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The 10 K-Pop Groups Most Likely to Break in America


YouTube's most-watched Korean pop music video, Girls' Generation's "Gee," has earned 74,000,000 American views alone, even though most mainstream U.S. music fans have never heard of it. The song and video – a calculated, colorful, choreographed affair that sees the nine-member girl group smiling and winking for the camera in flirty outfits as they change formations and soloists without a hitch – epitomize how Korean pop music (K-Pop for short) has been able to break language barriers and captivate a passionate U.S. audience. More recently, acts have begun turning the interest into profitable American tour stops and announcing plans to officially release music stateside. And as if to officially christen the genre's U.S. crossover potential as an internet phenomenon, Google will host a multi-act K-Pop concert at their California headquarters on May 21st, which will be livestreamed on their YouTube Presents channel.

In the past, popular Korean acts (like BoA and Se7en) made unsuccessful American debuts likely due to the fact that they were molded by American record labels to be presented in a way they saw best to break into the notoriously difficult market.

Yet K-pop has garnered a strong following without the help of any major American backing. K-Pop is a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop (J-Pop), which preys on listeners' heads with repeated hooks, sometimes in English. It embraces genre fusion with both singing and rap, and emphasizes performance and strong visuals.

Never very racy, K-pop could easily slide into America's Top 40 market if correctly targeted at children and teenagers. The following are the 10 acts most likely to successfully crossover to America – as long as they're allowed to keep the same sounds and concepts that made them popular in Asia.

By Jeff Benjamin

after school

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After School

Originally introduced as a Korean version of the Pussycat Dolls, After School stands out for their live performances. In one promotion cycle, the entire group learned a drum-line routine for single "Bang!," and turned to complicated tap dance for Korean track "Let’s Step Up." As electro-pop dance ballads, tracks like "Shampoo" and "Because Of You" epitomize the genre-blending of K-pop. After School was also the very first winner of the Billboard Japan award for K-Pop New Artist of the Year. With a unique graduation system that keeps the line-up changing (similar to the way the Pussycat Doll brand works), the group can stay relevant and fresh. It’s unclear if any of the current members (nine girls are in the group at press time) can speak fluent English, but with the shifting membership, if an American debut was eyed it would make sense for their label to recruit English-speaking members.



While BIGBANG represent the established boy bands of South Korea, Beast embody a new wave of boy bands shaking things up. The group puts a special emphasis on their vocals, heard in singles like "Fiction." Interestingly, its membership is comprised of members who were either kicked out of other popular groups or those that never launched. Their music videos (including tracks like "Shock" and "Beautiful") already boast millions of views and several members have proven their English skills.


Han Myung-Gu/WireImage


Ailee is a New Jersey native who made her way to the South Korean spotlight via reality television. She was mentored by a veteran K-Pop artist, Wheesung, in a special episode of the show "Singer and Trainee" where she came in first place covering Beyonce’s "Halo." Her debut single "Heaven," a huge, long-lasting hit in South Korea, is actually similar to "Halo," with big R&B beats amid both soft and powerful vocals. Ailee’s knowledge of both American and Korean culture puts good odds on her crossover potential.


Han Myung-Gu/WireImage


High-energy female group Sistar may have gotten one of the best platforms for U.S. attention when they earned the inaugural Number One for the launch of Billboard’s new Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart. The single "So Cool" was produced by one of the biggest Korean production teams, Brave Brothers, who could be equated to RedOne in America with their dance/pop productions (see also "How Dare You"). Sistar and Brave Brothers also recently released the sassy new single "Alone." The group performed (along with Beast and SHINee) at Billboard’s K-Pop Masters Concert in Las Vegas this year where member Dasom interacted with the audience in English.


Han Myung-Gu/WireImage


With the recent success of boy bands like One Direction and The Wanted, it would be foolish not to take a group like SHINee as serious contenders for American crossover. The quintet has released catchy Korean electro-pop singles including "Ring Ding Dong" and "Lucifer."; recent single "Sherlock" not only showcases their emphasis on captivating hooks, but also recalls the vocal stylings of the Jackson 5. "Sherlock" in particular is notable in any genre as a "hybrid remix," mashing up two different tracks from their latest EP, tracks "Clue" and "Note". Several members can also speak English.

miss A

Han Myung-Gu/WireImage

miss A

This four-member girl group has a versatile sound, from the earworm "Good-bye Baby" to sexy tracks "Touch" and "Lips." miss A released an English buzz single titled "Love Alone," hooking up with German producer Fuego (who co-produced Jason DeRulo’s "Whatcha Say" and Chris Brown’s "Turn Up The Music"). The track shows an understanding of current American pop music, and the group sounds right at home.