Many Asian Americans struggle with identifying with mainstream American media as they feel neither here nor there in either America or the so-called “homeland,” and as a result, they often seek other forms of media entertainment. During discussion, most students did not consider K-pop itself to be Asian American (as most K-pop originates in Korea from Korean-born artists), but still saw value in Asian Americans identifying with artists who looked like themselves. Despite this, it is important to note the Korean government’s role in officially subsidizing the Korean Wave as a form of soft hegemonic power, something we can see through the rise of Korean culture’s popularity in the United States through Girl’s Generation. The discussion centered on questions of whether K-pop could account for the pan-ethnic Asian American experience, and it seems that it is possible. From Girl’s Generation’s popularity with American audiences, many of them young Asian Americans, we see that pan-ethnic identities are drawn to transnational media forms such as K-pop.
We can see the Korean government actively pushing for their culture to be recognized among American audiences. The rise of the Korean Wave was originally facilitated by the Korean government to broaden the nation’s media and culture industry. In their paper The Korean Wave and Asian Americans: the ethnic meanings of transnational Korean pop culture in the USA, Ju and Lee note that, “… transnational flows of Korean pop culture have been directed towards capitalizing on media content and cultural commodity for the nation’s economy, as it is with other industrial manufacturers. Korea’s new capitalist order in the twenty-first century has fostered the Korean Wave as a new national engine for its second development” (Ju and Lee 324-325). This movement has largely been successful as evidenced by the large number of K-pop concerts held in America. Notably, Girl’s Generation has attended sold out concerts in America, most recently as part of the SM Town Live World Tour III, held on May 20, 2012. 12,000 people attended the concert in Anaheim, California. Girl’s Generation actively promoted their song “The Boys” to an overseas audience, releasing and performing an English version several times, including on the talk show Kelly. Thus, the American audience holds value to the Korean economy, and using artists such as Girl’s Generation that cater to Asian Americans who feel displaced in their environment is an effective strategy.
The Korean Wave is also able to target Asian Americans specifically through questions of identity and belonging. As Ju and Lee conclude in their study, “Although it appears that older immigrants prefer the ethnic media content exclusively related to their cultural backgrounds, younger immigrants prefer to use the ethnic media for a broader variety of purposes” (Ju and Lee 326). Here, ethnic media refers to the idea of media that originates from another country, yet comes to define another ethnic minority group’s experience. We see a younger Asian American audience acting with consumer power, becoming a targeted audience for countries such as Korea that export their culture under the guise of helping Asian Americans find relatability in media. We also questioned what defines someone as “Asian American” even if they promote along conventional K-pop means. If we define Asian American as “an American of Asian descent” (Merriam-Webster), Girl’s Generation has several members that fit this definition. Tiffany Hwang and ex-member Jessica Jung was also born in San Francisco were both born and raised in San Francisco before moving to Korea. Having members who speak fluent English and can engage with overseas fans is a huge advantage for the Korean Wave as it directly engages youth who identify with the pan-ethnic grouping of Asian American. This lends more marketing power to Korea as their culture becomes simultaneously a safe space and a commodity to their target consumer base of young Asian Americans. Additionally, this creates an illusion of ownership for young Asian Americans who seek familiarity and connection from media sources other than American ones.