Journal of a Black K-pop Fan-Chapter 1

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally whipped up this little think piece about Black K-pop fans and I’m still unconfident as to if I did this proper justice. It actually had several different versions before I settled on this one version that’s semi-serious, semi-funny and is broken up into chapters instead of one big piece. That, I believe was my main two struggles on writing up this one. I was also really worried on how to write it without someone hunting me down and blasting my Twitter but, this is my blog and I wanted to add my own spin to some things that I have seen or personally witnessed during my time as a fan of K-pop.

The following paragraphs just touch upon the first topic found within this monster of a theme. Hopefully, some sort of remote interest from the one reader I have (say hi!) but I feel as if the interest won’t be there necessarily so it’s up in the works for now. Plus, these think pieces take quite a while to make and I suck at time management–someone help me.

1.1 I want to be a K-pop idol, too! But without revoking my black identity, please and thank you.

I read a short thesis on African-American or Black K-pop fans and YouTube reaction videos. The author chose to gather information on Black YouTubers’ reactions to different K-pop music videos with an equal number shared between girl and boy groups. He mentioned in the beginning how there is not much discourse or discussions based on black fans in K-pop unless it was on Black-face in Korea, the usage of inappropriate and offensive terms like the n word and cultural appropriation. He concluded that these fans were able to incorporate K-pop into their lives without compromising who they felt as black fans while also understanding the diverse and cosmopolitan world of K-pop fandom. Yet, they were also faced with issues. 

About every K-pop fan has faced the worry of “coming out” as a K-pop fan to family, fans, or very curious and nosy strangers who just happened to see that K-pop merch you’re decked out in…right? So basically, even if you haven’t experienced this directly, I’m sure you’ve heard of the irritation and lamentation of fan girls and boys who felt discriminated against just for loving K-pop and their lovely oppas and unnis. Yet, the black fans mentioned above appeared to have the added bonus of not only worrying about people knocking them down and dragging them for stanning those effeminate flower boys dancing on screen in flashy outfits, but they also have to reassert their black identity, so their “black card” isn’t revoked. They also have to be battered with questions on cultural appropriation and whether or not Koreans actually like them (meaning black culture in general) or simply just like the aesthetics of the culture but without much regard to the people of the culture itself. In essence, how is K-pop and black culture and its people viewed in K-pop and how do these same fans react to this industry?

Reading this thesis made me think more about the overall feeling of identity that some black fans may come across as they enter and remain in the world of K-pop. For instance, it’s good that these black K-pop YouTubers seem to have a strong sense of themselves and who they are. They don’t feel any less black or feel the need to conform just for liking a music genre that others question them for. These people are confident in themselves for who they are and nothing can change that.

But what about other fans? In the same thesis, one of the sentiments that the author saw on one of these reaction videos is that some fans share a wish to be K-pop idols. Granted, that’s not uncommon especially among the younger fans who see their idols dancing, singing, and seemingly living up the life of a beloved celebrity (I mean, man, I too wish I had an ounce of talent, but here I am, incoherently typing this up). However, I feel like this sentiment along with other similar feelings can easily be taken too far by a minority that is commonly feeling oppressed and stereotyped as the lesser human being, especially in such a niche community as the K-pop world.

Take for example the case of Kiya Boyd from Detroit, Michigan, who was interviewed by Asian Boss to talk about her experience as a former black K-pop trainee.

In this video, Kiya explains how she became a K-pop trainee and her experience throughout the year training in singing, dancing, acting, etc while intensively learning Korean. She eventually broke it off with her company and parted on mutual terms which is really interesting since usually in the K-pop industry when one wants to break free from his or her contract early, it usually results in a legal battle. For this not to happen to her, is actually pretty incredible.

First of all however, I didn’t even know there was ever a black trainee like this in K-pop (yes, I know there was Alex in RaNia but a little more on her later), so this brought on some complex emotions. On the one hand, I give her props for entering a competitive non-forgiving environment such as the K-pop industry in the hopes of debuting as an idol and according to the video, I assumed she was supposed to debut solo. But on the other hand, despite how many “global auditions” these K-pop companies put on, the global really stands for the places these auditions will be held, not really the people that they’re looking for. I mean, if you have any sort of Asian in you and look it (though I suppose you can look a tad more white as they find it “exotic”) then you’re set. But being black? Good luck with that.

