One of the recurring comments when K-pop fans talk about cultural appropriation as performed by idols is “so and so isn’t appropriating culture, they’re APPRECIATING it”. The idea that appreciation renders conversations about cultural appropriation null and void is clearly a belief that many of these people have and the thing is –
These idols probably genuinely appreciate what they know about Black culture, but when they go to take it into themselves and perform Blackness, that appreciation becomes appropriation.
This video talks about that appreciation often leads to appropriation in these circles, how j-hope’s appreciation in his and Becky G’s version of “Chicken Noodle Soup” sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and antiblack backlash in BTS’ big ole fandom, and why intent doesn’t matter when the impact is kind of harmful.
If you want to know more about my thoughts on the way Black hairstyles are appropriated within K-pop and why that matters, check out my video from August.
And of course, I’ve got my lengthy article on cultural appropriation for y’all to check out!
Thanks for watching!
This isn’t entirely tied to the video’s content, but it’s related to what inspired me to put together this video:
The end of September, j-hope from BTS came out with “Chicken Noodle Soup” with Becky G. It’s an updated take on the 2006 song which was apparently one of his biggest inspirations as a dancer.
In the initial images that he shared (via BTS’s twitter account), j-hope appears to have some kind of twists in his hair that are clearly reminiscent of the kind of twists that primarily are associated with Black hair – as in, Black people‘s hair.
I’ve been in my feelings since I saw those photos.
But then, I am always in my feelings about Korean idols wearing hairstyles they think are necessary in their quest for authenticity in hip-hop. Every single time it happens – and it happens often – I find my feelings… bruised.
This isn’t the first time in my lifetime that a non-Black artist I liked has tried to put on Blackness as part of their performance of Blackness. After all, I was a Big Bang fan for the longest time and the second I got really invested in BTS, my niecelings were like “Well, we have images to show you of their hair”. Hell, back in April (which anyone who was at PCA and talked with me may remember), I was beyond frustrated at Bang Chan from Stray Kids getting cornrows for some wild reason.
But, unlike those times, I guess I wasn’t as actively invested in the fandom or group as I am with BTS?
So, I was frustrated and I’ve been annoyed at how Blackness is basically viewed as a concept style for K-pop groups for the longest, but with this I was… a little bit hurt on top of that.
There were two things that bothered me.
One was the fandom’s refusal to acknowledge what we were saying – and only paying attention to Black fans who were entirely unbothered by the way Black culture gets… disseminated to non-Black people. (I cover this clearly in the video so I won’t rehash it here.)
The other was the realization that the ideas that BTS and Big Hit have espoused may not apply to Black fans and the uncomfortable reminder that we aren’t necessarily BTS’ secondary (or tertiary) target audience thanks to the obvious quest for authenticity through hip-hop hair.
I tackle the way Black fans who were bothered were ignored and how fandom chose which opinions on Blackness to prioritize, but I want to use this space to talk about my personal feelings about how silence on antiblackness from the fandom or not acknowledging cultural appropriation conversations seems at odds with Big Hit’s mission
Big Hit Entertainment’s mission as a company is pretty straightforward, with the website describing the company as being:
Committed to the mission of “Music & Artist for Healing,” comforting and inspiring people around the globe through our music and artist, Big Hit Entertainment continues to make new innovations to the music industry business model. Big Hit espouses to become a content platform company that can provide healing to all who love music across their entire lifestyle.
But what if you’re a Black fan of their various groups and you feel like the continued silence from the company on j-hope’s hair/the conversations on cultural appropriation or the fandom’s almost gleeful antiblackness is actually impeding your ability to be comforted by their music or other content?
What if you feel like this company is actually hurting some Black fans by not acknowledging the conversations around j-hope’s hair and the fandom’s antiblackness – neither of which have been even that hard to find because folks aren’t hiding them?
That’s the thing I keep coming back to across the multiple conversations K-pop fandom has had about cultural appropriation since the start of the year at the absolute least: what about Black fans?
Where do we come in?
The problem is that Black people as a whole – not just Black fans of K-pop – aren’t part of the equation to any group or company.
Our feelings about the way that non-Black people consume and attempt to replicate Black culture aren’t things that any of these companies, groups, or individual artists think about as they put together concepts for upcoming stages or shows, set up collabs, write songs, and/or choose hairstyles for upcoming photos or vides.
K-pop as an industry is interested in going global. There are concerts held across the world and that get audiences further invested in their favorite groups and artists.
But when you’re trying to go global but you ignore the specific ways that an actual significant chunk of your audience has been marginalized and misrepresented – not just in the wider, Western world, but in your own industry and country – you’re showing that maybe your view of making K-pop global will leave out some necessary elements and can exclude some fans.’
In this context, I feel like Black fans will be continue to be left out and our needs/POVs won’t really be part of the equation.
And in the case of BigHit – which put together BTS as a group that could “lead hip hop culture” and kind of well… appeared to assume that authenticity was something you could get from doing a fast-paced masterclass in Blackness in American Hustle Life and other aspects of their pre-debut training/education –
There’s a sense that we were never part of the equation or viewed as the desired (or hoped for) type of fan for the group even as the group (initially) seemed hungry for authenticity through Black approval.
And I think that that’s part of the problem across lots of these snafus with different idol groups and the like:
Black culture is something that idols and their companies want to take advantage of. It’s a tasty trend to consume and then attempt to perform for an audience far removed from the source. It’s cool.
We don’t really matter outside of potentially or actually producing content for groups/idols, or saying that a Korean rapper is really good – or even better than – Black rappers, or excusing cultural appropriation or derailing conversations about it when it may have happened.
We are literally not on their minds for these companies, groups, idols, or even other fans to really worry about possibly offending us or losing us in the fan community.
So how can we be healed by their music?