What happened to the other alphabet pops

October 25, 2017 — by Austin Wang

With more than 120 million views on YouTube, “You Exist in My Song” by singer Wanting Qu is an iconic Chinese pop song and one of my personal favorites. Unfortunately, iconic Chinese pop songs mean very little in America, since K-pop overshadows almost all other Asian pop music.

While most Asian songs have struggled to reach 10 million views, in 2012, Korean pop star PSY’s music video “Gangnam Style” went viral and became the most popular video on YouTube until it was surpassed this past July.

Korean pop music has been a nationwide trend for decades, attracting both Koreans and non-Koreans alike. Millions of Americans have forgone lyrical understanding in favor of simply enjoying the catchy sound and uniquely synchronized and well-choreographed music.

It’s little surprise that hundreds of students here are obsessed with K-pop, religiously following favorite bands like BTS and Day6.

Although I enjoy the occasional K-pop song (especially if it’s from Day6), I’ve always wondered why the pop music of other Asian countries hasn’t received a similarly warm reception.

After listening to a veritable alphabet of pops — Burmese, Laotian, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Mongolian — I’ve found that, for the most part, the music is pretty decent. Of course, some cultures have music that doesn’t quite suit American tastes: for example, Laotian pop music tends to have oddly high-pitched and nasally vocals, and Cambodian pop is generally far slower and more strings-based than American pop.

However, there are more hits than misses: I enjoyed the fast-paced beats of Thai rap, the slow romance of Chinese pop and the pop-rock of Indonesian boy bands.

Where everything tends to fall apart for smaller Asian countries is production quality. Not only is the production and choreography quality far worse than K-pop’s, but the plots and visuals of other Asian music videos are often obscure and off-putting.

One Mongolian music video with 130,000 views called “I won’t make you haste,” was not only titled with incorrect English grammar, but also followed a confusing storyline featuring a man with digestive problems.

In contrast, K-pop groups feature well-synchronized and iconic choreography such as the TT dance from girl group “Twice.” While other Asian pop groups such as Thai girl group “Sugar Eyes” attempt to create similar choreography, the dance moves are more generic and slower-paced.

Of course, given South Korea’s relative wealth, it’s only natural that the pop music videos from less-developed countries aren’t up to par.

Yet even larger, more globalized countries like China and Japan struggle to expand internationally and are often less popular than their Korean counterparts, even among Chinese and Japanese.

So what gives K-pop the edge?

For one thing, the South Korean government is completely dedicated to expanding the Korean entertainment industry. It considers entertainment as one of the primary pillars of its economy. South Korea subsidizes pop-star recruitment and idol training, and views their entertainment culture as a sort of soft power ensuring support from K-pop loving citizens across the world.

Furthermore, due to the prevalence of K-pop training camps and the overall competition in the industry, K-pop stars tend to be the most talented and well-trained performers Korea has to offer.

In the West, K-pop may also maintain stronger popularity than other foreign music because K-pop songs often better cater to Western tastes. Most K-pop songs contain English words in their choruses, allowing their non-Korean fans to still sing along for some parts.

While pop music across Asia has its bright spots, it seems like K-pop still has an edge on the rest of the continent and has proved that its popularity is no passing trend.

So, next time I go to karaoke, I suppose I’ll be rapping to K-pop instead of practicing my Mongolian throat singing.

 

 

 

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