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The American Talent Fueling Korean Pop Music’s Fire

K-Pop star Ailee performs in her music video, "Don't Touch Me." YouTube

K-pop as a musical and cultural phenomenon is undeniable. K-pop music videos earn hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, and the appeal is global - even translating into a K-pop-inspired TV show in the U.S. But it may surprise some that the addictive beats and hypnotizing dance numbers of Korean pop music are often borne of American talent.

Jae Chong, for example - recently was profiled by NPR - grew up in America, and moved to Korea in the early ‘90s to start one of the first Korean hip hop groups. His American background proved critical in importing the sound to Korea, and today a surprising number of K-pop artists have US roots.

"There's something about kids that grew up in the States. They have a certain kind of swagger and certain kind of things that you can't just learn," Chong told NPR.

That American-bred “swagger” can be critical in an industry that values stage presence and bravado, and is a rare commodity in a country that’s not known for vibrant individuality.

Artists like Ailee and Teddy Park are also American. Ailee (real name Amy Lee) grew up in New Jersey before moving to Korea in 2010 to pursue her entertainment career. Lee was groomed for fame, part of the K-pop practice that pipelines young stars for the stage. Park was born in Seoul, but spent much of his childhood and high school years in the US before moving back to Korea. Both are signed to K-pop powerhouse YG Entertainment.

Chong is no longer on the stage, instead spending time behind the scenes. He’s produced hits for Asian megastars such as Coco Lee and BoA. His most recent project, Aziiatix, is an echo of Chong’s career: the group is popular in Asia but is composed of Asian American rappers and vocalists.

What is K-pop? 1:25

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