Why is it so hard for Asian musicians to break in the United States? Western acts are successful in Asia, but Asian acts aren’t highly recognised in the west. Among many well known barriers such as language, there seems to be a few implicit but important factors explaining this.
Firstly if we take a closer look to which Asian music started becoming popular in the west, or at least which Asian music had the highest chance of becoming popular, we realize that Japanese acts came first. Interestingly enough, western people connect fairly easily with the image of a Japanese act. Why is that so? Mangas have certainly been popular all over the world for a while now, and this could be a reason why people have such a strong stereotyped portrait of the Japanese. We know that the image of an artist is very important for success. This strong stereotyped portrait could be one factor explaining why fans felt that Japanese acts were new and interesting but somehow familiar at the same time.
Secondly, it’s important to take into account that the USA has been the economical leader over the past 50 years. Moreover, they have also been the leaders for the entertainment industry, especially in music and in cinematography. This implies that the USA (UK also) has been establishing the trend for pop music over the past years. This I believe is one of the main reasons why worldwide pop acts are usually Americans or British. It’s not surprising that what we see in the music industry is also happening in the film industry. As Asian musicians are having trouble breaking in western countries, Asian actors too are having a difficult time reaching top success in western movies. Most of the time, Asian actors that are popular are successful for the image instead of their personality. The most successful Asian actors in the west are usually martial art fighters, not comedians. Again, it’s image instead of personality.
From this point of view, the future is going to be very interesting with the uprise of China. The latter being the new economical leader, and soon to be the new entertainment leader, are the Chinese going to be the new worldwide pop acts? On the long term, is it going to become a lot easier for Chinese, and generally speaking Asian acts, to break in western countries? I do think that Americans and Europeans are still going to have a strong position in Asian countries do to their strong historical presence in music, but also do to a large market being available.