The Korean Pop industry is a world of many ambiguous regulations and rules which have been established through the years by the industry itself as well as the participants within it. These guidelines affect the way in which the artists present themselves as well as the way that fans and viewers behave. Among these are certain ways in which the artists must hold themselves to a certain standard of etiquette and respect. However, unlike famous American figures in pop culture, Korean entertainment icons are held to an unspoken standard of extreme reverence as people and role models. If they are to utter any profanity on a live radio broadcast, they must immediately apologize on their social media accounts, for fear of offending any underage fans. If they accidentally make a statement which offends another person, they often must automatically lay low in the public eye to go through a period of “repentance.” Of course, these reflective procedures are not listed anywhere, but it is commonplace in the world of elite competition between Korean Pop band groups. If a group makes a mistake and offends any of the fans without apologizing, they are likely to be fall out of popularity quickly.
In this strictly guarded Korean Pop entertainment industry, Alexandra Reid, 25-year-old co-leader of Korean girl group BP Rania, has spent the past two years fighting for her own voice. Reid became the first African-American K-Pop group member with her addition to the group in November of 2015, a move which shocked many due to the unspoken rules of the K-Pop industry which leaves little room for anything outside of the status quo. Although Reid’s presence largely represents K-Pop’s breakthrough into the international (and especially American) market of music, she has experienced her share of struggles. Since her debut, Reid has received both positive and negative attention from Korean and international fans alike. These have stemmed from misunderstanding, both culturally and socially.
Although BP Rania is not high among the most popular girl groups in the scene today, they are on the radar for their unprecedented inclusion of an African-American member. Unfortunately for Reid, this means that every move she makes is doubly evaluated and scrutinized. In an interview with Billboard, Reid noted that because she is African-American, she is held to a higher standard than Korean artists. She was accused of bleaching her skin to look more white, and of appropriating Korean culture on Lunar New Year when she wore the traditional Hanbok outfit. However, Reid’s fellow BP Rania Chinese member was not put into the spotlight. When she raps in BP Rania’s songs, Reid tends to speak English as it is her more fluent language over Korean, but fans are upset by her lack of Korean speaking and apparent effort to assimilate. Then, when she speaks Korean, they point out her mispronunciations and accuse her of trying too hard. But, just because of her American background, Reid is seemingly unable to please everyone.
In comparison with Asian-American artists in the K-Pop industry like Eric Nam, a solo singer, and Tiffany Hwang, a member of popular girl group SNSD, Reid does not have the convenience of already having something in common with the Korean culture. Nam and Hwang were both born in the United States but later moved to Korea to pursue their musical careers. They can both speak Korean, and appear Korean for all intents and purposes despite their upbringings in America. Reid represents the growing diversity of the international Korean-Pop music phenomenon, but her ability to truly be involved in the K-Pop world meets more barriers because of her ethnicity.
Despite the backlash that Reid faced in the first months of her entrance into the Korean-Pop industry, she has been working hard to create a space for American fans to resonate with her presence. Although she isn’t Asian, she represents a part of the Asian-American experience within K-Pop that is opposite of the pan-ethnic connection which being just Asian provides. In an interview in 2015, Reid talks about setting an example for others to chase their dreams, regardless of ethnicity. The message which she represents is the kind of disruption that the K-Pop world needs, if it is to truly transcend its own restrictions and resonate within the American and Asian-American communities.