By John Glynn
In Japan, over the past eighteen months, there has been a substantial rise in the popularity of the already much-loved Korean pop music (or K-pop) scene. This inclination has been attributed to decidedly professional and more individualistic Korean female pop groups. This surge in music dominance comes from a more controlling management system. This fact is especially true when you compare Korean artists with their Japanese counterparts; higher expectations are placed upon the K-pop acts.
K-pop shows in Japan are hugely popular; the majority of the audiences are young girls, not boys. This can be determined as a pop culture indication of genuine social trends. Recent studies show that Japanese men have become progressively more homely, effeminate and submissive. Women, on the other hand, are becoming more confident and are far more self-sufficient.
The Japanese pop market has always focused on cuteness, presenting boys with a truly subservient type, a girl who is in submissive mode 24/7, someone you can treat like a doll rather than a lover. Infamously, Japanese girls have represented the role model that they’re “supposed” to be. It’s no real surprise that the Korean boom of independent, edgy girl groups has coincided with the aforementioned social melancholy. The K-pop groups offer a wakeup call, something that the Japanese pop scene needs, innovative role models show that individualism is something to be admired and celebrated. Many Japanese girls and yes, I do realize that I am generalizing here, see K-pop as the future & J-pop as being a previous chapter in Japan’s book of culture. The J-pop production line couldn’t manufacture a K-pop style group in the same vein as 2NE1. Why? Japanese girls acting that edgy could cause insult due to the concept being entirely un-Japanese. It’s possible that a J-pop group of that variety would be sidelined and disregarded. Girl groups in Japan have in fact become increasingly cuter and younger. They are often presented as servants (maids being the most obvious example), with the likes of AKB48 and their many imitators. This style seems to appeal Japanese guys. Studies show that many Japanese men find this type of marketing extremely appealing; a submissively “designed” female is preferred to an independent type.
Musically, Korea is light years ahead. Groups receive superior training and better quality choreography. K-pop takes its cue straight from the US, while, musically, J-pop is still stuck in the late 1990s, regurgitating the same style and sound. In Korea, many bands are put through a rigorous audition process, where ability or lack of is showcased for everyone to see. But with J-pop, image and adorability seems to come before actual ability, and even when a quality vocalist (such as Alan) arrives on the scene, they are shoe-horned into the regular sweet, cute J-pop image. Just over 12 years ago, J-pop woke up from a slumber of requiem type dance. Simultaneously, several new girl groups arrived on the scene, freshening things up—Ayumi Hamasaki, Utada and MISIA, especially. Bizarrely, 12 years later, the three aforementioned groups are still the main attractions in Japan. The K-pop boom is an indicator that J-pop is archaic, unfashionable, and perhaps even insignificant.
There is one real difference between Korean and Japanese pop stars; it comes in the form of expressed ambitions. Korean stars always talk about conquering Asia or the US, but Japanese acts rarely ever express this desire, usually content with pleasing their fans in Japan. The structure of Korea’s rather diminutive music market is such that telecom companies manage a large percentage of revenues, meaning groups have a financial motivation to look overseas. K-pop acts, often fashioned and nurtured by savvy record companies like S.M. Entertainment, are being groomed for certain markets. Korean acts are willing to go that extra mile in order to fulfill their desires, taking measure such as learning Japanese, for instance. Nine-member South Korean girl band Girls’ Generation, whose first full-length Japanese album sold over 500,000 copies in Japan, showed that cultural barriers are now extremely penetrable.
Nobody can deny the impact of Korea and its culture. The whole K-pop scene is comparable to kimchi, you are either addicted to the taste or you are absolutely repulsed by the idea. Either way, one fact remains undeniable, K-pop offers more than just music; it offers a rather fascinating insight into a rather fascinating country.