Her Name is Boa

BoA. The name conjures up so many images: a financial institution, a type of serpent, a long stole of feathers draped around a woman’s neck. It’s a bizarre set of American references for a certain pop songstress hailing from Korea, who bears the same name.

In the United States, “people will call me Bank of America,” says 22-year-old Asian pop artist BoA Kwon, with a slight roll of the eyes. “Whatever.” (It doesn’t help that her official American site is boaamerica.com). And once, she searched her name on YouTube and videos of boa constrictors came up. “That was so scary to me.”

It’s her real name — the one stamped on her birth certificate and granted by her parents. But before she debuted in Japan at age 13, her company gave the moniker a re-branding of sorts, dubbing her “Beat of Angel.”

Now, she’s the BoA staking her claim as an international pop megastar. This spring, she released her first U.S. album. It took almost two years to record the 11 upbeat dance tracks, which include the single “I Did It For Love,” written by Sean Garrett (who has produced Usher and Chris Brown). The album, which dropped in March, hit the Top 200 charts on Billboard at #127.

But there’s still work to do.


On a recent spring afternoon, BoA is in her suite at the historic Roosevelt, a stones-throw from Hollywood and Highland. An English tutor sits nearby, gently correcting her grammar, if needed. Behind them, a window captures a view of the Kodak Theatre, the foot traffic of tourists, the Walk of Fame. BoA’s lithe, 99-pound frame is cloaked in a Marilyn Monroe tee and skinny jeans; her lids are smoky and her long, sometimes-corn-rowed tresses, are now straight as a board. As she nestles onto a plush couch, an entourage of managers surrounds her.

“I’m Korean,” BoA says in her signature sweet, melodic voice. “I never tried to be American because I don’t have to be. But the biggest challenge [in the United States] is the English language. If you don’t know the language, you can’t share your mind, your soul, even your music.”

To be BoA is to have homes in far-flung places: Tokyo, Seoul, and now, Los Angeles. She’s been in La-La Land since September – and upon arrival, zeroed in on its shops: The Beverly Center, Rodeo Drive, and Barneys. She still returns to Asia often. “It’s tiring,” she says, with an exaggerated, world-weary sigh. “Going back and forth. It’s crazy!” She throws her hands up, then laughs.


It all started more than a decade ago, when the pop sensation – who as a girl, belted out Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men – was discovered somewhat accidentally. When she was 11, she accompanied her breakdancer brother to his audition for SM Entertainment, which is where talent scouts asked her to try out as well. She sang (some Korean tune) and danced (some hip-hop moves) and that night, the agency called her up and offered a contract. “But not for my brother,” she says. “So, that was pretty awkward.”

She had the support of her two older brothers; her parents, on the other hand, needed some convincing. At the time, no one in Korea – especially females – was pursuing a music career at such a ripe, young age. But the cajoling of her siblings paid off: She started to train in vocals, dance and Japanese language. “I was just a normal kid,” she claims. Yet after school, she’d flock to the studio to rehearse and ultimately, debuted in South Korea with the album “ID: PeaceB.”

The next year, she was in Japan.

“It was lonely,” she says. “I missed my family a lot.” But she was hardly alone – her staff orbited around and one manager lived with her. “I had a good time. I was fine.” Since then, she’s dropped more than a dozen albums and has been straddling explosive careers in both countries. After selling 20 millions records and winning a bundle of awards — including the 2004 “Most Influential Artist in Asia” honor by MTV Asia — she’s added the States to the mix with her first eponymous American album, recorded entirely in English.

“I was excited,” she says. “I always wanted to be a singer in Korea, but I never imagined being able to cross over to Japan or America. But it was the right time. And so, it happened.”

Once she nailed down the English – mostly through round-the-clock tutor sessions and the memorization of lyrics – BoA gave her first stateside performance at MTV Iggy’s Times Square studio in New York in 2008. This year, she launched a full-blown national promotion tour that included record-release performances and the headliner slot for Kollaboration, a popular Asian American talent show, at the Shrine Auditorium.


But even with two debuts under her belt, she knows she’s facing the toughest – and largest – market of all. Does she have what it takes?

“I just want to share my music with as many people as possible,” she replies, smiling bashfully. “I love to sing and dance and I want to have a career here. It’s not really about winning all these awards and being a huge success.” She adds with a giggle, “Well, maybe it is for my company.”

As for who she’d want to collaborate with, she says, “Justin Timberlake! He’s so sexy.” And when told she’s often pegged as the “Asian Britney Spears,” BoA’s face lights up. “Thank you, thank you!” she says. “I love her performances.”

But despite the high visibility afforded to sex symbols like Britney (especially during her no-underwear upskirts while clubbing), BoA has no interest in partying – or flashing – her way to the top. BoA’s voice may be heard in the clubs, but she won’t be there, physically. She’s a homebody. “I can dance on stage or in the studio,” she says. “I don’t have to at the clubs. I can’t club the whole night, anyway. It might hurt my back!

“My gosh,” she adds, giving her eyes another roll. “I sound like a mother.”

Whether she becomes an American household name or not, BoA’s fan base is so devoted, that they’ll even forgive the occasional mishap. “Sometimes on tour, I’ll forget the lyrics and they have to stop the music,” says BoA. “On stage, I stop and say, ‘Oh my god, I forgot the lyrics, hold on a second!’ Then I come out again and finish the song. My fans? They just laugh. They’re fine with it. I love accidents.

“All the audiences in the world are the same,” she adds. “I love my fans, I do. They’re really sweet.”