Blush: Doing what no Asian girl group has done before


When I first heard of Blush a few weeks ago (late, I know, kill me), honestly I was more intrigued than anything else. Not because of their mixed races, which is amazing too, but because of what they’ve achieved in the US as one, a girl group, and two, an Asian act. The American market has been kind to neither, with girl group casualties coming in the dozens and Asia still scrambling to make it big, but who knew that all it took was a little variety, and an age-old formula.

I had the honor of personally interviewing these five intelligent, articulate, and talented girls, and they gave me not only the answers I wanted to hear, but also answers from a practitioners’ point of view. I keep complaining about acts trying to break the US and how they’re all doing it wrong, but to hear these things from the acts themselves was an experience in itself, and it validated a lot of my theories when it comes to girl groups in general.


First -- Asia has always wanted to enter and succeed in the US market, and I very much understand why. With US domination comes Europe, South America, and basically world domination. That’s why South Korea is spending so much and making such an effort to spread the Hallyu wave to the US. Hallyu already has its foot in the door, however only the Wonder Girls have managed to chart on a major Billboard chart, and to put it simply, they didn’t chart well. SNSD/Girls’ Generation have made progress, what with charting on the World Albums and Heatseakers charts, but those are more of peripheral charts with not as as much gravity as a Dance/Club Play #1.

So when I asked the girls what sets them apart from all these other girl groups, some of which have already failed, Ji Hae (who previously appeared on Superstar K) made clear to me what so many of these other groups lack -- familiarity. While she insists that they’re all Asian, and it’s impossible to deviate from that, she also stressed the fact that they are managed by FarWest Entertainment, an American agency an agency with people who know what they’re doing, and who grew up witnessing the industry. No matter what you say about all these talent agencies being good at what they do, and even if, again, SNSD are signed to an American label, at the end of the day they still answer to a Korean agency that lacks the Western mindset. Sure, preserving your culture is important, but all notions of that were thrown out the window the second you decided to break the industry. If you want to succeed, you have to follow the rules.

But it’s not just the race factor that has proven to be difficult for a lot of other groups -- it’s also, secondly, the simple fact that they’re a girl group. There have been next to no girl group chart-successes in the past few years, especially after Destiny’s Child called it a day. To name all the casualties would be painful because I actually adored a lot of them, but there’s Jada, School Gyrls, Clique Girlz, the list goes on.


Blush was formed reality-show style, ala-Girls Aloud (otherwise known as Britain’s biggest girl group), where each girl was among several dozens scouted throughout Asian via the internet, advertisements and face-to-face auditions. All five girls had past experience in their home countries, what with Angeli participating in "Pinoy Idol",  Ji Hae in "Superstar K", Alisha as a back-up dancer for various artists, Victoria in various theatre and pop productions and Natsuko in dance crews throughout Japan. Victoria explained to me that despite their extensive experience, they were brought to Project Lotus and began a rigorous audition process, which included weekly performances. Within six weeks, thirty girls were reduced to ten, and that ten was halved into the five girls we now know as Blush. (Their documentary airs March 8th on Channel V!) Adapting to each other was not the problem, because although they come from very different backgrounds, they had known each other and worked together for some time before actually being Blush.

What could prove to be the biggest obstacle with being a girl group is attempting to adapt to the US industry after growing up not only abroad, but in completely different industries. However the girls give an age-old girl groups principle that I personally believe is extremely effective -- they’re a family. “We work as a team,” they stated, and they take each day as it comes. Honestly, that’s a very important mindset to have, especially when you’re taking on something like the American industry, and so much more so as a girl group. They not only work well with each other, they also see their management as part of their family, and that’s something that’s vital, but which not a lot of groups have. (i.e., DBSK and their dissatisfaction with SM)

The girls state that their strong point as a girl group is also that they’re also individuals -- “we don’t look alike, we don’t act like… (and it) helps us relate to people”. However, they also stressed that language is something that they put great effort into. Natsuko states that although it was, and is, very difficult to learn a new language, “it’s great to learn something new… language is still very important.”

While Hallyu has only managed to scrape the surface, and girl groups continue to struggle with charting well in the US, Blush have gone in and literally soared to the top. Billboard’s Dance/Club Play chart is a major chart in the US, with a cult following of clubbers and DJs who know what they like, two singles in the top three, one of them #1, is amazing.

And finally, no one ever expected Blush to come out of nowhere and literally skyrocket to the top of a Billboard chart, but they did. So when I asked them what they had in store for the future, honestly, that Grammy and world tour they dreamily talked about is probably not that distant a dream. Reaching out to their fans? Not a problem. They’ve already started on a school tour, and they’ve opened for acts like Justin Beiber, the only logical step is a solo, preferably arena, tour. I always end my interviews with the age-old question, “What do you want to be remembered for in the next 10 or 20 years?” Alisha wants Blush to be a relatable, household-name type group -- “(we want people to) sing our songs, know our dance moves”, and they want to be comparable to Michael Jackson.

Is that far off? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Though their success now means probably success in the future, the industry is very fickle -- one minute they’re chart-toppers, the next they’re a thing of the past. One wrong move, or even one right but unwelcome move, and everything can come crashing down. That’s just the way things go. However, once again, if we’re going on the basis of ambition and sheer talent, there is no reason to deny Blush of what they deserve -- success.

Find Blush online:

1 comments:

  1. One thing that Korean agencies fail to understand is that ever since the internet boom, the American music scene has actually been niche-driven and the US is hardly accepting of US artists "mini me". Rain, Justin Timberlake of Korea; BoA, Britney Spears of Korea...Not gonna work here. Also, Korea's mondset of having a "multitasking" artist is not gonna work here. It's usually seen as "Disney stuff" and not to be taken seriously.

    I think the problem with Korea in entering the US market is not racism but rather because Korean agencies refuse to adapt to the way how Americans deal with music. Americans in general want human like performance, not robotic like in Kpop (esp their synchronization...) and individuality. Kpop also tends to think that they can take America by teaching their stars English and singing in English. But they fail or even refuse to understand the general mentality of Americans regarding music and pushing too much on the "Korean thing". Sure, this formula has worked in Asia, but that would not be the case here in the US.

    Sure many Americans have heard of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, etc but in the end of the day, they go back to their own niches -- indie, rock, jazz, rap, country, etc. This is especially true in smaller cities and rural areas.

    I think non-Americans should just let it come "naturally" as it did with Sukiyaki in the 60's. That song was not even in English and there was still lingering resentment towards Japan and the US was still struggling with race relations during those years.

    The problem with Korea is that, they try too much that they come off as poseurs to many "common" non-Asian Americans. The way they're trying to spread Hallyu is not in its most "natural" state. By large, Korea sees it as "soft power" (maybe with exception to JYP who despise the nationalism that comes with the Hallyu) which is a euphemism for "cultural domination". That being said, despite Korea sending a lot of cultural products overseas, they hardly import from the countries they send their products. Asian non-Korean are usually niche, especially Southeast Asian music.

    Also, the US has become racially sensitive by large. ANY form of discrimination can be held against you. Now, Korea has a problem with the quite common BLACKFACE in their entertainment industry. And no, they can't make ANY excuses in US setting. Ignorance is not an excuse. In the US, it is a STIGMA to be branded or perceived as a racist. You can be sued here by the slightest offense.

    Also, Kpop should look beyond Billboard. Billboard charts actually don't really say that much anymore as opposed to the time of Michael Jackson. Your typical American music listener/lover hardly takes interest in Billboard anymore but more on the CRAFT itself. Again, as I said, this is the age of niche in America.

    I could go on but it's gonna be long

    ReplyDelete

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