Its amazing how often K-Pop fans utter the words, K-Pop is truly international. Psys Gangnam Style goes viral, 2NE1 collaborates with will.iam, SNSD appears on David Letterman, and Billboard mentions K-Pop in a sentence of a 2,000 word editorialall of this is supposed to make K-Pop truly international. When K-Pop music travels out of its own sphere fans go ballistic with anticipation that this time, its going to break into the Western market. Theres no combating fans bubbling excitement when theres potential for K-Pop artists to make it big overseas.
But what about when a Westerner tries to make it big in K-Pop? More specifically a white Westerner? To what extent is K-Pop truly international, when its the other way around?
The K-Pop fandom recently got a precursor to that answer when Detroit native David Lehre, a.k.a. Chad Future, dropped his solo debut MV, Hello. Mostly in English but speckled with some Korean, the project is K-Pops first serious introduction to a white solo artist.
But much, if not most, of the response to Chad Futures K-Pop foray has been negative. And thats putting it nicely. Its counter-intuitive to think that K-Pop fans would have such averse reactions to a white Americans K-Pop debut; isnt he the epitome of K-Pop becoming truly international? But before we explore why Chad Future is getting a bad rap, lets look at the release of the Hello MV and the teasers and projects leading up to it.
Chad Future isnt a rookie to this whole being a music artist thing. In 2011, he was the leader of boy band Heart2Heart, which got its influence from K-Pop and was manned by former NSync member Lance Bass. Their debut single Facebook Official was a travesty of epic proportions. The choreography was lame, the styling was badly reminiscent of 90s boy bands, and the song was way too corny to take seriously. Which is probably why Lance Bass was quick to call it a parody after having previously calling it a serious effort.
Clearly Chad Future has ditched the boy band concept in favor of a solo endeavor. He released the first teaser for Hello earlier this month. The teaser has very little to do with the actual song, which, when you think about it, is such a troll-y K-Pop thing to do. So at least hes got that part right. The teaser and the one after that were bold statements that he was going to take on Pop, rapping, and Korean lyrics.
But can he do them all well? Judging by the response to the actual video, the answer to that has been mixed.
Hello starts off the same way Heart2Hearts Facebook Official does. With Chad dropping out of the sky and into a white room. I seriously dont understand why hed want to remind us of Facebook Official, which is probably the worst song on the planet. Youd think hed want us to forget about that. No?
Theres hot girls pulling at him, a shit load of expensive CGI, excessive closeups of his studded white jacket, a terrible rap, and one really, really bad hairstyle. Omo! Again, Chad has gotten those parts of K-Pop perfectly! One thing he doesnt get perfectly though, is Korean. Some of the verses are in Korean as well as the entire hook. But his Korean is stilted and blatantly bad. I want to give him brownie points for at least attempting, but I wont.
But what about Korean artists who sing in terrible English? you ask. If they can be bad at English, shouldnt Chad get a pass on Korean?
No. Its not comparable because Chad Future is performing within a K-Pop framework. K-Pop is Korean Pop, and hes going to have to work infinitely more on his Korean. He cant just expect to show off some fancy music video and hope that everyone will become so distracted by the glitz that theyll forget that his Korean sucks. K-Pop artists, however, have the luxury of getting away with terrible English because when all is said and done, they are Korean-language pop artists (and even then, I still criticize them, so there). But other than bad Korean skills, which the guy can work on and get better at, why have K-Pop fans taken Chad Futures debut so badly?
Is it because hes white? Probably.
But its also more than that. First off, even though Chad Future spent $100,000 on the MV (yes, his PR team boasted about the amount spent on the MV), it feels like a tacky parody. Its still got the whole Facebook Official parody vibe going on. Blame it on the bad lip synching, the girls sliding their hands up and down his cheetah print Illegal t-shirt, his dumb sunglasses in the dark, and how terribly serious hes taking himself. Is it a parody? Although the YouTube comments and other comments over the Web are asking that same question, Im starting to think that the answer to that doesnt matter. What matters is that if people are debating about whether or not your video is a parody then you should probably rethink your strategy.
But I actually dont think its a parody of K-Pop. Judging by his interviews, Chad Future genuinely loves K-Pop and has for a very long time. Watch him as he nerdily fan boys over his favorite K-Pop artists as he interviews them for Billboard Korea at last years K-Pop Masters:
However, there is an issue with his presentation in his first music video. Chad comes off as very cocky in his videos. If you watched how obnoxious he is in Hello, you wouldnt realize what a nice guy he actually is in real life. Maybe his image has something to do with him attempting to actively create what hes branded American K-Pop.
American Korean Pop? Uh, what?
Theres an entire discussion in there about what makes K-Pop, K-Pop. Is it language? Presentation? Actually being Korean? It can be off-putting to some people when some white guy comes into something thats already been established, recreates it, and deems it his (ah, where have we heard that story before?) The gall to declare that hes creating a new brand of K-Pop is almost offensive. But hes got the money and the time to do it, so he does. Its harsh and unrealistic to purport that Chads goal is to take over K-Pop. But its understandable why some fans feel protective over the genre. And they are justified in their criticism.
Ive probably listened to Hello a hundred times in order to get a feel for it. The song is terrible but the hook, like a disease, is catchy. And I could say the same thing for a lot of K-Pop music. The more I think about what Chad Future could mean for the industry, the closer I am to deciding that with all the bad, he can also bring a lot of good. Even his lyrics are full of hope and ambition:
Everybodys gonna look at you
Hes a representation of the fact that there is a huge international fan base who loves K-Pop and fully supports it. While hes gotten a lot of criticism hes also gotten a lot of praise from international fans who can live vicariously through his journey and who genuinely think that his music is good. His supporters have asked the valid question, Would people accept his music if it were coming from a Korean artist? We cant really know the answer to that but perhaps he can be part of a significant shift that can make K-Pop truly international.
What are your thoughts on Chad Future and his debut? Is this cultural appropriation at its finest or is he making a statement that K-Pop is bigger than Korea?
(ChadFuture, VevoMusicUploads, VendettaWorldwide)