Can J-Pop replicate success of K-Pop?

TOKYO —

Though South Korea has developed a reputation for high-quality electronics and competitively-branded cars on a par with their Japanese rivals, the meteoric rise of Korean pop has pushed the East Asian country into the limelight in recent years. Boy bands like Super Junior, FT Island, MBLAQ and B2ST have captured the hearts of millions of girls worldwide. SNSD, Kara, 4minute and other South Korean girl groups have experienced similar levels of success with their male fan bases.

It’s little wonder Korean music and culture “has the potential to become a new economic growth engine by fueling exports and improving the country’s overall image abroad,” according to a report by the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI).

Across the Sea of Japan, the Japanese music industry is struggling to keep its head above the water. The 2010 figures from The Recording Industry Association of Japan indicate declines of 6% (volume) and 5% (value) in Japan’s digital music market compared with the same figures from 2009. Internet downloads also experienced a 1% decline, falling to 10.1 billion yen in total revenue. Total market size fell by 8.3% in 2010. Though it remains the second largest market for music in the world, Japanese pop could certainly use some of the vigor and enthusiasm so closely associated with the meteoric rise of its Korean counterpart.

The J-music industry cannot simply stop at stemming stagnation. With the world’s focus shifting to Asia-Pacific to power worldwide economic growth, Japan is now faced with an opportunity to renew global interest in its cultural exports and begin a cultural phenomenon rivaling that of Hallyu in scale.

Despite the efforts of the Cool Japan initiative established by the Japanese government, Japan’s music industry is failing to achieve penetration rates rivaling those of its South Korean equivalents. But why?

Like Japan’s anime industry (which is also in decline), the Japanese music industry has become so focused on catering to niches, it becomes impossible for anyone outside of the niche market to appreciate the products it creates. That presents a major problem to the industry as a whole. One prime example of such a concern can be seen through AKB48 – a group that has come to dominate airwaves and advertisements across the Land of the Rising Sun. Targeting otakus across Japan since 2005, AKB48 has grown to become very successful in its domestic operations, and has expanded into a media franchise encompassing movies, manga, games, drama and radio.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you may be wondering. “They’re successful, they’re popular and they’re everything a company could want from a girl group. Why should they change their approach?”

The fact of the matter is this: With Japan’s population in chronic decline, the size of its domestic market is bound to shrink – a fact acknowledged and recognized by the RIAJ itself. Groups like AKB48 may work domestically, but their appeal is limited by cultural factors—13-year-old girls jumping around in miniskirts may not necessarily fly with consumers outside of Japan. Catering to broader audiences both domestically and internationally will be key to the revival of the Japanese music industry.

Products, however, do not market themselves. Unlike their Korean pop equivalents, most Japanese labels are allergic to promoting their artists’ work abroad. Some, like Johnny’s Entertainment, have even gone so far as to actively delete every promotional video of new and old releases from YouTube. How can Japanese artists pick up new fans if promotional videos are only available to people who already know about the artist in question?

By contrast, the success of Korean pop internationally can largely be attributed to the aforementioned. Through music with global appeal and a heavy marketing presence worldwide, Korean pop has become a major driving force behind the success of the South Korean economy and has cultivated a positive image of the country abroad. It’s working. Sales of Korean music were up 11% in 2010, with major labels like SM, JYP and YG hitting record highs in total revenue. Girls Generation, a popular South Korean girls’ group, generated an excess of 32 billion yen in total revenue from concerts and album sales in Japan alone. In 50 days.

There’s nothing barring the Japanese music industry from experiencing similar levels of success. It’s about time that Japan gets in on the action.

Author Infomation

Peter Dyloco
Peter Dyloco
Peter Dyloco is concerned about the gradual decline of the Japanese economy. His objective is to bring a fresh perspective to the issues currently facing the country, and spark discussion that may lead to their potential resolutions.
Website: http://www.facebook.com/hkborntokyoinspired
  • 0

    Pukey2

    Some, like Johnny's Entertainment, have even gone so far as to actively delete every promotional video of new and old releases from YouTube.

