I use the term “failed” not as a negative term, but as a purely factual one. If BoA’s intention was to simply release an album in the U.S., then she succeeded. But if her intention was to profit from this release with a new, larger fan base, a progressive musical style, and an increased presence in the U.S. entertainment world, then she failed. Those who follow it now know that BoA’s English-language debut album barely registered at 127 on the Billboard 200 and sold around just 5,000 copies, which accounts for roughly .001% of the U.S. population. But considering many individual fans admitted on the BoAjjang forums to buying every copy they could find in stores, I would bet that these 5,000 copies were bought by fewer than 5,000 individuals.
BoA has had a great deal of success in Asia, most notably in Japan and her native South Korea, but as with other Asian artists, success eludes her here in the states. For a great read, check out Frederick Stiehl’s article on Asia Pacific Arts. He does a great job of analyzing different aspects of BoA’s debut and the promotional events leading up to her album release, but I have some issues with it. First, mainstream as a concept is outdated and has been so for a long time. Media are increasingly fragmented and the role of media in socialization is forever changing as a result of new technologies, which leads to the second point. Yes, Asian artists may have an installed fan base (look right here – I live and breathe certain actors, filmmakers, and singers), but many fans also look at an artist’s transition to the West as artistically selling out, abandoning phenomenal scripts or their natural musical talents for mediocre content that panders to this imagined mainstream community. What do most people in the U.S. want? If you ask BoA and SM Entertainment, the answer is club music – which is probably why every song on her new album sounds exactly the same (a charge which could also be levied against a lot of other bands/genres who offer little variety). This reminds me of a great article I read a while back about former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman. He has resided in Japan since 2003 and offers fantastic insight into what makes the Japanese music scene not better, but more interesting and spontaneous when compared to the U.S. music industry.
But Stiehl’s article raises a number of good points as well. In trying to emulate the success of singers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, BoA has simply become a watered down, Asian version of them and the image they represent – blatant sexuality in both image and musical content. True, BoA has not quite gone off the deep end as Spears did, but there’s no denying that she ditched her tradmark ballads and up-tempo dance tunes for a more sexualized package.
There’s very little that visually separates the two. BoA = Britney’s Official Apprentice? There is also the matter of the music itself. Let’s face it, there is virtually no difference from BoA’s English language offerings and the glut of content we see over here year after year, and that perhaps hindered her real chance at musical success. Whereas Britney used the naughty schoolgirl routine to initially hook her victims (most of whom later discovered that her music is actually crap), BoA is betting on success by association. Using producers such as Sean Garrett (Usher and Beyonce), Bloodshy & Avant (Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez), and Brian Kennedy (Rihanna and the notoriously bad driver Brandy), the end result is a heavily vocoded amalgamation of many of the most successful yet artistically bankrupt artists in the music scene today.
To put it simply, BoA offers absolutely nothing new to state-side music. We’ve seen her dance moves time and time again, and her songs (written and produced by very stale, narrow-minded individuals) are indistinguishable from what is and has been available since the dawn of pop music. It’s clear that BoA has her work cut out for her, as do all Asian artists trying to make it in the states. Simply being able to dance and sort of sing are no guarantees for success. But what do I know. I still think the Nicholas Brothers are the greatest dancers of all time. Let’s see BoA do this!!