Breaking America: Why do Global Artists Want a Piece of the American Pie and What are the Repercussions?

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Susan Soonkyu Lee, Choi Soo-young, Im Yoona, Kim Hyo-yeon, Seo Ju-hyun, Stephanie Young Hwang, Kim Tae-yeon, and Kwon Yuri of Girls’ Generation perform at the 2015 K-Pop Festival at Prudential Center on Aug. 8, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.

When it comes to the United States’ global dominance, some call it cultural imperialism, while others may call it cultural globalization. Pop music culture is no different with its imperial power beyond American borders.

I remember reading an article about this British girl band I enjoyed listening to. The girl band’s name is Little Mix, similar to America’s girl band Fifth Harmony, they had started out in X-Factor before making it big. The article talked about the group going on tour with pop star Ariana Grande. There was a statement in particular that caught my eye from the article that said, “On December 15, Little Mix posted a video about their 2017 goals as a band and focused specifically on ‘breaking America.’” 2017, may seem like old news, but the concept of “breaking America” is still a relevant trend among foreign artists.

According to academic studies, America is a supreme leader of modern music. That being from the perspective of consistent output of new sounds and genres. This has been proven in places like Ireland, that give air time for singles imported from America. Other countries even feature and use what are considered ‘American’ genres, as opposed to genres of their own, in order to attain a similar status.

Other sources, like PBS, vouch for this title and label America as the birthplace for the most influential music. The U.S. is even considered #4 when it comes to cultural influence in the 2019 data collection, according to USNews

Why does all of this matter? This cultural, global dominance affects the value of those trying to make their art from wherever they are in the world; this art being music. 

In pop culture and the culture industry, “culture” is a buzz word thrown around by everyone. We are allowed to share culture. The world today is more connected than ever, it is almost impossible to avoid overlap. However, the pitfall lies in the complexities overlooked from this sharing and intermixing. With some having a title of superiority, other countries may feel subordinate.

According to a study done at NYU, at times the subordinate accommodates dominant imposing forces in order to be accepted as citizens. In this process, transnational forces reshape institutions and policies toward the adoption of concepts and practices in order to model after the forces. From this, one can see that many goods have an American face, even if they are produced outside of the U.S.

What does that mean for music and musicians? For those outside the U.S., their music may not seem as valued because they’re unheard of or stay within their communities. Some are fixated on charting and making money that root from the United States’ culture of possessive individualism and consumerism. This falls under the concept that there is equal opportunity for everyone to succeed if they work hard enough. This is seen in the data looking at artists who have “made it.”

According to Priceonomics, artists who make it big in America and internationally have top hits in the U.S. and other countries compared to those who are only big internationally; their top hits were were only charting in other countries. This source speculated America has a taste for a hiphop beat since those type of songs were more listened to.

Musicians shouldn’t have to worry about charts or appeasing their listeners for the sake of business. Restricting art in this way can block the natural, creative flow and connection artists have with their listeners. The success of an artist can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to mean going mainstream. Music is universal. It’s supposed to be for everyone and if it isn’t what’s the point? Is it “real music” (an authentic expression of truth)?

For the artists’ that are able to “break America”, the influence and love are popularized on the radio airwaves and streaming services despite the privatization and depravity of “realness.” According to Medium, generally there are patterns in the migrating music ports: Latin music comes from the south, or Florida, European music comes from the coasts, and African from the northeast.

Some can argue these influences are being used as money makers for appealing to American listeners. With the rise in Latin music and Korean pop music, one can see the increasing dollar signs relating to the increase of bilingual hit songs. And while this is true to some extent, there are also some who would disagree because of the costly gamble on if an artist would even be popular in the U.S.

American face or not, in the end, these musicians are creating the same thing. The true success of their expression speaks volumes when the artist is free of limitations. Who is to say which music is better than another? It’s all a matter of perspective. The question then changes to, “should artists really be focusing on charting?” Also, “should they focus on their own local communities?”

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