An Outsiders Guide To Asian Pop Music
Who needs Lady Gaga, One Direction or Justin Bieber when there's a whole breadth of unashamedly catchy pop music coming from our Asian friends in Japan and South Korea. We’re talking about K-Pop and J-Pop and the following bands and solo artists are the stars of their industry. They have fan bases that would put Directioners to shame and make money that rivals the world's biggest acts. Here are the biggest and best of the oft-forgotten K-pop/J-pop worlds.
This five-piece is considered to be a revolutionary group in the Korean Music Wave for their 'unique urban-originated music and fashion style'. The boy band has released two Korean and four Japanese studio albums. All respective members have branched off into their own solo careers and with over 57 million sales of digital singles and over 3 million physical albums sold, these guys can probably afford do anything they want. As one of the most successful Asian acts in the world Big Bang are embarking on their first ever World Tour this year visiting twenty-five cities in sixteen countries. Whose ready to flail at an Australian tour announcement?
Combining the phrases of '21st century' and 'new evolution' this hip-hop/pop girl group can be pronounced as either 'twenty one' or 'to anyone'. Their band name might be confusing but the four-piece have amassed a fan base – who call themselves 'Blackjack' after the card game – with the band’s official colour being hot pink. The group, who already have one Japanese and two Korean albums under their belt are planning an English album for next year. Their 2012 single 'I Love You' not only reached no.1 in all major digital music stores in their homeland, but topped all European and American iTunes electronic charts. Yes 2ne1, apparently we love you too.
Aiming for a more 'mature' audience, this boy band are said to have avoided the typical 'pretty boy' look (although the verdicts out on our end). The six member outfit have not only released two Korean albums and one Japanese LP but have been apart of several reality shows, with respective members appearing on multiple film and TV projects. But their success hasn't been without controversy, with their 'leader' Jaebeom departing the band in 2009. Several articles publicised Jaebeom's Myspace posts from 2005 about his apparent dislike for Korea forced his departure. Unfortunately unlike their first No.1 single, Jaebeom was yet to return 'Again and Again'.
No one has yet to claim Che'Nelle as our own home-grown J-pop star, so we might as well do it, right? Born in Malaysia, the singer and her family moved to Perth when she was 10. She even toured in support of Kanye West's Australian tour in March 2006. But her success has obviously not come from Down Under but rather from Japan. Che'Nelle made her name across the pond with four studio albums. Luv Songs went platinum in Japan last year, while her latest album, Believe, went Gold. Who needs Olympic success in London, when Che'Nelle is representing us so well on the huge J-pop stage?
While these ladies need no introduction, we're guessing you may be unacquainted with the world's biggest K-pop act. This nine member girl-band have released albums in Korean, Japanese and English, with each of their six albums selling over 100,000 copies each. Their self-titled debut Japanese album is the highest selling album in Japan by a Korean act. Their 2011 hit single, 'The Boys' was released in all three languages as Girls Generation made their American network debut on the Late Show with David Letterman. They're the first Korean music act to perform on syndicated television in the United States. It gets better though, their music video for 'Gee' holds the record for the highest amount of views for a K-pop video with over 80 million hits. They've even played Madison Square Garden with a heap of their label mates on the SMTown world tour. To think they've done all this in less than five years is insane and to think they came here last November for 'K-Pop Music Fest' at ANZ Stadium in Sydney without us even realising is worse.
Super Junior have almost done it all. With thirteen members at their peak, the boy band have released and contributed to over twenty records. Out of their six studio albums, Mr. Simple is the highest selling, with over 500,000 copies sold in South Korea, the first albumto exceed half a million in four years. Their franchise expands beyond that of the original group though, as members have on occasion formed sub-groups to target different audiences. Their K-pop domination doesn't stop there with the outfit invading television sets across Korea, with various TV and film cameos as well as individual members taking on hosting duties for some music shows. 2012 has seen the Super Junior juggernaut keep on rolling with their latest album and accompanying message; Sexy, Free & Single.
They're a little more rock than they are pop and they even play their own instruments! They were also pretty hipster back in the day, where they – unlike most J-pop or K-pop acts – started off releasing three indie singles exclusively to Tower Records. They soon injected some pop into the formula and sold out with a major label deal. The all girl four-piece have released 18 singles and three studio albums, all of which have moved over 50,000 physical units each. Two of their singles have peaked at No.3 on the Japanese charts and their songs have even been used in anime. For J-pop you don't get much cooler than this.
There's a fair chance you've been recently exposed to some K-pop in the past few weeks via South Korea's favourite rapper Park Jae-Sang. His latest video for 'Gangnam Style' has gone viral receiving upwards of 50 million Youtube hits, thanks to the man's hilarious antics. Never has an artist embraced the visuals of rapping from a toilet so unflinchingly nor has 2012 seen such a bonkers dance routine. PSY, as he’s affectionately known, has become the first Korean artist to make it to the top of the US iTunes Music Video charts. The 34-year old – who is reportedly being courted for an American album release – might have become an overnight sensation to the Western World, but the rapper has already released six albums.
