November 15, 2012

So What Happens If I'm Not Korean (Or East Asian)?

Ah, a mindfield of a question...whether or not non-Asians should apply (or for that matter, should non-East Asians apply).
For me there's two answers, the optimistic and realistic answer.

Answer:
Yes!  The chances are slim, but so are the chances of winning the lottery!  Companies always seem to be thinking three or four years ahead of the public, so anything is possible.  You won't be able to get in on your looks and half-assing it.  You'll need talent, dedication, and manners to succeeded.

Honestly, if you're talented, the below answer won't apply to you.  K-Pop companies want to be global and want to branch out.  There will be a market for K-Popers of all races.  However, if you just want in the industry and have little or no talent whatsoever and just want in, you're going to have fit a formula that they know works and makes money.  (It's a lot easier to market a person from sayEuropean  descent or African descent if they have tons of BoA like talent then if they're as average on the dancing and singing scale as Sulli, Suho, or Minho.)

Full Answer:

Recently, they have been asking for "anyone, regardless of race, gender, and age" to apply.  However, one telling piece of evidence that they are looking for a select criteria is this old video from the 2008 Global Auditions.  Start at the 0:22 mark.
Notice how he says "We welcome all of you, regardless of your nationality, whether you're Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, you're all welcome."
Nationality  is the key word.  Nationality, as in the country you hold citizenship with.  They mention Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.
(On a side note, I find their ordering very interesting -->  Chinese, Korean, or Japanese.  Especially since at that point, they were probably looking at potential candidates to help break them into the Chinese market [this was the audition that they cast EXO-M's Kris.])

Another telling detail is the fact that some companies have a section for foreign auditions, but the applications are all in Korean!  This is a subtle (or not so subtle...) way to reach out to "foreigners" who know Korean, which means they are more likely going to be of Korean ethnicity.

Honestly, the West is not as interested in K-pop as people would like to think.  Look how Girls' Generation, the Wonder Girls, and BoA failed.  Before you try and argue PSY, I will say that PSY has only become popular because of his music video, not his music.  His "Right Now" was a much better song, but it was "Gangnam Style" that went viral.   Why?  Because of the music video.
Unless the Western public proves they are in it for more than just the video and his wackiness, there is almost no chance that there will be a non-Asian K-pop group produced by a major company.  With it costing almost $1 million to manage an idol group of 5 for 1 year, no company is going to spend that kind of money on a market that doesn't exist.  I could, however, see a smaller company releasing a group containing a non-Asian member for the shock value, something that could boost the group into the limelight in an oversaturated market.

Another big road block to a non-Asian Korean idol is attitude.  Manners are HUGE in Korea.  No matter how you feel about a person, you show them the respect they are entitled as your senior.  f(x)'s Krystal has gotten an enormous amount of flack for allegedly glaring at Han Seungyeon and rude behavior, such as that exhibited on "Quiz That Changed the World."
The West's individualism doesn't quite fly in in the Korean music industry yet, especially since you are suppose to be the role model of the ideal Korean values and morals.  You just don't tell your senior they're wrong - you do everything in your power to help them save face, even if it means you look like an idiot.


