Last October, the four-piece girl group 2NE1 debuted in Japan with six live shows in front of 70,000 fans—the latest product of a South Korean music machine that has already surged past the point of being just another East Asian fad. While “K-pop” has gained popularity as the catch-all term for a host of glossy boy and girl bands, 2NE1—with its signature tune, “Ugly”—represents K-hop, a budding movement that backs up its slick pop sheen with true R&B talent.
K-pop groups have certainly found success abroad: bands like Girls’ Generation and TVXQ draw impressive crowds at shows in New York and L.A. Now K-hop is getting in on the act: Internet exposure helped boy band Big Bang win the World Wide Act award at the MTV Europe Music Awards last June, and MTV Iggy just crowned 2NE1 the Best New Band in the World.
While some critics still question whether K-hop will ever make waves on mainstream U.S. radio, Korean-American producers such as Teddy Park (of 2NE1) and Jae Chong (of Aziatix) are hoping that the genre will be the true crossover hit, with its ties to hip-hop, soul, and electronica. Park grew up in New Jersey and California on a diet of Queen and the Wu-Tang Clan. The 33-year-old, who has overseen 2NE1’s career from its inception, always wondered why the world music scene was missing a big global Asian act. Meanwhile, Chong was among the first producers to bring soul and R&B to Korea, in the early 1990s. For Chong, raised in Los Angeles, it was a challenging time. “Seoul’s hip-hop community was tiny,” he says.
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