It is an understatement to say that K-pop has been increasing both in its popularity and visibility throughout the world. It has been symbolically highlighted by Girl’s Generation winning the Video of the Year of YouTube, Psy’s video being the most viewed on YouTube to BTS winning the Social Artist award at Billboards just recently. For all of these symbolic examples of K-pop or Korean media, the advancement of Internet was crucial in not only expediting the process of consumption, but also the legitimacy of the consumption. What I mean by legitimacy can be depicted by my personal early experiences of having to rent out the recorded VCR tapes for a dollar each. Even at a young age, I had picked up on nonverbal feeling of shame when watching these VCR tapes that seemed way too outdated to be cool and the frustration that my entire family experienced when we found out we rented a malfunctioning tape of a week-awaited drama. With the current advancement of YouTube and Internet, it is not “cooler” or more “mainstream” to watch Korean drama and K-pop. Furthermore, Ju and Lee state that “K- pop music videos and live performances available on the Internet contribute to the narrowing of the sense of cultural distance between American youth and Koreans”, which directly explains my experience. Now, there are fewer obstacles to being able to feel the sense of nostalgia and connection to our homeland. Even with all these obstacles and hassles, there was a reason why my family and many of my friends continued to consume Korean media. Ju and Lee states that “immigrants are used to consuming ethnic media content for their continuous attachment with the homeland, and this aspect of ethnic media use enables us to focus on synthesizing how ethnic media implement the complex identity formation of diaspora members in their interstitial lives and floating in-between subjectivities” (326).
With the advancement of Korean media through the advancement of technology, the saliency of Korean media can also definitely be witnessed as I have lots of non-Korean friends who would ask me about K-pop, Korean drama or Korean celebrities. These questions often times caught me off guard as I found out that my non-Korean friends sometimes knew more about Korean entertainment than me as a Korean American. These times always left me with various conflicting thoughts as I wasn’t sure whether I was proud of the fact that my “culture” was gaining attraction or that I was ashamed that I didn’t know or had a lot of ownership of my “own” culture. With these pre-existing personal thoughts and experiences while the Korean media has been evidently becoming more popular, I decided to analyze Girls Generation along with the theories of transnational media while incorporating my own personal thoughts that brought interesting addition.
Regarding transnational media, Girls’ Generations can be argued to embody an element of it for various reasons. For one, there are many “Americanized” members in Girls Generation. For example, Tiffany grew up in United States and speaks fluent English. Often times, this is advertised as TV shows would highlight the fact that she grew up in the United States and is able to speak fluent English. Beyond that, Girls’ Generations were known to be good at speaking various languages fluently, which was depicted every time they toured various countries and were able to fluently interact with the fans from different countries. It is crucial to point out that the marketability of this aspect cannot be ignored because the economic aspect of this transnationalism is a pertinent part. However, for the sake of this particular analysis, I focused on the holistic perspective of transnationalism within Korean media. Combining this notion along with Han’s critical assessment of the racism underlying within K-pop including Girls’ Generation, it was interesting to relate the discourse of model minority myth.
Thinking of Girls’ Generation that implicitly seems to value the fact that some members grew up in America and can speak fluent English, it is troubling to also think about the same group being accused of being “blackface performance” (Han, 7). It alludes to the existing beliefs of not only nationalism, but also “the ideology of ‘pure-blood’ nationalism, which strengthened Koreans’ belief in their mono-racial heritage and thus situated the foreigners outside the sphere of acceptance, accompanied the insular historical pathway Koreans have taken over the last century” (Han, 12). From this, it is interesting to see the White supremacy that definitely exists within Korea along with this ‘pure-blood’ ideology as well. Relating this to the fact that Korean media is becoming popular among diverse groups of ethnic groups including Asian countries and USA, it is valuable to think about how these nouveau-riche nationalism that’s embedded within Korean media will be translated within different groups of people who consume the media. Personally, although Korean media is an important way for me to continue my attachment to Korea, it is becoming more complex as I have been learning about the dynamics of race and gaining tools to see the problematic areas of Korean media.
- Gil-Soo Han, “K-Pop Nationalism: Celebrities and Acting Blackface in the Korean Media.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies1 (2015): 2-16.
- Hyejung Ju and Soobum Lee, “The Korean Wave and Asian Americans: the Ethnic Meanings of Transnational Korean Pop Culture in the USA.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies3 (2015): 323-338.