HotStar: Rain

At a recent Music Matters meeting in Hong Kong, Sire Records founder Seymour Stein told the assembled crowd he believes Asia is on the brink of producing its first international superstar.

"I’ve been saying it for 10 years," Stein said. "Together they have more than a third of the world’s population – these markets are going to be vital to the global industry."

So the question is, less than a decade after Ricky Martin’s show-stopping performance at the 1999 Grammy Awards heralding the arrival of Latin music in mainstream America, is the U.S. ready for an Asian wave?

South Korean R&B singer Rain and his representatives think so, and they’re gearing up to make sure he’s going to be that breakthrough Asian artist.

Revolution Entertainment’s John Yi, the promoter responsible for Rain’s upcoming shows at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Philips Arena in Atlanta, and Madison Square Garden in New York City, thinks Rain has what it takes. He told Pollstar he believes if the singer succeeds here, it’s a victory for all Asian artists.

"If we have an artist like Rain crossing over – representing not only one country, but all of Asia – then I think we have a shot at making an impact like Latin music has in America," Yi said.

Rain, whose given name is Jung Ji-Hoon, is already a star of the highest magnitude in Asia, with four hit albums in Korean and one in Japanese, roles in four South Korean TV series, dozens of commercial appearances and a mantle full of music awards.

His popularity also extends to the cinema. In 2006, he appeared in a major South Korean romantic comedy and he recently landed a plum role in the Wachowski brothers upcoming $300 million, live action version of "Speed Racer."

The K-pop superstar got his start in South Korea as a teenager in a short-lived boy band called Fanclub. After the demise of the group, he continued to pursue a career in music but was unsuccessful until he auditioned for South Korean entertainment giant JYP. The company’s CEO liked what he heard and saw and began working to transform the singer into a star.

Rain made his public debut with the release of a 2002 self-titled album.Within four years, he established himself as a major talent, landing at the top of the charts in not only his native South Korea, but Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Vietnam and India.

The singer’s 2005 Rainy Day tour sold out in South Korea the first day tickets were available, and the tour’s Tokyo show sold out within 30 seconds of going on sale. His Japanese success was made even more remarkable on May 25th when he became the first South Korean pop artist to ever perform at the Tokyo Dome.

Rain’s serious foray into the U.S. market began in 2006 with a pair of Rainy Day New York concerts at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden in February and then two shows at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in December, both of which sold out within a matter of days.

After the success of those dates, Rain decided it was time to venture further into the U.S. and enlisted the help of Yi, along with friend and promoter Andrew Kim, who has worked on shows with Black Eyed Peas at venues like L.A.’s Staples Center, and who arranged the singer’s upcoming show at the arena.

Kim told Pollstar his background isn’t in entertainment, but the corporate world, so he thinks Rain’s campaign needs a different focus.

"I realized, regardless of how good an artist is, it’s often the companies that sponsor them that make the difference," Kim said. "So I’m looking at this more from a business point of view than an entertainment one.

"Obviously, there’s a lot of skepticism because it’s the first time an Asian artist has performed at American venues this large, but we have a very strong group of corporate sponsors. And although they’re geared toward the Asian community right now, I think we’ll soon succeed in breaking into the mainstream market."

Pollstar had hoped to speak with Rain personally about his goals in the U.S., but because of time constraints caused by his current tour and the language barrier, we were unable to do so.

However, both Yi and Kim were eager to share details about their plans for Rain’s conquest of the States.

Yi would like to see the singer perform at a location even more high profile than Madison Square Garden.

"I want him to perform in Times Square, where people can just walk by and hear him," Yi said. "I talked about this with Rain the last time he was here for a press conference, and he was excited about the idea."

Kim’s plans are a little more down-to-earth. He played a role in helping secure Rain’s part in "Speed Racer," and he’ll be working closely with the singer on his upcoming album, which he says will be "a mainstream English album."

The promoter said he thinks an album in English is a necessity at the moment, but that will soon change.

"I think the general public isn’t quite ready to accept Asian artists singing in their native language – yet."