OPINION: UK-pop? It’s a no from me

Everyone knows Simon Cowell, the man behind the super boyband One Direction and the popular girlband Little Mix, which are both successful in their own terms. 

Now, Cowell has new plans to dominate the world charts. Last week, the producer announced a new spin-off of the popular British TV show “The X Factor,” according to The Sun. The aim of “X Factor: The Band” is to find a rival to K-pop — a UK-pop group. 

The internet has not been happy about it, and frankly, I’m not either.

There is nothing wrong with creating another group to compete in the ever-changing music industry. The whole industry is built on competition, and aspiring singers and dancers should have a chance to fulfill their dreams. 

Yet there are already plenty of opportunities for these aspiring artists to succeed, especially in Europe. The problem with Cowell’s wish to specifically challenge the industry of K-pop, something that has been created by Koreans for Koreans, is his attempt to whitewash a cultural phenomenon.

At this point, everyone has probably heard about K-pop; it’s everywhere. K-pop is the most popular music to emerge from South Korea, and while it has specific characteristics, its musical styles and influences — ranging from pop to rap to R&B — are nothing new. 

Most artists in the K-pop category sound nothing alike. Take BTS and IU: The former orients more towards hip-hop and power-pop, and the latter has a softer indie-pop sound (for both, it’s an understatement to define them merely by these genres). The only thing common between the band and the singer is the language of the music — Korean.

If Cowell’s UK-pop were to follow the footsteps of K-pop, it would just be a mashup of different already existing genres, and the group would be singing in English. That’s just pop. 

Even with British accents, the genre of the group would be pop, and Brits have been making pop for decades (take the Spice Girls, Take That, One Direction). Frankly, Cowell isn’t doing anything ground-breaking.

The exact problem with UK-pop is the language and nationality of the group. UK-pop is going to be British; they’re (hopefully) going to be singing in English entering the UK market. Yet their concept is probably going to be a blatant copy of K-pop — catchy pop with high-energy choreographies.

But because it’ll be British and not “foreign,” it’ll be more widely accepted, praised and hyped for doing something that’s already been done, discrediting the Asian origins of the phenomenon. This is also nothing new in the film industry, such cases being manga-based film Ghost in the Shell and Tilda Swinton’s role in Doctor Strange.

It seems natural for English-speaking acts to go global. Nobody gives a second thought when English-speaking artists chart in non-English speaking countries. The American music industry is the most powerful one, and usually American music dominates the charts everywhere

But when a non-English speaking song charts, it’s shocking and surprising. BTS, for example, are on par with other global artists. They’re Grammy-nominated, are part of the Recording Academy and have won over 100 awards — and that’s not even including ones from 2019. 

Yet almost six years since their debut, they’re still seen as a passing oddity.

Even if these foreign artists successfully break into the mainstream market, it takes them significantly longer and more hard work to prove themselves, and even then, foreign artists seem to be more likely to remain one-hit wonders, according to BBC. European and American validation is a whole other issue, but America will continue to dominate the music industry, and its impact cannot be overlooked. 

The Grammy Awards is the most respected award show in the music industry, and not even some of the most popular artists from America have taken home a Grammy. Charting on Billboard is also seen as a reputable milestone in an artist’s career, and it isn’t easy to get a number one album on the Hot 100.

But when a foreign artist “makes it,” the industry goes into an unnecessary chaos, and everything the foreign artist does is met with an army of angry Americans trying to discredit their achievements.

When people like Cowell try to jump on the bandwagon of a movement like K-pop and make it into something of his own, it disqualifies the achievements of the already existing artists in that movement. It becomes especially problematic when it’s an old white man trying to change something non-white into white — it’s blatant whitewashing. 

And that’s exactly what UK-pop is. “K-pop is ruling the world. This is a show to find a band to launch UK-pop,” is coming straight from Cowell’s own mouth, according to The Straits Times, a daily newspaper in Singapore. Cowell’s attempt to launch UK-pop to replace K-pop takes away the chance to succeed from Korean people, and that’s exactly why UK-pop is a no from me.

Ottilia Nummelin is a Pitzer College exchange student and a Finn from Luxembourg. This is the third TSL article in which she’s mentioned BTS.

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