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K-pop: from production line to Asian superstars
K-pop's catchy songs, dance moves and policy of inclusiveness are making stars out of performers from right across the region, as James Oaten reports from Seoul.

For Korean Pop, or K-Pop,2012 has been a breakout year.

'Gangnam Style', with its smart satire and distinctive horse dance has turned the North Asian nation's pop music into a global phenomenon.

It's not just the catchy choruses or polished dance moves that have made the Motown of Asia the region's number one.

It's also its policy of inclusiveness - making stars out of performers from right across the region.

James Oaten reports from Seoul.
Transcript
(Clip from Miss A's 'Bad Girl, Good Girl' video plays)

MISS A (lyric from 'Bad Girl, Good Girl'): This is for all the independent ladies.

(Clip ends)

JAMES OATEN, REPORTER: They're one of Korea's biggest girl bands with their debut hit 'Good Girl, Bad Girl' going to the top of the chart charts two years ago. Now Miss A is on tour again and building to their second album.

But Fei and Jia, two of the stars of the group, are modest about their celebrity status.

JIA, MISS A (translation): Fei and I never thought of being celebrities before. It was accidental. We probably dreamt about fame and superstar status when we were young.

JAMES OATEN: But fame is what the stars of Miss A have found in music mad Korea. Though it was no accident. These two singers were hand picked not from Korea but from China.

FEI, MISS A (Translation): Actually both of us left home at a very early age. She went to Beijing for school and we were both away from our parents. But the experience of living in Korea was still not the same as living away from parents back home. It's a new country after all. Everything seems quite different so between us we rely on each other like family.

(Miss A 'Touch' video plays)

JAMES OATEN: Fei and Jia were identified by scout agencies and went through the well renowned trainee process. Spending several years under the care of agency JYP to hone their singing and dancing skills.

KIM TAE-HOON, MUSIC CRITIC (translation): In Korea, we have a unique system. Talented young people spend their time as trainees. It lasts three years in a short term and seven or eight years in a long term.

(Wonder Girls video clip plays)

JAMES OATEN: It's a production line that has served K-Pop well and helped Korean music become the biggest brand in Asia.

(Footage from K-Pop Talent Hunt plays)

For many young aspirants the long road starts here. We join a talent show, 'K-Pop Star Hunt', in Bangkok, as they film their second season.

The show's a testament to Korean music's international popularity. Based in Hong Kong, the show tours eight Asian nations giving contestants the chance to travel to Korea and prove their worth.

EDDY TAN, KPSH JUDGE: People would realise that the K-Pop culture is not just for Koreans to influence the world but we are able to put all the cultures together. And that's the whole purpose about this project.

(Footage from 'Countdown' plays)

JAMES OATEN: Attracting talent from around Asia is a fairly recent strategy, designed in part to secure a fan base in the singer's home country. Singing choruses in English also broadens the appeal.

But now there's a new approach that's taking the extra step to locking K-Pop's Asian influence.

(Exo K video clip plays)

Meet Exo K, a boy band not unlike many other Korean pop groups.
(Exo M video video clip plays beside Exo K video clip)

Now meet Exo M a carbon copy of Exo K, but with one major difference, they sing in Mandarin.

It's an approach that has also been adopted by other bands, taking the commercialisation of music to a new high or low, depending on your point of view.

But it also makes K-Pop less Korean and more global, something Asia's other big music industry, Japan's J-Pop, failed to do.

KIM TAE-HOON(translation): In Asia where neighbouring countries that used to be enemies, there's still a lot of unfriendly feelings and emotions. Therefore, in order to have success in Asian countries, K-Pop needs to soften these unfriendly emotions. The bands need members from various countries to advance into foreign markets.

JAMES OATEN: Here in the heartland of Seoul, K-Pop is king, posters of music stars selling a raft of products line the streets. But as popular as it's become, Korea's music industry is only the 11th biggest the world.

K-Pop masterminds want to change that and are devising strategies to crack the toughest market of them all - the United States.

('Gangnam Style video plays)

'Gangnam Style' is the biggest Korean pop phenomenon, finding massive popularity in the US and more than 800 million YouTube hits.

But it's a mistake to sensation as classic K-Pop. 'Gangnam Style' fame because it's one big joke with a funny dance to match. Whereas Korean pop is usually well groomed, with artists, dance routines and lyrics perfected. It leaves many asking the question - is uniqueness the key to success in the US?

KIM TAE-HOON(translation): I think a new style of music should created by melting the country's flavour and characters into it: I don't think music should conform unconditionally to the cultures of other countries.

(Footage from 'Countdown' plays)

JAMES OATEN: The United States is renowned as an insular market, meaning K-Pop may just have to be consistent with its Asian fan base. But complacency is not an approach accepted in a fiercely competitive world of K-Pop.

FEI: Despite the popularity and good reviews we're still under lots of pressure since we have to constantly come up with better ideas for the next album and also the one following that.

(Miss A video clip plays)

JAMES OATEN: Evolution may be the only means of survival in the world of K-Pop.
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