Top Ten Korean Artists Who Would Dominate the U.S. Music Scene
Let’s face it, if you look at the mainstream American music scene, its almost difficult to compare it to the 90s and 80s where even men and women in their mid-40s could bust out a top ten hit. Nowadays, it’s all about trends and spectacle. But what if I told you that there is another country teeming with artists who can do what today’s pop icons do…but better. To make it clear to you fans who already have your torch and pitchforks at the ready, this list isn’t necessarily talking about the “best” Korean artists. It’s about the Korean artists who could literally come over to the land of the free and stand a chance to succeed in the mainstream.
10 – Block B (BlockBuster)
If you checked out the music video, paused it, and still hear the trumpets blaring in your head…congratulations. You’ve only experienced but a taste of what Block B has to offer. Debuting in 2011, this seven member hip hop group has already proved their talents by winning multiple awards not only in S.Korea, but in Europe! Led by Zico, one of Korea’s top ranking rappers, Block B has become a household name with their first full-length album “BlockBuster” topping out at number ten in the “Billboard World Albums” chart.
Think of BoB and Bruno Mars. Eminem and Rihanna. Chris Brown and T-Pain. Justin Timberlake and Jay –Z. All of these artists take two huge followings and combine them with a single song to create a larger demographic. Now imagine a single group where you have all of that, three top of the line rappers and four crooners to captivate the audience. There’s no need to have another artist feature on the track because Block B is more than capable to deliver on their own.
What separates Block B from the hundreds of other kpop groups out there is their wild charisma to perform without an emphasis on the appearance. Primarily specializing in hip hop and dance Block B has been through their share of adversity and continues to produces club anthems like “Nillili Mambo” and “Very Good”.
9 – Untouchable
Everyone in the hip hop community keeps complaining that there hasn’t been a hip hop group consisting of nothing but rappers to make it in the American mainstream in a long time. Whelp…I bring you Untouchable. Consisting of the duo Sleepy and Action, these guys have a stable of some of S. Korea’s most distinguished rappers backing their play.
In 2010, the Untouchables released “Living In the Heart” featuring the soothing vocals Narsha from Brown Eye Girls. This song went on to top several online music charts and showed a sentimental side to the hip hop oriented group. But don’t go thinking their “soft” just yet.
Both members of this group have finished their mandatory military service so the possibilities are endless. Ranging from the gritty hip hop beats from “Jiggy Get Down” to the light-dimming flow from “Tell Me Why,” you can put Untouchable up against the best Compton has to offer and you wouldn’t be disappointed.
8 – Epik High
You know a hip hop group is a notch above the rest when one of their rappers is a Stanford graduate. Since 2003, Epik High has remained the pinnacle hip hop group in South Korea, ironing out hits like “Fly” “Fan” and more recently “It’s Cold”. Consisting of English Lit graduate Tablo, the poet Mithra Jin and the innovative vinyl scratcher DJ Tukutz, Epik High’s songs have ranged from hip hop to electro-pop to experimental classic.
For a short while Epik High’s Tablo had to fight against a smear campaign where netizens claimed that he never went to Stanford and it almost cost him his career. Coming out of that battle with a renewed sense of purpose, Tablo signed with the same agency that hosts some of Korea’s greatest international acts such as Psy, Big Bang and 2NE1.
Epik High’s lyrics address social issues and promote ambition to succeed in whatever endeavor you embark on. Thus, they often enlist features from some of the deepest philosophical lyricists such as Dumbfoundead, Dynamic Duo and Dok2. Instead of pursuing an aggressive delivery, their flow is often laid back and mellow, smooth and deliberate, fast when it needs to be. Epik High will always be a favorite for the aspiring downtrodden. Listening to their music empowers you to dust your shoulders off and keep moving even in the face of naysayers and hecklers.
7 – Jay Park
Known as the Fresh Prince of Seoul, Jay Park is a more talented and industry respected version of Bobby Brown. He can croon, dance better than most and can even rap 10x better than most U.S. rappers…in ENGLISH. Debuting as the leader of veteran boy band 2pm in 2008 Jay Park left the group following a controversy about statements he made on his myspace page years before his debut. Basically, in the heat of frustration he criticized Korea’s culture. Everyone’s been there…venting and what not. But Korea wasn’t as forgiving, so he returned home to Seattle…and did anything but remain silent.
After racking up millions of views from covers of songs like BoB’s “Nothing on You” and continuing to perform with his b-boy crew Art of Movement, S. Korea began to change their perspective on his actions. And in no time at all, Jay Park came back “a muthafuckin unstoppable phenom!” …as he puts it.
