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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
The “But Namjoon” tweets I kept seeing legit made me lose it because conversations about cultural appropriation aren’t a competition to prove that one fandom or artist is somehow more or less problematic than another.
Or at least, they shouldn’t be.
This mini-essay series is partially inspired by the fifth chapter of the brilliant Myoung-Sun Song’s Hanguk Hip Hop: Global Rap in South Korea. It’s also partially inspired by my own experiences and observations of hip-hop/rap culture, and I understand the ways in which people largely seen as “unwelcome” in hip hop are driven by an urge To Be Authentic.
That urge fuels many questionable moments and career or concept choices by East Asian hip-hop artists in and out of Korea
What fuels my theorizing and my writing for this segment of the project?
The fact that authenticity is complicated and that we don’t all have the same access to it across the board.
Girls (Not) On Top (Authenticity Essay #2)
If you’re a woman in hip hop that’s surrounded by dudes in Hood Cosplay telling you that you have to be more like them to be taken seriously –
What will you reach for in your quest to be authentic?
Assigning Authenticity For Clout (Authenticity Essay #3)
You can #HoodCosplay all you want and speak with a blaccent to boot, but at the end of the day, being Black isn’t something you just “pick up”.
And that’s what assigning authenticity does for these rappers – who, mind you, aren’t even really asking for this – it’s something these reporters and reactors try to give them.
It tries to give them a shortcut to a specific kind of success that the Hood Cosplay, Hair Crimes, Basic Blaccents, and these artists’ work with Black producers, songwriters, and artists can’t.
But that… doesn’t tend to work the way they want it to because in the end, what does assigning authenticity even do?
Gatekeepers and Idol Rappers (Authenticity Essay #4)
In last month’s article, we covered people who assigned authenticity-in-hip-hop for clout. However, can we talk about people who deny other room to grow and participate in hip-hop culture within their communities – in this case, Korean rappers shutting down other Korean rappers – because they’re lacking in some form of authenticity?
Because that’s what B-free et al did back in 2013: they utilized their greater age (all four men were in their late 20s while Suga and RM were 21 and 20 respectively) and longer time in the rap game to talk down to their juniors. After all, who were RM and Suga to them but two infants playing at hip-hop, right?
What made that quartet so well-positioned to deliver that criticism?
For a few days now, the antiblack question of the day was “Do K-pop idols/hip hop artists have to say anything about Black Lives Matter”. Noted “Black Man Reacting To K-Pop” BrisXLife and incredibly antiblack ass TK Park both shared the opinion that there was no responsibility for the artists who make their literal living on gentrifying Black culture primarily for their non-Black audiences… to show that they care about the people who make their music possible.
A lot of people across multiple Korean pop/hip hop fandoms have decided that these artists owe Black people nothing – even though they work with Black people on producing or songwriting, want to look like us, idolize Black celebrities, have tons of Black fans, and even have Black friends or loved ones.
They’ve decided that, essentially, these artists owe Black people nothing when the exact opposite is true because anyone with a platform should use that platform should speak out about injustice and violence…
But when you’re in an artist in an industry that take-take-takes from Black American culture to the point where it’s not even remotely subtle?
Yeah, you actually do have a specific responsibility to stand up with us and give a shit we’re going through.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Sorn, like Camilla Cabello and Gina Rodriguez before her, doesn’t actually say who she’s apologizing to or detail what she’s apologizing for. Sorn doesn’t acknowledge the issues at play here, that she took and posted a photo with her posing with a friend in racist mask and then she deleted the image without apology and tried to shade critics over it.
She says that she’s going to reflect upon her mistake but like –
What about the friend who’s wearing the mask? How’s her relationship with him going to change? How’s his understanding of Blackness going to change like… And then when it comes to the actual reflection: will Sorn actually work to unpack and unlearn the internalized antiblackness that made it possible to see her friend in that mask and just shrug it off like it was no big deal?
Or is she going to pull an Amber and pretend nothing’s happened on Instagram before returning Twitter with no sign that she realizes that Black people are people?
Across my time working on this project unpacking blackness and antiblackness in Korean hip hop and pop culture, I’ve realized that a bunch of people don’t realize that criticism is a huge part of how I show my love.
I love Korean pop and hip hop.
I adore many of the artists I’ve come to across this year and before it.
I love the friends I’ve made in these fandom spaces as well as the sense of community that folks are trying to put together.
And that’s why I critique it all.
The quest for authenticity in hip-hop features quite heavily across Bad Rap, a 2016 documentary following the career of popular Korean American rapper Dumbfounded as well as three other Korean American rappers popular in the scene – Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks.
