H.O.T. - Candy - white/pink hats and gloves, long multi-colored hair (1996)
2NE1 - 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I Am the Best) (2011)
Psy - Gangnam Style (2012)
As 2NE1 took the stage, I found myself immediately evaluating their wardrobe - combinations of red-black-gold fabric and jewelry. The outfits seemed rather toned down compared to the more multi-colored and funky ensembles I had seen them wear at other performances throughout Asia. When I saw that the setting for the performance was intimate, with audience members close to the stage, I screamed in my head, “No! The stage is too small. They need a bigger stage that shows how they perform at concerts and other awards shows outside the US!” The performance was probably just fine, as was 2NE1’s wardrobe, but I felt the way a parent might feel, worrying about every detail of their child’s presentation. I wanted them to wow the audience, but the voting result spoke for itself. The girls performed their singles, Fire, Can’t Nobody, Lonely, and 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I Am The Best). On November 10, 2011, 2NE1 was voted MTV Iggy’s “The Best New Band in the World” by means of an online vote. A month later the group performed in NYC and MTV’s first Asian American VJ, SuChin Pak, co-hosted the show.
During 2NE1’s performance the commercial breaks had the word 음악 (music) displayed on the screen. I thought to myself, “Wow” - not the English “wow” but the Korean “우와!” I didn’t see too much “음악” featured on television as a kid growing up in northern New Jersey. Instead I saw words like “música” on Telemundo while channel surfing, or Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello on PBS. There was Korean news on channel 63 or 64 after a Chinese news program around 9:30pm EST that may have mentioned 음악, but this was the first time I was seeing the word in my face up front and center on MTV in the US. The only other times I would watch K-pop were recordings of shows like Show Music Tank and Inkigayo on VHS rented from the local Korean markets. K-pop was reserved for home viewing and discussions among my Korean friends - definitely not for “the (American) public”.