It is not difficult to find Kpop groups without a single Korean member. This has caused many obstacles and limitations in the process of building the reputation of these groups when they are stuck in the title “Kpop group”.
In 2020, JYP Entertainment officially launched the group NiziU through the survival reality show Nizi Project with 9 members are all Japanese: Mako, Rio, Maya, Riku, Ayaka, Mayuka, Rima, Miihi and Nina. The group quickly received great popularity when releasing their pre-debut song, “Make You Happy”.
Aside from the attention, NiziU’s future direction seems very confusing. Many questions have been raised:
Firstly, despite being trained like a Kpop group, NiziU debuted in the Japanese market and sang entirely in Japanese. This has left netizens in confusion as they don’t know if NiziU is a Kpop or Jpop group.
Some netizens discontentedly commented:
‘Is this even a Kpop group? They sing in Japanese, speak in Japanese, even the members are all Japanese’
“Is NiziU categorized as Kpop or Jpop on the charts of other countries? I’m really confused”
Not only that, many Koreans feel uncomfortable when this so-called “Kpop group” does nothing to contribute to the Kpop industry as they are only active in Japan.
One netizen said, “I don’t mean to blame NiziU and JYP, but obviously the Japanese will pretend that their Jpop culture is very successful”
Secondly, as for the concept, it can be seen that NiziU is 90% similar to TWICE. Both groups have 9 members and follow a sweet and cute style. Many people even call NiziU “the younger version of TWICE”. This makes many TWICE fans dissatisfied because, for them, one TWICE is more than enough.
The third thing is how it works. According to JYP, NiziU will be active mainly in Japan and then expand to Korea as well as other countries. But the problem is, if NiziU wants to conquer the international market, they must first be recognized in Korea and have a solid fandom there to be able to take the next step because Kpop is now the biggest music wave in Asia.
However, due to the focus on promoting in Japan, NiziU’s fandom in Korea is not stable. This means that, compared to pure Kpop groups, NiziU will find it much more difficult to reach the international market.
WayV is NCT’s 4th small group operating in China and the first group of NCT operating outside of Korea, consisting of 7 members who are all Chinese: Kun, Ten, WinWin, Lucas, Hendery, Xiao Jun, and YangYang.
Although they all possess bold charisma and belong to a big company, it is still quite hard for them to achieve high recognition in Korea due to the complicated way of operation.
Even a large number of netizens don’t recognize WayV as a Kpop group since they were set up to conquer the Chinese market and mainly operate in this country.
Just like NiziU, WayV had to face controversies right from their debut as netizens didn’t know how to define them. Though the main market of WayV was announced by SM from the beginning, there were still many questions that have not been answered.
The problem here is that when creating WayV, SM has set the goal of using China as a lever for WayV to enter the international market, along with promoting the group in Korea, proving that SM wants their group to have a certain place in the hearts of the Korean public – who have the ability in deciding the success or failure of a Kpop group.
However, it seems difficult for WayV to gain a huge Korean fanbase like other pure Kpop groups. Thus, the group’s path to international markets is still very far away
3. EXP Edition
EXP Edition comes from the pilot project of Bora Kim – a Korean postgraduate student in the US. EXP Edition debuted with 4 members: Frankie, Šime, Hunter and Koki. All of them come from New York and are completely unfamiliar with Korean culture.
These 4 young men debuted just a few months later after coming to Seoul – something that trainees from local companies take almost a decade.
In April 2017, EXP Edition officially released their product titled “Feel Like This” with the ambition to change the Kpop industry with an unprecedented new lineup.
However, the reality was a bit different, as the group’s debut left a bad impression on many people because they were not trained to a great extent. You can watch their MV “Feel Like This” and make a comment for yourself:
This MV shared many similarities with a typical MV of a mid-range Kpop boy group, but it definitely lacks something. The Korean pronunciation is awkward, the scenes and the props are all relatively limited. And what worse, the characteristic of Kpop MVs, which is the choreography, is obviously not in this MV.
EXP Edition was even criticized by netizens as they thought that the 4 boys only used the Kpop label to attract attention.
The debut of EXP Edition really confused Korean netizens and many claimed that the group was completely not a Kpop one. When considering EXP Edition’s position in the music industry, music expert Scott Interrante said:
“People react negatively to them instinctively because they have a common sense of what is Kpop, what is not, and EXP Edition deliberately challenges it”.
The cold reaction of the public made the EXP Edition’s second product, “Stress”, though well-invested, fail to break down the barriers. As a result, after a period of facing controversies, the group slowly disappeared in the Kpop world.
4. Z-Girls and Z-Boys
Z-Girls and Z-Boys are the two multinational Kpop groups under the Z-Pop Dream project that once caused a stir in the online community because none of the members is Korean though they debuted as a Kpop group.
The appearance of these two Kpop groups led to many mixed opinions surrounding the lineup and their 100% English songs.
The two main questions posed by the public are whether Z-Boys and Z-Girls are considered a true K-pop group and what is the path for these boys and girls to succeed in a strict market like Korea?
Specifically, these two multinational Kpop groups could not appear on Korean music shows due to the “huge barrier”. In an interview, producer Jun Kang – the founder of the Z-Pop Dream project shared: “The two groups really want to be on Korean music programs, but the barrier is too high. I have been working in this industry for 30 years and having many relationships, but still can’t manage to get them into Korean music shows. They tell us they want songs in Korean”.
Korean songs in Korean music programs, this is an unwritten law. Whereas, all the songs of Z-Boys and Z-Girls are performed in English. If they maintain this strategy, chances are the day when these 2 multinational Kpop groups can be on Korean music programs is still very far away.
However, with all the above disadvantages, it seems that non-Korean groups will continue to emerge.
Patty Ahn, a communication professor specializing in Korean pop culture at the University of California (USA), said: “With their flexibility, entertainment companies and groups will always change to adapt. They will experiment, take risks, adjust and try again”.
The evidence is that some music products from NiziU and WayV are well received by the audience.
Specifically, NiziU’s MV “Make You Happy” has reached 100 million views after just 2 months of release. For a foreign girl group that has not yet debuted like NiziU, this is for sure an achievement that not all Kpop groups can have.
As for WayV, not long after the group’s first mini-album, ‘Take Off’, was officially released, WayV topped the iTunes album charts of a total of 30 different countries and regions.
Though it is difficult to predict if these Kpop groups are capable of making a worldwide impact like BTS and BlackPink have done, everything has exceptions. Maybe in the near future, we will enjoy more of their international quality music products
So, what do you think of these non-Korean groups? Which group do you find the most promising in winning the hearts of Korean and international audiences? Feel free to share your thoughts by commenting down below.
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