U Go Girl! The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study

Source: Pixabay

U Go Girl! The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study is the latest survey in the iFans: K-pop’s Global Fandom project. This survey seeks to understand the appeal of K-pop girl groups for female fans outside of Korea and will be open March 20, 2019-September 20, 2019. Click here to take the survey! If you have any questions about his research please contact Dr. Crystal S. Anderson, Research Scholar of Cultural Studies, Longwood University (andersoncs2@longwood.edu).

Why do a study on female fans of K-pop girl groups?

Academics have been writing about K-pop more and more, but the work on girl groups tends to focus on the way girl groups appeal to men, the perception that girl groups do not have a variety of concepts or that the members are styled to look alike. Few studies ask the female fans themselves what they think about K-pop girl groups. This study will help us understand what real life fans think about K-pop girl groups.

Who can take the survey?

Anyone who is 18-years-old or older.

How long does the survey take?

About five minutes.

#WheeWednesday: “With Me,” Wheesung (2003)

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

At KPK: Kpop Kollective, we are all about K-pop music. Kaetrena writes about the musical influences on K-pop in her series Let KPK Introduce You To… In that vein, I’m starting a new series, #WheeWednesday, where I share music by some of the lesser-known K-pop artists as well as deep cuts from musical releases by K-pop’s more popular artists.

Since it’s called #WheeWednesday, its appropriate that the first song is from Wheesung (Choi Wheesung).

Source: wheesung.com

Wheesung debuted in 1999, the same year as another major Korean singer, Park Hyo Shin.  Unlike Park, Wheesung is known for choreography as well as hip-hop inflected tracks. He’s worked with other notable Korean R&B singers like g.o.d.’s Kim Tae Woo as well as veteran hip-hop artists like Masta Wu. Such collaborations show how easily he straddle genres in K-pop. His first album, Like a Movie (2002) was a straight-up R&B endeavor, solidifying his reputation as a vocalist. The intro not only features what will become his common shoutout using his stage name, “RealSlow,” but also announces that “you don’t know me yet.”

Here is your chance to get to know Wheesung! It’s a challenge to choose a representative song by Wheesung, since his work ranges from ballads to dance tracks. “With Me,” from the 2003 album It’s Real, shows off Wheesung’s strong vocals as well as his comfort with hip-hop rhythms and rap verses.

I hope you enjoy this track and see what else RealSlow has to offer!

Sources

Video: Wheesung – Topic. “With Me.” YouTube. 25 Apr 2018. https://youtu.be/F2Hms2TGzeA (19 Mar 2019).

Image: “bnt 화보 -13.” wheesung.com 20 Jan 2018. http://wheesung.com/photo_view.html?dummy=1553027451677 (19 Mar 2019).

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#WheeWednesday: “With Me,” Wheesung (2003) by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop

Image credit: Pixabay

Increasingly, K-pop songs are being measured outside of South Korea by chart performance. This relatively new development puts greater emphasis on using charts as metrics for popularity, which some equate with music value. However, such metrics are not neutral, and obscure other ways of ascertaining popularity among K-pop listeners.

While subcultures in several countries have enjoyed it for years, K-pop music has recently experienced mainstream popularity, particularly in countries like the United States. K-pop artists such as BTS, NCT 127 and GOT7 have appeared on American television, and several other groups, including MONSTA X, BLACKPINK, and Red Velvet, are embarking on tours of the United States in 2019. With this increased popularity has come increased attention to the performance of K-pop songs on music charts. In 2018, Billboard announced that it would include plays from services such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and SoundCloud in its chart calculations, giving them more weight to plays on services like YouTube. Such changes gave K-pop fans more incentive to mobilize to increase the visibility of their favorite groups on such charts. Unofficial fanclubs rally their members to stream and view in large numbers.

In “Reading the Charts – Making Sense With the Hit Parade” from the academic journal Popular Music, Martin Parker explains that music charts are unique in their role as reference points for music listeners (205). On one hand, music charts serve the interests of the music industry: “The sales charts empirically demonstrate the successes and failures of record companies, producers, designers, managers and recording artists, on the assumption that the more units sold the better the individuals have done in their respective jobs” (208). On the other hand, Parker also argues that “the consumer is more deeply ‘involved’ in the play of figures and faces than the professional ever is, the latter’s enthusiasm ending with the (relative) autonomy of leisure, when the former’s begins” (209). Fans also have an investment in artist performance on the chart.

