A Brief History of Crossover K-Pop In the States
While millions of fans around the world are captivated by K-pop's alternately experimental, polished and dynamic nature, the United States and the larger English-language market has long been the final frontier for the scene to truly gain traction. BTS' popularity has earned the outfit an ardent following -- and not one but two RIAA-certified Gold singles -- that's propelled them upward on Billboard charts when others failed due to linguistic, societal, and geographic barriers. But that doesn't mean others haven't seen success in America, with some of Korea's biggest names, including PSY and Girls' Generation, paving the path for K-pop to break into the U.S. market.
K-pop's first full-fledged attempt to crack America came via K-pop diva BoA. Her self-titled, English-language album recruited of-the-moment hitmakers like Sean Garrett and Bloodshy & Avant, but didn't connect with pop audiences. (Though it did snatch her three hits on the Dance Club Songs chart). A starring role alongside Derek Hough in Make Your Move: 3D, helmed by the Step Up scriptwriter, also looked promising in breaking BoA, but two-plus years in release delays lessened any potential impact when it finally released stateside in early 2014.
Wonder Girls (2009)
The initial indicator that K-pop could create chart hits came in 2009 via the retro-inspired outfit Wonder Girls. The English version of their single "Nobody" single peaked at No. 76 on the Hot 100 after a tour with the Jonas Brothers and appearances on Wendy Williams and So You Think You Can Dance. A movie on TeenNick premiered in 2012, but a promised English LP never materialized, likely after the AutoTune-heavy Akon collaboration "Like Money" fizzled on radio that summer.
Girls' Generation (2011)
Signing with Interscope Records was a big step for the nine-member girl group, but despite a global release of their single "The Boys" -- recorded in Korean, English and Japanese -- the song failed to make an impact even with primetime TV bookings on Late Show and Live! With Kelly. Many felt the nine-some lost their signature bubbly charm when they switched to a Teddy Riley-helmed hip-hop sound and chanted about how they "get it in."
A viral legend that shot to fame through "Gangnam Style" and its now-iconic horse dance, PSY is the most prominent Korean artist throughout the globe. But though the popularity of his 2012 single landed him at No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart and resulted in multiple television appearances and even ad campaigns, the Korean rapper failed to capture the attention of American audiences for the long run. Follow-up tracks like 2013's "Gentleman," 2014's "Hangover" with Snoop Dogg, and 2016's "Daddy" featuring CL each charted on the Hot 100, but subsequent releases have since fallen off the main U.S. charts.
The leader of the now-disbanded iconic girl group 2NE1, CL made waves in K-pop with her "Baddest Female" persona and in 2014 announced plans to pursue the U.S. market. The Korean star, who grew up around the globe and is fluent in English, signed with Scooter Braun for management and teased an English-language EP and album. CL released several songs aimed at the American market -- including "Doctor Pepper," "Hello Bitches" and "Lifted," the last of which entered the Hot 100 at No. 94 -- and worked with the likes of Skrillex, Diplo and Lil Yachty on a variety of collabs, but no album has surfaced. In 2017, she lent her vocals to the My Little Pony: The Movie soundtrack, but has recently upped appearances in Asia in what appears to be her pivot back to the Korean market. Her international presence is still strong, and she'll be performing at the 2018 Olympics closing ceremony, but it seems like CL's stateside career has yet to reach the heights for which she previously aimed.