Hear those rap interludes, ultra-catchy choruses, and dance breaks? MisterPopoTV is here to show you that African Americans can be into Korean pop music.
It’s nice when major news outlets recognize that black K-pop fans are part of the general K-pop fandom. However, this piece trades in overused tropes about race and K-pop. Many of the black K-pop fans I know would not recognize themselves in this piece. However, they would recognize the repeated assumptions made about African Americans and K-pop.
This piece reinforces the notion that it is strange for African Americans to like K-pop, even as it tries to disabuse readers of that notion. Given that K-pop utilizes R&B and hip-hop and that K-pop artists have been collaborating with black music artists since the 1990s, it should surprise no one that K-pop has black fans. In addition to the K-pop’s godfather, Seo Taiji, artists such as uber-producer Yoo Young Jin, first generation girl group Baby V.O.X and pioneer hip-hop group Jinusean collaborated on tracks with African American artists. Often, these collaborations occur on albums, not on promoted tracks where casual K-pop fans spend most of their energy.
The piece also features black K-pop fans who share their views on the web via YouTube and tumblr. While they are the most visible on the Internet, they are not necessarily the most representative. Like most global K-pop fans, black K-pop fans access their K-pop through the Internet, but do not participate in K-pop via the Internet. Many do not make reaction videos, write about K-pop or leave comments on social media. In other words, a more realistic look at black K-pop fans would be to see who shows up to concerts, or track their viewing habits, something increasingly difficult with the changes in the information provided by analytics of social media sites.
Moreover, while hip-hop has a clear impact on K-pop, R&B has even more. All of the Big Three Korean agencies produce groups that delve into a variety of R&B genres. This makes sense, especially for those seeking wide mainstream appeal. Despite its long and staid history, hip-hop is still viewed by some as youth culture that challenges authority and the status quo, something that turns off older generations. However, a wider variety of people find soul ballads or even R&B-inspired dance tracks appealing. By suggesting “the genre’s hip-hop influences act as a gateway drug,” it ignores the wide variety of music within K-pop as well as the ability of black fans to like aspects of K-pop that do not involve hip-hop.
The article also continues to promote the reductive argument that combines misappropriation, authenticity and K-pop. Given that both black culture and K-pop are hybrid types of cultural production, drawing hard and fast rules who can and cannot borrow and under what circumstances is nearly impossible, as consensus is hard to come by. Are black K-pop fans required to express “a genuine desire to connect” with Korean culture? When the article takes the expected turn to blackface in Korean popular culture, it makes it seem that racism runs rampant in K-pop, and in doing so, recycles this tired cliché about race and K-pop: “Incidents of blackface and other similarly offensive events happen so often in Korean pop culture that one might attribute it to some sort of cultural naiveté or ignorance of historical context.” There are far more incidents of blackface in the country that originated it than in Korean pop culture and the article distorts instances of blackface to make a false point about racism and K-pop.
Black K-pop fans are quite savvy and diverse, and this article only shows a glimpse of them.