Again, I do know that there was Alex from RaNia, but her idol life was short-lived and while I do admire her for going through all of that, she had the benefit of being lighter skinned. Lighter vs Darker skin is a heated debate going on in the black community. And let’s not kid ourselves here, lighter skin is seen as more desirable across the world. Black people are bleaching their skin in order to lighten it and be seen as more acceptable to society or as close as their melanin-filled bodies can. It’s a sad reality, but it’s the truth.

As for Kiya’s video, there is not much else to say though, some of the comments were a bit enlightening. Some included:

“She is quite lucky that her & her ex company part ways mutually without any ugly legal battle.” (This had the most likes I saw with 11K)

“When she said “black people aren’t usually pretty” it made me so sad:((” (Over 5K Likes)

“I’m surprised she was even a trainee as racist and colorist as Korea is kudos to her”. (Over 4K Likes)

“I’m shocked they even hired her, like bigbhit is having a global audition but we all know they only want Asain or Asian mixed with white” (Over 9K Likes)

These specifically caught my attention for different reasons. I had already mentioned the usual legal battle when breaking contract and the whole “global audition” farce these companies put on (though that jab at BigHit specifically filled me with some glee), but the other two comments kind of got to me personally. It’s true, black people aren’t typically seen as pretty. When Kiya said it in the video, she didn’t say it in a malicious or self-deprecating way, but it was more matter of fact. That’s the sadder part, I think. Kiya even mentions at one point in the interview that she had been confident and had thought that there was nothing wrong with her until she came to Korea where her confidence shrunk enough for her to contemplate getting some work done on herself.

The other comment that mentions how racist and colorist Korea is sort of caught me off guard only because of the amount of likes it got. I thought more people would be on the defense for Korea and explain “Hey, Korea is getting better” or blah blah blah. Yes, some comments underneath this particular one does do that, but we can’t really deny the fact that Korean beauty standards prize whiter skin (vampire skin) and while one can chalk that up to being media being the media, general society here follows that to a T as well causing one to feel more scrutinized and particular picture popped up in the video of her skin lightened.

Compare this to the thumbnail of her video or just watch the thing for a better comparison

Ultimately, just like Alex, she left the K-pop scene, but Kiya left off with a bright message to viewers. She mentions that her ultimate goal is to inspire others like her to not be dissuaded or afraid of trying to come to South Korea and enter the entertainment business. Instead, if you really want to do it then you should no matter what anyone says.

However, because I am Insomniacynic and I have a duty to remain cynical, I know it won’t be that freaking easy, obviously. Currently, as I write this, I am in Korea. While it has been a good stay, so far and I plan to come back in the future, I still notice just how constrained and backwards thinking this developed society is at the moment. Like, they have all this fancy tech and advanced medicine but then you still have a lot of ignorance and rigid ways of thinking especially towards other cultures, mental health, women issues, etc. And honestly, while some of these things are improving as time goes by, others just remain stagnant. Contrary to belief, I want things to get better for this country, but nothing’s going to change that quickly even if you want things to.

1.2 Chicken Noodle Soup with Cringe on the Side

To tell the truth, as I was going through the videos, the tweets, the thesis, and more, the one that hurt the most for me personally was Chicken Noodle Soup.

This fecking song, right here

For those not in the know, Chicken Noodle Soup was an MV released by BTS’s J-hope last month to much hype and fanfare. It is a remake that was named after a song of the same name that was released back in 2006 by Webster and Young B.

However, it did cause a bit of a divide within the online community especially those on Twitter who either loved the song or disliked/hated it for reasons of cultural appropriation and the like. It might be a surprise, but quite a few of the ones who had a problem with the MV were non-blacks which led me to seeing some of them being called colonizers, crackers, crusty old white women that don’t know what they’re talking about and other similar degrading insults targeted at their race.

First of all, I personally believe that that type of behavior is wrong and no one should feel invalidated just because their race doesn’t match the culture they’re trying to defend or critique on. Of course, there those who hate just to hate but from what I mostly saw on Twitter was that most of the people, blacks and non-blacks, who had a problem with Chicken Noodle Soup provided reasons why they had an issue with it and weren’t forcing their opinion on others, but explained why they felt that way (though I’m sure there were those who tried to force their opinion on others).

