CD REVIEW BoA Enters the American Pop Scene

Can the Korean Pop Princess Make It Overseas?



Produced by Soo-Man Lee

SM Entertainment / Arsenal Records

March 17, 2009

Although the three-letter name BoA may not currently strike a chord of familiarity in the US, the R&B pop princess is staking her claims in our neighborhood. The pop star who took Korea by storm and rode on top of the hallyu, the popular culture movement in Korea, recently released her first full-length (and self-titled) English album.

Many had predicted that BoA’s transition to the American entertainment industry would not be easy. Many Asian artists, successful and at the apex of popularity in their native countries, fail to penetrate American culture. Hikaru Utada (most well known in the U.S. for her Final Fantasy theme song) failed with her album although her English was fluent. BoA, who had to learn English over the last two years, does not seem to be a better candidate for success at first glance.

However, her songs are surprisingly catchy and I can already envision some of them being played at clubs or blaring on some dance floor. Granted, she got some help from her producer. Her album does not have a single ballad that follows the stereotypes of other Asian singers. Song after song, the listener finds persistent beats and the incorporation of elements that made every other pop song successful. In “I Did It For Love,” the repetition of “I” and “did” in the phrase “I did it for love” is strikingly similar to Rihanna’s repeated chorus of “ellas” in “Umbrella.” Despite using an old tactic, BoA’s songs are still supremely catchy — almost obnoxiously so — and one cannot help but shuffle towards the dance floor when listening to her music.

Most of her songs contain a simple and fluid melody, conducive for a karaoke setting. “Eat You Up” was not quite as appealing as “I Did It For Love,” partially because there is no single melody. Some of her other songs fall weak though because the formula can only work so often.

Her lyrics are simplistic but that is the nature of most R&B songs. The saving grace of all her songs is the beat. What bothers me the most is how BoA purposely adopts what one may deem an “Asian ghetto accent.” Her domestic image of a sassy but cute girl is stripped aside for a kohl-rimmed Asian Rihanna.

Once a pop princess, always a pop princess. In Korea or America, BoA remains situated in the realm of catchy, perhaps not original, but definitely popular dance music.