BoA, Rain, Lee Hyori, Super Junior, DBSK, Big Bang.
They have more than Korean cinematography on their side: They’re talented, dedicated artists.
Their catchy songs and idyllic appearances make them perfectly capable of being international stars. But they didn’t make it in the United States first.
Topping Justin Bieber’s No. 1 hit single “As Long as You Love Me” in August was Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” the first Korean-pop (K-pop) song to ever appear on U.S. radio, let alone top the charts. Some call it a K-pop breakthrough. I call it racist.
Psy has been around the Korean music industry for decades. And having gone to Boston College and then Berklee College of Music, he’s not new to the U.S. music scene, either. He knows what he’s doing; he knows how to compose a hit song and he chooses to create comedic hits that make fun of his Korean counterparts.
It was the music video on YouTube that first went viral and made his claim to fame. In the video, he exhibits himself as a stereotypical perverted Asian male who thinks he’s good enough for women completely out of his league. He’s also a stereotypical Asian male fool who’s not afraid to dance like an idiot. It’s the nature of his comedy. But we don’t understand that his video is actually a joke — we see his work, and we think, “Yeah, that’s ‘Asian’ for you.”
The thing is, in order to be a successful pop star in this country, you need to be extraordinarily beautiful, extraordinarily good at networking, or extraordinarily appealing — for some reason or another — to the majority of U.S. pop-loving residents. That probably means being ethnically ambiguous (and, at the same time, too beautiful for words), enough so as to look like a true American that represents our “melting pot.”
Sometimes being appealing to the majority means separating yourself altogether from your origins: Sing songs in English, dye your hair blonde, and try to pass off as being both unique and completely U.S.-born. In Shakira’s case, her skilled dancing and Latina, Middle-Eastern, and African influences make her both “ethnic” and star material. She is trademark Latina, in a positive way.
Of all the amazing K-pop artists out there that would one day be in the U.S. Big Leagues, never would I have thought Psy would make the list. But then again, he has one powerful advantage: He is a walking Asian stereotype, gold for anyone who wants to continue to believe that even our music is superior because at least it makes sense.
I am not ignoring Psy’s talent, condemning those who listen to “Gangnam Style,” or even denying that his U.S. popularity could lead to positive K-pop exposure. I am only suggesting that people consider the origins of the song’s popularity before jumping on the bandwagon.
Maybe his fame is a breakthrough in that it will lead to K-pop’s greater exposure. But in terms of the United States getting over its xenophobic tendencies, there’s no breakthrough here.
Reach Development Editor Hayat Norimine at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @HayatNorimine
Please read our Comment policy.