Two opposing opinions I conveniently found right next to each other.

Second of all, as for my personal reaction to it, I didn’t like it. Look, I didn’t care for his hair, the gelled twists, or whatever people wanted to call them. I admit though, I didn’t like how he looked with them but it’s just a matter of personal taste. The boy looked fine without them. They literally appear within the last 30 seconds or so of the song which was a real letdown. Jesus Christ, J-hope, I was a fool for having some faith in you…

I also didn’t really like the song. It wasn’t really my style and before you come at me, I listened to the original too, which appeared to be part of everyone’s childhood except mine, and I didn’t find it that appealing either. Again, it’s just personal taste. I can appreciate the use of three different languages being used though. I’m a language geek, what can I say? Oh, and finally, the dance–it’s a nah from me. Let’s just say I’d never do it even if I liked the song, but to those who took up the challenge, hat’s off to you.

Anyways, as for the other main issue that some fans had a problem with was when J-hope compared Gwangju to Harlem. That, I have to say, I don’t have much of an opinion on simply because I admit I am ignorant to most of Harlem’s history though I have learned more since his song dropped, but I as someone who isn’t fully educated on the matter, want to step away from this one. However, I will say that due to the reaction it caused, he could’ve looked into it more and made an educated decision to tweak the lyrics a bit, but of course, idols either don’t have the time or care to actually do that.

Courtesy of Asian Junkie (as always)

Whatever, it was a hit anyway. Good for him, I suppose.

But honestly? It just made me more reflective and sadder about my own position as a black fan. I just felt like here was a video yet again dressing up too hard to be “hip-hop” and taking black African-American culture along for the ride as a prop again. Most of the backup dancers were there to create a more authentic feel to the MV (some white dude even got his hair twisted or something, too…like wha–? Haha) And the hydraulics on those cars…

The poor cars, they didn’t ask for this

To tell you the truth, I’m still wrapping my head around this culture appropriation vs cultural appreciation debate and still feel like I haven’t quite worked out everything. Then on the other hand, I have struggled long and hard and continue to do so with my own blackness, so unlike the more outspoken and assertive sisters of mine, I’m definitely more on the timid, what the hell should I think and feel? side. I know, I’m an idiot.

But watching this music video made me realize that this is really dressing up as a different culture only to throw it away after the cameras stop rolling and the director says “That’s a wrap.” Take out those gel twists, wear proper, non-hip-hoppy clothes or whatever and go back to living your life as a famous Korean superstar. Dude, I’ve struggled with my identity for a while and there were plenty of times that I wished I could just get rid of this dark skin and stupid natural hair of mine, but I can’t unless I take chemicals that’ll just make me even more unhealthier than I already am. That’s why I honestly can’t be mad at this video or J-hope like some of the others because it’s just the same old shit that we’ve seen in K-pop dozens, hundreds of times only being hyped up and being more accepted because it’s a member of BTS doing it.

BUT if you love his video than that’s great! If you’re black and found absolutely zero issues with his video then fantastic. I’m just talking about my own feelings here. Don’t mind me then and go about your day. Remember, I’m just a cynic passing through as lost as Alice in Wonderland.

Yet ultimately, this incident along with a few more “ethnically” based incidents involving black culture, has made me really wonder about being a black fan in K-pop and how black culture is viewed and used in the industry. I will explore those topics in the remaining chapters of my journal so, stay tuned!

~Bonus Content~

For now, have this video. It’s a ballad, so for all my ballad haters out there, I’m sorry, BUT I thought this was a bit of a nice contrast as opposed to Mr. Chicken Noodle Soup up there simply because this video made me feel better about my identity personally.

It’s rare in K-pop for a black woman to be used as anything but a sort of prop in a hip-hop video or as a back-up dancer, but here, this woman is seen as his love interest or just even a friend. I know nothing about this dude or whose decision it was to have her in it, but I really really appreciated it even if it’s just a small gesture.

(P.S. Found out her name is Bae Yoo Jin, a Korean-Nigerian model. The dude is from BTOB)

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