However, this was not always the case with K-pop music, especially for the global fan. Before the ease of access afforded by Spotify and iTunes, global K-pop fans relied on file-sharing sites like 4shared and MediaFire to obtain music. Fans also depended on other fans to upload K-pop music videos and music to YouTube, resulting in several versions appearing on the platform. However, that scenario does not help with chart performance, so increasingly, the number of copies of music videos dwindled as fans encouraged others to view the “official” versions.

A close look at the kinds of media on YouTube by K-pop artists shows how fans now view with an eye to charts rather than enjoyment of the music. K-pop media outlets frequently report the number of views a music video receives over the course of its life on YouTube, from the first 24 hours to milestones of millions of views. However, they do not disclose the views of other kinds of media related to K-pop artist, such as comeback stages on music shows, which are part of the promotional cycle for K-pop artists. Any comparison of music video views and views of music show appearances show a significant difference.

The rise in the significance of views and streams reflect a more active listener interaction, but Parker suggests that it is also tied to the increased interest in K-pop by the music industry, including the music industry media outside of Korea:  “In terms of the music industry this myth of democracy tends to conceal the extent to which the agenda of consumer choices is set in the first place by an oligopoly of transnational entertainment corporations based on a logic of profit” (211). In other words, fans may be the ones doing the viewing and streaming, but it is corporations that have granted value to the activity and act as arbiters of the measure of popularity, the music charts themselves.

At the same time, Parker notes that as prominent as music charts are, they are not the only measure of popularity: “The chart is not central to all consumers and producers of pop music. Many either do not care about it or actively resist it” (206). This is true of K-pop music. Global fans make music recommendations through sites like Reddit, which completely bypasses the charts. Fans still upload songs, and in some cases, whole albums, which allow fans to listen new music without caring about chart performance. K-pop fans continue to introduce others to K-pop music through recommendations on their personal Facebook pages as well as tweets. Even as K-pop music continues to gain more global popularity driven by corporate interests in the mainstream, K-pop fans continue to determine popularity for themselves beyond the music chart.

 

Sources

Billboard Staff. “Billboard Finalizes Changes to How Streams Are Weighted for Billboard Hot 100 & Billboard 200.” Billboard. 1 May 2018. https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8427967/billboard-changes-streaming-weighting-hot-100-billboard-200 (8 Mar 2019).

Parker, Martin. “Reading the Charts – Making Sense With the Hit Parade.” Popular Music. 10.2 (1991): 205-217. https://www.jstor.org/stable/853061.

 

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Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Into the New World: Research Suggests Multi-Fandom the Norm for Veteran K-pop Fans

Source: Pixabay

While it may seem that the current norm in K-pop is single-fandom (the tendency to support just one artist), data suggests that older K-pop fans started and continue to be multi-fandom. This may be another way the overall K-pop fandom has shifted in the past few years.

With the rise of K-pop groups, their individual fandoms have also garnered more attention, leading some to focus on using a single fandom to define K-pop fandom in general. However, 316 responses collected between April 29, 2011 and March 4, 2015 suggest that K-pop fans of that era exhibited very different behaviors and attitudes. Respondents were asked the open-ended question, “How did you become interested in K-pop?”

Many respondents related their entrance into K-pop with specific groups, and overwhelmingly with one group in particular: SHINee. Other high recurring groups include BigBang, Super Junior and TVXQ. Rain was the most-cited solo artist. What is interesting is that these groups all debuted between 2003 and 2009. The first responses collected in 2011, so none of these groups were brand new to the K-pop scene at the time that respondents encountered them. For this generation of K-pop fan, the appeal of K-pop was asynchronous, meaning that individuals became fans, not as a result of debut promotion or marketing, but by other means.

