Rethinking the K-pop industry’s silence during the Black Lives Matter movement


As nationwide protests towards police violence and racial inequality proceed within the U.S., Ok-pop followers, well-known for his or her social media savvy, are utilizing their collective power to rally around the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ok-pop stands for Korean common music. So far, followers have crashed police department apps and co-opted hashtags. This highlights the subversive instruments which have change into a part of the Ok-pop standom – which refers back to the obsessive, devoted, diehard fandom – resistance.

When Ok-pop stars BTS and their firm, Big Hit, donated US$1 million to Black Lives Matter, BTS followers mobilized in a #MatchAMillion campaign. They efficiently reached their fundraising target in 24 hours.

Big Hit was an outlier. While Ok-pop followers have obtained media consideration for his or her help within the Black Lives Matter motion, the trade has largely remained quiet about what has change into a global flashpoint. The silence from a lot of the Ok-pop trade stands out much more towards the unprecedented number of businesses standing with the anti-racism motion as a corporate strategy.

I’m a scholar of popular culture, and my analysis on Ok-pop reveals how the Ok-pop trade’s standard follow of shying away from political points is at the moment being challenged by the extra politically vocal and engaged followers in the mean time of Black Lives Matter.

A historical past of silence

Ok-pop is mostly understood as a specific model of music produced, distributed and consumed inside the idol training and management system.

Under this technique, Korean leisure corporations tightly management the photographs of the younger Ok-pop stars and groom them to change into “multi-entertainers” who could make varied media appearances and doubtlessly land quite a few profitable endorsement offers and partnerships with manufacturers.

This aim requires Ok-pop stars to have a broad industrial attraction, secured by means of their exuberance and exhibition of values that the Korean public approve, such as humility, hard work, discipline and obedience.

The Ok-pop trade has an extended historical past of staying out of political and social points. Entertainment corporations concern that getting mired in politics will hurt business.

Even when tens of millions of Koreans peacefully took to the streets for 20 consecutive weekends to demand the impeachment of ex-President Park Geun-hye for her function within the authorities corruption, the K-pop industry and its stars stayed mum.

Ok-pop’s transnational recognition, particularly in East Asia, a area that has complicated geopolitics and tensions from unresolved historic conflicts, is one more reason the trade stays apolitical.

But as a result of differing calls for of the Korean followers who need their Ok-pop stars to advance Korea’s nationalistic causes and the worldwide followers who need the Ok-pop stars to be sympathetic to their native causes, Ok-pop’s trade’s want to take care of “apolitical neutrality” appears to be much less tenable.

Even when Ok-pop stars keep away from expressing their political opinions, geopolitical feuds between different countries in the East Asian region can result in disastrous monetary penalties.

The world noticed the results of this within the aftermath of the the U.S. missile defense system’s deployment on the Korean soil. Worried that the sophisticated radar systems included within the system can observe China’s personal missiles, the Chinese authorities issued a stern warning that the deployment of THAAD will result in a disastrous relationship between two international locations.

When the Korean authorities did not heed to that demand, China banned Korean leisure and entertainers, main many Korean corporations to see their share costs to dip more than 15% inside a month of these retaliatory actions.

Ok-pop within the states

With Ok-pop’s progress right into a $5 billion global industry, Korean leisure corporations’ collective silence on Black Lives Matter appears to be much less of a viable possibility when problems with racism and social inequality matter tremendously to the American followers whose ardour and efficient fan labor have been on the heart of that international progress.

Ok-pop’s international success being indebted to Black music and fandom is one other essential issue to why the Ok-pop trade can’t ignore the social justice actions which are occurring within the U.S.

Ok-pop’s affect from Black music corresponding to hip hop, rap and R&B is a large think about Ok-pop’s transnational attraction. Lee Soo Man, the founding father of SM Entertainment, has acknowledged the connection, saying that Ok-pop is “based on Black music.”

The founders of JYP, YG and Big Hit Entertainment have all publicly said their affect from Black artists. The Ok-pop trade continues to attract inspiration from Black music by hiring Black American lyricists and producers to supply R&B model music.

Ok-pop’s breakthrough within the U.S. is essentially attributed to its transnational fandom base, with Black fans contributing considerably to remodel Ok-pop from a niche genre to a global phenomenon.

In reality, Ok-pop’s success within the U.S. was potential not due to a white, mainstream viewers, however as a result of a small, passionate group of Ok-pop followers – many from communities of shade – found Ok-pop as they sought alternatives to the mainstream popular culture that continues to privilege white representation as the norm.

Ok-pop as a political instrument

These followers usually are not political wallflowers.

American Ok-pop followers have held American journalists and mainstream media accountable when these journalists and shops used racist stereotypes to cowl Ok-pop. They have known as out a white, Western file govt who expressed his want to whitewash K-pop by making a Ok-pop group with out Koreans.

They have additionally challenged the racist and xenophobic actions of MTV when it created a separate class for Ok-pop artists known as “Best K-pop” whereas excluding them from the primary awards corresponding to “Best Pop” or “Artist of the Year” for Video Music Awards.

For these American followers, Ok-pop has change into a instrument for social justice.

However, followers are additionally taking a look at this instrument within the context of the Ok-pop trade’s – and the fandom’santi-Black racist practices as Ok-pop is being celebrated as a preferred weapon for activism.

Ok-pop idols have a historical past of carrying cornrows, braids or dreads, performing in Blackface or making jokes about Black people.

Considering that Ok-pop is a product of systematic planning and managed administration, these anti-Black performances have been achieved with the approval of the Korean leisure corporations. As Ok-pop followers in America and world wide are protesting for social justice and racial equality, they’re additionally utilizing the second to replicate on Ok-pop’s practices of racism and cultural appropriation.

The present second is considered one of reckoning for the Ok-pop trade, the place the slender nationalism of its apoliticism seems at nice odds with its American Ok-pop followers’ demand for political and social change.

Ok-pop followers within the U.S. have been urging trade professionals to talk out.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Taking a stand

A big variety of Ok-pop stars have already publicly stated their support for the Black Lives Matter motion.

Korean leisure corporations that typically encourage their stars to chorus from political expressions as a part of their administration technique haven’t stopped them from doing so.

In reality, on June 19, 2020, SM Entertainment, Korea’s largest leisure firm, launched an official statement on the Black Lives Matter motion. It took greater than three weeks because the protests after the loss of life of George Floyd and far prodding from American followers who’ve known as out the corporate to talk out with #SMBLACKOUT motion for the corporate to concern its help.

However, this reveals how the socially acutely aware and politically outspoken American followers can nudge the Ok-pop trade to change into extra political, particularly as Ok-pop goals to remain international.

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