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By Gabriel Wilder
The huge success of a novelty song can be the death knell for the scene that spawned it. And they don't come any bigger than South Korean rapper Psy's 2012 hit Gangnam Style. It's still the most watched YouTube video on the planet, almost 1 billion views ahead of its nearest rival, Baby by Justin Bieber.
Jennifer Doherty, the marketing manager at the Korea Tourism Organisation, says that interest in Korean pop had been rising for some years, but "even though Gangnam Style wasn't actually K-pop, it created a lot of interest; it made a big difference".
More than half a dozen Asian pop stars have already visited Sydney this year, including Japanese pop princess Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who sold out the Metro so quickly her gig was moved to a bigger venue; Mandarin super star Jay Chou, who played at the Allphones Arena; and Korean balladeer Kim Bum Soo, who performed at the Sydney Opera House.
On Saturday, six-piece South Korean boy band B.A.P. dance into town to play at Luna Park's Big Top as part of a world tour that includes the US and Europe. When sales opened last month, the $200 VIP tickets (600 of them) sold out within minutes. Joy Kim, the general manager of their agency TS Entertainment, says next year they hope to travel to more countries. It's part of a strategy to bring B.A.P. (it stands for Best Absolutely Perfect) and K-pop to a wider audience.
Many K-pop bands (including B.A.P.) record versions of their songs in Mandarin and Japanese, and Kim says they are thinking of doing English versions "so more people can enjoy the music and the concerts better". But ultimately, she doesn't believe language is an obstacle: "People get their emotions and feelings from the music."
Very few members of the 2000-strong audience at Kyary's concert at the Roundhouse in March understood Japanese, and she spoke very little English, so Kim is probably right. The concert exceeded the expectations of its promoter, Handsome Tours, who had to move it to the bigger venue after the Metro sold out so rapidly. Handsome's Chris Twite hopes to bring the J-pop singer back next year.
"Asian pop music is definitely a growing market in Australia,'' he says, "and she is one of its shining stars." He is also looking at other Asian acts but won't say at whom: "A promoter is only as good as his secrets."
Twite puts the rise in popularity down to SBS PopAsia, which airs on SBS each weekend and on YouTube. Visuals have always played an important role in Asian pop, whether it be set design, CGI or elaborate choreography.
Although B.A.P. come from one of the smaller music stables in South Korea, they have the distinction of having produced one of its most expensive music videos: for the title track of their second EP, One Shot, they did a shoot in the Philippines, then spent another week in a studio in Seoul. The final bill, says Kim, was "not exactly $1 million dollars but pretty much around that". South Korea's biggest music agencies routinely spend vast sums of money promoting their groups.
The band, whose songs take in such styles as urban grooves, ballads, EDM and even heavy metal (a variety that isn't unusual in K-pop), has consistently had hits throughout Asia since their first single Warrior was released in 2012. Yet Kim demurs when asked if the label was pleased that they achieved success in the competitive field so quickly.
"We are still on the way to success,'' she says. "It takes five years to see if you are successful or not. That's what I think. Warrior was a big hit and it got them a lot of attention, but since Gangnam Style ... that's the standard for K-pop these days."