Japanese members is no new thing in the K-pop industry, but they have become extremely prevalent among 4th gen Kpop girl groups
Recently, the 4th generation of K-pop girl groups boast a large number of Japanese members, attracting attention. In addition, most of these idols are proficient in the Korean language and boast outstanding looks and skills.
Of course, Japanese members have been included since the first generation of girl groups that began in 1997. For example, there was the Korean-Japanese member Shoo in the 1st gen girl group S.E.S, and the Japanese-born idol Ayumi in the 1.5 gen girl group Sugar, who received a lot of attention outside of her team. In addition, the first Korea-Japan collaboration idol girl group Circle also debuted back in 1998.
The nationality of female idols extended even further in the 2nd generation, with prime examples being Tiffany and Jessica from SNSD, Nicole from Kara, and Sandara Park from 2NE1. The SM girl group f(x), which debuted in the later half of Kpop 2nd gen, also introduced Amber, who is a Taiwanese American, and Victoria, who is Chinese, while JYP girl group MissA included Chinese members Fei and Jia.
In the 3rd generation, this diversity continues with members coming from all sorts of Asian origins. TWICE, for example, include 3 Japanese members Sana, Mina, and Momo, along with Taiwanese member Tzuyu. Meanwhile, BLACKPINK includes Thai member Lisa, CLC had Thai member Sorn and Hong Kong member Elkie, while WJSN (Cosmic Girls) used to introduce 3 Chinese members Xuanyi, Cheng Xiao, and Meiqi. In addition, IZ*ONE, which was regarded to be the 3.5 generation, is a Korea and Japan joint venture.
Now that we are in the 4th generation, Japanese members seem to have become a staple for Kpop girl groups. In the case of “XG”, a rookie girl group based in Korea, all 7 members are from Japan. NiziU, which debuted under JYP Entertainment and so is classified as K-pop despite being Japan-based, also boasts a full Japanese lineup.
As seen from Billlie member Tsuki, whose role model is BoA, an “Asian star” known to be the pioneer of the Hallyu wave, many Japanese teenagers and people in their 20s watched Kpop and dreamt of becoming a K-pop idol. They looked up to famous Kpop groups of the 2nd and 3rd generation like SNSD, KARA, TWICE, BLACKPINK, and more.
The members of XG, who recently released their second single “MASCARA”, also said through their agency XGALX that: “We have been studying Korean since we became trainees 5 years ago, and practiced in Korea as well as in Japan. We want to be recognized and receive a lot of attention and love in Korea, the home of K-pop with strict standards.”
Hwang Seon Hye, a professor at the Information Management Innovation College (iU) and former director of the Japan Center at the Korea Creative Content Agency, recently explained the inclusion of Japanese members in Kpop girl groups, saying: “K-pop has been thoroughly systematized and modularized.”
Japan is the 2nd largest music market in the world, after the United States. Their music industry has also got a long history.
Professor Hwang said, “Korea’s production system is working in the process of accepting and commercializing good things in Japan. BoA was the first breach, and overtime, the know-how improved and accumulated through the successes of other female idols like TWICE, eventually leading to the massive success of NiziU”.
Professor Hwang pointed out, “Unlike dramas and movies, music is a genre that requires a lot of local strategies. Localization, which only uses subtitles in the local language, and music have completely different structures. Translation alone cannot convey the music worldview. As Live is an industry with high profits, the market conditions and business strategies accordingly are sensitive.”
Professor Hwang continued, “Therefore, the launch of a group of Japanese members is the evolution and systematization of K-pop’s global development. I think the relationship between Korea and Japan through human exchanges and industrial exchanges is future-oriented. And the old-style criticism that Korea takes all the profits no longer exists.”
This means that music is a genre that is accompanied by statelessness and mixed charm.
Professor Hwang said, “Drama and film are genres in which the production country’s unique culture, history, social background, and society brings out success through attraction, main storytelling, and humanity’s universality. However, it is not music. Global trends, stateless and mixed charms are required for music. That’s why English lyrics are put in.”
A recent example of the mixed charm of Korea and Japan in K-pop culture is the “Gyaru Peace” sign. “Gyaru” is the Japanese pronunciation of “girl”. It is a fashion culture that was popular in Japan in the 1990s, when tanned skin, dark eye makeup, and blonde hair were symbols. Peace refers to the ‘V pose’ made with our fingers.
“Gyaru Peace” is a pose that turns the V-sign upside down, and it is known to be the pose Gyaru people usually do when taking pictures. Recently, IVE’s Japanese member Rei made it a K-pop culture and a “symbol of the MZ generation”. Recently, “Gyaru Peace” has become extremely popular among other K-pop 4th generation girl groups.
Some point out that it is not desirable in Korean sentiment to accept the culture that was once popular in Japan. However, considering that the K-heart sign with thumb and index finger became popular in Japan and other countries, it is more convincing to interpret this as a cultural hybrid.
Professor Hwang said, “The exchange between Korea and Japan is incredibly fast. Now, when Japanese stars pose for a photo, they often do a finger heart pose. In an era where Korea and Japan can exchange information in real time through SNS, confusion and absorption can be natural.”
He added, “Gyaru Peace can be described as a subculture of Japan, but there is no need to put so much meaning into its cultural activities. People in their teens and 20s struggle with the question ‘why’. They don’t really care about the meaning. They just find it fun and cute, so they copy it.”