More importantly, respondents routinely noted that once they discovered one K-pop group, they were motivated to look for additional groups. One noted, “My friend showed me SHINee’s Lucifer video, and I was immediately addicted to them.  So then I started looking up other groups too.”  Another responded wrote: “I started listening to more BigBang, and then other groups such as 2NE1 and SHINee, and then read a ton of Wikipedia pages about different groups and record labels and learned about the training system that K-pop stars go through before debuting. I also started watching variety shows that K-pop idols appear on, and find that whole concept really interesting too.” I call this phenomenon branching.

Some respondents go through a great deal of effort to expand to additional K-pop groups. One respondent explained how a search to find one K-pop song led to more: “However, the obsession didn’t just stop with that song. During the many hours that I spent trying to find the name of that song, I discovered many other catchy tunes and fell in love with a new genre of music that I had never heard of before.”  Several respondents use the term “research” to describe the activity of looking for more K-pop groups:  “I became interested in K-pop when I accidentally happened upon a Super Junior song on YouTube about 3-4 years ago. I don’t remember what song it was. But after I heard it I was thinking… Wow. This is good stuff. I want more. I wanna hear more. I researched, found more groups I absolutely fell in love with. Then 2-3 years ago, I found Big Bang, followed by 2NE1. And now all of the other amazing groups I love.”

For some, the quest for more K-pop groups takes them to other forms of Korean entertainment. K-drama and K-pop are linked, as members of K-pop groups often star in Korean television dramas and perform on soundtracks for the shows. One respondent noted:  “I happened across Kdramas and liked an actor in it. I found out he was a singer and then discovered other singers, groups, bands, etc.” Another explained:  “Hulu.com recommended a Kdrama to me called “Boys over Flowers” and as I became more interested in the characters and the OST for the show, I started to look up various actors/singers on YouTube.”

And while “idols” may be the way many are introduced to K-pop, the phenomenon of branching may take fans far afield. One respondent wrote:  “I think, what’s 2pm? I think my friend had mentioned groups named 2pm and 2am to me before, and I thought they were silly names. But I really liked Jason in Dream High, so I decided to look up this Wooyoung on YouTube. That day I discovered my love for K-pop. I became a hardcore Hottest, and expanded the groups and genres I listened to little by little until I was listening to anything from rap to pop to ballads to indie. All in a language I can’t completely understand.”

One respondent summed up the branching phenomenon with this formula:

JPop = discovered Tohoshinki = wiki = O.O = OMG! = google other kpop artists

Such findings suggest earlier generations of K-pop fans tend to develop more broad interests in K-pop that go beyond one group, while more contemporary fans seem to be more devoted to single groups. By only focusing exclusively on one group, they may be less knowledgeable about the larger K-pop and as a result may have distorted perceptions of it.  These findings also support  earlier findings that point to a more diverse general K-pop fandom, one that at the very least, is made up of those who support individual K-pop groups and those who support K-pop in general. Both may be needed for the continued viability of K-pop. Such findings reveal fan behavior that suggests that the appeal of K-pop is more complicated.  The K-pop landscape continues to change.

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Into the New World: Research Suggests Multi-fandom the Norm for Veteran K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The Creative Input of K-pop Artists

Kangta (Source: allkpop)

While many K-pop artists are managed to varying degrees by entertainment agencies, there have always been those who participate in the creative production of music.

It is common for those who write about K-pop groups to bemoan the lack of creative input by K-pop artists, particularly those who are identified as “idols,” individuals who engage in extra-musical activities in addition to musical performance. When writers do recognize such input, they often do so to point to a handful of K-pop artists who defy the odds and participate in the production of their own music. For example, in a story on Monsta X, Taylor Glasby writes, “K-pop can seem like a factory, its idols helpless drones rather than artists, and the stress and fatigue are often in the spotlight.” Writers frequently point to the casting and training system as a factory stifles creativity. They often highlight recent groups as those who have defied the odds. Monsta X debuted in 2015.

Doing so alludes to an unspoken comparison to “authentic” artists who are  involved in the production of their own music. However, this ignores the very long and prominent history of prominent pop artists not being involved in the creation of their music, as well as musical collaboration in American pop music, much of which goes uncredited. The documentary The Wrecking Crew (2008)reveals the impact of a group of session players responsible for many songs in American pop music in the 1960s. The documentary notes that this group of musicians often made up a lot of arrangements themselves beyond what may have been written, and sometimes, the artists themselves were never involved in the production of the music. The music industry has only become more collaborative, with musicians, producers and arrangers working from various locations. They do not even have to be in the same room to make a song. When K-pop artists are routinely characterized as not participating in the music creation process, it suggests that they are not legitimate.

