During a recent press conference for JTBC variety talk show Abnormal Talks, comedian Jeon Hyun-moo announced that if the show reached a viewer rating of 3 percent, he would dress up in blackface as Sam Ochiri, a Ghanaian cast member on the show.
Jeon Hyun-moo’s actions are somewhat relevant in light of another recent controversy, where KBS’ Gag Concert featured three comedians in blackface performing a skit that mentioned “coffee made from African beans.” It’s only the latest in a string of blackface incidents that have popped up on the Korean entertainment scene these past few years; notable previous offenders include comedians on Quiz to Change the World and Saturday Night Live Korea, as well as G-Dragon and Boom.
In light of this, it makes sense for us to address blackface in K-pop (again) and continue the conversation surrounding racism in Korean media. But after so many years spent writing about problematic issues in K-pop, we’re beginning to wonder if our efforts have been misguided.
That is to say: have we been too busy talking about racism and sexism to pay attention to the issues in K-pop that actually matter? After climbing out of our social justice rabbit holes and taking a look at the bigger K-pop picture, we’re beginning to question our previous convictions: is blackface really that bad? Is it really that awful for Dara to put that sticker on her forehead? And should we really care if Chad Future is a thing that exists? Surely, there must be issues in K-pop that are far more pressing than these!
So we’ve decided to start from scratch. After months and months of extensive scientific research amongst K-pop fans, we’ve uncovered the real issues in K-pop that ought to be rustling our jimmies. These are the issues that K-pop fans have indicated to be the most pressing, most offensive, most urgent issues of our time; they are the causes that prompt fans to rally by the masses and cry out for justice. Clearly, the K-pop world has given fans much bigger fish to fry than racism and sexism, and it’s high time that we at Seoulbeats put down our petty concerns for systematic inequality and join the fight against the real problems in K-pop.
Despite the fact that every K-pop group is, at its core, a scrupulously constructed business entity designed to function at its highest profit-gaining potential at all times, and whose members are carefully selected based on every imaginable criteria other than preexisting mutual friendship and affection, one must always remember the golden K-pop rule: every K-pop group is a family. And not just any ordinary family where the kids eventually move out of the house, the parents might get divorced, or weird Uncle Bo might elope with someone he met at Coachella and move to Norway. No, a K-pop group is forever.
They will attend each others’ weddings, witness the births of each others’ children, attend each others’ children’s weddings, and deliver the eulogies at each others’ funerals. Ideally, they will also all be buried next to each other in the same cemetery. Indeed, nothing is strong enough to break the bond of a K-pop idol group — not even death.
So when something threatens that bond — be it a new member, a reshuffling of the group line-up, or (God forbid) a member who temporarily loses their sanity and decides to leave on their own accord — there needs to be immediate preventative action. When SM threatened to add two more members to the Super Junior family, ELFs showed that they would not be silenced and purchased 0.3% of SM’s company stock. While their valiant efforts ultimately failed, it serves as an everlasting reminder that a fan’s sole purpose in life is to protect the unity and integrity of the idol group at any cost.
The external threats against K-pop group unity are potent and real, which is why K-pop fans everywhere must work together to eliminate anything that could potentially break up a group. If that means setting fire to the Seoul District Court building to prevent another idol from filing a lawsuit against their company, so be it.
Because it is unacceptable for an idol to leave their company and destroy the familial bond of their group, every effort must be made for the working conditions in the K-pop industry to be as accommodating and comfortable as possible so that idols will never, ever consider quitting the idol life. Idols are subject to grueling schedules, minimal vacation time, and a comparatively modest salary — all of which is thoroughly unacceptable to fans, who rightfully insist that their favorite idols be treated like the gods that they are. They do work hard, after all.
While fans have tried to remedy this problem by sending truckloads of expensive luxury gifts to their favorite idols on every birthday, anniversary, Christmas, Easter, and Veterans’ Day, the number of idols that have sued their company due to poor working conditions and insufficient salaries proves that there is still work to be done. In fact, an undisclosed source has informed Seoulbeats that there are plans underway for fans to open their own entertainment company, one that pledges to give K-pop idols the proper treatment that they deserve.
According to our source, there is a a small group of fans that intend to kidnap every K-pop idol from their current management and hide them in a large warehouse somewhere in South Dakota, where they will be living permanently with their fans in the highest standard of luxury afforded by a high schooler’s weekly allowance. Their daily routine will consist of taking selcas with their fans, acting out fanfiction, and doing the gwiyomi player at least four times a day, every day. Indeed, idol life couldn’t possibly get any better than this.
Did your bias tell a fat joke? Assault a fan? Hit a person while drunk driving? If so, no need to worry about creating a defense or doing damage control, because anyone who dares accuse oppa of anything ought to stop dead in their tracks at the sound of these two magic words: Sasaeng. Fans.
The truth remains that apart from people who have actually been K-pop idols, no one can really understand the full ramifications of living a life in which sasaengs are a real problem. Nevertheless, K-pop fans will certainly try to explain exactly how awful sasaengs are, despite never having actually met one. According to descriptions provided by fans, sasaengs are powerful enough to break into an idol’s hotel room, steal their underwear, murder their great aunt Susan, ruin their credit score, and piss all over their towels — all before lunchtime.
Even though the idol life is pretty much as idealistic as they come, the mere entrance of sasaeng fans into the picture is enough to transform an idol from wholesome superstar to something resembling a crackhead serial killer with a tragic childhood. If an idol does something wrong, all accusations of guilt are rendered moot because having sasaeng fans in your life just makes you do crazy things. “It’s not his fault he beat up a girl and pushed her into moving traffic,” fans cry. “He’s just been through so much…”
4. Dating scandals.
The issue here isn’t that idols shouldn’t be allowed to date; it’s that they should only be allowed to date in the right way. Flirting over Instagram is a no. Anything resembling sexytimes is a no. And hooking up with any of the SNSD members is a definite no, because they are all plastic bitches. Also, calling SNSD “plastic bitches” is a no, because they are perfect and too good for Exo to be putting their thirsty little hands all over them.
