Nothing raises the ire of the K-pop fan like having a mainstream media outlet provide sloppy coverage of K-pop. More often than not, writers for these outlets simply don’t know what they are talking about.
Those who have been K-pop fans for a while feel ambivalent when they see a mainstream media outlet run a K-pop-related story. While some may see it as an opportunity to share K-pop with more people, others realize that such articles tend to get things wrong about K-pop. This isn’t just the hurt feelings of sensitive K-pop fans. As two recent stories show, there are reasons why such coverage is often sub par. Alexis Petridis wrote a review of BTS: Love Yourself for The Guardian, while Amanda Petrusich ventured to explain the current “success” of K-pop in the United States in The New Yorker.
While Petridis and Petrusich write for different media outlets, they do share one thing. They do not regularly cover K-pop. Petrusich has never written for K-pop during her time as a staff writer for The New Yorker. Going back as far as 2015, Petridis has never offered a review of a K-pop release, and it is likely that he too has never written about K-pop. Writers often write about things they haven’t written about before, but writers also tend to become somewhat knowledgeable about what they write. Here is the problem: most writers of mainstream media outlets who write about K-pop fail to do so.
Some of the assertions made by Petridis with no evidence include the resistance of Western audiences to K-pop. The increase in K-pop tours around the world as well as the expansion of the KCON franchise seems to suggest otherwise) Petridis seems to have picked up the more sensational coverage of K-pop and perhaps missed the deeper elements of articles that provide a more contextualized exploration of K-pop. John Seabrook’s “Factory Girls: Cultural Technology and the Making of K-pop” comes to mind. Other parts of the review drip with condescension for both the group (“their hair styled in matching bushy bowl cuts with the weirdly thrilling, millimetre-perfect synchronicity favoured by K-pop choreographers”) and their fans (“No aspect of their career is too minor for fans to vlog about”). Even for a review, little attention is given to the actual music.
Similarly, Petrusich demonstrates a lack of background knowledge. She asserts, “K-pop stars are selected, frequently as children, for their good looks, and then aggressively minded and groomed for success by teams of producers and managers.” However, even a cursory search will reveal that most trainees are teenagers and are chosen because they have talent, which is recognized during the audition. The condescending tone remains: “I found it briefly disconcerting to see studied determination applied to something like club dancing—a practice that is, at least in theory, rooted in spontaneous expression, a kind of carnality—but then I set aside my scruples and immediately started trying to learn the moves so that I, too, could look awesome.” This statement completely ignores the existence of choreographers responsible for creating such detailed dances, including a number of who come from the United States after working with high-profile acts. Of course, there is the often-repeated statement that BTS differs from their forebears by participating in the creation of their own music. (See my article, “The Creative Input of K-pop Artists,” which documents this practice going all the way back to the original “idol” group, H.O.T).
Such treatment is not reserved just for K-pop. Most mainstream media outlets will cover what they see as trendy popular culture in much the same way because they reserve research for more “important” topics. But for writers, getting it right, no matter the topic, should be important.
Alexis Petridis. “BTS: Love Yourself: Tear Review – K-pop’s Biggest Band Keep Ploughing On.” The Guardian. 18 May 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/18/bts-love-yourself-tear-review-k-pop (5 Jun 2018).
Amanda Petrusich. “Two Theories on How K-pop Made It To No.1 In America.” The New Yorker. 29 May 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/two-theories-on-how-k-pop-made-it-to-no-1-in-america (5 Jun 2018).
Why Mainstream Media Often Gets K-pop Wrong by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.