However, it is the very casting and training system that also trains some K-pop artists to contribute creatively to music production. Shin Hyunjoon notes that “in a multi-story building with recording studios, rehearsal rooms and conference rooms, the staff and employees work as songwriter-arrangers, recording engineers, managers, choreographers, costume designers, design coordinators. . . . Not only singer-dancer-actor aspirants but also those who want to work for the company can get the relevant education in a classroom located in the entertainment companies’ buildings” (510). It seems a bit unrealistic to expect new trainees who may be in their early to-mid teens to become conversant in music production and work on a song. However, undergoing training process and debuting and performing as a group has given trainees the necessary experience, as several artists have gone on to become music producers.

More recent K-pop groups seem more likely to be involved in the production of their own music. allkpop points to members of BigBang, Highlight (formerly BEAST), Block B, B.A.P, VIXX, BTS, CNBlue, 2PM and BTOB as individuals who have either composed, produced or written lyrics for songs. Several of these groups are newer to K-pop. Some point to them, saying that the industry is changing by allowing them to participate in the production of their own music.

However, K-pop has always has some artists who provided creative input into music production for their own groups, their solo work and other people. As longtime fans know, H.O.T, widely acknowledged as the first successful male “idol” group, began to participate in the production of their own music with the album Outside Castle (2000). Kangta, a member of H.O.T, is credited with lyrics, composing and arranging “Pray for You” from Outside Castle and “Bit” (Hope) from Resurrection (1998), a song that ends up becoming the encore song for SM Town concerts.

After H.O.T’s disbandment, Kangta contributes to music production for other SM Entertainment artists, including Fly to the Sky, BoA, Girls’ Generation and Shinhwa (before the group left the label in 2003). For example, Kangta is credited with the lyrics (with Brian Joo, one of the two members of Fly to the Sky), composition and arrangement for Fly To the Sky’s 2001 track”Shy Love.”

Kangta also embarks on a solo music career following the disbandment of H.O.T. He not only collaborates with Vanness Wu for a Mandopop album, but also writes, arranges and produces a number of tracks for his own solo albums Polaris (2001), Pine Tree (2002), and Persona (2005). While his work with Vanness is electronic dance music, Kangta consistently relies on the ballad and natural instrumentation that emphasizes his voice, such as the track “Mabi (Paralysis)”:

Kangta demonstrates that some K-pop artists have participated in music production since the beginning of K-pop. This trend has become more commonplace recently, making the K-pop landscape more complicated, one that includes those who sing music produced by others (a long-time tradition in pop music) as well as those who produce music for themselves and others.

Image

elliefilet. “Kangta of H.O.T Says He Wants To Get Married.” allkpop. 16 Sept 2017. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2017/09/kangta-of-hot-says-he-wants-to-get-married (25 May 2018).

Sources

Shin Hyunjoon. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain? And Who’ll Stop the Rain?: The Globalizing Project of Korean pop (K-pop).” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 10.4 (2009): 507-523. DOI: 10.1080/14649370903166150.

Taylor Glasby. “Monsta X: The Boyband Surviving the K-pop Factory.” The Guardian. 4 May 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/04/monsta-x-the-boyband-surviving-the-k-pop-factory (25 May 2018).

Videos

SONEPANDA01. “HD] All Artists – Hope @ SMTown World Tour in Tokyo.” YouTube. 27 Oct 2012. https://youtu.be/mSVppYAeH9g (25 May 2018).

Zeroforce14. “Kangta – Paralysis.” YouTube. 12 Dec 2011. https://youtu.be/4282VnkgkPI (25 May 2018).

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The Creative Input of K-pop Artists by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

New K-pop Stans, Here’s What You Missed: Fan Favorites, 2012-2015

Source: Pixabay

The K-pop fandom landscape has changed in the past few years. Data suggests that the general K-pop “idol” fandom is more divided than it was less than 10 years ago and challenges some widely held notions about the preferences of global K-pop fans.

