Coping with the K-Pop Fandom as a Black Woman

The K-Pop fandom is somewhat of a small shadow looming over the Black community in silence, salivating for the next wave to ride. It didn’t step into the light until recently, with the mega success of K-Pop boy band B.T.S. and frankly, they are what got me into K-Pop. In late 2017, the buzz I heard of B.T.S. kept increasing. I continued to ignore the hype and decided to stay away from K-Pop because of the language barrier. But I kept seeing tweets on my timeline on Twitter mentioning them and saying that they were coming to the U.S. to perform at the Billboard Music Awards because they were nominated for an award. At music awards, the music video representing the artist plays when the presenters announce the nominations. I saw their music video for their song called “Blood Sweat and Tears” on screen and from those five seconds, my interest was peaked.

Only a few months after, I found myself in my room watching them perform their song D.N.A. on another American award show. I was amazed by what I witnessed on stage. Not only was the dancing mesmerizing because of the smoothness in the footwork, but I loved the coordination of their dance and their unique stage presence drew me in even more. I decided to check out one of their albums and gradually began to listen to their whole discography within months. I kept coming back to it because of the high production value and their artistic concepts in their music videos. Each member has their own unique quality whether it is rapping, singing, or dancing and the individual appeal increased my love of the group as a whole. After I had B.T.S. on constant replay on my Spotify playlist, I heard of other K-Pop groups through all of the B.T.S. content I was consuming on YouTube. Unexpectedly, I got into this group called EXO. 

My interest in K-Pop began to expand beyond those two boy bands as I started to watch K-Pop reaction channels. Reaction channels were my way of seeing how the music appeals to the first time listener and I thought it was entertaining seeing and hearing varying opinions on K-Pop music from Americans. One of my favorite reaction channels reacted to “Ko Ko Bop” by EXO, with a song that has a reggae, poppy feel. I enjoyed the reaction up until I saw something that made my heart sink on the screen. One of the EXO members was dancing in dreadlocs. The locs looked like a wig and it clearly weren’t real because I’d seen his real hair before. After that shocking revelation, I found myself getting cold feet in the fandom. I felt a deep sadness about the situation, at the fact that my blackness wasn’t respected even by other people of color. I started to contain myself every time a new K-Pop song by B.T.S. or EXO came out because I wanted to avoid further disappointment. I barely went on Twitter and if I did, I ignored any K-Pop fan profiles. The craziest part is that I only saw praise of the music video from other fans and it seemed as though no one cared to talk about the elephant in the room.

Mainstream love of K-Pop seemed to grow alongside my own. As I began to follow more K-Pop groups on Twitter, it seemed like everyone on my timeline had a K-Pop band profile picture. Even despite the jarring moment of cultural appropriation, my love of K-Pop continued to grow until I witnessed another blunder that threw me out of place. One of my favorite K-Pop reaction channels, Riverse Reacts, had reacted to a recent K-Pop group that came out with a song, and as soon as one of the reactors “compared” the group to B.T.S. wild cats and dogs came out of the woodworks. It was almost as if a cult congregated in the comment section, ready to prey on the innocent. From their response you would think Riverse Reacts had made malicious comments, when in fact they did not. But one thing I did notice was that the reactor who made the original comments was Black. Watching people in the K-Pop fandom unnecessarily swarm and attack people, especially Black people, for no apparent reason further increased my suspicions of the K-Pop fandom as a whole. 

After that debacle I had to rethink my place in the fandom as a Black woman. At one point I asked my sister why most Black people didn’t listen to K-Pop. Her answer comprised of two elements: over-manufacturing and cultural appropriation, mixed with over-fetishization. She felt the same way each time I forced her to watch a new music video. The majority of the K-Pop fandom is Asian and white. In various gatherings where I see other fans, you have to squint ferociously to spot a Black person. When I began to realize this I continued with my K-Pop journey, but I had to be more aware of my surroundings. It took me a while, but I officially understood the dangers my sister warned me to avoid. Now, I see my best bet is to avoid those dangers at all costs. I don’t follow K-Pop people as much as I used to because I don’t want to be in that swarm culture, and it’s worked wonders for me. Sometimes I find myself coming back to it once every blue moon because it’s something I’m still drawn to but not as much as before. I try to avoid K-Pop songs or music videos that warrant cultural appropriation and to keep my eyes open when I listen to the music. In the end, the racism of  imagery in visuals and the enablement of the fandom put me in a questioning position when it comes to my thoughts on K-Pop. There is value and strength in the music, but how powerful is that strength when it displays a hateful message to me and my people?