K-Pop and the Tensions Created between Asia and Asian America

 

Seven years ago I saw ‘Gee’ and learned every single word to the song and knew everything there was to know about all nine members (at the time) of Girls’ Generation. The two years that followed are what I personally consider to be the peak of the K-Pop Wave and included the rise of legend groups like Super Junior, 2 PM, Wonder Girls, and 2NE1. Ju and Lee’s “The Korean Wave and Asian Americans” cites the rise of “web-based dissemination of Korean pop culture [as the] primary route for exposing the Korean content to largely non-Asian nations’ audiences who were not previously aware of it” (Ju and Lee 326). The United States is one of the nations who had not been previously exposed to the Korean (or Hallyu) Wave on the same level as after the rise of media platforms such as Youtube. The U.S. also has one of the largest Korean and Asian Diasporas along with the unique implications of race in America, has had a unique experience with K-Pop. The juxtaposition of Asian and Asian American music in the United States creates cultural tension within Asian-American communities through the transnational flow of artists like Girls’ Generation.

Asian and Asian American are often used interchangeably within larger American media and although the two cultures are inextricably connected the cultural differences between a diasporic group and its homeland delineate the two. In the eyes of the mainstream media, K-Pop is often more salient than Asian American music and if anything, they are seen as one and the same. The rising presence of K-Pop groups in the American gaze with more groups hosting concerts and the Billboard K-Pop Top 100 Chart provide certain images of Asian Americans that are actually of Asian.

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Girls’ Generation gained prominence in Korea for their beauty along with their variety of talent and although two of the original members of the group are Korean American, the group is the epitome of Korean cultural standards. With fair skin, long slender legs, and promoting a very feminine look, Girls’ Generation represents the “ideal Korean young woman”. This image is problematic when it comes to the United States. The study referenced in Ju and Lee’s article articulates that none of the interviews they conducted of people who have been affected by Korean pop culture content were with Korean Americans. The problematic portion of Girls’ Generation’s effect of the perception of Korean America is that the image the group produces is the same one Korean American women aspire towards. This problematic manifestation of tensions between Asian and Asian Americans can be seen through the relationship between Koreaboos and the racialization of Korean bodies.

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Koreaboos are non-Koreans who have are obsessed with and fetishize Korean culture. The phenomena of Koreaboos have come as the result of the the K-Pop hype and of the transnational flow of Korean culture through music and visual media. These Koreaboos make up a large part of Girls’ Generation’s American fan base and through their obsession with the group also produces an idealized image of Korean and Korean American people. A Seoul Beats article discusses the impact of the impact of obsessions of either girl or boy groups in Korea and their effect in creating a static image of what it means to be Korean. Because Korean Americans are a diasporic group of Korea, Korean Americans are impacted by these images which ultimately results in nuanced tensions.

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