WFRLL: Antiblackness in the K-pop Industry and its Fandom Spaces (A Masterpost For My Essay Series)

This is a masterpost for the project I’ve been working on since April 2019 about antiblackness in the K-pop industry as well as the fandom spaces it spawns. This masterpost is in progress, but I’ll slowly be moving things here so that everything is in an easy-to-find space.

Main Articles

Introduction

Because anti-blackness is so ubiquitous across so many different spaces and how often it shows up in situations where Black people aren’t actually present or involved, I am not surprised at anti-blackness being present out of the blue – to me at least.

I am really not surprised at how antiblackness shows up in the K-pop fandom – because antiblackness is everywhere in fandom spaces.

Fast and the Furious Foregrounding

There’s more cultural exchange than ever in this last decade of K-pop.

As the industry moves to do more shows and events outside of Korea and comes in contact with fans from across the world, we’re seeing more opportunities for culture in conversation where idol groups and independent artists are in engaged in conversations with Black artists.

But in the case of Black Americans, these cultures have been in conversation for a long time and it’s important to talk about the complex relationships that background this genre.

It’s also important to talk about the complex feelings that black people have with their cultures and with how our cultures are exported and adoptd by non-Black people who don’t quite seem ready to acknowledge that we’re people and not stickers to slap on top of non-Black celebrities and randos alike.

If we can’t talk about that, what are we really doing in this fandom?

Cultural Appropriation in the Age of K-Pop Part One

Many people who are not educated about the conversations that Black fans and non-Black folks against antiblackness are having about Korean hip-hop/pop, cultural appropriation, and the perception or performance of Blackness… have decided that they’re experts on the subject.

They don’t know the history of Black culture being chopped up and passed around to other cultures or how the portrayal of Black people and culture has historically led to our further disenfranchisement. They don’t know how people in their own country – regardless of whether that’s South Korea or Croatia – actually treat Black people.

Many of them, like Park, have no idea how power imbalances and privilege actually work.

Cultural Appropriation in the Age of K-Pop Part Two

Cultural appropriation is not a conversation between cultures. It’s not sharing. It’s not an equal cultural exchange.

Turning someone’s culture into a costume actually stops the cultural exchange from happening because now, the people whose culture is being appropriated have to deal with dismissal and dehumanization from the folks doing the appropriating and their fans/supporters.

They have to deal with the fact that they don’t have access to the culture of the people appropriating theirs and that their humanity frequently comes under fire by the people putting on their culture.

They have to deal with the fact that, at the end of the day, not only are they not respected as arbiters of how their own culture can be shared or how it should be presented, they’re generally… called selfish for trying to have that small bit of control over a very slippery conversation.

Black Sound… Somehow Not For Black Fans?

Imagine having the nerve to tell Black fans to “go listen to rap” because – in this case – you were frustrated by yet another conversation about cultural appropriation in the K-pop industry.

Imagine being that much of a walnut that you zoom on past the fact that even the cutesiest of girl groups will have something that’s attempting to be a rap line and rap breaks in their songs – specifically so that you can tell Black people to get the hell out of “your” fandom space/genre of choice.

This is just a taste of what international fandom spaces are like for Black K-pop fans on social media. When we are even a tiny bit critical of the way our idols try to emulate our cultures, folks tell us that we need to get out of the fandom because there’s no way that we belong.

They tell us to return to rap music, the same rap music that our favorite idols and artists are listening to and performing in South Korea.

Imagine being that awful.

Related Pieces

A WFRLL TIMELINE: FOREGROUNDING HIP HOP HISTORY

Note: This timeline is an attempt on my and Jaeyoung’s parts to show a trajectory and some major moments for hip-hop that potentially put these cultures into conversation.

As a result, timeline does not cover every single event that happened across Black and Korean hip hop history. Otherwise, it’d be book-length and I would be a hot mess from having to wade through my sources even longer.

(Please let me know if you need or want a PDF copy of this timeline and source post!)

Fleeting Frustrations #5: K-Pop Groups’ Hood Phases

BTS hit the ground running as a faux-hood group. Their whole thing was like… setting them up as this socially conscious street gang. Everything about their look in 2013 was this manufactured look that showed what K-pop stylists and folks in the industry viewed as a path to proper hip hop.

Their look, their style, and their sound was pretty much what happens when you take an approach to hip-hop that sees Blackness and Black people as commodities to be transplanted onto and consumed by non-Black people.

It was a whole ass mess that somehow did nothing to stop the group from rapidly gaining popularity first in South Korea and then worldwide.

Fleeting Frustrations #10 – But You’re From L.A., Amber

This morning I woke up to see that Amber Liu (formerly a part of SM’s f(x), a popular South Korean girl group) was trending on Twitter due to her apology for something that she’d said. The apology in question was for well… antiblackness. Turns out, that when Amber went on Just Kidding News – a satirical news show on YouTube – last week, she brought some internalized antiblackness along with her for the ride.

On the show, Amber was one of several people reacting to a video of a man in California, Steve Foster, responding with anger after being accosted by police officers because he was eating a sandwich on a train station’s platform. In the now private JKN video, Amber said that guy being accosted “just fucking deserved it” because police officers (automatically or inherently) deserved respect.