With the expansion of K-pop globally has come increased division among the general fandom. An article on seoulwave bemoans the increase of tensions among fan groups:  “The K-pop fan community is suffering from a plague right now. Fandoms everywhere are wrought with fan wars sparked by the most minor things. The source of this illness is, ironically, loyalty. As Korean entertainment companies keep pumping out new artists and K-pop continues its plan for world domination, fandoms begin to feel an almost desperate need to keep their favorite groups on top.”  Fans argue over whether it is better to be multi-fandom (a fan of multiple K-pop artists) or single fandom (a fan of one K-pop artist). Fans exchange insults on social media when they feel their artist has been disrespected. Newer K-pop fans seek to impose standards on the “correct” way to talk about artists.

However, survey data suggests that the general K-pop fandom was not always this divisive. This data, from my 3 Year Korean Popular Music Survey asked respondents to list their three favorite K-pop groups or artists. 362 responses were collected between April 19, 2012 and March 25, 2015. Respondents hailed from the United States  (116),  the Philippines, (42), Australia (22), Indonesia (17), the United Kingdom (15), Germany (14), Malaysia (13), Canada (12) and other countries.

Only 2% of respondents identified only one group in answer to the survey question. Most of the rest of the respondents had no problem identifying three distinct groups as their favorite. This suggests that being multi-fandom was the norm for global K-pop fans between 2012 and 2015.

Survey data also suggests that most respondents were not agency-stans, or K-pop fans who exclusively support one Korean entertainment agency. Only 8.1% identified three groups that were all represented by the same agency. 40% of respondents identified three groups from three different agencies. Only 2.8% identified all-girl groups and only 3.6% identified groups that tended to be largely aligned with hip-hop. Many respondent grouped artists that represent vastly different musical styles. For example, one respondent listed 2NE1, a female “idol” group that draws heavily on hip-hop, Super Junior, an “idol” group that frequently produces electronic music and Boyfriend, a newer “idol” group with a more pop-y sound. Another listed B.A.P, a hip-hop leaning male “idol” group, Girls’ Generation, one of the oldest and most popular girl groups and EXO, a male “idol” group with strong ties to R&B and electronic dance music.

Other respondents joined groups whose fandoms experience tension today. For example, jubilantj reports on a BTS fan’s apology letter to the fans of SHINee, BEAST, Winner, EXO, BigBang and VIXX in response to recent tensions among the fandoms. However, respondents frequently listed BTS with these very groups as their favorite between 2012 and 2015. One respondent listed BTS, Infinite and BigBang. Another listed BEAST, BTS and 2NE1. There were several who listed EXO, BTS and GOT7.

Other results point to a different kind of diversity among global K-pop fans that challenges widely-held notions. K-pop tends to be populated by groups, but 10% of the respondents identified a solo artist from a range of genres as one of their three favorites, including Beenzino, G-Dragon, IU, Ailee, Kim Hyun Joong and Junsu (Xia). While K-pop has more male groups than female groups and many complain about the cutesy image of many of the female groups, 28% of respondents identified at least one girl group as one of their favorite three. In addition, several respondents (8%) listed a K-pop artist that debuted in 2003 or earlier as one of their three favorites. Such older artists included H.O.T, the first successful “idol” group, Rain (Bi), the well-known solo artist, BoA, the very successful female artist, old-school hip-hop group 1TYM and veteran hip-hop group Epik High. While many describe K-pop as trendy, these responses point to the continued impact of K-pop on fans.

Asking K-pop fans to list their favorite groups revealed patterns in fan preferences and suggests that the attitudes and behavior of general K-pop fandom has shifted over time.

 

Sources

jubilantj. “BTS fan uploads lengthy, apologetic letters to various fandoms on behalf of all the ARMYs.” allkpop. 9 May 2016. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2016/05/bts-fan-uploads-lengthy-apologetic-letters-to-various-fandoms-on-behalf-of-all-the-armys (18 May 2018).

Staff. “How To Be a Better K-pop Fan.” seoulwave. 11 Dec 2017. http://www.seoulwave.com/2017/12/11/how-to-be-a-better-k-pop-fan/ (18 May 2018).

