“K-pop doesn’t have a chance in America because America is racist.”
Take a peek around the K-pop blogosphere and it’s a commonly made argument. International netizens express this viewpoint everywhere from allkpop to Omona They Didn’t without justification or evidence, just as a matter of fact.
Personally though? I don’t buy it.
Despite the flood of Asian-American “celebs” on Youtube, racial imbalance and prejudice in American entertainment still make themselves known.
For many Americans, the idea of an Asian Beyonce is nearly unthinkable. Despite the progress made by Asian-Americans who have found success in the entertainment industry, the American perception of Asians on the pop scene is still very skewed, and by relation, the negative stereotypes of Asians within American society continue to persist.
This particularly pertains to America, home to a culture that has somehow grown to ostracize and reject anything deemed as “foreign.” It’s an unlikely response, considering America’s reputation as being the world’s “melting pot,” but just take a look at the infamous “Kids React to K-pop” video and you’ve got a pretty good explanation. It seems to me that many Americans instinctually regard Asian pop acts as a cheap “knock-off” of a non-Asian, popular American pop act. How many times has 2NE1 been regarded as the Asian Lady Gaga? Taeyang as the Asian Chris Brown? SHINee as a troupe of Asian Justin Biebers? Why must Asian pop artists almost always be contextualized by a non-Asian look-a-like, and why are they almost always seen as being somewhat inferior to the so-called “original”? There is a good reason why K-pop won’t make it in America, and it lies in the fact that the American view of anything “foreign” is still one laced with negativity and judgment.
I’m not going to sit here and deny that Asians/Asian Americans face significant barriers in the entertainment industry in the United States. Nor am I going to argue that America as a whole is less likely to respect Asians/Asian Americans in an artistic field than any other racial group.
What I am going to argue though is that K-pop’s failure or success in America will have less to do with race and more to do with talent.
Am I the only one who sees how ironic it is for Asian Americans to complain about Americans who say that K-pop is an imitation of American pop? Remember, when it comes to Hollywood remaking Asian movies, Asian Americans are first ones who are up in arms.
And you know what? Both are right.
Besides a select few instances (“Infernal Affairs“/”The Departed“), American remakes of Asian movies are largely failures because they are derivative pieces of work that lack the vision, talent, and impact of the original. Yet, the remakes have continued because they are economic boons.
Well, as much as K-pop fans want to deny it, the same can be said for their genre of choice as well. Why do people compare K-pop to American pop and say it’s a derivative product? Because for the most part it is.
Don’t take my word for it though, take the word of the Korean media, Korean companies, and Korean artists themselves.
Nobody is forcing Korean artists to worship American pop artists at every turn, nobody is forcing Korean companies to work with American content creators every chance they get, and nobody is forcing the Korean media to hype up every connection to American pop it can scrape up.
Like it or not, the inherent implication that comes along with media, companies, and artists flipping out over getting to work with Beyonce‘s choreographer or Lady Gaga‘s stylist or Michael Jackson pubic hair braider is that the K-pop artists themselves will be making a better product because they are now associated with these people. The amount of stories that try to make any connection between K-pop artists and their American counterparts borders on pathetic, and quite frankly, it screams Napoleon Complex to anybody willing to wade through the bullshit.
If K-pop wasn’t a derivative product, why would any of this be noteworthy at all?
To go back to the film industry comparison, you just don’t see any of this bullshit happening. Kurosawa Akira isn’t called the Japanese Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese writes tributes to him. It’s not relevant when Park Chan Wook has Western ties on his staff, it’s the staff that are glad to be working with him.
They are who they are because their work speaks for itself. Why bother hyping something that’s legitimately original and legitimately amazing? There is no inherent insecurity that comes along with the Asian film industry, they respect their Western counterparts and their Western counterparts reciprocate. While Asian directors appreciate critical success in the West, it doesn’t run their lives or careers, nor does it affect their product. They believe they are on equal footing and they fucking act like it.
Their swag isn’t just a bunch of rhetoric, it shows through their actions, and as a result, the West ends up imitating them.
Flash back to K-pop and it’s the epitome of insecurity. On one hand, there’s this rampant arrogance and hype around it that treats Americans as ignorant for not loving K-pop. On the other hand, the fans are busy kowtowing when an artist is seen in the background of a paparazzi video starring Ashley fucking Tisdale.
Think about that. Seriously.
America is degrading K-pop? Nah, K-pop is doing a fine job of that to itself. To accuse Americans, fucking kids at that, of being racist because they see a knockoff product and call a spade a spade is the height of arrogance, especially when the majority of the K-pop world revolves around conceding to American pop by default around every corner.
America’s opinions of K-pop aren’t so much an indictment of America’s racist attitudes as it is about Asia’s inferiority complex towards the West.
Why is K-pop seen as derivative? Because K-pop admits it themselves.
Even if they don’t realize it yet.