    Are they embarrassed?

    but their appeal is limited by cultural factors - 13-year-old girls jumping around in miniskirts may not necessarily fly with consumers outside of Japan.

    That says it all. While I am no fan of all this J/K pop crap, when I see K-Pop female groups, I see women. When I see J-pop female groups, I see either very young girls, or older girls acting like a 10 year old. I see more maturity in K-pop bands than I do in Matsuda Seiko.

  • 3

    timtak

    And I thought it J-pop was successful all over East Asia, and it was K-pop that had replicated J-pop's success. What is the relative size of the J-pop/K-pop markets? AKB48 and other young girl bands may be unpopular in the US/UK but what about Asian countries?

  • 0

    LoveNot

    after you have listened it for a while, K-pop or J-pop, it is all the same and gets boring. I do not need anymore J or K-pop. If they want to copy each other, ok. I am not going to listen to their music. all these group lack individuality and real talent. On Tv they can look ok because of the dance and the special effects but on radio it is awful.

  • 2

    tranel

    Basically, this whole situation reflects a simple fact : The vast majority of Japanese (people and businesses, granted there are well-known exceptions) are completely unable to even image a non-Japanese point of view. You create things for (and only for) the domestic market, because that's what you've always done, that's the market you know and understand and you will not need to "change" anything. THIS, not earthquakes or fukushima or yen appreciation or bad politics or poor English, is Japan's single largest competitive drawback in the globalized markets of today.

    I notice it every day in my work in kaigai-muke communications - "... but this text/design works for the Japanese audience! Why doesn't it work for foreigners?".

  • 3

    SamuraiBlue

    Funny I though the visual-kei groups like L'Arc en Ciel and/or X Japan had a strong fan base in Europe and also pop start Utada Hikaru was able to gain a top20 hit in the States. There is also the digital vocaloid idol Hatsune Miku making her debut in the States this summer. I also believe pop divas like Koda Kumi and/or Hamasaki Ayumi has a large fan base in the SE Asain region.

  • 0

    presto345

    No need to re-copy anything.

  • -1

    GW

    BOTH J&K-poop are a plague on us all!!!

  • 0

    Nicol Johnson

    I personally like K-pop more.

    I started out as a Japanese all fan. Music and anything I can get my hands on. Well, the music industry in Japan is slowly falling by the wayside. Though they are going through tough times, Japan still needs to rebuild which they are doing slowly.

    With music, well Japan needs something fresh. Something Hip. Something that will appeal to everyone, anywhere. If you do not like the music then don't listen. But if you are listening just for the hell of it then bitching about then you have nothing even remotely to contribute to this article.

    Music is replicated everywhere in the world. Has no one ever heard of the comment: "Nothing new under the sun."? Well this is true for everything. So if Japan was the leading industry in music then Hooray. But recently So. Korea has been topping the charts in Japan and other Asian countries and its even more phenomenal overseas. Why? Because, Kpop appeals to every age. They do not limit themselves into just one genre (but they are starting to now. I have notice this). All it takes is for one idea to spark into a raging inferno. When that happens then you see the difference between the two.

    So Can Japan replicate the success of So. Korea. HELL Yeah. But it will take time and just one awesome song by a band or artist is all they need to break in a new era. Copy cats happen. What can you do about it? nothing. If you don't like it, don't listen. It's not that hard to do.

  • 1

    hatsoff

    This article is a good read. However, the K-Pop boom has come on the back of the popularity of Korean dramas, so it has been a relatively easy sell for Korean music companies. To break a J-Pop artist in a country where there is no boom to piggyback on would require A LOT more investment. With that in mind, why should (from their own perspectives) Japanese music companies like Johnny's be bothered with other markets?

    The following link shows the best selling artists in terms of revenue in 2010 - Arashi at number one with $200 million in music revenue, for example, and that doesn't include merchandising or appearance fees for TV variety shows and commercials. If you add the revenues of all the Johnny's acts together, why would the company risk trying to break an artist abroad when it can reap in these amounts in its home market year after year after year, almost guaranteed?

    http://forum.nihongogo.com/topic/9810-best-selling-artists-in-2010-in-terms-of-revenue/

    Having said that, I know Ken Hirai (not Johnny's) has done concerts in Hong Kong, so maybe some things take place on a low risk, small scale. A quick search of the HMV Asian pop chart in Hong Kong shows Ayumi Hamasaki as the highest placed non-Chinese artist: http://www.hmv.com.hk/charts/asian.asp

    I wonder how popular these K-pop bands are in their home country?

