Asian-American agency in K-pop

Music is able to traverse ‘national boundaries somewhat more easily’ (Eun-Young Jung, p219) than other forms of mass entertainment. With this in mind, we are able to see why there is not only a surge, but a fierce dedication and commitment from Asian individuals and families to raise their children to blossom into the talented section of K-list celebrities recognisable internationally. This involves strict training and a lifestyle with the notion of making it big in the K-pop industry as a focal point, yet a question has to be raised, why is K-pop able to raise the status of these unique individuals and what is all the fuss about i.e. what is so majestic of being a Kstar?

The conceptual imagery of K-pop presents itself as a reciprocal to the diversity of American culture in present day; the concepts return to notions of stardom seen to be popular and mass produced from the 1990s and early 2000s in western culture. This lack of diversity is evident from the thematic performances involving dance choreography and ‘teen-pop’ imagery in the style and presentation of the artists. While this is still existent in western culture, it is typically mocked by a larger portion of society for the overexposure and saturation of the boy band image upon its creation and fruition. Yet, although baring affiliation to many dated artists such as The Spice Girls and N-Sync, this genre does diversify itself with the use of languages other than English, presenting a twist that can be popular for westerners able to consume nostalgic, and at times mildly embarrassing guilty pleasures, but with an emblematic benefit to their cultural capital. Yet, this is not always the case as ‘it is also clear that the transnational flows of popular music have limits, and these limits have less to do with language or musical style than they do with, for lack of a better term, “image”’ (Eun-Young Jung, 220).VIXX-vixx-34255538-1280-800

The K-pop stars are equally able to express their agency as they create themselves as an icon of stardom, yet, what was initially a model for agency can be interpreted as objectifying the stars due to newly constructed stereotypes of K-pop. As the popularity of the genre grew internationally, what was seen to be the genre became its definition and thus made it harder for upcoming K-pop stars to break the stereotypes and boundaries of the established genre so much to gain commercial success overseas. This is equally in part due to the Asian origin of the music, with large companies promoting existing chart- topping stars as the industry exists prior to any influence of foreign genres.

Not only this, but K-pop stars can be seen as infinite, being seen as many intersectional faces simultaneously, and in doing so, corrupt the stereotypes they can be seen as. To digress, by being able to be seen as the model minority as iconic stars, but also the significant other in society as well due to their ‘foreignness’, the two stereotypes collide and contrast, rendering the implications of such to be more inferior than with other aspects of Asian people; by being idolised but also being other, K-pop stars impede the stigma of entirely being foreign.

Yet, despite the benefits to Asian-Americans, K-pop can also be encountered as reinforcing stereotypes of sexuality, with a substantial fixation on provocative, attractive female stars flaunting their bodies in suggestive dance in music videos. Not only this, but male stars are created to be typically teen heart-throbs, in that, they are dissected away from concepts of machismo and male dominance to styled hair and perfect skin; the male Asian stars are typically constructed as feminine, in part due to the popularity of boy bands in an economic perspective. This reiterates the limitations of K-pop as a medium to fully express agency as stars become crafted into what sells, or furthermore, what fits the boundaries of the image of K-pop, yet, with the emergence of K-pop at large public events in the US, such as Vixx performing at the Global Citizen Earth Day in Washington DC 2015, it is possible to say an increase in public awareness of the genre may enhance the agency for stars in the foreseeable future and expand those boundaries.

Picture reference:

Eun-Young Jung, ‘Playing the Race and Sexuality Cards in the Transnational Pop Game: Korean Music Videos for the US Market’ in Journal of Popular Music Studies, 22.2, pp.219–236.


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