New Emissary

Japan Loves Its Leggy, Cool K-Pop

Female Korean pop groups are taking off overseas—especially in Japan. Is K-Pop success thanks to more leg…and talent?

Jung-sun Park, a professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills, is currently based in South Korea, doing research on the country’s culture for an upcoming book. Something she tells me she's noticed in South Korea's local media over the past year is that there’s been an increase in the coverage of Korean girl pop groups, especially of their increasing popularity overseas, including in neighbouring Japan.

I recently spoke to Park, who was a chief consultant for The Diplomat’s recent arts and culture series on the Korean Wave,or hallyu, phenomenon, and she told me that another thing the Korean media has been asking is why female K-Pop groups, such as the nine-member hit group Girl’s Generation, are taking off in such a big way in Japan.

When Park visited Japan last month, she said she noticed prominent billboards of Girl’s Generation in Tokyo's happening Shibuya district, which for her partly cemented the truth behind the Korean media reports. In her opinion, one thing that might be partly behind the rising appeal of these Korean girl groups is that their style is very different from past Asian female idols. Park explained to me that, ‘these girls are more leggy, kakkoi, (cool), and beyond the kawaii (cute) style popular in the past.’ She also suggested that these girls might ‘appeal more to Japanese women versus girls and middle-aged men because their individual style is more obvious and their singing voices are higher quality.’

Another interesting thing Park pointed out is that she’s read in the Korean media that while there’s a perception that Japanese pop stars aren’t as good at singing, people have still tended to follow them because ‘they enjoy seeing them grow,’ whereas in Korea people want their idols to ‘be able to do everything perfectly.’ She said that the major training process that Korean stars have to undergo is a consequence of such demands.

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Meanwhile, in a recent article in The Japan Times, local writer James Hadfield also touched on the trend. Indeed, he says that despite all of the ‘hand-wringing this year about South Korea threatening to overtake Japan in everything from international diplomacy to technology,’ in terms of pop music, ‘it's already happened.’

Hadfield notes that the ‘impeccable dance routines, vocal chops and infuriatingly catchy melodies,’ of K-pop groups have simply overtaken the pale-in-comparison local offerings, making groups like Girl’s Generation and 4Minute formidable new pop commodities to be watched for in Japan.