Complete with a dance studio, rehearsal stage and a recording space, the JYP Entertainment office in midtown Manhattan -- the only Asian record label currently open in the U.S., according to founder JY Park -- feels more like an artist's training camp than a corporate space. But for Korean pop band The Wonder Girls, it's their home -- literally.
For the past few months, the quintet -- comprised of Sun, Yenny, Sohee, Mimi and Yubin -- has made a home of the top two floors of the building, which is split up into separate dormitories. Chosen through an audition process and placed in the JYP Academy two years ago, the girls have been honing their skills in singing, dancing and acting as well as mastering several languages in preparation of their as-yet-untitled English-language album -- a twelve track set with six of the songs being English versions of their Korean hits, and the rest original English material.
"At first it was really tough," says Sun about singing in English. "But I think that experience made me grow up and I'm so grateful for that. It really helped me grow as an artist and was a great experience for me."
The Wonder Girls are already one of Korea's most popular groups -- according to the Korean Music Content Industry Association (KMCIA), they've sold nearly 7 million digital singles to date. But it is their Motown inspired song, "Nobody," that has sparked U.S. interest.
With a catchy hook, retro-look and the signature "Nobody" dance, the track entered the Hot 100 at no. 76 last month, with over 32,000 physical copies sold and over 30,000 digital downloads to date, according to Nielsen Soundscan. This is in part due to the girls opening for the Jonas Brothers during their summer U.S. tour and recently opening for Jordin Sparks as well as an in-store promotional campaign with the U.S. clothing store Justice.
"It's amazing," says Yenny. "We have been dreaming of this for a long-time, and we have grown up listening to American artists and reading Billboard. We just got here to America, so it's a really great accomplishment for us."
But it wasn't an easily-attained feat, says Park, the Wonder Girls' manager and mentor.
"Watching amazing singers like Hikaru Utada from Japan and Coco Lee from China fail was really hard. I was trying to really analyze why these amazing artists couldn't crack the Billboard charts. I came to the conclusion that they changed their color when they moved into the U.S. They became too similar to American artists. They hired major American producers like Timbaland, and they ended up losing their true color," says Park. "I basically wrote and composed the song 'Nobody,' and we didn't change our image or our color coming into the U.S. We remained true to ourselves."
To create a happy medium and further help crack stateside territories, Park recruited Jonas Group -- a U.S. management company owned by Phil McIntyre and Kevin Jonas, father and co-manager of The Jonas Brothers -- for a joint-management effort.
"Obviously we were incredibly excited by the chart success, but more importantly, we were incredibly encouraged that The Wonder Girls have a home here in America," says McIntyre. "We really view this campaign as the first phase of a multiple phase plan. The next step will now be to actually break the group into the U.S. and to launch a record and establish a brand."
Next, The Wonder Girls are set to go on their first headlining six-city tour, starting January 2010. But for now, the girls are eager to prove they are more than just the latest Asian sensation.
"There are times when we miss Korea and especially all of our fans because we live in New York right now," says Yenny. "But we think it's a great opportunity to be able to perform in front of the American people, so we are enjoying it a lot."