Lately I’ve been annoyed about the immense popularity of western pop and the fact that K-pop doesn’t get equal respect. Peers of mine gush about how a particular pop group is “so amazing,” artist X is “an incredible dancer,” and so and so is “the most talented entertainer…” I smile and nod, but inside I’m groaning just a little because these acts just aren’t that impressive anymore. I’m not talking about great singer-songwriters, virtuoso musicians, or bands that play instruments. I’m speaking strictly about western pop acts, the singer/dancer/performers that occupy the American Top 40. I’ve started to feel like gushing over the talents of these pop acts is like raving about the Olive Garden. Millions and millions of people love the Olive Garden, it’s the top chain restaurant in the U.S. But people that have eaten great Italian food know the score. We know that the Olive Garden only tastes good to people who have never eaten anything better. It’s baseline Italian cuisine. It’s entry level. And while it boasts a few genuine high points (the breadsticks actually are really good!) the Olive Garden is nothing to scream about. And neither is western pop now that I’ve tasted a lot better. After months of Kpop immersion, I watch current western pop acts now and think, “Man, we Americans are sort of… lazy.”
Rihanna. I no longer understand the hype about Rihanna, and I’m someone that really likes a lot of her songs. She’s a decent singer, but not a great one. She’s sexy and beautiful, but her charm in interviews and on red carpets is low-key, to put it kindly. Her dance talent? She’s probably the best dancer at a wedding, but the best dancer in pop music? No. Why the heck is Rihanna huge in the states, and BoA isn’t? Rihanna’s only advantage is a team of kick-ass songwriters. But in terms of performing arts talent, she’s lacking. I’d like to see her share a stage with Hyolyn, Hyuna and Minzy. That would be quite a quartet, it would go down like the Sesame Street bit where they sing “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.”
Katy Perry. Miley Cyrus. Pink. I sort of get the hype around them, but I also still think a lot of it is due to these artists having outsized characters/personas rather than mind-blowing talent. I shoot fire out of my boobs! I swing naked on wrecking balls! I swing from trapeze lines! Look at me! Look at me!! Compared to Sunmi, Taeyeon, Chungha, Jessi, and about, oh, 20 other K-pop idols I could name… the western pop females are just not that impressive in comparison.
Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars… I’m putting these three together because, in my opinion, they have equal top talent and are equally worshipped in the west. I personally consider them the current “Goddess and Gods of Pop,” and they are amazingly talented. But there are equally talented artists in dozens of K-pop groups. I don’t even have to go beyond one group! Take the members of EXO… Most of them could out-sing and out-dance our gods of pop, and I’m not even a huge EXO stan, I’m just calling it like it is. And while I really love lots of western pop idols, I’m not so sure about the western work ethic. I’m not knocking it, there is spiritual value in the “work to live” ethic, it’s certainly healthy mentally, but it’s very different from the ethic of “live to work.” I wonder how well the western pop artists would fare in an idol group. Could they handle 6 weeks of promotion for 3 comebacks in a 12-month span, including a 10-week tour and a 16-episode reality show? The schedules of western pop artists are so light compared to artists in K-pop. The ability to work extremely hard while making it look easy and staying healthy is a talent as well. I don’t know Beyonce, Bruno and JT personally, but I bet they play harder, or just as hard, as they work. They’re American, it’s what we do. We work to live. There’s no shame in it, it’s just a different approach to work.
I wonder how Taylor Swift would fare in an idol group. Actually I don’t wonder, because she’d never make it past training to debut in an idol group. She can’t dance.
Top pop groups in the west aren’t as popular as the pop soloists, so it seems cruel to even bring them up. If One Direction was still around, then I guess they’d be the only serious competition to K-pop idol groups. But even at their peak, 1D wasn’t as impressive in their talent as the nugu-est of nugu boy groups. Let’s talk girl groups. Little Mix? 5th Harmony? I can’t even watch their performances without laughing now. 5th Harmony hung it up, and only time will tell whether anyone but Camila has real talent. The fact that Little Mix and 5th Harmony have cracked the Top 40 in the U.S. while Mamamoo and EXID live in obscurity here is infuriating.
And here’s a bit of irony to round this out. Most of K-pop is drawn from western pop of the last two decades. Michael Jackson, Madonna, NKOTB, NSYNC, En Vogue, Destiny’s Child… I feel like K-pop took what the west did best and ran with it. Now they’re doing it better and harder than anyone here is doing it. The most talented and impressive pop music today isn’t on American radio. It’s bubbling vibrantly in the Billboard International Charts. It’s thousands of miles away, but it’s out there if you’re willing to give it a listen. I don’t care to eat at Olive Garden, but I do get lonely eating elsewhere all by myself. I want my pop-loving friends to love K-pop like I do. I don’t want to make them feel bad for loving the Olive Garden, but I know that if they’d at least try that little restaurant down the alley, the one with a small sign in the window, where the staff is busting their asses to put out the best food they possibly can, every night. If they try THAT place, they probably won’t want to go back to the Olive Garden. And then we can all be enjoying that really awesome place, having a great time, together!