Last February, the closest I got to a Black History Month post was my review of Horror Noire on Shudder. This year, I’m aiming a little closer to what I’m writing about on the regular, by focusing on Black and Asian celebrities – as I’ll be writing a short piece on Afro-Korean celebrities at some point in my series on Korean pop and hip hop later on in the year. I stan talent first and foremost, but it has been incredibly convenient that I already had this list loosely sketched out in my mind with these incredibly talented celebrities.
At the end of the day, this is about an endless entitlement to Blackness.
This is about Yun B and every single non-Black East Asian person involved in the show feeling like it is their right to tell our stories, take on our cultural icons, and not respect us one bit when we express frustration.
This is about the fact that South Korea has a big ole antiblackness problem that means Black people in entertainment in the country not only aren’t treated well, but are in an industry with people who’ve supported or even performed blackface.
This is about people who love Blackness and have convinced themselves that they appreciate it while treating Black people as trash on the ground when we point out that they can uh… appreciate without becoming part of it.
This is about the fact that people keep using their appreciation of Black culture and Black celebrities to excuse the fact that they’re appropriating it. That their appreciation has to be hands on and that they’re not willing to appreciate us in the process.
I still can’t get over that I… that I have this. That I can tweet about how much I love RM’s hair or that I miss Wonho (Monsta X) or gush about a new hip hop track I’ve been replaying for my project… and have people just as excited about the thing as I am. That when I was Losing My Shit On Main over the Flight From Hell, people in my fandom sent me pictures of their biases and mine in order to distract me.
That there are people in my social circle within fandom who don’t just see me –
But like seeing me.
There’s this thing fandom does to Black stans where we’re made to choose between our nerdy interests – or, in this context, our love of an East Asian celebrity – and our Blackness.
Where we’re positioned as enemies of these fandoms and the artists we genuinely love because we don’t have the thick skin required to pretend that we’re good for good in the face of unresolved antiblackness on any scale.
What stan twitter does to Black fans isn’t new. Mostly because it’s not a stan twitter thing alone. It’s a fandom thing. It’s a… world thing.
Black people worldwide are constantly made to choose between our Blackness and another thing that we find community in. Our queerness. Our disabilities. Our fandom.
And that shit sucks.
This project is a lot of that. It is a lot of looking at the groups I love, the artists I love, the industry I’m okay with – because I don’t love any industry really because industry is bad. Capitalism must end – and going, “Whoo, what’s next? How do I handle this? How can I talk about this?”
Most of the time I stick it to a tweet and I try to move on, but other times I have to return to it.
I’m going to return to it until I have processed it and this shit is hard.
It is okay to have these critical thoughts and to try to unpack your own feelings for K-pop while black or about anti-blackness while non-black.
D-2 has ten tracks that all cross genres, showcase Yoongi’s creativity as a rapper, songwriter, and producer, and feature multiple collaborations across the album from other talented artists. I’ll go over them one at a time to talk about my initial feelings about each song and how I feel about the songs after going over the translations provided by helpful translator accounts like doolsetbangtan’s account that also provide necessary Korean cultural and historical contexts in the process! (While I’m here: I also got information on song writing and production credits from that site so that’s awesome!)
Note that this is a review that will have some critical thoughts at points especially around one song in particular. If that’s not your cup of tea because you like pure positivity about your Korean pop culture? You have my permission to pour it out and move on! My feelings will not be hurt!
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!
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 –
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.
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
Relevant Twitter Threads
we need to talk about how Korean antiblackness – from cultural appropriation to ‘real racism’ like racial slurs and blackface – ties back into pop culture and fandom’s perceptions of Black people (1/15/2020)
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.
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.
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
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.
The apex of dissonance, however, is the statement that, “The West still favours its ‘So White’ fantasy (see: Oscars So White), so why should it be any different with music?” The authors name drop the ‘Oscars So White’ movement, without any context, while stating that “the West” favours a “White fantasy” and uses this as further proof of the xenophobia and racism against BTS. I’ve already deconstructed the flaw in this idea of a single hive mind in the Western world. It is egregious that the people who put their time and effort into writing this article also worked equally as hard to erase Black people, not only from their own terms (‘woke’) but also their own movements (‘Oscars So White’). Why would you mention the ‘Oscars So White’ movement, which was created by April Reign (a Black woman) (Variety 1), only to use it to reinforce the absurdity of a “White fantasy” that “we all seem to desire”? It has to be deliberate and that is what dismantles every single valid point made in this article.
Clearly we exist since BTS and many other non-Black artists make music HIGHLY influenced by Black people, Black culture and our movements. It is aggravating enough to see the constant anti-Blackness that the Asian community shares with non-Black bodies worldwide (for example; Chinese museum accused of racism over photos pairing Africans with animals), to then read an article that works overtime to erase Blackness outside of lumping us with our oppressors in order to uplift a pop act is where I draw the line.
