Japan, here we come!

So I’ve been waiting to write this article, and now that SNSD has finally announced that their debut single will be Genie, I can finally settle in and put in my two cents on the girl groups in Japan situation.

As you know, this summer/fall has marked Kpop’s girl groups’ inevitable migration into the land of the rising sun, which was bound to happen sooner or later after the success of their boy group sunbaes as DBSK and Big Bang. I’m actually surprised no one made the move sooner (other than the Grace, but that’s something I’ll cry about another time T__T). 4minute, Kara, and SNSD will lead the charge into Japan. 4minute has already debuted their single I My Me Mine and has traveled back and forth from Korea and Japan to perform on music shows; Kara will be releasing their Mister single August 11th and has performed their first show on Music Japan this past week; SNSD will be having a showcase August something and releasing their Genie single in September. In other words, three of the top Korean girl groups will be debuting in a very close period of time with translated versions of old, hit singles (minus IMMM which is relatively new).

One reason I waited to comment until now was because I seriously anticipated that SNSD will be debuting in Japan with an original, Japanese single, and past precedents set by DBSK and BoA gave possibilities of that happening. However, SM has completely changed their tactics regarding the marketing of their artists in Japan–first it was the change in label from Avex to UMJ, which I personally think is a good move since Avex has always been cheap on promotions, and second with the Genie single. I’m a little disappointed, admittedly, but I’m not overly surprised.

Things are changing, boys and girls. Through my extensive forum stalking, I’ve read lots of comments along the lines of “omg, XXX is going to go to Japan and fail, and I hope they disappear.” Obviously the work of antis, but it paints a rather accurate picture of the hopes of haters and the worst nightmare of fans. However, such a scenario happening to 4SoKa (ok I’m going to leave the abbreviation as that) will be near impossibility.

Does anyone realize how much companies are holding the hands of these groups and looking out for them? Take SM–contrasting their treatment of throwing the Grace into Japan while their fanbase in Korea was just growing, leading to abysmal overseas failure and their virtual disappearance from the Kpop map, they have now gone to pouring everything into the successful promotion of SNSD even before they land in Japan. Heck, they even did an entire photobook in Japan, and trust me, it was not just for the view.

SNSD has built up their fanbase these past three years to where I’m stupid gawking at the ridiculous gifts Soshified got for their 3rd anniversary. They are at their peak Korea wise, and I think it’s as good as a time as SM could’ve picked for their Japanese debut–honestly, their 2010 songs have not been as strong as the 2009 ones, but the steady sales and mid-year domination just showed that SNSD has reached what I like to call a commercial equilibrium in Korea–it doesn’t matter how fantastic or crappy their music is, it will sell like hotcakes regardless.

What I’m totally confused about is how permanent SM is making this debut seem. The girls have been completely pulled from their shows except for Seohyun, and their recent SendVoice messages made it seem like they aren’t coming back, with lots of “don’t forget us!” and “wait loyally for our return!” sprinkled in. Didn’t they learn from BoA, DBSK, heck even Se7en and WG, that the fanbase will slip if the groups are gone for an extended period of time?

4minute has already started promotions but are still performing on Inkigayo. That could just be that they don’t feel pain, but it doesn’t seem they will stay long term. As an aside, I think Cube is steady winning my vote as managing company of the year, which will make for an awesome future post, not spoiling anything at all. Kara’s already made it clear they’d stay for 20 days only, but 1.) DSP has never been good at planning, or choosing good title songs until 2010, or at giving their artists good living/practicing conditions, now that I get started. However, since they’re now under UMJ’s management, this might be part of an actual plan of a series of waves of promotions, especially since fluent Japanese is apparently no longer a prerequisite in attempting to break into Japan, and the artists would never leave Korea long enough to weaken their presence there, which would be pretty smart.

So let’s quickly digress to the songs. Repackaged Japanese versions of hit songs, I guess, creates more chances the song will be a success if we consider the Korean version a test trial period. Kara’s Mister is a fantastic choice in my opinion–it finally becomes the title song it should have been during Revolution promotions, it has a fantastic butt dance, and translated really nicely into Japanese. Personally I believe it was too early for 4minute to enter Japan, but I can see now that this part of Cube’s larger plan to train their artists to adapt to the international market, so I don’t see current long term promotion.

Lastly, here’s what the CEO of UMJ had to say about promotion plans for Kara/SNSD in Japan:

Universal Music Japan’s CEO Koike Kazuhiko discusses his promotion plan for KARA and SNSD in Weekly Toyo Keizai (A Business Journal).

“They have good looks and great singing abilities. It’s a waste to keep them just in Korea, so they should sell in Japan as well.“ Major record company Universal Music’s CEO Koike Kazuhiko, in addition to being the company president, he praises Korean girl groups KARA and SNSD in this way. He seems confident in giving both of these girls from his company success through full-blown promotions, which will begin this summer.

(omitted)

(Traditionally), for foreign artists to succeed in Japan a moderate level of Japanese skill was essential, unless they were top class artists. However, that’s not really the case now.

Speaking frankly President Koike said, we’ll decide which promotion method to use depending on the artists’ characters. Whether that means mainly doing activities in the Japanese market, or using a similar promotion method to the one we use for artists from Western countries doing activities mainly outside Japan. Discussed above, KARA has looks like Japanese idols and their Japanese songs should be easily accepted. Japanese was studied enough for them to be active in the center of Japan.

He explains that, SNSD and KARA are completely different, their appeal as “real-deal artists” is a profitable plan, and that Japanese ability isn’t really necessary when using the same promotion techniques as western music.

From what I’m inferencing, Kara will be promoted as a Japanese group much like DBSK’s promotion, while SNSD will get more of the western-style “treat them like foreign artists” promotion. Smart since this will prevent the two groups from clashing in the market since they will be labeled differently, but there’s definitely a lot of questions to be asked, like if Kara’s Japanese proficiency is enough for their style of marketing, whether SNSD can have the influence of western artists even if promoted like one, and most importantly if consumers are willing to distinguish these two groups instead of lumping them together as “those two korean groups” (admittedly, they’re lumped together quite often in Korea).

So how will it all play out? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea. In a sense, the existing Japanese market is an iron curtain–dominant female groups such as MoMu and AKB43904859384 and solo artists like Koda Kumi and Namie Amuro make it hard for newcomers to gain a solid foothold in the market. However, a similar story existed for the guys, where Johnny’s groups (Johnny & Associates is a company that produced Jpop powergroups like Arashi, KAT-KUN, and SMAP) made it nearly impossible for even other Japanese pop groups to survive, let alone foreign acts. But lo and behold, Tohoshinki/DBSK became one of maybe two non-Johnny groups to be able to have consecutive number ones and actually present competition.

Final tidbit of FYI. So SNSD is release their single September 8th…and guess when JYJ is releasing their The…minialbum? Yeah…so just coincidence or revenge? Will this affect CD sales at all? Johnny’s groups usually bring terrible sales to other artists releasing the same week, and Tohoshinki’s been known to outsell them, not to mention this is JYJ’s big return after their Tokyo Dome stint, so no doubt fans are angsty. We’ll see. And that rumored 5 minute long Mister mv complete with story better be hella good. I’ve waited so long.

Thanks to Soshified for the article translation from Weekly Toyo Keizai, a business magazine.

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