Trend Alert: K-Pop Meets Country Music (and New Jersey)

From country-music sounds to American-born stars, the U.S. is a growing presence on the Korean pop-music scene

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CUBE Entertainment

The K-pop duo 2YOON, Jiyoon and Gayoon

On these shores, Korean pop music—more popularly known as K-Pop—is perhaps most identified with the club-ready electronic beats and slickly tuxedoed look of global phenomenon (and newly crowned “King of YouTube”) PSY. So why is K-Pop duo 2YOON heel-toeing in a barnyard in their new video? Why are they wearing overalls? Why is there a saloon in the background? And more important: what’s with their new K-Pop-goes-country sound?

Country music and K-Pop may seem like strange bedfellows right now, but musicians and producers are betting that this unlikely union could yield the next chart-busting hit. Meaning: we could start hearing American-music influences in one of the world’s most popular and dynamic pop genres.

In a recent interview with TIME, 2YOON’s Gayoon (who, seemingly inspired by Dr. Seuss, shares the stage with a partner named Jiyoon) explains that the duo listened to country music before recording their first album, Harvest Moon, released in January. Artists like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, they thought, seemed to have something that was missing from the music they made as members of the girl group 4minute (from which 2YOON splintered). “Country music is very easy listening and very relaxed,” she says, through a translator, noting that K-pop music and dance are much more regimented.

More than that, both found something fresh in contemporary country music. The sound “was unfamiliar to the Korean audience,” says Gayoon. “We were the first to mix country and K-pop. It was a brand-new genre.” A genre they—as the newly formed 2YOON—hoped would differentiate themselves in an already crowded market. “It was time for us to show a different side,” says Jiyoon.

(MORESeoul Music : The World Is Finally Ready for K-Pop)

And country music isn’t the only American sound heard on K-pop charts these days.

Singer Ailee, featured on a track that recently topped the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100, is a bona fide K-Pop star who just happens to have grown up in New Jersey. The Denver-born artist, now 23, moved to Korea in 2010, after a music executive contacted her after seeing one of her YouTube clips.

“I would listen and watch everything that went on in the K-Pop industry. I always knew that I wanted to be a singer and I knew that I wanted to be in Korea some day,” Ailee says. “It was really hard to go to a different country by yourself and start a career, but everything worked out well.” She’d like to have a career in the country of her birth, but Korea, she says, gives her a chance to get in touch with her roots find a measure of self-awareness.

More non-native Koreans will soon follow in her footsteps, says Ted Kim, CEO of Mnet America, a stateside distributor of “Asian cool.” Diversification is inevitable, he says, the result of producers scouring music from around the world and the growing global strength of K-Pop. “There’s been a lot of focus on how the major labels have been able to design and create these K-pop bands, but you’re seeing single performers gaining in popularity now,” he says. “If you browse through the Top 10 you see much more variety now. It’s not just the Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation and 2NE1 dominating those charts anymore.”

K-pop, he says, offers a pop-music sound that has been largely left behind in the West, along with positive messages and forward-looking fashion, so it will continue to pull a growing variety of sounds under its umbrella. “The idea of what K-pop is continues to change,” he says. “I don’t see how it can’t.”

(MOREPSY Prepares His Next Hit — And It’ll Be in English This Time)

23 comments
okamizoku
okamizoku

Maybe Ailee can top Utada Hikaru's record (succeeding beyond your ancestral homeland) and cross over successfully like Shakira in the U.S.. That would make us all of us Asian-Americans proud.

AgingerrailYup
AgingerrailYup

A pop song with a farm background doesn't make it country music. The fast beats and loud music classifies it as pop music.

Its_JGJHS
Its_JGJHS

2yoon is the best, go back to Brazil 52

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

This article amounts to a lame appeal to TIME Magazine's all-important Korean country/pop/whatever music-fan demographic.

ssimpson205
ssimpson205

By the way, Time should mention that that's NOT Ailee in the Bae Chi Gi video, although she does sing the vocals on the track. The girl in the video is named Jiwon and belongs to the girl group, Spica.

ssimpson205
ssimpson205

If Cube was smart, they would just let 2YOON and HyunA do their own thing and keep cranking out hit songs.

JudeTantoy
JudeTantoy like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm so proud of 2YOON! I really love this group because of their Uniqueness. 4Minute is known as "Sexy & Charismatic" girl group but they tried something new to kpop! They're so versatile. They can pull-off any concept! 2YOON and 4Minute fighting! 


Come back to Philippines! ^o^ 

amanda_ying
amanda_ying

2YOON is really success. They got the attention from the public and also let people know more about them and 4minute. Can't wait for their comeback next time. 2YOON and 4minute fighting!

PatríciaSanchez
PatríciaSanchez

2YOON my queens! Saranghae and fighting ♥ ~  


4Minute back to BRAZIL, pleeease!! >.<#

VicScordia
VicScordia like.author.displayName 1 Like

2YOON deserves all the respect and success in the world! Unique music and unique style in k-pop, as does 4Minute. The only One!

Greetings from Brazil!

Yunhaa
Yunhaa like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I'm proud of them, they came back with something original and fresh, and not that shiny glitter and electro pop we've been seeing in Kpop lately. 

1Guest
1Guest

also I've got nothing against 2YOON but 24/7 reminds me a little of B.A.P's Warrior....

min_hk
min_hk like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

2yoon did really great this time, even they didn't win any awards! But it's okay.... they tried new music in kpop industry <3

HujanLebat
HujanLebat

2YOON Daebakk! Yes! They are UNIQUE 4Minute's Sub Unit!!