Some of their actions have been less considered and effective than others—flooding #WhiteLivesMatter with K-pop videos just ended up pushing it into Twitter’s Trending Topics sidebar. “You [go on the site and] see ‘Trending in K-Pop: White Lives Matter,’” Zina told me. “As a black fan who’s seen over the years that anti-blackness is literally everywhere, including in fandom spaces, the first thought [when you see that] isn’t Oh yes, these are my peers tweeting to mess up this tag, it’s Oh shit, what just happened.”
But tactics can be tweaked, and the spontaneity of the effort is still exciting: Much of this activism is led by black fans, and its happening even without any catalyst from the K-pop stars who are the reason for the fandom in the first place, Zina said. Many popular K-pop groups and artists have yet to say anything at all about the protests, and others waited a long time. (On Thursday—a full week after the protests started—an official BTS Twitter account shared a supportive statement, ending with #BlackLivesMatter.)
Traditionally, K-pop has not been a space that has validated Black feelings about those choices, despite the impact Blackness has had on an industry that was reported at $5.4 billion even back in 2018, according to a report released by the Korea Creative Content Agency and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. On numerous occasions, Black fans have called out Korean artists who have engaged in acts that are hurtful and harmful to the Black people, such as performing in blackface, saying the “n-word,’” and appropriating cultural hairstyles. These actions are often met with silence, defensive posts from the idols themselves, or bare-minimum apologies.
But the Korean music industry is indebted to the Black community, and some artists are starting to realize that: CL and Jamie sent out heartfelt messages calling to industry friends and labelmates to acknowledge the huge impact that Black culture has made on K-pop. Korean-American rapper Dumbfounded tweeted, “Every asian artist who has benefited and made a living off of black culture should be speaking out rn, I see y’all.”
K-pop artists showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter is especially crucial because of the longstanding complicated relationship between Asian and Black people in the United States. Although the civil rights movement paved the way for greater immigration from Asia, Black and Asian communities have often been pitted against each other even while they were limited to the same resources in urban areas.
In the 1960s, white liberals began depicting Asians with a “model minority” stereotype after the US government had previously passed laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act and implemented Japanese American internment camps during World War II. As NBC News reported, Japanese Americans were even used as minority “success stories” to weaken the civil rights movement.
I recommend this for Miranda Larsen’s thoughts (starting around the 16 minute mark, roughly). In this segment, Miranda provides incredible commentary about the artists and fandom – and antiblackness from well… both. I absolutely believe her explanation of cultural misappropriation is a necessary listen because it provides a very nuanced understanding of what misappropriation and appropriation are and I think it’s so helpful.
At a Tokyo send-off concert for a mid-level K-pop idol embarking on military service, the management company advertised a limited number of polaroid tickets available before the concert. While the company’s bylaws stated that each fan was supposed to only have one ticket per concert (so two in a day), many fans ended up with four or five. The polaroid tickets disappeared almost immediately, with some fans buying extras from others. When I arrived at the venue and lamented to a friend about not getting a polaroid ticket, another fan turned and told me that I “didn’t need” the ticket to take a picture with the departing idol, as he “remembers you easily because you’re foreign”. This was unsurprising as within that particular fandom I was frequently dismissed because of my status as a native English speaking multiracial American because I instantly “stood out” to the idols, even the ones that I barely exchanged words with.
So how to further consider Shin-Okubo in the greater scheme of K-pop? If the Shin-Okubo idols are classified as rookies, then a middle category also exists – I call them ‘rising’ idols, the ones who appear on Korean music shows, have a presence and fanbase in Korea, yet aren’t on a major label. Rising idols are often far more popular in Japan than in Korea; they tend to sell their CDs through Tower Records Japan and hold promotional events that are theoretically free where the idols perform a handful of songs and chat briefly before the benefits session. It should be noted, however, that the categories aren’t mutually exclusive: rookies and rising idols often overlap. At one point a group was conducting concerts in Shin-Okubo but promotional events at Tower Records, crisscrossing Tokyo on a daily basis.
Today, a striking number of K-pop hits are written and produced by Black Americans and a significant percentage of K-pop fans in the US are Black. As K-pop grows in popularity worldwide, many international fans are waiting for the industry to develop a more sensitive, globalized understanding of race.
Within K-pop, blackface, mouthing or saying racial slurs, and purely aesthetic uses of Black culture and hairstyles are still common. In recent weeks, as the media has painted K-pop fans as politically active and engaged for overwhelming racist hashtags with videos of their favorite acts and reserving thousands of tickets to artificially boost expected attendance at Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally, official statements of support for Black lives have trickled in from a handful of groups and idols.