[My sister said that perhaps I was being a little too harsh and pessimistic.
      The point I'm trying to make is that Korea's music scene (and mostly, the Big Three) is vastly different from America's (and the West in general).  Because it developed long after the West, it was first dominated by corporations, not musicians and artists.  Korea is all about the vision of the corporation, not the artist.  They take young talent that they believe they can mold to fit the image they want to project and train it down to polished perfection.  Corporations are also all about the money.   After all they do drop millions of dollars to train and debut their artists.  They are looking to make that money back and to make a hell of a profit.   Korea is also these corporations' main target base.  Sure China is huge, as is the Southeast, but Korea is where the most loyal fans are.  These fans literally devote their life to their idols.  Have you ever seen "Reply 1997"?
      The closest thing that the US has to the Big Three and machine-made pop stars is Disney and Nickelodeon.  Disney is like SM and Nickelodeon is like JYP (I can't think of a great comparison for hip-hop based powerhouse, YG).  Reality shows are popular where American Idol and the X-Factor mirror Superstar K and Survival Audition K-Pop Star.  Disney picks only what Disney thinks will fit its squeaky clean family-based image.  Katy Perry makes a ton of money and is popular, but she doesn't fit their image.  Lady Gaga is talented and (at her beginning) was refreshing, but Disney isn't about artistic expression.
      Like SM and JYP, Nickelodeon and Disney are also in control of their artists' images.   They are appealing to the masses, not those with a fine musical taste.  Who are the majority in the masses and what is their ideal?  That is what these companies are trying to convey.  In the West, it's someone of Eastern European descent.  In Korea, it's someone who is Korean.   The second base they try to appeal to are African-Americans (the West) and the Chinese (Korea).  However, with this second base, it applies to the rule, "if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it must be a duck."  While the first third doesn't really apply to the West, notice how that the African-Americans on Disney and Nickelodeon tend to be light skinned and tend to act "white."  Since Chinese and Korean customs, values, and morals are very similar, they, instead of "sounding like a duck" they "look like a duck."  They look very Korean.  They look Korean and usually like a Korean who has already debuted.  Tao and ZhouMi look suspiciously like Kangta, Fei like Stephanie of The Grace, Jia never fails to remind me of Narsha. (and a bit like JYJ"s Junsu ...).  Donghae and Amber are refered to as "twins" and Victoria looks like Jessica Jung.  They know that the big eyes, double-eyelids (though there is quite a few without), round faces, high foreheads, small (button) noses, skinny, and a good height are what appeals to the ideal image Koreans hold and it sells.
      Both markets also have a barrier to outsiders.  For Americans, it's the language barrier.  The majority equate an accent to being uneducated or stupid.  For Korea it's the cultural/manners barrier.  Bad manners are not tolerated by their idols and generate backlash.  If you read this and say "I don't think like this!" then congratulations, you're in the minority.  For example, I live in a state capital and a college town.  The group of people that "dominate" the town like to think of themselves as hipsters and globally aware.  However, it never fails to amaze me how many of these well-educated people assume that I, being adopted and having an "American" accent am smarter and more knowledgable than my friends who have a Vietnamese accent.  I had a lady come up and ask me a question that wasn't about my department because my friend "doesn't speak English.   I don't think he knows what he's doing."  He speaks English fine, thank you, he just is soft spoken and has a bit of a Vietnamese accent.
      SM, JYP, YG, Nickelodeon, and Disney have also found the Holy Grail of money-making.  They have discovered that young teens are amazing target audience and what they like (it also doesn't hurt that Korea's culture allows one to be a raging fan girl or boy well into you thirties and forties without being labeled as a pervert or immature).  Girls love handsome guys and flower boys.  Guys love the hot, sexy girls.  They both love it if they can dream about one day marrying them.  Their parents love it if they would be the ideal person from their kids to bring home as a potential spouse.  Sure back in middle school I thought My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way was hot, but he was almost old enough to be my dad and didn't quite uphold the values my family would want me to have when I grew up and got married.  Choi Siwon on the other hand?  Kind?  Check.  Humble?  Check.  Religious?  Check.  Polite?  Check?  Clean background?  Check.  Age appropriate?  Check.  Good looking?  Bonus!

      Because corporations are all about the money, they aren't willing to take huge risks without knowing that it will produce a yield.  All of K-Pop's advancements into the West mainstream have been met with failure.  They threw their best:  Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation, and BoA.  PSY doesn't count in this argument because he wasn't ever marketing towards the West.  His success was a fluke and he won't count until he proves he has staying power with his upcoming American release.  Until K-Pop becomes mainstream and profitable, they won't be casting to fit that region.  True that they might cast a few now, but they probably won't debut until they know for sure that an group can't achieve the levels of popularity in the West that they want.  The companies already realized that China responded better when groups had Chinese members and realized Japan were accepting of an all-Korean group.  Now they have to figure out if the West is open to a full-Korean group or are more responsive to a group with members of European-descent.  (I'm guessing that they'll try a few more Korean groups after PSY's success.  If that fails they'll probably move to half-Korean members or a group made of Asian-Canadian/British/American - born members who were all raised in the West.  Then they might move to members of European-descent.)]


Now back on track...should you audition if you aren't Korean (or East Asian)?  YES.  Since companies are so future-minded, they'll be casting "the parts" before it's known what they're casting.  However, you'll need to be talented and well-mannered.  If you're asking because you desperately want into the industry no matter what, to see your idols, or because you want to be a famous singer, you're looking at the wrong industry.