Black is the New K-Pop: Interview With ‘Black K-Pop Fans’
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a 3-day feature The One Shots is doing on Black History Month, the presence of black people, and issues in K-Pop. In the following article, Salima, herself a black K-Pop fan, sits down with the good people over at the Black K-Pop Fans tumblog and discusses black fans in K-Pop.
It’s hard being a black K-Pop fan sometimes. Who else are you going to spazz with when you see Jay Park grinding on his MV set with a hot black girl, who herself is tearing up the dance floor? Or when you see Taeyang doing the Cat Daddy? Or when Bang Yongguk says he loves Lyfe Jennings and Musiq Soulchild? That’s right, you’re all alone. But guess what, you’re not alone! I spoke with Donte, Kim, and Nia of Black K-Pop Fans and discussed skin color, Big Bang’s lack of diversity in their MV love interests, and the future of black people in K-Pop.
theOneShots: Tell me about your blog. How did it get started – are all of the admins black K-Pop fans?
Donte: One day Nia and I were talking on the phone and I think at that point someone in K-Pop had done or said something pretty racist in our opinion. The fandom ended up split between angry fans of color and people who were making excuses. It got me thinking about how different it can feel sometimes to be a black K-Pop fan because in many ways, it comes with its own set of dilemmas. The blog started out as little things about being a black K-Pop fan to show others that we do exist and are a large part of the K-Pop fandom in general. Then my good friend Kim joined in and there we were. And yes, all three of us are African American.
theOneShots: What is it about being a black K-Pop fan that makes the experience different? Are there groups or artists you gravitate to? Are there issues you’re more sensitive to that maybe other people don’t understand?
Donte: I don’t think there’s groups that we tend to gravitate to necessarily. It’d be easy to say that we’re mostly YG biased, but Nia and I actually love SM groups too. Everyone’s different and I don’t think their race really pushes them towards a certain group. Maybe the music they’ve already experienced might do that though. I’m not sure.
And I definitely think we can tend to be more sensitive towards Korea’s beauty standards, or what we hear about those standards. There are so many of us who get into K-Pop, fall in love with male idols, and then feel bad about ourselves because there’s “no way oppa would ever like someone as dark as me.” And it feels ridiculous to say that but I’ve seen lots of people use that as a reason why we shouldn’t be fans. And then when idols themselves say things that offend people of color, it’s so easy to push those things under the rug as if we don’t have feelings.
theOneShots: Idols may not return the love because dark skin isn’t valued. And I admit, it is hurtful. Why do you think it hurts sometimes? Why do we care what idols think if we love their music?
Donte: In general, we’re all used to seeing and hearing racism and people being color struck. Some of us learn to deal with it and others are still sensitive on the subject and this is just in everyday life. Now apply that to a music genre that we are active fans in. We devote significant time to these idols emotionally and even get attached. Now, if that idol puts the fan in the same position that racists have before (considering the dark-skinned fan as having lesser value in terms of beauty), that’s basically the worst kind of disillusionment. You even start to feel guilty for liking their music. It’s really hard on fans because we have to choose between our pride, heritage, and identity, and something we all love: music, and in turn, art.
theOneShots: We’ve seen a few black people show up in K-Pop videos (Jay Park’s “Know Your Name,” G-Dragon’s “One of A Kind” etc). What are your reactions when you see black people in K-Pop videos (or just around K-Pop in general) and what do you think it will take to see more in the future?
Kim: It’s one thing to hear that idols are shooting music videos overseas, and then for there not be a single person with even a tan to be present in the video. It’s another thing to grow to not expect it or get your hopes up. For a while I went through liking K-Pop like that. When I see black people in K-Pop videos (did you know there’s a black girl in 2PM’s “Hands Up” video? You have to look for her though…) it’s thrilling to say the least. I think it’ll really take the presence of international fans to make it happen.
Over the past few years, K-Pop has taken a huge leap out of Korea and Asia in general. SMTown happened in New York, not just in LA, (which seems to be the only place companies think exists in the U.S.) and though I wasn’t able to go because I live (all us admins do) in the south, it was still amazing. And get this – they were shocked at the huge outcome and success of SMTown NY. I’m not saying just because the international fanbase increases that they’ll just throw black people in videos, but I’m pretty sure eventually, the love interests in videos or even just background people will become more diverse. And call me silly, but I feel like when they cast black folks or other ethnic folks, companies are saying “Hey. International fans of color. We see you.” hahahaha.
theOneShots: I totally relate! One of my favorite groups is Big Bang. Although it excites me that they love Hip Hop it also sometimes bothers me that they never use any people of color in their MVs. It’s sort of like, here’s this art form that has its foundations in black culture and you never feature them in your video. Are you fans of Big Bang and do you have conflicting feelings about them only featuring white women in their videos a la “High High“?
Kim: Yes! I have exactly the same thoughts. I’m a huge fan of Big Bang personally, and I know Nia and Donte like Big Bang a lot too. Like I said before when they don’t have a woman of color (doesn’t even have to be black), it’s not entirely a let down because I’ve been into K-Pop for 4 years, and it’s just something I – what’s the word for it? – got used to. It’s not right, but it’s true and I think a lot of black K-Pop fans go through the same thing. When Jay had that gorgeous black choreographer dancing with him, I was literally floored. But back to Big Bang. When watching videos like “High High” or “Bad Boy,” I sigh and just shake my head. I mean, I feel like there is probably a gorgeous woman of color that’s just as pretty as the white girls they put in these videos.
theOneShots: I agree. So what does your blog aim to do? Do you have a sense of the kind of community you’ve built here? Are you guys the only one of your kind that you know of? And what kinds of responses do you get from your followers? For example, do they think it’s silly to make a page specifically for “black” fans or do they feel like it’s a great place to come to?
Kim: Our blog was created to have a community especially for black K-Pop fans because most of the time, combined with our different cultures and life experiences, it makes being a K-Pop fan a challenge. I have heard of a page specifically for Hispanic K-Pop fans, but so far we’re the only black K-Pop Fans blog.
When idols do stuff like blackface or just something that doesn’t sit well with us, the admins or even our followers will bring things to everyone’s attention. Besides the occasional anon hate or someone with opinions that conflict with the bulk of our followers (we try not to censor submission), we receive positive feedback and responses. A lot of our followers on our Tumblr and Facebook have expressed many times that in short “Thank goodness there are other black K-Pop fans. I thought I was alone. It’s good to know that’s not true!”
TheOneShots: Any parting words for people of color who feel alone in the K-Pop world? Any last thoughts you want to throw out there?
Kim: Hmm just: If you ever feel like you’re alone, you’re not and that no matter your gender, you’re welcome to join this blog or our Facebook group and talk to everyone. Or if you’re shy, talk to any of the admins. We’re here for you.
Learn anything new about black K-Pop fans? Drop us a line below! And go follow their blog! Check back in with us for more Black History Month features later on this week. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!