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New K-pop Stans, Here’s What You Missed: Fan Favorites, 2012-2015 by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

On The Passing of Jonghyun

Like many K-pop fans, the members of KPK: Kpop Kollective are extremely heavy at heart about the passing of Jonghyun. Both Kaetrena and I are Shawols, and just saw the group in Dallas.  We know that for many, SHINee was the group that introduced them to K-pop, and Jonghyun was not only an integral part of the group, but shared his songwriting gifts with others.  He will be deeply missed.

Kaetrena has written “A Little Less SHINe(e), The Big Loss of Bling,” for her blog The Ink on the Page, which I believe is entirely fitting.

The Music of INFINITE

The Music of INFINITE

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Longwood University

Infinite consistently produces electronic pop. While they have their share of fans, their releases receive few reviews. However, “Amazing” and “The Chaser” have received a positive reception. Arnold notes: “This song is spot on when it comes to fusing Infinite’s voices and a flawless pop arrangement. It’s got a classic drum section, with a sparkly piano line that helps lift this song off of the ground.”  Nicola Rivera writes that “The Chaser” “is Infinite inside out. . . . The Infinite synths are there, the rap part is ever so slightly familiar, and the melody is so well-done. Another thing I like so much about Infinite is how they make a potentially heavy song very light and flow-y, without losing character and punch.”

Spotlight Tracks: 1. Tic Toc, Over the Top (2011) | 2. The Chaser, Infinitize (2012) | 3. Paradise,  Paradise (2011) | 4. Only Tears, Infinitize (2012) | 5. Amazing, Over the Top, (2011) | 6. Cover Girl (2012) | 7. Julia, Over the Top (2011) | Real Story, Over the Top (2011)

For more information about the music of Infinite, see the digital exhibit Infinite: Over the Top.

Sources

Image

alice101. “INFINITE reveal which artists they want to collaborate with.” allkpop. 7 Oct 2016. http://www.allkpop.com/article/2016/10/infinite-reveal-which-artists-they-want-to-collaborate-with (28 Jul 2017).

Sources

Arnold. “[Review] ‘Over the Top’ by INFINITE.” Allkpop. 1 Aug 2011. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2011/08/review-over-the-top-by-infinite. (29 Aug 2017).

Rivera, Nicola. “INFINITE – “INFINITIZE”” Pop Reviews Now. 15 May 2012. http://popreviewsnow.blogspot.com/2012/05/infinite-infinitize.html. (5 Sept 2017).

 

3 Useful Things To Know About Cultural Appropriation and K-pop

3 Useful Things To Know About Cultural Appropriation and K-pop

 

It was great to be a part of the “Black Popular Music and K-pop” panel at #KCON17LA. The session was lively! In light of that discussion, here are three things that may be useful as people continue to think about the session or for those who could not attend. The session was important, not just for black K-pop fans to voice their experiences, but for ALL fans of K-pop, since we are getting joy from the influence of black popular music on K-pop.

What is Cultural Appropriation….REALLY?

Cultural appropriation is a term that comes from academia, used in a variety of scholarly fields, where it was a neutral concept. In Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, James O. Young notes that it has since come to mean something different:

It does not necessarily carry with it any moral baggage. Someone might prefer to use the concept of cultural appropriation to designate an objectionable class of transactions. Such people would distinguish cultural appropriation from cultural exchange or cultural borrowing, which could be unobjectionable. (5)

Young goes on to apply the concept “to any use of something developed in one cultural context by someone who belongs to another culture” (5). This is neutral. However, when people use the term in relation to K-pop, they often tend to do so to point out negative appropriation, where the cultural use is objectionable.

BUT, appropriation is inevitable when cultures come into contact with each other. Young says, “Almost all artists engage in some sort of appropriation in that they borrow ideas, motifs, plots, technical devices, and so forth from other artists (4).

So how can we tell the difference between the inevitable cultural exchange and negative appropriation? I like Elizabeth Jaikaran‘s three questions to pose when wondering if something is negative cultural appropriation in “The Discussion We Need to Have: Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation:”

Is the cultural element that is being used exclusive to my own cultural tradition?

Is the institution using this element a truly problematic one that is harmful to my culture’s dignity?

Based on the answers gleaned from 1 and 2, is this appropriation or appreciation?

