By Amaya Lewis
News and Culture Assistant
Throughout the past several years, K-pop has grown exponentially into a massive global phenomenon. Fans around the world have rallied to support their favorite artists in a genre known to produce catchy melodies, intricate choreography and showcase stunningly attractive musicians that spend many years learning how to sing and dance to perfection.
Additionally, K-pop’s visible success is incredibly powerful in terms of increasing the popularity of Korea while providing the previously lacking Asian artist representation in the global music industry, with many praising its ability to blend several creative aspects, from fashion to singing, together.
For many fans, K-pop has become something that has brought them comfort in dark times or even helped them find a community of friends due to shared interest in the genre.
Nevertheless, while there are many things to love about K-pop and its positive impact, for Black History Month, acknowledgment should also be given to those who established the groundwork: black creatives.
In our society, we see the creations of black individuals and the influence of black culture throughout various fields, with one of the biggest areas being the music industry. Jazz, blues, gospel, hip-hop, R&B, rock ‘n roll, reggae – the list continues, with all of the said genres created by black musicians being used and adapted within other cultures as inspiration for their artistry.
“When K-pop first began, groups drew on hip-hop and R&B artists of the 1990s, and that trend has continued through today,” Crystal Anderson said in an article from wbur.
Along with that, Black style has also become massively used, often seen in K-pop through the wearing of dreadlocks, cornrows, box braids, durags and streetwear.
Within the Black community, this has generated mixed thoughts, as some find it to be cultural appreciation while others think of it as appropriation, showing love to black lyricism and style being demonstrated through non-black musicians as opposed to coming from black artists themselves.
For instance, the song “Limitless” by NCT 127 was stated to have taken major influence from Black culture and made waves within the Black community.
“Their music video ‘Limitless’ was seen as revolutionary or a cultural reset by fans. However, it’s not as exceptionally fresh as they think. The hairstyles (dreads, braids, etc.), chains and clothing (streetwear, durags, etc.) worn in the video were created and donned by Black men way before NCT 127 was formed,” Daphne Bryant said in her article.
Many felt hurt that the styles worn by NCT 127 were seen as “cool” and “edgy”, while black individuals often get negative reactions.
Some have chalked it up to idols simply not understanding due to not having proper exposure or education on the matter while others believe that to be an excuse, thus, showcasing some believe the line between appreciation and appropriation has been significantly blurred.
On the other hand, however, for the past several years, K-pop artists have begun acknowledging black influence in K-pop, giving artists who either inspired or aided in the creation of their fashion, music or dancing some recognition.
One such artist was 2NE1’s CL who, in an Instagram post on June 4, 2020, discussed how several black musicians, including Destiny’s Child, TLC and Whitney Houston, influenced her.
“Beyonce’s ‘Dangerously in Love’ was the first CD I bought for myself. Janet Jackson taught me the power of movement of dance and expression. Missy Elliot is why I am so obsessed with my video visuals,” she said.
Near the end of her post, she continued by declaring, “Artists, directors, writers, dancers, designers, producers, stylists in the K-POP industry are all inspired by black culture whether they acknowledge it or not,” she wrote. “I would like to encourage all the K-Pop fans to give back and show their love and support for all that we have received from black artists.”
At a 2017 press conference, Bang Shi Hyuk, CEO and founder of Big Hit Entertainment, even stated that “black music is the base. Like when doing many genres like house, urban and PBR&B; there’s no change to the fact that it is black music.”
K-pop artists also often work with black artists and producers while creating new music, choreography, or video concepts, showcasing a pivotal part in why black culture is often laced within the various aspects of K-pop.
To name a few known for creating songs from some of your favorite artists, we have Dem Jointz, whose credits include popular groups like EXO, SHINee and NCT, R&B duo “The Underdogs”, who has produced and aided in songs for groups under SM Entertainment like EXO and Girls’ Generation, along with Thaddeus Dixon, an L.A.-based producer and songwriter.
Among these, several had even stated the good aspects they had felt while working overseas, with Dixon having stated in an article, “In this industry, in this business, it’s cutthroat,” Dixon says. “You can be up one day and you produce this, and then the next day, you’re going to feel like nothing. So, to be appreciated by people who don’t know you, don’t share the same experiences as you, it’s rewarding in a real like, heartfelt way.”
That is not to say there haven’t been valid complaints and examples of racism or cultural appropriation happening in K-pop, but that, in recent years especially, some idols and companies have begun making strides to give proper recognition to those often overlooked while educating themselves on the matter.
As a final note, while K-pop has certainly generated many fans through years of dedicated hard work, myself included, black artists have also worked hard and, this month, let’s give a little acknowledgment for their work, too.
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