June 10, 2010 was a momentous day for Korean pop music. A large-scale live concert of K-pop stars like Girls' Generation, Super Junior, SHINee and f(x) was staged in Paris, and some had high hopes that this would mean the Korean Wave had splashed beyond Asia into the wider world.
There have since been some 260 K-pop concerts in the West, from New York via Barcelona and Berlin to Santiago de Chile, according to Korea Creative Contents Agency. But is K-pop really moving in the right direction?
Some industry sources believe the focus on manufactured bands is losing its luster. Singer Kim Chang-wan said, "Those who are leading the Korean Wave are professionally trained bands manufactured by mega management agencies. Most of them sing the same way in similar productions and tend to launch their careers abroad. Their goals are far too commercial."
Another problem is there are no notable newcomers to succeed Girls' Generation, Wonder Girls, Kara, and 2NE1, who have been leading the K-pop's sweep abroad. Music critic Kim Zakka said, "Many groups and singers like Lee Seung-gi and IU launched their career in Japan, but the result was underwhelming. If there are no charismatic newcomers, K-pop could regress into a niche market."
Others say the K-pop PR machine has failed to introduce the variety of Korean pop music to the wider world. Roh Jun-seok at Korea Creative Contents Agency points out that manufactured bands account for just 10 percent of the U.S. pop market, but some 90 percent of Korean musicians who have launched their career overseas are manufactured bands. "It's not surprising that K-pop is losing its appeal after 10 years of that," he added.
Core Contents Media CEO Kim Kwang-soo, who manages T-ara, said, "In Japan, where K-pop has been very popular, we're now seeing bands who resemble Korean ones with their pretty looks and good singing skills. Only K-pop singers who can distinguish themselves from foreign groups of similar style will be able to survive the competition."
Nam Tae-jeong, a former head of MBC's Music Center, said, "Although nobody intended it, there is now a strong impression that K-pop equals manufactured bands. We should be showcasing a greater variety of music, more individual character and greater sincerity."
Some believe that Korean musicians can only succeed abroad if they play not only in big, meticulously planned concerts but also smaller, more informal gigs.
Kim Chang-wan said, "The K-pop scene has been excessively dominated by manufactured bands. We need to create an environment where musicians with individual character and music can flourish, like Lady Gaga."
And Kim Zakka points out that there is governmental organization in Japan which makes sure that Japanese indie musicians are heard in various parts of the U.S. "That's what we need in Korea as well."