This may be helpful for K-pop fans trying to make sense of what they may perceive as negative appropriation. This involves not only using an element of black popular culture, but doing so in a way that mocks or demeans. So, you can have feelings about some uses of black popular culture by K-pop, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of negative cultural appropriation.

The Interracial Roots of Black Popular Music

Some people feel some kind of way about the influence of black music on K-pop. Black popular music been used by those who did not always acknowledge the source of the music, but it has also been made and appreciated by those outside of the culture. Black popular music itself appropriates (in the neutral sense!) from other cultures and it has operated as an inviting site where everyone is welcome.   For example, Robin D.G. Kelley notes that anyone can have soul:

Soul was a euphemism or a creative way of identifying what many believed was a black aesthetic or black style, and it was a synonym for black itself or a way to talk about being black without reference to color, which is why people of other ethnic groups could have soul. . . . It was almost never conceived by African Americans as an innate, genetically derived feature of black life (26-6).

To say that only black people can like, enjoy or participate in black music is essentialist and contradicted by the history of black music. Black popular music in the United States historically provided a space where black and white musicians could come together to make some of the most memorable music, including jazz, rock, R&B and hip-hop.  The documentary Muscle Shoals shows how white musicians from Alabama provided the instrumentation for some of the most soulful records ever produced during the segregation era.  Def Jam Records, iconic in American hip-hop, was founded by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, a white music producer who began as a college kid running music production out of his NYU dorm room.

Moreover, black people are very involved in the production of K-pop, including Ebony Rae Vanderveer and Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer of InRage Entertainment, who were instrumental in bringing the “Black American Music and K-pop” panel to KCON. Looking at the production credits for K-pop music reveals a plethora of black music producers who have solid credentials in American R&B and hip-hop.

The heart of black popular music is not exclusionary and K-pop artists do recognize the roots of black music. This can be seen in recorded radio show appearances by K-pop artists like Starry Night, Kiss the Radio, and Shimshimtapa, where they often talk about their influences or through interviews.

A New View on Authenticity

At the heart of the discussions at the panel at KCON was the notion of authenticity, but authenticity can be subjective. It can be impacted by how much knowledge or actual experience a person has. John L. Jackson warns of the limits of authenticity when it is based on “guidelines for proper and improper behavior, for legitimate and illegitimate group membership, for social inclusion or ostracism” that ultimately function to “delimit individuals’ social options” (13). In the case of K-pop, calls for limited forms of authenticity could result in actually excluding people if they do not conform. Different people have notions of what is real, so one person’s opinion that a K-pop artist is being “real” may differ from another. What if one person’s notion of authenticity is based on wrong information? Who gets to decide who is authentic?

Jackson poses an alternative, suggesting that we use the concept of sincerity which recognizes subjectivity and avoids exclusion: “Sincerity privileges intent . . . allowing for the possibility of performative ad-libbing and inevitable acceptance of trust amid uncertainty as the only solution to interpersonal ambiguity” (18). Instead of starting from suspicion and accusations of theft, sincerity leaves room for the possibility that people do not mean harm. A person can be sincere and still get it wrong.  Jackson suggests that we leave open that possibility.

 

Sources

Jackson, John L. Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Kelley, Robin D.G. Yo Mama’s Disfunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. Beacon Press, 1997.

Young James O. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi: 10.1002/9780470694190.ch1

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3 Useful Things To Know About Cultural Appropriation and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Panelist at KCON 2017 LA!

Crystal S. Anderson (PhD), Director of KPK: Kpop Kollective will be a panelist at KCON 2017 LA! Panel 502B, “Black American Music and K-pop”, will be on Sunday, August 20, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!

In the meantime, check out some of my work on Black American Music and K-pop.

Not Just Pretty Faces: K-pop Idols and Quiet Storm Masculinity

Black Popular Music and K-pop

Ethnicity, Glamour and Image in Korean Popular Music

How Does It Feel to be a Question?: That (Black) Girl and K-pop

K-pop and Hip Hop

Of Misconceptions About Cultural Appropriation in K-pop

Talking About Asians Behaving Badly: Fan Reaction to the Block B-Jenny Hyun-MBC Blackface Controversies