Although K-Pop is seen as an industry that brings people from all walks of life together, one problem that has been raised throughout the past few years is the issue of cultural appropriation seen in music videos and actions from idols.
The definition of cultural appropriation is “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”
With the issue being at the forefront of the industry, it would seem logical that K-Pop idols and companies would go out of their way to ensure it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, that seems to be far from the case.
Recently, Lee Gyu Tag, a professor of cultural studies at George Mason University Korea, sat down with Korean Joongang to discuss the topic and why cultural appropriation is still a huge issue in K-Pop.
In the interview, Lee Gyu Tag pointed out that most times, the issues of cultural appropriation stem from the idea of Koreans wanting to see their culture expand worldwide but without being willing to learn about other countries.
This lack of reciprocity often explains why we keep seeing cultural appropriation — imitating another culture without showing respect or understanding — in K-pop.
— Lee Gyu Tag
Each time another scandal happens, global netizens raise anger and try to find a way to educate idols about the issues. Yet, it continues to happen regardless of whether the artists or companies release an apology.
Although netizens are always quick to raise concerns, Lee Gyu Tag reveals that Koreans are still quite “ignorant” when it comes to the issue.
For instance, K-pop is heavily influenced by African-American culture, but hardly anyone in Korea knows or really cares about that. I doubt that the K-pop idols know much about the African-American roots of the music and fashion they present.
— Lee Gyu Tag
Another reason that not just Lee Gyu Tag has raised but others looking at the issue is the matter of Korean society. Many Western countries see diverse populations, which gives rise to education and awareness.
The same cannot be said for Korea which is known as a homogenous nation, where most people are of the same ethnicity. Due to this, Lee Gyu Tag believes that it makes it harder for Koreans to understand why initiation could be offensive.
On top of that, as a relatively homogenous nation, it’s harder for Koreans to grasp how much black culture and heritage mean to the African American community, and thus why imitating other cultures without much thought is so offensive.
— Lee Gyu Tag
He even went a step further and described Korean society as focusing on other countries’ perspectives of them rather than trying to learn about the countries they want to expand to.
Some say Koreans only care about the United States, Japan and China. But even then, the main focus is, ‘What do they think about us?’ Koreans don’t really care to learn about American history or culture either, which explains the frequent appropriation of African-American culture.
— Lee Gyu Tag
very disappointed… again. honestly i feel defeated. most ARMY don't care about CA – especially when its CA of Indigenous ppls. so they won't even bat an eye or question this photo 😔. https://t.co/6j0oJ0de5i
— Ojistoh⁷ (@BeadsTS) January 21, 2022
Yet, although K-Pop companies might be slow to react to the issues when they arise, netizens have always been willing to educate idols whenever they feel it is necessary.
In 2021, BLACKPINK‘s Lisa showcased this when she extended a fancall when a BLINK read a letter to the idol about her cultural appropriation in the “MONEY” music video where she wore box braids.
After the fan read the letter, Lisa expressed how sorry she was about the topic and that never meant to cause any offense.
I didn’t know… like, I didn’t have bad intentions. I thought that the hairstyle is very cool. But I feel so bad, and it’s like, I’m very sorry someone got hurt from that.
Yet, it seems like it isn’t all negative. Back in the pre-debut group YOURS posted a video focusing on “Discrimination in Hairstyles.” Member Jia revealed that the group’s fans (known as MYME) suggested the topic on Discord.
Many hope that this could be the way forward by educating idols as soon as they begin training.
Although idols seem willing to listen to the issues of cultural appropriation, many netizens wonder why it continues to happen. It seems like K-Pop idols and companies are quick to apologize when netizens raise concerns but quickly make the same mistake again.
You can read more about former MOMOLAND member Daisy discussing the issues of cultural appropriation within K-Pop.