Here’s an interesting fact: In my lifetime – I was born in 1992 – there’s only been two Asian artists to top the Billboard Hot 100, the standard charting system in the United States for music.
One is Bruno Mars, who is of Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, who topped the Hot 100 twice in 2010 with “Just The Way You Are” and “Grenade”. Then there’s Jay Sean, who is of British-Indian descent, with his 2009 #1 hit “Down,” which was apparently the first time a British-Asian artist topped the Hot 100 chart since 1980, according to Billboard, who counts the last previous British-Asian #1 to be by the band Queen, whose lead singer, Freddie Mercury, was also of British-Indian descent. Both of these men, interestingly enough, live in Western countries – America and the UK.
There’s also been very few Asian artists to top Billboard’s Hot 100, established in 1958, between the very first – “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto (Still the only #1 by a Japanese artist in the US) in 1963 and the likes of Bruno Mars and Jay Sean now. So, it would be an understatement to say that Asian-Americans – or just all Asian artists – are extremely under-represented in American media markets, especially that of the music industry.
Now, though, a song called “Gangnam Style” by an artist called PSY, below, which started as a viral internet meme, could become the first US #1 by a Korean artist. The question though is how this song has come out of nowhere to come close to such a feat.
There’s a lot of issues regarding race and gender that could explain why an artist like PSY has found success in the US, especially given an understanding of which Asian stereotypes are present in an American mindset, which a blog like Racialicious breaks down brilliantly, but this post is not about that.
This post is a bit more optimistic, and, in theory, hopefully about what the exposure of a Korean artist could mean for other artists from Asian markets trying to break into the US market, which is not even that friendly or easy for outside artists from European countries to break into.
Here’s a quick breakdown of K-Pop’s recent rise in the United States:
- 2006 – Rain, K-Pop icon, sold out shows in both New York and LA.
- 2009 – Wonder Girls became first K-Pop band to chart in the Hot 100.
- 2012 – 2nE1 held first American concert at Prudential Center in New Jersey.
- September 2012 – “Gangnam Style” becomes first K-Pop song to go Top 20 in the US.
“Gangstam Style” is currently #11 on the Hot 100, is #4 on the Top Digital Songs Chart, has hit the #1 spot on US iTunes and is gaining significant airplay on US radio. PSY, himself, has been making the rounds on American television. “Gangnam Style” was featured heavily in a recent Saturday Night Live skit and he made a recent appearance on Ellen to teach Britney Spears how to do the signature dance from the video, below.
So, what exactly does this mean for other artists in the K-Pop genre and, more broadly, for other artists from Asian markets who have hoped to break into the US?
Well, for starters, there’s now more incentive and confidence in the equation when it comes to people who could make things happen, like American managers and A&Rs at record companies, who may now give K-Pop and Asian acts that cross their desks a second-look.
There’s also the simple fact that the basic exposure of an act from Korea could lead to people exploring more artists from that sound, to where K-Pop artists who have worked with American producers and songwriters yet have gone unnoticed, are now who the labels will be looking for in terms of pre-made, ready to be unleashed on the masses Korean chart smashes.
Acts like 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation have worked the last couple of years to make some kind of dent in the US, and the presence of PSY could help them. 2NE1 actually have been able to pull in prominent fashion campaigns, like that of the most recent Jeremy Scott ads that also feature artists like Nicki Minaj and Big Sean.
Girls’ Generation, specifically, have been working with American producers to try to create a more appealing sound to those in Western markets. Their single, “The Boys”, below, was actually produced by Teddy Riley – yes, the Teddy Riley – and they’ve recorded demos previously offered to high-profile American acts like Ke$ha.
Some dismiss the success of an artist like PSY and a song like “Gangnam Style”, as a mistake, which seems to have some backing due to the meme-style appeal it has for many, but, for now, the song is continuing to rise globally and even in the US, which has been one of the hardest places for outsiders to break in to.
Things could be changing though, especially for Asian artists within America. After all, Far East Movement just became the first Asian-American group to have a #1 hit on the Hot 100 with the 2010 song “Like A G6”. PSY, however, could possibly do what even American acts like FEM couldn’t – actually top the Hot 100 as a solo Asian artist from outside the US.