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By Phil Freeman
Published January 10, 2008

Rain is a mega pop star from Korea cut from the Justin Timberlake mold, but is wholly unknown to the rest of the world.

All is not smooth and peaceful in the land of K-pop. The Korean pop scene is almost entirely dominated by super-producer J.Y. Park his JYP/Seoul Records label is the leading edge of a multimedia empire, and until earlier this year, Rain was one of his biggest stars. A fleet-footed, decent-voiced singer/dancer not unlike a Korean Usher, he’s been selling out arenas in Asia for years, as well as starring in several soap operas. When he first played New York in 2005, Puff Daddy himself came onstage to pay tribute to a genuinely global pop icon. But since the release of his fourth album, Rain’s World, Rain has severed ties with Park and canceled recent concerts in New York and L.A.—just as JYP has opened a New York office which is housing and training the next generation of K-pop performers.

On the phone, Rain is unfailingly polite and friendly. “I started my singing career with him,” he says of Park. “He was my producer, and we still have a very close relationship, almost like brothers. He’s a great producer.”

Some Americans are familiar with J-pop (Japanese pop), but K-pop hasn’t made the same inroads, despite superficial similarities. “I don’t believe there’s that big a difference,” says Rain. “Both types of music are appreciated all over Asia. J-pop has a faster beat and there’s more emphasis on rhythm. In K-pop, that’s important too, but the melody and the music are more the focus.” Rain believes his music can cross borders without the need to communicate in English. That doesn’t mean he’s willing to leave the U.S. market untapped, though. “I’m studying English very studiously right now. I want to have an English album, hopefully in the next year or two.”