The Record
6:00 am
Sat December 24, 2011

K-Pop Blows Up: Korean Music Finds Fans Worldwide

Korean pop music groups turned a corner in 2011, expanding their audience worldwide, despite the language barrier. Two of the most popular bands are 2NE1, whose music projects ideas of self-worth, and Girls' Generation, which has nine members.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As 2011 draws to a close, NPR News has been taking a closer look at some people, businesses, ideas and trends that have done well this year in a series called A Good Year. Today we look at Korean Pop music.

NPR's Claudine Ebeid reports that this was the year K-Pop made it big in the U.S.

CLAUDINE EBEID, BYLINE: Need proof that K-Pop has smashed through the U.S. market?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GIRLS GENERATION: (Singing) Uh. Uh. Uh. Let's go.

EBEID: Exhibit one, Girls Generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GENERATION: (Sung in foreign language)

EBEID: They sold out Madison Square Garden.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GENERATION: (Sung in foreign language)

EBEID: Nine leggy Korean girls made up as mannequins, moving in perfect unison; sweet smiles plastered on their faces wearing day-glo yellow, green and pink short shorts and heels with bobby socks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GENERATION: (Sung in foreign language)

EBEID: Girls Generation may just epitomize the K-Pop band. They're nothing if not formulaic - lots of members, not one is playing an instrument and their dances are hyper-choreographed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EBEID: And that video has been viewed more than 59 million times on YouTube, which brings me to exhibit two: YouTube. You know, when you watch a YouTube video, there's a number showing you just how many times it's been viewed. Now if you look next to it, there's a button you can click that shows a map of the world. The parts of that map that are shaded in green are where people -are watching that video.

DAVID MARX: And just over the last two years, you have a video from a Korean artist and the map would be green in Korea and then it would be light green in Asia.

EBEID: That's David Marx with YouTube Asia Pacific.

MARX: And now the last singles that people that Girls Generation released, now just looking at those maps, they're just pure green everywhere and it's kind of even surprising to us.

EBEID: YouTube has just created a K-Pop channel and it's being bombarding by fans.

Susan Kang who runs the K-Pop fan site Soompi. She says it's the videos that are driving the fan craze.

SUSAN KANG: I think K-Pop is just as much about the image and the fashion and the dances as much as the music itself. It's really popular for people to learn like all the dances from the different music videos.

EBEID: And King says fans love to upload videos of themselves doing the moves.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EBEID: And now, exhibit three: Accolades.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUBBLE POP")

HYUNA: (Singing) Soda pop.

EBEID: This song Bubble Pop by Hyuna is number nine on Spin's 20 Best Songs of 2011.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUBBLE POP")

HYUNA: (Sung in foreign language)

EBEID: And there's the MTV Iggy Award for best new band in the world - it's decided by votes from fans. K-Pop band 2NE1 grabbed that award this year and more than half of the votes came from U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE BEST")

2NE1: (Sung in foreign language)

EBEID: This 2NE1 video "I am the Best" shows off another side of K-Pop. Strutting in vinyl cat suits and at one point wielding silver machine guns, these girls are anything but sugar sweet - but they keep the K-Pop formula, with moves that are in sync, on point and totally polished.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE BEST")

2NE1: (Sung in foreign language)

EBEID: Their work caught the attention of musician and music producer will.i.am of the Black Eye Peas. Earlier this year he posted this video on YouTube praising the band.

WILL.I.AM: I liked it a lot. I think you guys are real talented. I would like to work with you guys on some beats, on some music.

EBEID: He's now in the process of producing 2NE1's first English album.

2011 was a good year for K-Pop but super fan Susan Kang believes there's still more to come.

KANG: So this past year actually like we've grazed the tip of the iceberg. K-Pop is going to be a lot more in the forefront than it already is.

EBEID: Considering the line of K-Pop boy bands still waiting in the wings to show off their moves, this craze may just sync step right through 2012.

Claudine Ebeid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.