All terms regarding Korea in this post are referring to South Korea only.
Since I was a new bat mitzvah (13 years old), I have followed BIGBANG, a South Korean pop group. They are part of YG Entertainment, a label that is known for its artists who typically perform Western hip hop music. Despite their huge success, this group, especially the leader G-Dragon, is guilty of cultural appropriation.
I will admit I have fallen for the face of G-Dragon and researched the hell out of him to find all of his songs and then googled songs from the rest of the group. It was not until recently that I was listening to The Leaders, a song from his first solo album Heartbreaker featuring CL of 2NE1 and YG producer Teddy, that I realized these three, or perhaps just Teddy and G-Dragon because CL was fairly new, were telling South Korea to “be thankful for your style” in this rap song (source, song). Of course, their songs and style have definitely influenced K-Pop in the absence of a significant Black population, but did not these “Leaders” follow the footsteps of the 90s Black rappers in America? If anyone in South Korea is the most well-informed of hip hop culture, it is G-Dragon.
The biggest problem with appropriated Black culture in Korea is that it reinforces stereotypes and erases vital history. G-Dragon, as far as I’m concerned, is the primary messenger of hip hop culture. Teddy is right there with him, perhaps the initial messenger, but G-Dragon is the one stirring up the racist controversies. Hell, this is a culture that praises the whitest of the white and denounces anyone that has a bit of brown (like a tan). YG Entertainment artists are basically the pioneers who set the standard for hip hop in K-pop, so anything they do easily trickles down to influence other groups.
I once consulted a Black Rights activist regarding this situation, and she claimed that the emergence of hip hop and other Black music in South Korea was inevitable. However, G-Dragon is still guilty of racist actions, especially the black face.I cannot make the final decision, whether or not copying everything they do or adopting segments of Black culture is correct, but considering previous events, Black people probably do not want their declarations of freedom snatched by another group of people without proper credit and execution. Somehow, the expressively-free rapper became a last resort position for unfit singers.
That does not mean that rappers like those in YG Entertainment artists are not good. In fact, I especially enjoy the parts in f(x) songs that Amber raps (who actually has a great singing voice, too). I cannot say the same for YG Entertainment’s “almost-authentic” hip hop, but Black rap does not suit my taste either. In contrast to YG’s typical hip hop acts, Amber does not possess a Black (or gang, not that they are synonymous) image, but before you criticize her for playing basketball in Shake That Brass, remember she was raised with basketball. YG artists, on the other hand, typically wear black clothes and various bandannas that junior high schools would deem “gang related” (Chrome Hearts, anyone?); therefore, other groups see Black people as dark, shady figures who are up to no good. That may be why modern Korean entertainment does not see a problem performing in blackface.
It seems like there is a standard of “coolness” in South Korea like there is here in America. If a white boy drives somewhere with his speakers blasting the filthiest rap song, he must be really badass. If a Korean group such as BIGBANG or Delight dress in baggy clothes and throw up random hand signals while rapping, it gives off a certain standard of regalia. It seems most of our culture has ultimately been influenced by Black people. If we, American or Korean, are willing to accept so much of Black culture, we should accept Black people as equals and compensate in some way for how poorly our cultures have treated them. If people in South Korea view AAVE as valid, then white institutionalized America should not be so quick to say “ain’t ain’t a word” or “what kind of word is shawty? idiots”. AAVE is inevitably and constantly influencing our language, so it is about time we all respected it and its accents.
Will I stop listening to BIGBANG? No. I was not interested in their rap songs anyhow, but I am crazy about their pop songs. Despite the lack of a substantial Black population in South Korea, the acknowledgment of Black oppression should come to South Korea along with Black music. After all, the Black people found confidence and power through creative outlets such as hip hop. It would be wrong to separate their heritage and history from their music, fashion, style, and art the same way we separated them from Rock N Roll. Korean culture is currently taking over many parts of the world, but Black culture is dominating Korean pop. It would be wrong to ignore this chain of influence when making history.
NOTE: This is a post that I have put off for months and edited numerous times. This was such a difficult subject for me to write, so please bear with me. Due to my limited knowledge of K-Pop, Black culture, and Black racism in South Korea, I cannot write a 100% correct piece. I would love to receive corrections, and I will edit this post accordingly in addition to considering the advice in future posts.
I am not Black, but as an ally, I aimed to show that Korean culture is contributing to the racism of Black people. I did not realize this many years ago; however, my eyes are opened now. I hope to awaken other K-pop fans.