Immensely talented as both a creator and performer, Jay Park established himself as a viable solo artist garnering the respect from other artists in the industry. In addition to endorsements, collaborations and personally being contacted by Will Smith and son to sing the ending theme to Korea’s theatrical release of “After Earth,,” Park is also an entrepreneur. With fellow hip hop artist Simon of Supreme Team, Jay Park co-founded his own label, AOMG to cultivate other young up-and-coming artists.
If Jay Park came on to the US scene, he’d no doubt attract that hip hop beef that keeps us glued to the tabloids. But rest assured, he and his Art of Movement Crew are up to the challenge…they may even welcome it. Or better, instigate it.
6 – B.A.P.
This group would crush One Direction and Justin Bieber. There I said it…BAP is an acronym for “Best. Absolute. Perfect.” Korea is huge on acronyms so don’t be surprised if you see more. More than just six pretty faces with anime hair, this group is a tossup in the sense that their audience might actually include more than just raging teenage schoolgirls. B.A.P. music isn’t just limited to pop electronica with a heavy dose of computerize synths, they often incorporate heavy rock and can throw down with the best krumpers to put your high school step team to shame. In 2013, the group ranked number one on the Billboards “World Album” charts for the hip hop orientated “One Shot” EP.
Yes…they’ll probably get picked on in the beginning with a plethora of memes and guys joking about how their group initials probably stands for Blond Asian People. But when their youngest member the seventeen-year-old Zelo steps to the microphone and spits some of the illest rap lyrics you’ve ever heard(@2:11 in the video)…rest assured, your ego will be bruised and a period of self-reflection will ensue.
5 – Taeyang of Big Bang
Taeyang is a swag mix between Justin Timberlake and Usher. He is the epitome of hardwork and improvement. As the main vocals of Korea’s number one band, Big Bang…Taeyang is a name that intimidates and inspires both fans and competition. At the age of 12, Taeyang was discovered and appeared in a music video as the younger version of another hip hop artist named Jinu. But simply appearing in a music video wasn’t enough. He met with YG Entertainment’s Yang Hyun-Suk and demanded to be let into the company.
It must have been smooth sailing from then on out right? Wrong! Even when Big Bang debuted in 2006, they were met with scrutiny because of their performance of Americanized songs. They were called ugly because they didn’t fit in with the other flower boy image of other boy bands with long feminine hair and all smiles. But Big Bang persevered. Taeyang worked tirelessly to improve his singing and dancing ability tenfold. In 2007 with the release of “Lies” Korea finally accepted Big Bang as a forced to be reckoned with.
During the rise of Big Bang’s popularity, Taeyang released his first solo mini-album that stunned the industry. In a world where idol boy bands and girl groups dominated the charts, a solo member breaking off and stealing the show was unheard of. Bold and competitive while remaining an active member of Big Bang, Taeyang would go one to release two more albums, all of which had a profound impact on the industry by consistently ranking high on the Billboards. Ever popular with the fans, his latest single “Eyes, Nose, Lips” has topped the Karoeke charts for five straight weeks.
Remember that hot dancing girl that Psy’s “Gangnam Style”? The one he’s reaching out to on the subway and starts to dance with towards the end…yeah. That’s Hyuna! To go ahead and paint the picture for you, S. Korea is quite particular about the entertainment industry’s influence over the youth. Broadcast stations have the power to evaluate songs and music videos released to the public. And if they deem anything is too inappropriate for the youth, they’ll flag it so it can only be aired after midnight.
In that aspect, the highly talented Hyuna is always pushing the bar. Even if her songs do get passed, it’s usually the heart palpitating performances of tasteful twerking and seductive hip-swaying that has to be amended…but only after she’s already showcased it. And by then it’s too late. The viewers are addicted and demand more…all of which Hyuna is more than willing to provide.
In 2007, Hyuna originally debuted as the lead rapper for the Wonder Girls but had to drop out soon after due to health concerns. Two years later, she returned as the lead rapper for another girl group called “4 Minute”. But her handlers weren’t foolish enough to keep her limited to a girl group. Fully aware of Hyuna’s talents, Cube Entertainment has produced her as a solo artist with high-octane dance tracks such as “Change” and most recently “Red”.
