BH Discuss: Is cultural appropriation a problem in K-pop?
It seems that every few months or so ‘cultural appropriation’ becomes a hot topic among K-pop blogs. So far we have strayed away from this topic largely because no one seems to be able to come up with a clear definition of what it actually is and, more importantly, what it looks like in K-pop.
Wikipedia (in a surprisingly well-sourced article) provides a good definition of the term:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.
But what does that even mean in regards to K-pop? Mostly when cultural appropriation in K-pop is discussed, writers focus specifically on appropriation of black music and/or black culture and/or hip hop culture. Sometimes it in also brought up concerning Native American culture and more infrequently Indian or South Asian culture.
Mark from Seoulbeats criticised SNSD’s ‘I Got A Boy’ back in January for donning “sideways caps, bandanas, and beanies, with just a hint of graffiti” in an apparent attempt at “aegyo hip hop”. But is this even cultural appropriation?
What about when Kai from EXO wore cornrows or that time BIGBANG dressed like infamous LA street gang the Bloods?
It’s important to note that not all cultural appropriation is negative as Associate Professor Crystal Anderson points out:
Appropriating elements of a culture by taking them out of their original context and using them in a completely different way does not automatically constitute negative cultural appropriation. In fact, suggesting that people “stay in their lane” by not engaging other cultures does more harm to the culture “being appropriated.”
Hip hop has been a global culture for a long time now with different countries and communities having their own hip hop cultures across the globe. But when does the cultural appreciation turn into appropriation?
Some people conflate the much more nuanced (and not always negative) concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ with the always unacceptable racism. Can you really compare blackface to an idol group wearing baseball caps? Or idols using the n-word to K-pop producers incorporating hip hop beats into their music?
But in reality, is either even a big problem? Don’t we have bigger problems to be dealing with? As Anderson goes on to say:
“Focusing in K-pop’s cultural appropriation of stereotypes in this way also ignores the cultures originating and promulgating the stereotypes around the globe. I suspect that on any given day, there are more instances of blackface going down on college campuses in the United States than there are happening in K-pop. Why not address the continued use of blackface in the country that originated and continues to spread it across the globe? Why not explain where these images come from in the first place, and explore why they seem to still be in popular circulation in our globalized world?”
Where is the line? Where does interpretation of a different culture turn into racial stereotype? Do the same rules apply for Korea’s underground hip hop scene as for K-pop?
Is it even a problem or are their more important things to be thinking about?
Are you just bored of this whole debate?
Related links from Beyond Hallyu and around the internet:
Sound off in the comments! Let us know what you think.