Up and comers in the K-pop scene, Miss A released their debut album in both Chinese and Korean last year. While their youngest member, under the stage name of Suzy, is only 17 years old, Fei and Jia are apparently considered two of the four best-recognised female celebrities of Chinese origin active in the South Korean entertainment scene. Nine of the thirteen tracks of their debut were released and charted in Korea during 2010 and 2011, while a whopping five singles have charted this year so far. Miss A appear to be on their way to K-pop domination … well if they keep pumping out as many singles each year, there's little use in denying them.
Touted as a contemporary R&B boy group, the four-piece have three full length and four mini albums to their name as well as the obligatory slew of reality shows. They have even gone as far as establishing their own 'SHINee' fashion trend, which captivated the students with their high-top sneakers, skinny jeans and colorful sweaters,. They're known for their 'complicated' style of dancing and they released their debut Japanese album last year, fittingly entitled The First. It really doesn't get anymore literal than that.
Dubbed Ayu by her fans, this Japanese recording artist can also add model and actress to the resume. She is the best selling solo singer in Japanese history with sales of over 50 million in her homeland and she has the most consecutive number one hits by a solo artist. There's even more incredible statistics though; Hamasaki is the first female singer to have eight studio albums since her debut to top the charts and the first artist to have a no.1 album for 13 consecutive years since her debut. Phew. Of course with that sort of success comes the added influence of being a fashion icon and trendsetter, all hail the queen of J-pop.
With such an inspiring girl band title must come an even more inspiring idea behind it, right? Wonder Girls comes from the idea that this 5-piece are “the girls who can amaze the world”. Our jaws have dropped already, at such immense thought going into the name of a girl band. Sarcasm aside, Wonder Girls truly have done some amazing things. Their support slot for the Jonas Brothers world tour in 2009 paved the way for them to become the first ever South Korean girl group to enter the American Billboards charts with the English version of their hit song, 'Nobody'. The prolific group have released albums in Japanese, Chinese and Korean with an English release planned for this year. Who knows maybe they'll amaze your world.
This R&B girl group didn't have it so easy initially. Their debut was a commercial failure, but they soldiered on releasing two more Korean albums, the five-piece though have found more success over in Japan where their two albums are both multi-platinum sellers. Last year’s Super Girl sold over 742,000 copies in Japan, a great effort considering most pop acts don't usually get past the first flop.
Under the stage name Utada, this Japanese singer-songwriter has sold more than 52 million records world-wide. The singer has three of her Japanese studio albums in the top 10 best selling albums ever in Japan. Her debut went onto become the best selling album in Japanese chart history, with an estimated 7.65 million copies sold in the country alone. Utada has had 12 No.1 singles, while her 2007 track 'Flavour of Life', reached no.2 in the worldwide digital download yearly chart, with over 7.2 million downloads. She has released five Japanese and three English albums. If only Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki would team up for a joint LP, imagine the sales of that!
This J-pop five-piece formed way back in 1999 and since then they've amassed ten studio albums. Not to mention the 39 singles and 47 music videos they've released, Arashi have some pretty impressive numbers to boast. If you thought The Beatles' 20 US number ones was impressive, try Arashi's 33 top ranking chart hits, 26 of which are consecutive. The band is the first to have 36 consecutive singles to rank within the top three since their debut. Their million-selling album Boku no Miteiru Fūkei was named the best-selling album of 2010. Arashi have all but got the Fab Four covered in the numbers game… well in Japan, anyway.
You may not be able to believe it, but if you can get past the fact that this mere group of 64 holds the Guinness World Record for Largest Pop Group, you may well be able to understand how AKB48 are a social phenomenon in Japan. Named after the theatre in their hometown in which they perform everyday, this all-female group has three studio albums, twelve stage albums and 25 singles. They're so incredibly popular in Japan that in 2011 they had record sales of over 200 million and tickets are in such high demand that they're distributed through a lottery system. AKB 48 have four sub-groups, and if you think you're good enough or if you're that big of a crazy fan girl, you can aspire to be a member yourself by becoming a 'trainee' as the older members 'graduate' and leave the band. It's interesting to note that the outfit's success in Japan alone does a pretty good job at matching Adele's worldwide domination with 21 in the same year.
This South Korean dance-pop outfit only formed in 2009 and since then they've released respective debuts in both Japanese and Korean. While their Korean debut, 4 Minutes Left comes excruciatingly close to replicating the title of an awful Madonna song, it did however manage to make it to no.2 on the charts. While there success in sales terms hasn't reached the heights that their contemporaries have, the five-piece's track 'Huh' was broadcast from South Korea to the North on the FM station 'Voice of Freedom' in 2010. The song was played in the hope of making the North Korean listeners aware of the freedom that South Koreans have. This was apparently displayed through lyrics such as; “When I say I want to appear on TV, when I say I want to become prettier, everybody says I can’t do it. Baby, you’re kidding me? I do as I please.”
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