  • 3

    Alex80

    I'm Italian, and I love Japan since I was a kid. You have to know that in Italy, during the 80s, Italian television was full of japanese cartoons of every kind. I think that, maybe, in that period Italy was the country in the world that broadcasted the most quantity of japanese animation. Japanese cartoons influenced me very much; throught them, I started to love japanese culture. I like japanese music too. In Italy, jpop and kpop are not mainstream, you can't listen on radio, but only on internet. I think that there are good songs both korean and japanese, but I still prefer japanese music because has something different, in general, from western music. I'm sure some people disagree, but korean music, to me, is very, very americanized. They have some amazing singers and dancers but, if it wasn't for the language, you would think that you are listening american/european music, so it's really easy for people all around the world love kpop. Japanese music is more...japanese. This makes it more a niche's product, and for this reason it can't be internationally popular like korean music. But if I must be honest, I would be sad if japanese music changed completely and became more "globalized", just for marketing. :/

  • 0

    Alex80

    you can't listen on radio

    you can't listen to them on radio, I meant.

  • 1

    Keito Ellithy

    what i know ....that japan is the biggerst in asia and 2nd in the world in the music industry ?

    check this chart from wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Total_music_market_2003.png

  • -7

    Cat5

    Heh JT had an article recently talking about AKB48, the online discussion immediately went to how only otaku perverts gravitate towards AKB and other juvenile J-bands. He was in absolute denial about that fact, and even deleted my post confirming what others had already stated....which is "AKB and other girl pop bands are for perverted otakus".

    Hopefully he's reading these posts.

  • 0

    Konsta

    This is funny, because if you put, say "4minute success in Europe" to Google, then you'll get titles like: "4minute, Reasons Why They Unfortunately Missed the Opportunity of Europe Expansion"

    If you search "SNSD success in Europe", you'll get something like: "I truly believe that England will be the 'key' to Girls' Generation's attempt to succeed internationally... "

    That kind of success is not worth replicating. I wouldn't exaggerate about success of K-Pop, in Europe at least.

  • 0

    Papigiulio

    for me Kpop Looks better, Jpop sounds better. The females in Kpop look really nice, and if you compare the looks of some (NOT ALL) kpop males with the japanese counterparts, the males have a more muscular build, YET many of them have make up and girlish faces.

    Soundwise, kpop (especially Tara) is nothing but crap. AT least in Japan we have some great vocalists like Utada Hikaru, Angela Aki and Kana Uemura

  • 0

    JapanGal

    The K-Pop girls are much prettier than the J-Pop girls. Japanese girls are pretty, as it is my blood, but something about the Korean girls they select is more fine tuned.

  • 3

    SamuraiBlue

    JapanGalSep. 16, 2011 - 09:18AM JST; something about the Korean girls they select is more fine tuned.

    That's probably the plastic surgery they do so often.LOL

  • 0

    LoveNot

    i think in Korea and Japan, individuality is praised not as much as in the Western country. Singers are not ambitious to make a solo career and they do not mind entering groups with numerous participants and becoming obscure anonymous performers. In these groups the lack of individual talent is shielded and protected in the bulk of the group. If a person performs solo, he or she can be easily accused for not having enough ability and talent. But in the big group, anybody can perform in the mediocrity of the chorus without the responsibility and the stress of solo artists to give their best. Lack of talent is hidden behind provocative wear, nudity, make up, sexually explicit dances. Melody and words most often do not make sense. In Japan the most important requirement for entering a group in the musical industry is not to be able to sing, play a musical instrument, be original, creative, but to be kawaii and look stupid. That is why all the groups look like clones, boring and lacking creativity. Lack of talent is substituted with creating sexual appeal for otakus. Mediocrity, repetition, horrible musical abilities won't appeal to many people in Europe, except to those who like anime and find it kawaii and cool.

