Korean girl groups are attracting more fervent admirers among their own sex in Japan than from the young men they are ostensibly manufactured to appeal to. About 80 percent of the audience at the debut showcase of Girls' Generation at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo on Aug. 25 were female, from teenagers to women in their 30s. Plenty of them even sported Girls' Generation outfits.
Things are much the same with other Korean girl groups like 4 Minute, Kara and Brown Eyed Girls. Management agencies admit that even though the bands were meant to target male fans, more than half of the fans are young girls. In Korea, girl bands have traditionally been popular among men of all ages, from teens to those in their 50s.
◆ Differences in Image
AKB 48 and Morning Musume are the leading Japanese girl bands this year. Dressed in frilly princess dresses and much given to winsome smiles, they dance and sing to routines mainly choreographed with dainty movements of hands and feet. But Korean girl groups have a bolder, more dynamic image. They wear angular uniforms or tight skinny jeans, and dance to choreography that uses the whole body. On stage, they appear confident and charismatic.
Kim Young-min of agency SM Entertainment said, "Japanese girls who've had enough of Japanese girl bands that strictly appeal to men's protective instincts seem to take bolder Korean girl groups as a role model."
◆ Better Skills
Thanks to their notoriously grueling training, Korean girl groups tend to be better at dancing and singing than Japanese ones. Members of Korean girl bands go through an average of three to six years of training, while Japanese girls get just six months to a year.
Japanese management agencies recently shifted from quality to quantity, on the assumption that anyone can become an "idol" with the right marketing support. AKB 48, as the name suggests, has 48 members who perform a daily gig for fans in a small theatre in Tokyo's Akihabara. Often members are launched straight off the street and then learn on the job due to these schedules.
◆ Filling a Boy-Band Shaped Hole
Oricon, the Japanese equivalent to charts provider Billboard, recently said Japanese girls in their teens and 20s are taking to Korean girl bands during a lull for Korean boy bands.
Bands such as TVXQ, Big Bang and SHINee turned Japanese girls on to K-pop, with the number of Japanese TVXQ fans estimated at over 300,000. That prompted Japanese management agencies to concentrate on the boy band market, according to Shin Sung-hee of Sony Music Entertainment. "They had no interest in girl groups whatsoever, so the current Korean girl band phenomenon took people in both Korea and Japan by surprise," he said.