Why Is K-pop Coverage So Negative?

Image: Pixabay

Much like the current tone of the Internet, wholly negative criticism threatens to skew our perceptions of K-pop.

On any given day, one can wander out on social media and witness what has become the all-too-common negative critique of K-pop. A recent Twitter thread began by Yim Hyun-su pointed out how media tends to write stories disproportionately on “the dark side of K-pop” to the exclusion of other types of stories. This trend is also at play in academic scholarship.  In an article for The Point Magazine, Lisa Riddick observed a level of “meanness” associated with the current culture of scholarly critique: “Repeatedly, we will find scholars using theory—or simply attitude—to burn through whatever is small, tender, and worthy of protection and cultivation” (“When Nothing is Cool“).

K-pop is particularly susceptible to negative criticism because it belongs to two fields often negatively criticized:  popular culture and fan studies. Popular culture falls on the low end of the culture hierarchy. Lawrence W. Levine locates the origins of the hierarchy in the United States at turn of the 20th century, with highbrow used “to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority” and “lowbrow”used “to mean someone or something neither ‘highly intellectual’ or ‘aesthetically refined” (Highbrow Lowbrow, 221-2). K-pop is mass-produced and appeals to a wide audience, so writers assume that it could not have any aesthetic value.

Similarly, fans have long been negatively characterized. Matt Hills notes that “stereotypes of mass cultural consumption still hold that fans have an appetite for what seems to be trivia. . . . Fans are undiscriminating followers of mass culture. This locates fandom as a kind of tool of the media industry” (Understanding Fandom, 40). This line of thought assumes that fans have no taste and inherently follow unimportant things. This resonates with K-pop fandom, with its majority-female fan base, for female fans have been negatively characterized especially in relation to pop culture. Diane Railton observes:

A constant image of fans of this type of music is of a girl or young woman, screaming, out of control, totally absorbed in the bodily experience. And the image that is reproduced time and time gain is not usually of one girl but of a heaving, screaming ‘mass’ of femininity. ‘Pop’ music of this type is about losing control; surrendering the rational mind to the body and the emotions. it is here that we can get some clue as to the (horrified) fascination in which such music is held by the ‘serious’ music press. (328).

Such negative appraisals give the air of serious engagement, but the repetition of the same negative appraisals actually reflect a lack of true engagement with K-pop. It comes off as lazy and suggests that writers cannot be bothered to actually delve into K-pop because they feel it is superficial.  This gets worse when we look at coverage by English-language media, especially those located in the West and the United States. When these entities write the same negative stories about K-pop, it comes off as cultural chauvinism. Moreover, individuals parrot the same superficial observations, solidifying them as the “true” characterization of K-pop. Treating K-pop as a legitimate phenomenon would go a long way to improving media coverage of  K-pop.


Hills, Matt. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Railton, Diane. “The Gendered Carnival of Pop.” Popular Music 20.3 (2001): 321-331. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143001001520 (Accessed 18 Oct 2019).

Riddick, Lisa. “When Nothing is Cool.” The Point Magazine. 7 Dec 2015.  https://thepointmag.com/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool/ (Accessed 9 Jan 2020).


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Why Is K-pop Coverage So Negative? by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities Abstract: “My Pretty Prince! Gender-role Gymnastics in the Shojo Manga Series Otomen”

Originally written for Em Bee Bee. Published October 18, 2011.

Hello everyone!

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything on my site! A lot of things have been going on – including looking at graduate schools – but one of the most exciting things that has happened is…

I’m taking Otomen to Hawaii!

Dr. Anderson helped me craft the work I’ve done on Otomen into an abstract for the 2012 Hawaii International Conference on Arts & Humanities. So if you’re going to be at the conference, look me up! The title is  My Pretty Prince! Gender-role Gymnastics in the Shojo Manga Series Otomen. Here’s the abstract below:

Scholars take opposite positions on women’s roles in shojo manga, or Japanese comics aimed at younger women, either praising or criticizing female gender role expectations. Some scholars, such as Kukhee Choo, argue that the roles occupied by female characters advocate traditional female gender roles and thereby hinder women’s autonomy by perpetuating traditional stereotypes. Yet a few other scholars, such as Matt Thorn, state that these manga inspire more autonomy, since they can often feature a seemingly ordinary young girl overcoming extraordinary conflicts. However, neither position explores the range of male gender role expectations in shojo manga. In my paper, I examine Otomen, a shojo manga that features a male protagonist. Because it is a shojo manga that focuses on men, it pits the traditional Japanese understandings of male and female gender role expectations against each other, exploring them through the ‘girly’ protagonist Masamune Asuka and his relationship with his ‘ungirly’ female love interest Miakozuka Ryo. I specifically explore Asuka’s struggles between his hyper-masculine persona, created in response to pressure to conform to traditional societal gender expectations, and his inner feminine interests, thereby occupying a space between masculine and feminine.

Again, thanks to Crystal Anderson for…well, getting me into the conference! The abstract would not sound as professional as it does without her help! ♡