When I was twelve-years-old, the championship for my favorite song and video belonged to one-hit rap wonder Kwame’s song “Ownlee Eue.” The guy had style, could rap and also had some of the illest dancers and tightest beats to dance to like, ever. Thus, nearly 25 years later, it should be patently obvious why I (and you, too) should be very much of the belief that South Korean artist G-Dragon is the next great American pop superstar.
If rap is going to be an intrinsic part of the future of EDM in the United States – and a combination of rap and EDM are at the vanguard of our idea of what constitutes the best of popular music – then it stands to reason that G-Dragon may soon become the most dominant star in American mainstream music. In what may be a glimpse of the future, Coup D’Etat, G-Dragon’s latest album features producers Diplo, Baauer, and Boys Noize, as well as rapper Missy Elliott. Given these factors, as well as G-Dragon’s flawless execution to date, all signs point to this album being where rap and dance connect for perfect synergy.
How does a young man who lives 6,000 miles away from the contiguous United States put together an album that on the surface extols the virtues of what is perfect about rap and dance as the best pop music in this country for the current era? Psy. Answering the mega-successful “Gangnam Style” superstar is a simpler fix than contemplating its contributing factors.
Foremost, while Americans may believe themselves to be post-racial, many are certainly not post-ignorant in understanding how the digital era has unified the globe across racial, cultural and intellectual lines. Both Psy and the possibly ascendant G-Dragon are signed to powerful Korean label YG Entertainment. Started by then-Korean pop star Yang Hyun-suk in 1998, the label has grown exponentially, seemingly following a model similar to legendary New Orleans-based rap imprint Cash Money Records. Add in the fact that Korean pop music has a very pop-driven and progressive dance-friendly flair, and the space exists for the powerful style that will more-than-likely affect Billboard‘s American charts sooner rather than later.
If studying the rise of G-Dragon and wanting to understand how, by American terms, he’s uniquely equipped to be a star, consider the idea that G-Dragon is the Korean equivalent of Lil Wayne meets Justin Timberlake meets Lady Gaga. Not unlike Lil Wayne being featured on tracks as early as the age of 13, G-Dragon was signed to YG Entertainment as a “trainee” at the age of 12. As a member of successful boy band BIGBANG, he reached the top of the Korean pop charts, and like JT has been successfully spun away from the band as a solo act. Even further, his interest in fashion and design along with a bizarre yet captivating androgynous look makes him an artist with a unique visual appeal, similar to Lady Gaga. Blend that concoction and amplify it with sounds like the trap-as-EDM of his latest single “Coup D’Etat,” and you have something certainly worth time and consideration.
Psy’s role as a legendary Korean pop star who kicked open all of the doors in America is important as well. Prior to signing with YG Entertainment in 2010, Psy already had released four platinum-selling albums in Korea. By 2012, that number had reached six, “Gangnam Style” from Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1 being his most popular song of his career. YG aligning the red-hot Psy with Scooter Braun (of managing Justin Bieber fame) to assist with breaking him in America was an incredibly successful move. Somewhere between the portly rapper fulfilling every Asian stereotype that Americans had forgotten they’d loved since the era of Jackie Chan, a hook sung in English, a choreographed dance, and a video with infinite re-watch value, both Psy and “Gangnam Style” opened doors. In G-Dragon expanding the idea of what America has already come to expect from K-Pop artists, he possibly has more sustainable superstar potential than his South Korean label-mate.
Insofar as his inspirations, G-Dragon counts the Wu-Tang Clan as arguably the most significant. Just as progressive EDM artists in America who have embraced rap to success have been fans of the genre long before ever becoming involved as artists, the same goes for their South Korean counterparts. A new age pure pop artist whose first inclination in hearing a pop track is how to handle it more like the ODB than Mariah Carey is intriguing. Add to this the fact that he also comes into the situation from a position of already being globally successful, there’s a level of calm instead of thirst that informs their performance as well. Even though the artist may not be speaking English as a first language, confidence and charisma are physical traits that know no barriers in communication.
When I was twelve-years-old, a rapper in polka dot pantsuits with a blond Gumby haircut reinvented the way that I imagined rap music. Now, similarly, a blonde-haired South Korean with a lot more happening on the fashion tip than big, bold circles could potentially run circles around an American hip-hop culture still slow to embrace EDM. Are these the #newrules that Jay Z was talking about? If so, I am all for them.