As it currently stands, the atmosphere surrounding idol dating is much too murky and shrouded in mystery to do anyone any good. Instead, fans have petitioned for all idol relationships to be televised a la We Got Married, because playing third wheel to your OTP through your computer screen is basically K-pop fan nirvana.
“We just want transparency,” fans say. “And also we’re really tired of reading pages and pages of fanfiction to sate our libidos when the real thing is happening right in front of us.”
Look, if you’re a Jongkey fan, that’s all good and fine but don’t try to push it on us Minkey shippers by tagging your damn Jongkey Tumblr posts with the Minkey tag, or going to concerts and screaming “JONGKEYYYYY!!!” when there’s clearly a Minkey moment going on. Also, keep your OT3 fic to yourself, thanks.
Although the judging standards for K-pop music awards are completely opaque and are more or less determined by how many TV station executive asses an entertainment company is willing to kiss, there remains one beacon of hope for fans who feel compelled to support their idol despite these impossible odds: online voting.
Even if the numbers from online voting factor less than 10 percent in the final results, it is nonetheless of utmost importance for every fan to log in and vote at least four thousand times per day…and that’s just a modest suggestion. IP blockers are, of course, a must.
But the issue of K-pop awards becomes highly problematic when a deserving group like Super Junior garners ten gazillion online votes and still manages to get snubbed out of an award. It’s a blatant injustice to the fans who developed carpal tunnel after spending three months casting online votes; even moreso to those who realized early on that online voting is inherently a flawed institution, and have instead chosen to bolster the group’s sales figures by purchasing 130 copies of their latest album. While we’re not really sure what one person could possibly do with 130 copies of the same album, we suggest handing them out on street corners like religious tracts. After all, no one can deny that Siwon‘s abs must be the key to some sort of eternal salvation.
Even in the K-pop award off-season, there’s still work to be done. Our Perfect Boy Group poll series two years ago went down in Seoulbeats history as the most highly trafficked posts in the site’s lifetime. It’s all thanks to fans who came from far and wide to vote for their biases and ensure that they would win first place in a contest on a small English K-pop editorial site with limited real-world influence and with nothing to offer the grand prize winners other than more “biased” articles talking about how much they suck.
7. “The Box.”
See, what SM Entertainment needs to understand is that when fans complain about a music video where the idols are in “The Box,” they’re not necessarily complaining that the MV is inadequate. Instead, they’re merely saying that things could be improved.
Like a storyline! But the storyline can’t dominate too much of the video, because otherwise there won’t be enough solo shots of all the members to look at. And also, the storyline also can’t be too complicated or esoteric, because then we’ll be too busy trying to figure out what everything means to pay attention to the choreography.
What fans want out of a K-pop music video is simple: “Why can’t we have an MV where we can just watch the choreography, stare at their faces, and enjoy the song with no distractions?” one fan lamented. “Why do we always have to get the box????”
Finally, we at Seoulbeats would like to offer our deepest, humblest apologies.
For the past six years, we’ve built our reputation publishing articles that have relentlessly and unfairly criticized K-pop idols and their careers. We’ve called idols untalented, we’ve panned their albums, we’ve mocked their outfits, and we’ve questioned their very existences.
Up until now we had no idea that as K-pop bloggers, we possessed so much power and privilege that our harsh words would inflict such gross, irreversible harm upon K-pop idols. When we published a piece last year saying that Key‘s singing resembled “drunken screaming,” we, a small English K-pop site that almost nobody in Korea has ever heard of, thought little of the consequences. What if Key had stumbled upon our piece and read it? Imagine the look of hurt on his face after seeing his voice being described by our writer as being a “nasally mess of blah.” Imagine how torn up inside he would be as he slams down the lid of his laptop and goes over to Minho‘s room to sob into his abs.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he would cry. “They’re just so…so mean.”
Minho, smoothing his bleached blond hair, would say, “But what about all the fans that love you? They’re always saying how talented you are and that you’re a great singer, and –”
“But they called my performance tragic!”
“But think about how fortunate you are,” Minho would reason. “You’re living the dream. You get to be famous, make a decent enough salary to support your habit for designer fashion, and you get to perform in front of crowds of adoring fans almost every day. You’re doing what you love, Key. Is one negative article really going to change any of that?”
“Yes!” wails Key.
We should have known better.
Furthermore, we’ve frequently accused idols of racism and sexism — appropriating and disrespecting cultures, slut-shaming, making homophobic remarks, and so on — without realizing that we were committing an even greater oppression against them by “bashing” them. We were so willing to defend cultures that K-pop idols have flagrantly appropriated and disrespected, but we would turn around and spew oppressive hatred about how JYJ‘s music video wasn’t perfect. It was hypocritical and wrong of us to stand up against something as comparatively trivial as racism, when we ourselves were oppressing K-pop idols by calling them talentless. We need to get our priorities straight, and we apologize.
We hope that you’ll join us in our renewed mission to fight the battles in K-pop that really matter. We live in a world where K-pop idols are forced to face so many dangerous obstacles every day, and we just can’t afford to waste more time writing another article on blackface. Together, we can work for a brighter world for K-pop. Remember: it’s not that oppa didn’t mean it — it’s that oppa’s life is too difficult and painful for him to think about whether or not he meant it.
(images via wikimedia, SM Entertainment, Ivy Club, CJeS Entertainment, Fuwanovel.org)