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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!

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    • http://www.dandelion-cha.com/ Tampopo
      I understand the sentiment of the article, but I don’t agree with the first paragraph. I was happy to see a black girl in Jay Park’s video but I’m black and I honestly don’t know what the Cat Daddy is and could personally care less for Lyfe Jennings or Musiq Soulchild. I mean its great that Korean idols are into black artists but being a black Kpop fan doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be into them too. And also did know that Big Bang’s entire back up band is black? And both GD and Taeyang have posted pictures of black artists continuously on Instagram. But I do agree that if they go overseas to shoot a video, they could put black women in their videos just like white women. Heck even if the video is shot in Korea they somehow find a white woman to put in there. :/
      • https://twitter.com/#!/LimaCake LimaCake
        I’m not saying that you’ll automatically like those things because you’re black. What I’m saying is that they are facets of black culture IN K-pop that you don’t see a lot. So when you do see them, it’s exciting. I don’t listen to Lyfe Jennings. I don’t care about Musiq Soulchild. But when BYG says he listens to them, it’s kind of like, “Wow, he likes Soul and R&B.” Yes, we know Big Bang had a black band. We wrote it in our previous article on Black History Month :) -Salima
    • HayGurl
      Interesting article. (I love your site by the way!) On the subject of whether or not male idols would consider me beautiful with my dark skin, this is how I’ve always looked at it: I’m a black female who has developed a taste for Asian men largely due to my heavy exposure to Kpop. If I polled a selection of my black female friends on their level of attraction to K-Idols, it’s unlikely they would spazz and drool like I do. Most likely they would find male idols too thin and girly looking b/c Korean standards of male attractiveness are nearly opposite of that for black males. So, I don’t begrudge male idols for preferring the Korean standard of beauty over me when I myself am an “outside the box” minority in finding them attractive in the first place. Plus, somewhere there has to be an “outside the Korean box” minority that spazzes and drools over black women. Noona is available y’all. ;)
      • https://twitter.com/#!/LimaCake LimaCake
        Thank you so much for your comment. And when you put it that way, it puts things WAYYY into perspective -Salima
      • SakiVI
        Very good points. As a South Asian kpop fan, I’ve similar concerns and am happy to see things put in perspective like this.
    • Pingback: How We Know K-Pop Idols Love Black People

    • Young Ajummah
      This is a great article! There is also blackwomenlovebi.com And while Bi is the main reason of the blog there are lots of other articles and kpop wonderfulness there. Black kpop fans are out there, lol and we are a force to be reckoned with.
      • https://twitter.com/#!/LimaCake LimaCake
        BWLB is the first Kpop blog I ever followed. Such a great site!
    • Kellaine Cross
      It’s nice to see other black kpop fans out there that think the same as I do
    • loveky
      I just happened to find your blog today and love the way your contents are presented! This site is very appealing from text colors to just the way the articles are written. I’ve read about more than five articles so far from your site and love how you clearly state your viewpoints on a certain topic. I’m asian but I find your articles one of the most easy to read and understand (maybe I’m more american-ized lol) It was nice to learn more about you from this article!
      • https://twitter.com/#!/LimaCake LimaCake
        Thank you so much! Do you live in Asia or are you in America now?
        • Loveky
          I was born and raised in America lol
    • SakiVI
      Funny, but I never had any sense of the blog authors here being one race or another.
      • http://deathofhallyu.blogspot.com/ Death of Hallyu
        We’re all humans, are you expecting to know their race based on writing style? Uh, no.
        • SakiVI
          Er, the article is about the bloggers being black K-pop fans. Did you miss that point? And mine is simply, I wouldn’t have known. And yeah, you can get a sense of a persons race from their retraining style. Race can link to culture which leads to word choices, sentence formation, let alone topics of interest. So get off your snotty high horse already.
          • http://deathofhallyu.blogspot.com/ Death of Hallyu
            Okay. What race am I?
            • Kyuhyun’s girl
              -.- Your an African descendant. That’s what most people on this blog are.
            • http://deathofhallyu.blogspot.com/ Death of Hallyu
              You read my blog to find that information, you lose haha. If you hadn’t read my blog, you would have called me “Black” not “African”. DEAD GIVEAWAY
          • Peace
            I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m black but I believe everyone race should be able to be in a kpop mv. But we can always keep hoping.
    • Deep
      Everyone always say Kpop idols will or don’t like Black girls :/ All the idols I’m in love with like GD, Zelo, Himchan, Junsu, Lee Joon, Thunder, Taemin and Jonghyun. People tell me that all the time and I feel like what’s the point of liking them.
    • ChanChan
      So nice to see that their are people who understand that it is a bit hard to be a kpop fan and enjoy their music while some of them are quite disrespectful to coloured people. Its so annoying to see them picking on a Korean music artist for having ‘dark’ skin for a Korean. So what does that say about black people? or just darker skinned people in general. And to one of your points were you said that its hard to support them and even be somehow emotionally connected with them when they don’t seem to acknowledge or be slightly attracted to coloured people.

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