AKB48 on Seoul's 2010 Asia Song Festival

Asia Song Festival is a special international event held in Seoul that hosts a smorgasbord of artists representing their countries.  It feels like a non-competitive Olympic event of sorts, having different countries send their best pop stars to represent them and have a chance to show what they’re made of.

This year South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia will be participating, presenting their top performers: Rain, KARA and 2AM from South Korea, AKB48 from Japan, Joe Cheng from Taiwan, Jane Zhang from China, FILM from Thailand, and Michael Wong from Malaysia. The event will be held on October 23rd.

Past performers at this event from Japan include Ayumi Hamasaki, Goto Maki, Arashi, Berryz Koubou, Koda Kumi, and Gackt.

I am proud of Korea’s strong talents, and especially look forward to seeing KARA perform, but I feel a bit anxious about AKB48 performing at the Song Festival.  It’s a great honor certainly, but Korea’s reaction towards AKB48 last year at the MNET Asia Music Awards had me feeling uncomfortable.

AKB48 had won an “recommended/honorable mention” at the ceremonies, and performed ‘RIVER’ for the event.  I could tell this wasn’t going to be ideal from the beginning.  AKB’s loud, energetic self-introductions came off as childish compared to the graceful, calm demeanor of the awards show.  The stage the girls had to dance in was a tiny, cramped platform; the girls in the back row were literally having their heels bump into the back wall, the entire group having visible troubles doing the routine.  As they performed, the looks on the surveyors were for the most part, dumbstruck.  While some of the viewers looked on with blank faces, others seemed downright smug.  The reception was less than ideal to say the least.

Just this past month or so, SKE48 had done a live performance of ‘Aozora Kataomoi’ in Korea, with a similarly lukewarm reception, with comments on the internet calling their performance sophomoric in comparison to Korean groups.

What I have a problem with is something I notice all the time living in a relatively large Korean community: quick judgments and a severely critical eye that is given to anything not-korean.  Even among Korean-Americans, I’ve seen ignorant displays of nationalistic pride when it comes to their entertainment; to say that Korea perhaps doesn’t make the best dramas, or the best music would be asking for a downpour of netizen hate.  But I’m not even saying AKB48 would give Korean pop a run for its money.  I’m simply asking for respect instead of a condescending eye.  To at least try to understand where they’re coming from and why they are as popular as they are.

Personally, I think AKB’s latest single ‘Beginner’ would be their best bet at getting a somewhat positive reception, and I hope that’s the single they perform at the upcoming Music Festival.  It’s easily their most accessible song, almost specifically tailored towards those who are not familiar with japanese idol music; but chances are AKB48 will be performing Heavy Rotation instead.

Of course, I wish Korea could see them perform any of their great songs like Namida Surprise or Oogoe Diamond, but they simply won’t respond to it because their sound is not internationally mainstream.  It’s a trend I’ve noticed time and time again.

All my concerns aside, here’s to hoping for a good reception at the 2010 Asia Song Festival.

About Dae Lee

-Dae, aka Mizu -Writer, broadcaster, and podcaster on New School Kaidan

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