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[MUSIC] Tata Young (& Others) Struggle to Find Cross Cultural Success in U.S.

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  • madchinaman
    Asian Pop Stars Struggle To Find Cross-Cultural Groove By CHRISTOPHER LAWTON Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL March 31, 2005; Page B1
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2005
      Asian Pop Stars Struggle
      To Find Cross-Cultural Groove
      Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
      March 31, 2005; Page B1


      Tata Young, one of Thailand's leading pop singers, is hoping to find
      success beyond Asian countries.


      TOKYO -- Lights flashed wildly as young fans crowded a department-
      store entrance in this city's neon-lit Shibuya district to see Thai
      singing sensation Tata Young perform. "What's up, Japan?" Ms. Young
      shouted, in English, to the Japanese crowd.

      Then, the long-haired diva, crammed into a shiny purple dress, let
      loose with "Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy," the lead track of her new
      English-language album, belting out: "Can't change the way I am,
      sexy, naughty, bitchy me."

      Moriya Wataru, a stylish 23-year-old hairdresser, was in the crowd,
      sporting white loafers, two belts and sunglasses. Clutching a copy
      of Ms. Young's new CD, he pronounced the music "cool," saying that
      he'd already seen her in TV commercials. "I thought she could make
      it here in Japan."

      Record companies are grooming a growing number of multilingual Asian
      pop artists for global stardom. The 24-year-old Ms. Young has been
      signed by Sony BMG, a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann
      AG. Other acts vying for the spotlight include an Asian-styled
      version of the Spice Girls called Baby Vox, Japanese star Hikaru
      Utada and the Britney Spears-esque BoA of South Korea.

      Some are trying to build a following across Asia, and especially in
      China. But the dream for most is to break into the U.S. and other
      Western markets.

      Yet conquering the U.S. pop charts won't be easy. British and
      Canadian acts have crossed over by the dozen, but few if any Asians
      have made their mark with Western audiences. One reason: There often
      hasn't been much to differentiate Asian artists from their non-Asian
      pop competitors, aside from ethnicity.

      Hong Kong-born diva CoCo Lee's first effort to bust onto the
      American scene with the English-language album "Just No Other Way,"
      for example, fizzled in 2000, despite a serious marketing push by
      Sony BMG. "Maybe the songs weren't strong enough," says Richard
      Denekamp, president of Sony BMG's Asia operations.

      In 2003, Asia's music market was valued at $5.8 billion, behind
      Europe at $11.8 billion and North America at $12.5 billion,
      according to the International Federation of the Phonographic
      Industry, which represents the recording industry world-wide. The
      vast majority of Asia's music sales are in Japan. Excluding that
      country, Asian sales totaled just $900 million (many CDs are pirated
      in Asia, particularly in China). As a result, artists like Baby Vox
      hedge their cross-cultural bets. The five Korean performers are
      studying Mandarin and Japanese in addition to English.

      But music promoters insist it is only a matter of time before an
      Asian artist or band will break big in the West. For one thing,
      their music is getting better and the stars more sophisticated, as
      the international producers, video directors and others who help
      create pop acts in the West direct their talents to the East. Asian
      culture also is gaining more influence globally. And marketers are
      getting savvier about cutting unusual cross-cultural deals.

      The South Korean promoter of Baby Vox, for instance, says it is
      close to signing a deal with California-based Bungalo Records to
      help push the group's new album, which comes in both Korean- and
      English-language versions.

      Under the plan, Bungalo, which is distributed by Vivendi Universal
      SA, would agree to promote Baby Vox in the U.S. DR International,
      Baby Vox's label, in turn would push Bungalo's Western artists in
      Asian markets such as China, where it has more experience.

      Real success, of course, first relies on having the right beats. To
      give her music more of a Western style, Ms. Young, Thailand's
      reigning queen of pop, has spent the past two years working with
      producers in Sweden -- long a hotbed of pop music production. After
      arriving in the country with just one song, producers there
      experimented with drums, synthesizers and guitars to create a new
      style for her.

      She released her first English-language album, "I Believe," in
      Southeast Asia in February 2004. Since then, in addition to Japan,
      she has toured Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and China, where she
      recently wrapped shooting on a soft-drink commercial for PepsiCo
      Inc. In India, Ms. Young's music is featured in the soundtrack of a
      Bollywood action movie.

      Now, Ms. Young is looking beyond Asia. Mr. Denekamp of Sony BMG Asia
      says his company's Australian and German units expressed interest
      in "I Believe" when he pitched it around the company's global
      operations. Ms. Young's international manager, Doug Banker of McGhee
      Entertainment in Los Angeles, says Australia would be a "big win"
      for the pop diva, since it would mark her entry to the Western
      market. But even he admits it is a tentative first step.

      Mr. Denekamp has given the U.S. market a go, too. "I have to
      convince my bosses and my colleagues in the U.S. that she is worth
      giving a try," he says. But after his pitch -- he showed off the
      artist's music, videos and photos -- the American executives are
      still "wavering," he says. "Getting a chance and breaking in the
      U.S. is everybody's dream. It is probably at the same time the most
      difficult thing to achieve, because the competition is enormous,"
      Mr. Denekamp says.

      And the challenges are growing, in part because more and more music
      sales are coming from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other middle-of-the-
      road mass retailers whose customers tend to prefer music that is
      made in the U.S.A. "It's been very rare that anything that isn't
      American, Canadian or from the U.K. sells a lot of records, or has
      any sort of lasting career," says Ron Shapiro, president of Ron
      Shapiro Management & Consulting LLC and a former co-president of
      Atlantic Records.

      On top of that, Asian stars lack something that has helped a growing
      number of Latin acts cross over: a large and supportive ethnic fan
      base. The U.S. Asian-American community, while large and growing,
      still isn't big enough to propel Asian artists to mass appeal.

      One Asian record label is trying to buck the conventional wisdom
      that cracking the U.S. market is essential to achieving global fame.
      Lee Soo Man, president of South Korea's S.M. Entertainment, says his
      goal is to see his superstar teen idol BoA compete with U.S. music
      stars. But the music executive says he can achieve that goal if BoA
      conquers Japan and China. BoA has already scored a chart-topping hit
      in Japan, a first for any Korean pop star.

      "Eventually the Asian market will get bigger than the world-
      dominating Hollywood market," Mr. Lee says. He predicts that
      following the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese music
      market will grow to be one of the top-five markets.

      But data from the IFPI indicate that China has a long way to go. The
      Chinese music market ranked seventh in volume at 115.7 million units
      in 2003 and 19th in value at $198 million. By comparison, the United
      States ranked first, selling 789.5 million units for a total value
      of $11.85 billion.

      Even Mr. Denekamp is skeptical. "I hope it is going to happen, but
      2008 seems a little early," he says.
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