Some of you have missed the point of what I actually said in my initial post on Girls' Generation's appearance on Letterman, and instead, engaged in straw-manning and oversimplifying my argument. Such is the way of the Internet, I guess.
Read this comment here, since it lays out what I actually am saying, not what people think I am saying. Reading comprehension skills, people -- not scanning for keywords. A lot of you are ostensibly English teachers, no?
1) I am not predicting the "demise" of K-pop, nor am I in the dark about it being very popular in China, Taiwan, the Phillipines, Japan. Nor am I ignorant of the fact that it's a vibrant sub-genre in the US. But it ain't what the Korean media is saying, and will remain about where it is, enabled by changing demographics and the easier distribution of music along different parts of the long tail pattern.
2) But music requires talent. Great musicians posses virtuosity. Acts that have jostled people out of where they already were, as in the many examples I cited, possessed virtuosity -- they caused people to sit up, go out and buy the LP, or the CD, or Google them. And you might even find them on iTunes, since a) you know to look, and b) iTunes is one of the aggregators that lets you FIND it. GG just wasn't that good, they dont really have a new sound, especially to the American ears they find great inspiration from.
3) People think only about PUSH, not PULL. As in immigration theory, it's not just that people want to leave their own country, but there has to be a pull that brings them in, as well. Such a theory would apply to cultural trends as well. It's not just that GG wants to enter the American market, or that their boosters really really want them to succeed; the cultural codes, market needs/niches of the receiving culture also matter -- and on this score, I don't see the viewers of Dave being jostled out of their seats enough to care about this random group of kids. This is the same problem I've been positing in ALL attempts to push Korean culture abroad, well before GG's appearance.
4) National blinders lead people to patterns that aren't there. This is a greater example of what I saw in movie theaters in the 1990s. No, this doesn't mean I'm an old fogey. One might call this "perspective": whenever a Samsung logo would accidentally flash across the screen in a Hollywood movie, or "Hyosung" would appear as a sign in the backdrop, the Korean audience would give out a loud "Wooooooo" and would be a-titter for a minute or so. I would roll my eyes; my peers in the States probably wouldn't notice; Koreans would see this as a pattern of "growing recognition/power/penetration/knowledge of Korean culture/brand power/dominance" in the world. In short, the Koreans would see a discrete phenomenon; Americans would just see Peter Parker as Spiderman using a computer.
Such are the problems with seeing huge patterns, making great prognostications, calling the game well before the second inning has even started.
Thus far, to the extent that Korean culture HAS found greater popular purchase and success worldwide, it followed examples of virtuosity -- Old Boy blew 'em away at Cannes and the French got hooked into the gritty, noir style of Korean cinema. Killer dramas in the late 1990s brought a new genre with high production values and Asian cultural values to other countries in Asia. It defined a different aesthetic. Even in Korean music, still, the most purchase ha been found in Asia, and mostly amount the ey young.
And the same is true in the US. GG's performance didn't shake the foundations of music, or even cause much of a stir -- MUSICALLY. That's the point. Everyone is cheering for them because of the import ths has for "Korea" or "Koreans" -- but that isn't pertinent to te matter at hand: those who already know, or be inclined to care, about a Korean girl group with little distinguishing talent appearing on Letterman are the proverbial choir that's already heard the sermon. Those who don't, or who won't be inclined to care, won't be moved enough to do so.
That's all I'm saying.
To be clear -- for singers, virtuosity matters. At least, and especially, in the US. We're not just talking about "Korean culture" in the abstract, but one thing that determines whether or not a singer, let alone an entire genre, will make it -- their singing ability, stage presence, novelty -- all of it.
People here have been calling me an old fogey, saying I'm out of touch. It's a new age, gramps, and the kids won't get off yer lawn.
But in the US, virtuosity leads to glowing reviews, being asked to do a guest performance on an awards show, getting on the cover of Rolling Stone, getting asked to appear on every single other late night show there is, becoming the musical guest on SNL -- oh, and speaking English well enough to not just make it through an interview without embarrassing oneself, which is unfortunately, the bar as it stands now, since that's what everyone would be worried about if one or two of the girls was asked to speak/spar with Dave, but to actually impress, to promote oneself well.
Virtuosity matters, people. This is music we're talking about. Just as the script, cinematography, directing, and acting matters in a film. And no matter the circumstances of how a Korean film might end up getting premiered in NYC, Chicago, and LA -- as Shiri was, and which Koreans were touting as the seminal moment for something at the time, the film sucked. At least by American standards.
And it didn't lead to larger distribution, it didn't lead to getting shown in a Michigan cineplex. I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the Midwest, after it had been show in the artsy theaters, after the buzz had led it to wider release, then full-on nationwide release, at which point I sat in a Midwest mall cinema, marveling that a Chinese-language, subtitled film that could easily be mistaken for the chop-socky schlock I used to love watching the local stations on Sunday afternoons as a kid -- could somehow be on the big screen. Why did it make it, as a foreign film being watched in an American theater, something most Americans do NOT want to watch, especially with subs?
Because it was just that fucking good.
As the man says to Merv, "You either got it or you don't have it. And she's go it!" Listen to the way she ends the song -- she's got it. It doesn't even matter that this was a cover -- not even a new song. She just sang the living sheeeet out of that song, in a way that kinda blew away the original. She brought a fresh novelty to a song people already knew. Damn.
And people say this is "unfair" to compare the two? Sorry. Dave is as important as Merv Griffin ever was, and Whitney had her people pushing her, just as GG does, and they got to stand in the harsh spotlight, take their shot. That spotlight doesn't accept excuses, explanations, or sympathetic stories. And this is the American market. Justin Bieber's YouTube hits don't mean squat, short of getting him noticed by Usher, and then pushed out further. But like him or loathe him, Bieber's got it. Whitney had it. Girls' Generation? Come on. Did we all really watch the same video?
And to those who say that it's unfair to compare them to Beyonce or Whitney or whomever else? Come on -- somehow, however, GG got into the Big Boy Chair (erm, Big Girl Chair, if you prefer) in the US of A, where the bar is high, where major mf's perform in that spot daily. You step up, perform, take your shot. And from what I saw, on the bar that either Joe Schmoe eating his popcorn and flipping channels has, which is actually the same bar some hip music journalist in her Manhattan apartment has while she watches the show and dismisses them as awkward, derivative, and a little "off" -- they struck out.
That's what you bring to a national telvision debut. You fucking bring IT. You either cause goodbumps or people go "Meh" and forget they ever heard you. Especially in the new media age, where people are bombarded with stuff all the time. You make the host go "Whoa!" and the audience stand up. Or you go home and no one remembers you.
And that's what people are forgetting about here. Even if GG had been good, or special, or offered something truly novel, which they weren't and didn't -- it still doesn't necessarily mean much in some larger sense, i.e. "Korea is..." or "Korean culture is..." or "K-pop has finally..."
If GG had just killed on Letterman, I bet a lot more people would be interested in...da da da dum...Girls' Generation! Whether that would have led more people to suddenly love Korean pop -- BESIDES THOSE WHO ARE ALREADY DEMOGRAPHICALLY INCLINED TO -- is a stretch to assume would happen.
And that's already two steps way past what we actually saw.