3 – Jun. K of 2pm
Anyone who’s a kpop fan will probably be insulted with the idea of putting Jun. K at number four, given that Taeyang has achieved more success and released more content. While Taeyang is a better performer with awesome dance moves and eye-popping fashion…Jun. K has a voice that can bless him as an A-list celebrity well beyond his twenties and thirties. Even though he’s part of a dance centered boy band, he could’ve just as easily been placed in a vocal group. Jun. K has an extraordinary command over his voice with versatility to explore more than just pop, R&B and hip hop. If he wanted to, Jun K. could very well establish himself as one of the greatest gospel and blues singers of all time.
If you don’t believe me. Check out this video of him singing the opening of R. Kelly’s “Bump and Grind” in English as if it were nothing but a birthday song.-
Formerly known as Junsu, Jun K. is the lead singer for one of Korea’s veteran boy bands, 2pm. Since Jay Park’s departure from the group, he’s had step it up as the unofficial leader. Within time, he became comfortable with writing and composing his own songs and recently broke into the Japanese market landing the number one spot in the Oricon Daily Album charts.
2 – 2NE1
In a world where the stage was once full of girl groups singing bubblegum pop Disney-esque songs about boyfriends and puppy love…In steps an edgy Mohawk-flaring twenty-year-old with hip jeans and a lopsided grin, saying “I go by name of CL of 2ne1. It’s been a long time comin. But we here now. And we’re here to set the roof on fire, baby. You better get yours. Cause I’m getting mine!”
Plainly put, if you recruit Alicia Keys, Pink, Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea into a girl group with mind invading beats to promote independence and female empowerment…you’d have the musical creation as 2NE1. As the sister group to labelmates Big Bang, 2NE1 stepped onto the scene with high expectations and didn’t fail to disappoint.
Debuting in 2009 with the arm-flailing “Fire,” 2NE1 followed up with a number of anthems including “I Am the Best” that was featured on ABC’s “The Bachelor”. While known for their club pulsing music that’s’ bound to follow you days after you hear it, there music has a mysterious effect in which you can’t help but want to root for them.
Even if the majority of their lyrics are in Korean, they often sing their choruses in English. For instance the chorus of “Ugly” is “I think I’m ugly! And nobody wants to love me! Just like her, I want to be pretty! I want to be pretty! Don’t lie to my face. Tellin me I’m pretty!” How can you not root for anyone singing this chant?
This is what has allowed them to garner a huge international following. Already collaborating with the likes of Will.I.Am and Skrillex, 2NE1’s leader CL has also promoted herself as a fashion icon, often working alongside fashion designer Jeremy Scott. The girls have even appeared in an Adidas commercial that aired last summer. No doubt, if 2NE1 came to the states, girls in their mid-teens and twenties will flock to this group as a beacon of individual expression, breaker of trends with a bold stand in the face of gender barriers.
1 – G Dragon of Big Bang
Before so many artists introduced an implementation of Electronica to Hip Hop and R&B music, there was G-Dragon. In 2011, he was noted by CNN as one of the 50 Reasons why Seoul is the world’s greatest city. Not only is he the leader of BIG BANG, G-Dragon has written and composed over a 140 songs and was the youngest ever to be awarded “The Top Ten Greatest Korean Composers” at the age of 20.
Stepping into the spotlight at the tender age of five, he was discovered by YG Entertainment and showed promise even before his official debut with an impressive cover of Maroon 5’s “This Love”.
After Big Bang started out primarily a hip hop group, G-Dragon took over the writing and composing role for Big Bang pulling them into a direction that was untapped in both the Korean and US markets. Beginning with the 2007 electronica driven phenomenon “Lies,” Big Bang followed up with memorable hits like “Haru Haru” and “Blue. Their 2012 club anthem “Fantastic Baby” managed to rack up over 112 million youtube views. Big Bang’s credibility as international superstars was cemented in 2011 when they beat out Britney Spears to win the MTV EMA award for “Best Worldwide Act”.
But if you think this group member needs his boys to dominate, you’re sadly mistaken. In 2009, his first solo album “Heartbreaker” went on to sell over 200,000 copies (a big deal in S. Korea) and won album of the year. Since then, he’s followed up with two more albums, featuring collaborations with big U.S. musical pioneers such as Flo Rida, Missy Elliott, Diplo and Skrillex.
Not only is G-Dragon known for his musical prowess, he’s been featured on countless magazine covers as a worldwide fashion icon from Paris to Macau. Pharrell and Paris Hilton are but a few of his admirers. G-Dragon is twenty-five years old and only has three more years before he has to enter Korea’s Mandatory Military Service. But before that happens, remember where you read it first. G-Dragon and perhaps Big Bang will explode onto the music scene and change our perception of artists forever.
In case you wondered what Taeyang and G-Dragon’s legendary “Big Bang” sounds like if they did sing in English.