I’ve been listening to Kpop for over a decade now, and have watched Saturday Night Live (SNL) continuously for equally as long. Never in all my imaginations would I think I’d ever see those two entities collide. A Kpop artist as a musical act on SNL? Unfathomable.
So it was somewhat surreal to see BTS perform on SNL this past Saturday. Hearing Korean language being sung on an American television program is something unthinkable only until recently, and I’m super prideful that BTS didn’t dilute their brand of music – namely attempt to do American pop – in their rise to worldwide fame.
Huge credit must go to PSY and ‘Gangnam Style’ for busting the door open.
I can’t help to think of the Kpop artists before BTS that have tried to enter the western markets and have largely failed. Artists who were mega popular in Asia, but died out to a whimper here in the States: Kwon Boa, Bi Rain, and Wonder Girls. Perhaps back then America wasn’t yet ready for an Asian act to enter their domain, and BTS is lucky to be birthed during a time when the smartphone and rampant Internet access have flattened and broaden our horizons.
10 years ago, access to Kpop in the States was decidedly underground, having to rely on the benefaction of kind Korean netizens uploading the MP3 files onto the Internet. Fast forward to today, new Kpop releases happen simultaneously on almost all the streaming platforms. It’s a massive change.
I think the failure of earlier Kpop artists was also in large part due to them Americanizing their sound – singing in English. In their attempt to pander to a different audience, they lost a core of their original fan-base who wished they’d kept doing Kpop, while simultaneously the unfamiliar American audience looked strangely at these singers from Asia is doing American pop. BTS achieve popularity in the West because they never strayed from Kpop and singing in Korean, and I think people are strongly drawn to that authenticity. Entering the American market was never a goal for those guys: it just sort of happened, very organically.
In truth I would say BTS isn’t even the most talented group currently in Kpop (I’d rank Block B above them; come at me), but to see a group of Asian males be so adored by an American demographic is something great to see from a representation standpoint. I have to get behind that, and also I do like BTS’ music.
Naturally then I tuned in live to SNL, and it was interesting to see on my twitter feed other people seeing BTS perform for the very first time. Some were amazed at their ability to coordinately dance and sing live at the same time, while others were (rightfully) confused about some of the English lyrics not making the best grammatical sense. Overall, people were impressed, and so was I. What a beautiful sight it was indeed.