The halcyon days of Hallyu (the Korean wave) in mainstream media are long over, but the impact South Korean pop culture has had on Japan is still evident. Just look at K-pop outfit Twice, which features three Japanese members and has experienced massive success after debuting late last year.
“I originally liked idol music, but my best friend introduced K-pop to me in junior high school,” Mina Myoui says over email. “We did cover dances together, lots of Girls’ Generation routines.” Fellow Japanese member Momo Hirai was influenced even earlier. “My mom likes the singer Rain; that was the start for me.”
The two, along with Sana Minatozaki, will join six other women when Twice plays its first Japan show at this weekend’s KCon alongside such K-pop heavyweights as 2PM and Block B. The gathering — which celebrates “K-pop, K-food, K-beauty and K-drama”— shows that even though Korean culture no longer monopolizes TV coverage like it did in 2010, it still has a massive following in this country. And it means extra to the three Japanese members of Twice.
The trio share a similar origin story. All three grew up in Kansai, and were in junior high school when groups such as Girls’ Generation and Kara kicked off a K-pop boom in Japan. Minatozaki and Myoui were both spotted by talent scouts from South Korean imprint JYP Entertainment and offered auditions. Momo, meanwhile, uploaded a dance video to the Internet, and was found by the same label.
“When I came to Korea for the first time, I couldn’t understand the language,” Momo says. “The other members had conversations that looked fun, but I couldn’t understand what they said.”
Twice came together on a South Korean reality TV show called “Sixteen,” a talent competition between 16 women vying to be part of JYP’s new girl group. Mina and Sana made it to the final group, while Momo was eliminated halfway through the series — but was selected as the company representative for Twice, in a decision that riled many viewers.
Whatever bad feelings that reality TV swerve generated vanished by the time Twice debuted last October with the fizzy electro-pop single “Like Ooh-Ahh.” The song’s video — featuring the nine members of Twice dancing cheerfully through a zombie apocalypse — broke records for YouTube views by a rookie group.
The group found itself getting attention again in January, albeit for much more politically charged reasons. Taiwan-born member Chou Tzu-yu waved a flag associated with Taiwan during a South Korean TV show performance — the Japanese members waved the Japanese flag — prompting outrage in China, where some accused her of being a Taiwanese independence activist. The kerfuffle even had an effect on this year’s presidential election in Taiwan. Chou has since apologized.
Twice’s upcoming show in Japan will be a far more diplomatic affair. KCon — also held in Los Angeles and New York during the summer — aims to spread soft power, with K-pop playing a central role.
Twice will release its highly anticipated second single later this month, but first the members need to prepare for KCon.
“The other members asked me how we should greet the audience in Japanese,” says Myoui. “So me and the other Japanese members are teaching them.”
KCON 2016 Japan takes place at Makuhari Messe (Halls 5-8) in Chiba on April 9 and 10 (Convention starts at 10 a.m., concerts start at 7 p.m.). A one-day pass costs ¥11,900, a two-day pass costs ¥19,900. For more information, visit www.kconjapan.com.