  • -1

    GW

    So Can Japan replicate the success of So. Korea. HELL Yeah. But it will take time and just one awesome song by a band or artist is all they need to break in a new era. Copy cats happen. What can you do about it? nothing. If you don't like it, don't listen. It's not that hard to do.

    Nicol,

    You obviously DONT live in Jpn, the only way to escape this CRAPPY ""music"" is to go into a forest or sit by a rice field & NEVER leave! The crap is pervasive, its flogged IN ALL MEDIA, people who live in Japan simply cant escape as it is everywhere & it has sounded 98% the same for the 20yrs I have been here, awful stuff, I hope it doesnt spread around the world, that would be a shame!

  • 1

    Weasel

    Can J-Pop replicate success of K-Pop?

    Almost an analogy of two high school students who copy each others Physics homework in attempt to pass - but neither understand the material and fail anyway.

  • 1

    LoveNot

    The crap is pervasive

    I hope it is gone soon. Real artist and musicians cannot thrive in this environment.

  • -1

    LoveNot

    Almost an analogy of two high school students who copy each others Physics homework in attempt to pass - but neither understand the material and fail anyway.

    Excellent comparison.

    I want to add, in Europe most of the singers have a national identity, I can easily recognize whether the singer is from Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Spain or Russia because of their music, or at least I can have an idea of the area of Europe the music comes from because of the rhythm and the melody. Japan and Korean pop music is very similar, and lacks national identity, at least for me. Korean singers and groups in order to appeal to the Japanese markets make songs similar to the Japanese and even sing in Japanese. Sorry if your opinion is different, I just want to share mine.

  • -1

    Brian Sutton

    japan is a country that seems to not take changes well. they are living in a world that happen 20 years ago..just take a look at some of the out dated laws and the way they run the country. its all japans fault if they don't want to do things in today's world. YouTube is a great tool to use. If they don't want to use it, there sadly missing out.
    Like So unless japan gets it together and changes with the rest of the world ..Japan will never get better.

  • -2

    It"S ME

    @Brian.

    Like the west don't have outdated laws on teh books that were put in place centuries ago. Not sure what J-Pop or K-Pop have to do with existing laws and so on.

    I was always more into alternative music and Japan has a great alternative music scene. Just hit most life-houses, etc for the really good stuff.

  • 0

    supercross1985

    AKB48 is not ignoring the new market,they have been performing around Asia,been to the USA and France.They have shops and Cafe's for the fans and are spreading the brand.The Janken tournament for the 24th single is going international not only will it broadcast live in theaters in Japan , but it will also be broadcast live in 98 theaters across Singapore ,Thailand ,South Korea, Taiwan ,and Hong Kong .

    Markets evolve and change,they might be behind the curve in Japan compared to the KPop groups,and it is hard to market to the World when the language of Pop is English.Groups like AKB have a loyal Wota following,and they are die hard fans who have no interest in seeing their girls sing in some gaijin country.I have no real care for some of these Wota who can be the best and worst fans,with the two offensive incidents that Sayaka Akimoto and Tomomi Kasai had to endure at a recent handshake event makes me hope for a more rational international fan base.

  • 0

    Nicol Johnson

    You obviously DONT live in Jpn, the only way to escape this CRAPPY ""music"" is to go into a forest or sit by a rice field & NEVER leave! The crap is pervasive, its flogged IN ALL MEDIA, people who live in Japan simply cant escape as it is everywhere & it has sounded 98% the same for the 20yrs I have been here, awful stuff, I hope it doesnt spread around the world, that would be a shame!

    @ GW I am still in Japan. 2 years now. I like it. Yes I hear the music everywhere. That's why nerds in the electronics field with Apple have made iPods' and earphones. Try it. It might block out all that noise you don't want to hear. If you feel that you need to have peace near a river in the forest. Then good for you but since you been in Japan for 20 years...sorry hun, Jpop and Kpop has already passed on to the world via Youtube and satellite.

