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Goodbye Yon-sama, hello Girls’ Generation

21 Comments
By James Hadfield

When Bae Yong Joon touched down at Haneda airport last month, it was just like old times. The 38-year-old actor, best known on these shores as the star of 2002 TV series "Winter Sonata," was greeted on arrival by over 4,000 fans—many of them old enough to be his mother.

Not too long ago, this was the face of Japan’s "hanryu" boom: a gaggle of middle-aged and elderly women, susceptible to the charms of soft-focus melodramas and their pretty-boy stars. But the past couple of years have seen Korean pop culture make inroads into demographics that Yon-sama could never reach. Although TV dramas still enjoy a strong following here, it’s now pop music that’s leading the charge, and winning over hordes of younger female fans in the process.

First came Rain (who’s since been distracted by an undistinguished Hollywood career), then Tohoshinki. The quintet, known as TVXQ back in Korea, became the first foreign male group ever to top the Oricon singles charts when “Purple Line” shot to No. 1 in January 2008. A string of hits followed, and at the start of 2010 their single “Break Out!” smashed the first-week sales record set by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” 12 years earlier, shifting over 250,000 copies in seven days.

Although the group went on hiatus in April due to legal wrangles with their talent agency (more on that later), they’d blazed a path for others to follow. Boy band Bigbang reached No. 2 in the charts with their eponymous second album in 2009, going on to play the main stage at last year’s Summer Sonic music festival. 2PM packed out the Ryogoku Kokugikan in early December to promote the domestic release of "01:59PM," while Shinee made their Japan debut on Dec 26 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, no less.

Still, it’s the current crop of K-pop girl groups who have been hogging the media spotlight lately—and when you’ve got legs like the members of Girls’ Generation, that’s probably understandable. The nine-member unit have taken the country by storm over the past six months, reaching No. 2 with their single “Gee” in October, and hopelessly outclassing AKB48 when the two groups appeared together on Fuji TV’s FNS Music Festival last month.

Like many of their peers, Girls’ Generation—known as Shojo Jidai here—had already secured a strong YouTube following prior to making their official Japan debut. Their J-pop incarnation has been given more than just a linguistic makeover, too: their image has been tailored to appeal to teenage and 20-something women, in contrast to their predominantly male audience back in Korea.

Five-piece Kara have also fared well: their debut J-pop album, Girls Talk, entered the charts at No. 2 in November, selling 107,000 copies in its first week of release. Expect to see plenty more of them during 2011, as well as 4Minute and 2NE1—who postponed a planned December debut because, by their label’s admission, they weren’t ready to make a proper go at it.

It’s too early to say yet whether the current K-pop boom will end with a Bigbang or a whimper, but the signs are encouraging, not least the migration of Korean pop from the world music ghetto to the main floors of many record stores. More worrying are the stories of indentured pop servitude that frequently emerge from across the water.

Tohoshinki will be returning as a duo this year, after three of the original members filed a lawsuit against talent agency SM Entertainment, questioning the fairness of their contracts. SM pulls the strings of many top K-pop acts, while enjoying a close relationship with Japanese heavyweight Avex Trax. It makes Johnny’s Jimusho look almost benign in comparison.

Until the end of last year, SM’s aspiring K-pop stars were made to sign 13-year contracts and pay double the amount of their predicted earnings if they terminated these prematurely. It took an official rebuke by the Fair Trade Commission in December to change this—although the company is currently appealing the decision, and has publicly lashed out at any artists who dared question its authority.

As for Tohoshinki’s three ex-members, they’ve since regrouped as JYJ and signed with a different agency—one whose president is currently under investigation for alleged links to organized crime. The names may change, but the song remains the same.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


21 Comments
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At least many of the K-pop artists can actually sing. But most of the acts in this line up are producer spawned vacuous pop anyway. Trendy and dated with a short shelf life like most of J-pop and the more generic mainstream US pop.

I still think Japan has legions of very talented smaller artists who write their own music, play well and have great potential. Sadly they don't have greedy evil companies like Johnny's and Avex to promote them. I guess it is easier for the big companies to find a girl with a cute smile and nice legs or some fluffy haired boy to sell to the public than one who can actually create something new and actually sing without pitch correction. Such is the state of Asian pop.

