K-Pop: Examining American Culture through an Asian Lens

KPop

Two semesters ago, I took a music history course that spent roughly a week discussing Korean popular music, also known as “K-pop.” It was during those lectures that I learned about the origin of K-pop and its development and transformation over the years. I always knew K-pop had been heavily influenced by American culture due to the fact that American troops stationed in South Korea during the Korean War. But what I didn’t realize until taking this course is that in recent years, the South Korean entertainment industry has been working on entering the U.S. market by attempting to make their products more appealing to Americans. This explains the awkward feeling I had every time I listened to K-pop, for many songs reveal the generalization of American culture.

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In her “Eat You Up” music video, South Korean singer and actress BoA wears an oversized hoodie and sagging pants and performs a hip-hop dance routine with her mostly-white dance crew. Her clothing style no doubt imitates American grassroots culture in the 90s, and the way she breaks into a room for audition is similar to scenes shown in Step Up and other Hollywood films. The phrase “I’ll eat you up” appears numerous times in the lyrics, and the aggressive and sexual nature of it may remind listeners of Britney Spears, Beyoncé and other female American singers. The lyrics may also be interpreted as an aspect of the video that reinforces the “dragon lady” stereotype, but that’d be a different story.

What I would like to focus on is the video’s portrayal of American culture, which does not seem to accurately reflect current trends in the country. The clothing, dance moves and storyline all seem pretty outdated, but the production team’s effort is obvious: they were aiming to Americanize the music to attract American audiences. Despite the obvious attempt, this music video failed to help BoA break into the U.S. market, perhaps because it contains stereotypical ideologies and inaccurate imageries of American culture.

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“Eat You Up” is not the only song that made this mistake.

There are many girl sing groups in South Korea. Most of the members look almost identical in the music videos. Not only do they wear the same clothes but they also dance and sing in similar ways. Wonder Girl represents such groups. The music video of their song “Nobody” has been popularized in other Asian countries such as China, Japan and Taiwan, but like “Eat You Up,” the song was not remembered by Americans, and here’s the reason:

The idea of having identical girls in a group may have originated from the Kim Sisters, a South Korean female trio who made their careers in America in the 50s and 60s. At the time, Americans still had clear distinctions between men and women in terms of how they should behave and present themselves. But that is no longer the case. Nowadays, American artists are willing to express their true identities. For female singers, this means that most of them neglect traditional performance styles such as little movements while singing and doll-like imageries, yet Wonder Girls and other South Korean girl bands seem to be stuck in the past, which may be why they are less appealing in American music lovers’ minds.

Generalization usually happens to minority groups, but through this discussion, it is proven that dominant cultures can face this problem, too. Instead of attempting to assimilate into American society, K-pop should place an emphasis on its unique cultural aspects. By doing so, such songs and music videos may have a higher chance of being accepted by Americans.

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