For the past 20 years or more, Japan has successfully sold its superinfectious brand of pop music in other Asian markets. Now the South Koreans want to follow suit. The vocalist Rain among the TIME 100 in 2006 remains the international face of K-pop, but a host of other artists are eager to follow in his wake. Their appeal to Western audiences remains niche Rain himself has struggled to make an impression in the U.S., despite a ton of MTV appearances and onstage backup from the likes of Omarion and Diddy. That leaves Japan as the prime foreign market for the talented, preening young acts that South Korea produces by the score.
The most promising of these is Big Bang, a domestically successful five-man hip-hop group formed through a Making the Band style reality show in 2006. A Japanese-language mini-album (With U) enjoyed some success in 2008. Big Bang now hope their debut full-length Japanese-language release having entered Japan's charts at No. 3 will deliver the coup de grace. The good looks of the creators certainly won't harm the disc's chances.
A self-titled affair, Bigbang serves up fresh tracks and reworkings of the group's old Korean singles. The tasty production, dance-pop beats, fluid raps and great vocal harmonies comprise an expertly fashioned example of globalized R&B. Tracks like "My Heaven" (a collaboration with top Japanese DJ Daishi Dance) and "Love Club" have plenty of dance-floor appeal. As for swoon factor, well, their track "Let Me Hear Your Voice" has been selected as the theme for the new Tokyo Broadcasting System romantic comedy Ohitorisama. If your work is popping up on Friday-night prime-time drama, total domination can't be that far behind.