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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Korean Superstar, Rain, Who Smiles & Says, 'I'm Lonely'

Rain, a 23-year-old Korean pop singer who is a superstar in Asia, is out to conquer the United States next. It won't be easy.

His first step was two sold-out shows at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, last night and Thursday night. The audience on Thursday was about 95 percent Asian, at least 90 percent female and always ready to scream. Like Rain, they were following the drill of a Michael Jackson concert from the early 1990's: songs that switched between stark beats and sweet choruses, angular group dances and tough-guy preening that gave way to professions of love.

Slender and wiry, Rain, known in Korean as Bi (pronounced "bee"), also acts in soap operas. He's a product of the globalization that pumps American products through worldwide media channels. People who fear mass-market threats to local styles need look no further for an example. If there's anything beyond the lyrics that's particularly Korean about Rain's songs, it's not obvious.

On the three albums he has released since 2002, Rain and his songwriter, producer, promoter and mastermind, Jin-Young Park, have imported and digested pop-R&B from the English-speaking world, emulating it with Korean lyrics. Since Rain's voice is lower and huskier than Mr. Jackson's, he dabbles in other pop-R&B approaches: the acoustic-guitar ballads of Babyface, the light funk-pop of Justin Timberlake, the crooning of George Michael and the importunings of Usher. Seeing him onstage was like watching old MTV videos dubbed into Korean.

The moment Rain appeared onstage, he was mimicking Mr. Jackson's costumes and moves: a fitted leather jacket, a dark suit and slouch hat, the freeze-frame postures. He's a fine dancer and a passable singer. At first, he tried Mr. Jackson's tense demeanor, but soon he was smiling. "I'm lonely," he announced, "I need a girlfriend," and he brought a young woman onstage from the audience, handing her a teddy bear and a bouquet of roses before giving her a chaste hug. (Perhaps with crossover in mind, the woman he chose was one of the few non-Asians in the audience.) By the end of the show Rain was dedicating a ballad to his late mother. Rain seems like a nice guy, but he doesn't have the tormented charisma of Jackson, the relaxed sex appeal of Usher or the quick pop reflexes of Mr. Timberlake.

The show was a combination of slick video-era effects — at one point, Rain jumped, and the buildings in a video image behind him shook — and odd moments. Mr. Park took the stage repeatedly while Rain changed costumes. Speaking in hip-hop-style English, he reminded everyone that he wrote all the songs, he introduced Sean Combs (Diddy) and the teenage singer JoJo to praise Rain, and he performed his own songs from the mid-1990's. Given his voice, he was wise to make Rain the vehicle for his newer material. The obstacle to Rain's intended United States career is that by the time Mr. Park has figured out how to imitate the latest English-speaking hit, American pop will have jumped ahead of him. Perhaps collaborators like Diddy could help Mr. Park keep Rain up to date. But for the moment, here in the United States, Rain sounded like a nostalgia act.

[X] credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/04/arts/music/04rain.html?_r=1&_noreferals2&oref=login&oref=slogin_rQ3D1Q26_noreferals2Q26orefQ3DloginQ26orefQ3Dslogin_rQ513D1Q5126_noreferals2Q5126orefQ513DloginQ5126orefQ513Dslogin_rQ51513D1Q515126_noreferals2Q515126orefQ51513DloginQ515126orefQ51513Dslogin_rQ5151513D1Q51515126_noreferals2Q51515126orefQ5151513DloginQ51515126orefQ5151513Dslogin_rQ515151513D1Q5151515126_noreferals2Q5151515126orefQ515151513DloginQ5151515126orefQ515151513Dslogin_rQ51515151513D1Q515151515126_noreferals2Q515151515126orefQ51515151513DloginQ515151515126orefQ51515151513Dslogin_rQ5151515151513D1Q51515151515126_noreferals2Q51515151515126orefQ5151515151513DloginQ51515151515126orefQ5151515151513Dslogin_rQ515151515151513D1Q5151515151515126_noreferals2Q5151515151515126orefQ515151515151513DloginQ5151515151515126orefQ515151515151513Dslogin_rQ51515151515151513D1Q515151515151515126_noreferals2Q515151515151515126orefQ51515151515151513DloginQ515151515151515126orefQ51515151515151513Dslogin_rQ5151515151515

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