  • 0

    m6bob

    I know of Japanese women in their 50s who are fans of K-pop, NOT J-pop. Seriously, it is too late for J-pop. They need a total revamp and the aging members of popular 'boy band' like SMAP will not do it. J-pop needs the sons & daughters of the older boybands to come out & do it like Super Junior, MBLAQ or 2PM.

  • 1

    SamuraiBlue

    I rather listen to Hirai Ken and/or Kuwata Keisuke then listening to some stupid boyband.

  • 0

    Nessie

    The real question: Can K-Pop replicate the success of K-Pop?

  • 0

    Foxie

    Japn has AKB48 and......I don't know. Korea has SNDC, KARA, Girls Generation, Wondergirls and the list goes on. I wonder why they have so many that I know of? Korea has also many talented solo singers. Japan??? I know Ken Hirai but I can't stand his music. The rest, I wonder what happened to them because all I hear is only AKB48. Agree wit LoveNot that it is easier to distinguish Tarkan from Sakis Rouvas.

  • 0

    genjuro

    And I thought it J-pop was successful all over East Asia, and it was K-pop that had replicated J-pop's success.

    That is correct. J-pop has a longer, more established and successful history than not only K-pop, but also Chinese and other Asian pop music. Even Chinese artists like Agnes Chan et al from way back in the 70's-80's were releasing J-language albums because of the huge J-music market. It's where the money is. K-pop merely came along as part of the korean wave in the mid-00's that mostly consisted of movies and dramas. It will eventually subside despite koreans' or fans' hopes for it to continue out of some patriotic fervor.

    Not really much into bubblegum music which seems to be the norm these days and prefer less mainstream J-music. Discovered Shibata Jun not long ago while trying out headphones at Yodobashi and just had to get her CD. Like me some J-rock as well every now and then.

  • 0

    GW

    Nicol your still very much in the nama gaijin phase, we all go thru it, fortunately most grow out of it!

  • 1

    Seiharinokaze

    Korean language is full of consonants some of which have very strong aspirates as is called 거센소리. And the language hates continuity of vowels unlike Japanese which sounds rather plain and tame and calm. So Korean songs in American-pop music type of tunes sounds quite rhythmic with a powerful beat. This may appeal to the world audience, which J-pop cannot emulate. Something more ingenuous as well as ingenious might be what J-pop should find her way. Globalism in music or to replicate K-pop is not quite her, though I don't mean it should be a galapagos.

  • 1

    sgtlite

    The RIAJ needs to pay more attentions to sites like HearJapan which promote and sell MP3 downloads of indies Japanese artists. I love the site but there aren't enough big artists on there yet. http://www.hearjapan.com

  • 0

    トリガー マグナム

    I have no complaints about Jpop but I DON'T mind Kpop.

    I've been into J-culture for so long and I appreciate their music ever since. I really do! Maybe they isolated themselves for some reasons but their fans are slowly growing not only in Asia but also in the other parts of the world.

    Well, I don't care about JE though. I left that fandom for more than a year already. And I don't like Kpop in the first place. In my university, there are lots of Kpop fans talking about them every now and then. It's not that I don't appreaciate their entertainment industry but I more like their dramas that their emerging music around the world. For me, they all sound the same. But then, there are also Kpop groups which releases Jmusic. Maybe the ones I know is not that or not totally known to everyone here.

    Jpop is connected to my life already. I grew up with it. There are lots of artists with music in Japan and people might haven't discovered them yet because they were stuck on their current liking for music.

  • -1

    LoveNot

    Agree wit LoveNot that it is easier to distinguish Tarkan from Sakis Rouvas.

    I do not think anybody can mistake Sakis Rouvas for somebody else. He is talented, what a voice! and has the most tender blue eyes...His songs have melody, greek rhythm, and his performances are really outstanding and memorable. When he sings my heart melts melts melts...

    Tarkan

    He has very beautiful voice and very original way of dancing. Again very ethnic feeling...

    When Korean and Japanese singers sing, I do not feel they represent Korea or Japan, just some global music.

  • -2

    LH10

    no way!! jpop should stay away from nasty kpop music. kpop ewww~

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