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Goodbye yon-Sama and dont let the door hit you on the way out. Helllo Kara, brown eyed girls etc. May I take your jacket please. K-pop will be 2011's trend for Japan. Koreans in, Japanese out. But I hope we get some decent artists this year, as tkoind2 already said, the companies care more about the looks. But then again, Korean woman are NICE.

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The K girl singers are definitely sexier than their bubble-gum J counterparts. And I agree, Koreans can actually sing.

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K-girls have much nicer legs.

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K-girls aspire to be women while J-girls aspire to be children far too often in the media and music worlds. I for one find adult behaving women far more attractive than the pink stickly girlishness loved here in Japan.

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Last night on a "Family Guy" episode Peter said that anime suggests that "Japan is populated only by 10 year old girls and monsters." Sometimes I think this is true, especially in pop. Even 30+ year old women performers are trying to look like pink fluffy young girls.

Sadly not nearly enough aspire to be monsters. Kumi Kudo excepted as she is a horrid monster of almost Godzilla like mangnitude in her capacity to be annoying.

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Quite right. A woman who acts like a woman is much more attractive than a squeaking wide-eyed faux kiddie. It's just not healthy to need a woman to act like she's six before you can fancy her. Bring on the k-wenches!

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Yeah, Koreans can sing and have style and the girls do have beautiful legs. Waiting for Oska to come here, even me, who never usually cares much for concerts would run to his concert.

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J-pop, K-pop, its all crap. But K-pop is a little less odorous crap.

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My kids love GG and Kara they're fun to watch-if you cant smile when they dance consider yourself a Grinch

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"The nine-member unit have taken the country by storm over the past six months, reaching No. 2 with their single “Gee” in October, and hopelessly outclassing AKB48 when the two groups appeared together on Fuji TV’s FNS Music Festival last month."

That's because Girl's Generation can actually sing and dance, whereas AKB48 has no talent whatsoever -- unless you class little girls in langerie as 'talent'.

I agree with posters above; it's still pretty vapid garbage, but at least there's a little more talent and a lot more stage presence than the Johnny's counterparts. The music company there is indeed quite brutal, though, by comparison.

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Foxie, Oska is a man with beautiful legs??? Count me in!

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Ranger, unfortunately I haven't seen Oska's legs yet due to winter but I have seen his upper body which looks pretty good to me. That means his legs can't be bad either. Heck...everything about Oska is great, most of all though his killer smile and his voice. He is turning me back into a teenage girl, I would have never imagined that to be possible at my age. Those Koreans will drive everybody insane soon.

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I have no real taste in pop music, due to the fact I'm more into J-Rock and Trance. But, I quite like the style of some of the Japanese pop singers. Then again, thats probably due to the fact I'm a teenage girl and an otaku. I love all things cute (and yet I'm strangely into gothic music and such...) and sometimes I wish I could pull off that style. But, the K-Pop music artists are probably more talented and of better appeal to men and such. So, I basicly have no input. I'm glad I could waste your time like this, and I hope you enjoyed it too. MiniAiko out!!!

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none of them can sing, BUT the Korean girls have VERY NICE legs , cuter face too.

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The K-Pop girls have songs with a little bit more rhythm but a lot of it is still not listenable. I like looking at them, though. oberst is right on the money with the comment above.

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It's been on the news today that K-pop has more "legal wrangles" coming.

Will it be the end of Kara? Or will they settle the matter peacefully to get their act together again?

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J-pop, K-pop, its all crap.

Hear hear!

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I like a lot of the K-pop guy groups. They're pretty good, and not afraid to be daring. I love groups like Arashi here, but there's definitely a difference. That said, the girl groups tend to all sound the same to me, as do the j-pop groups. My biases are obvious though. I judge by their music rather than their legs like many here seem to do, haha.

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plastic surgery says hi for these girls.

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Kara girls remind me of the old ladies in the Twilight zone tv series. Now I can appreciate the AKB girls. Yon's smile is too sweet.

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