[Stitch Talks Ish] Episode 1: Stitch Talks About The Tablo Podcast’s Episode on Racism

Honestly, I really love that they brought hilarious notes to this topic because obviously somebody who writes and talks about racism in fandom and in media, my experiences with dealing with racism as a queer black person in America, I find it really fascinating and really helpful when other people talk about racism and bring up how it shapes our lives and just put a little light into it, in the situation’s we go through and the kind of poke fun at experiencing racism honestly, so it is a good episode.

If you stop here, that’s all you need to know. If you keep going, honestly, there was- one and a half moments across the podcast that pinged me.

Videos

I’m just so pleased about how well “hood cosplay” as a term works for my needs across my project on antiblackness in the k-pop industry and its fandom spaces. I had to do a video!

Stitch Tackles TK Park’s K Pop in the Age of Cultural Appropriation

Koreans in/out of the US wanting desperately to be Black or to put on/perform Blackness and CHOOSING to adopt (poorly done btw) AAVE is not a sign of Black USian privilege.

BET/Black rappers in record books/a single MCU movie about Black people?

All ALSO NOT Black US privilege

Diaspora wars are annoying enough when launched between Black people from different places –

I sure as shit refuse to entertain diaspora wars/oppression olympics shit from non-Black folks mad that their own/idols’ hood phases aren’t well received by Black people.

“If you’re gonna talk about appropriation and start that conversation for other groups/idols, I feel like you should keep that same energy for your own favorite groups because at least you want your favorite group to get better at things. That’s what I thought, at least.”

For some reason, this didn’t upload, but if you’re in a fandom and lots of black people express discomfort with the fandom or the source media/performers to the point of leaving the fandom or no longer wanting to participate in it: they are not the problem here, I promise.

“The harm of cultural appropriation lies in how the people doing the appropriation of a minority group’s culture, removing it from its context, dehumanize the minority group and dismiss their concerns or humanity.”

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.

Patreon-Only Content

WFRLL Antiblackness & K-Pop Log – August

Since I have a big ole bone to pick about how Blackness is performed by non-black people who are antiblack as hell but think we’re oppressing them –

I recorded myself going over [an absolute moomoo’s] thread. 

MP3 Version of the Rudeness

July Process and Progress Log for WFRLL: K-Pop Fandom/Industry & Antiblackness

MP3 for Public Consumption

Relevant Twitter Threads

“Kpop isn’t for [black people]” (4/4/2019)

“kpop is purer than western rap/hip-hop” (2/25/2019)

a tweet about TK Park’s nonsense (1/29/2019)

“But Namjoon” (4/18/2019)

“But Namjoon” 2.0 (9/27/2019)

Folks getting paid rarely have the incentive to speak out about critical commentary on the thing (9/28/2019)

infantilizing idols isn’t the way to go and black hair isn’t “just” hair (5/31/2019)

Podcasts I’ve Been On

I was kind of a little shit across this episode and kind of uh… far from kind at parts, but I’m grateful to the NYAN folks for allowing me room to be rude and to unpack my problems with all of this nonsense. I loved the experience of chatting with them and I felt like I was free to talk amongst friends – hence my Little Shit moments across the live show and this episode.

Thank you for having me, friends!

10/10 would chat with y’all again if you’ll have me!

The main question across our conversation was about finding our thresholds as Black fans invested in these groups and this industry that has repeatedly shown itself to be incredibly antiblack across the past twenty or so years.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about – especially after reading and sharing Stan’d off by Claudia Williams – is how hard is is to unstan?

Even temporarily because you’re burnt out or frustrated by a member’s hood cosplay or upset at the way the performers/their companies never seem to notice antiblackness in their fandoms – but can leap to quash a dating rumor in a heartbeat.

Online References

Other fans of color have talked about their experiences and fandom or in witnessing racism from idols like this thread on cultural appropriation and racism with regard to Southeast Asians.

Stan’d off by Claudia Williams

When Aaliyah Welton was 12 years old, she started listening to a K-pop band. Their performances were a mix of slick choreography and heart-bursting lyrics – all dressed up with sparkles and lights. A middle schooler from Mississippi, she had never seen anything like it before. It felt like she was discovering a whole new world.

Aaliyah soon became involved in a circle of “stans”, committed fans who dedicated most – if not all – of their spare time to supporting and promoting the group

fandom idolatry and other places of worship by Morgan R.

I have learned that idols are images or representations of gods used as an object of worship. I have learned that humans cannot be idols. Humans can just be humans. I have learned that strangers: artists and celebrities from around the world, cannot be friends. I have learned that the prefix “para” means resembling. It means apart. It means near. It means abnormal. And perhaps normalizing that the assumptions and beliefs and views I hold as a not rich, not famous, black person were also held by very rich, very famous, men in Korea was abnormal after all. Maybe expecting reciprocity (integral, mandatory, required in any friendship) from people I did not, do not, will never know, was abnormal. Maybe investing my happiness in people that like the Wizard of Oz, were just men behind smoke and mirrors and screens and money, was abnormal. Or maybe nothing that harsh. Maybe it was just a lesson I had to learn about them, about fandom, about stanning, about myself.