it is the right genre to compete with pop music's

biggest names.

"K-pop admittedly is a very niche genre but I also think

it's the best equipped of Asian pop to cater to the U.S.

audience," Shim told Reuters.

Psy has helped to break down language barriers, keeping

"Gangnam Style" in its original Korean form instead of adapting

it to English when it became an international hit.

The singer told Reuters he was persuaded to keep it that way

by his manager Scooter Braun, the talent scout responsible for

Justin Bieber's success, who signed Psy to his record label.

"I thought, 'Should I translate this or not?' because (the

fans) have got to know what I'm talking about, and lyrics are a

huge part," Psy said.


But industry executives say at least one member of each

K-Pop group is usually taught to be fluent in conversational


"The investment in language is costly, but effective," said

Ted Kim, president of South Korean music television channel

Mnet. "It really matters that Psy can go on the Ellen DeGeneres

TV show and have a conversation."

Psy said he was proud his song succeeded in Korean, but he

now wants to branch out into English.

"'Gangnam Style' is not the sort of thing that's going to

happen twice. I've definitely got to make something in English

so I can communicate with my fans right now," the singer said.

In Korea, bands such as SM Entertainment's Super Junior and

Girls Generation have became branding powerhouses, scoring

endorsements ranging from cosmetics, fashion, video games,

electronics and beverages.

In the United States, companies such as Samsung have already

jumped on the K-pop train, sponsoring Korean boy band Big Bang's

U.S. tour.

But while the genre is gaining steam in the charts, it has

yet to spill into ticket sales for tours, according to Gary

Bongiovanni, editor in chief at Pollstar.com, which tracks

concert sales.

"Psy may be able to sell out arenas in Asia, but not yet

here. For the American audience, he has to prove that he's more

than a novelty act," Bongiovanni said.

"K-pop has to prove itself before large companies spend

money on it," he added.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Eric Walsh)

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