Cultural appropriation is the idea of one culture borrowing an element of another culture and making it part of their own. K-pop artists, just like all other forms of art, borrow ideas from just about everywhere. This is part of what makes K-pop “international.”
The growing impact of the Internet and globalization has led to US rap and hip-hop music becoming more prevalent in K-pop music. However, because hip-hop is largely viewed as the creative vision of African-Americans, some fans of hip-hop feel as if Korea is taking an important part of Black culture by incorporating hip-hop into K-pop music. Both rap and hip-hop are defining aspects of Black culture, and appropriating it into K-pop almost takes away meaning from the creativity of Black culture.
The growing rap and hip-hop movement’s purpose was the provide an outlet as a result of the discrimination and oppression felt by the Black community. Today, it serves to convey a confidence and attitude in K-pop groups. Oftentimes, a K-pop group’s sense of fashion or their concept is found to be inspired by hip-hop culture. The ever popular boy-band, Big Bang, is a prime example — when they debuted, they were noted for their forward fashion sense, incorporating hip-hop into their style. Netizens even coined the term, “Big Bang Fashion,” to describe Big Bang’s hip-hop image.
One could argue also argue that K-pop is simply trying to appeal to an audience. Just like the way K-pop lyrics incorporate English lyrics to reach a more international audience, perhaps taking on a “cool,” hip-hop image and sound is an attempt to sell and appeal to those who are fans of hip-hop culture.
Similarly, SHINee borrowed from Native American culture with their concept for Lucifer. While this isn’t the first time Native American culture has been appropriated, typically appropriation is not considered racist unless it’s being done by a culture with privilege. Therefore, when White people reappropriate the profile of a Native American chief as their mascot, it’s racist. And even though South Koreans in Korea don’t necessarily have more privilege than Native Americans, part of me still felt that Minho wearing a Native American head dress wasn’t very appropriate (no pun intended).
The appropriation of culture in K-pop raises questions about the borrowing of culture. No one owns hip-hop — it’s just a genre of music considered part of youth culture. So at what point is it stealing and when is it a creative musical outlet? Native American culture is beautiful and inspirational — isn’t nice to see K-pop embracing other cultures?
Typically, cultural appropriation has a negative connotation, but sharing cultures is usually a positive experience. However, when one group claims an element of culture as their own, it’s definitely crossing that line. The problem is that when K-pop cannot fully embrace hip-hop or Native American culture as part of their own culture, they can’t truly understand the deeper meaning behind it, thus, it gets stripped of its cultural importance.
What are your thoughts about K-pop and cultural appropriation? Is it stealing? Or is imitation the best form of flattery?
(images via: SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, Core Contents Media)