[Op-ed] Cultural Appropriation in K-pop

Sarah Lee , Feb. 4, 2020, 2:50 p.m.

There is a big difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. I so often find that many K-POP groups use different cultures’ elements in their music videos. I love K-POP. I truly enjoy listening to it so I am exposed and aware of this issue. For starters let me define cultural appropriation, “A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another.” So as stated, it is a form of exploitation of one culture from another. K-pop idols often appropriate black culture and it is very evident through the attire, style of speaking, dance moves, etc. However, it can be said that sometimes idols don’t even know what they’re doing since they follow the people in charge of outfits and MV themes/concepts. Ideally, it'd be great if idols took time to understand and become more knowledgeable with issues like these. Although it may not seem harmful to see idols wearing a bandana with giant hoops and a plaid flannel buttoned solely at the top, or wear their hair in cornrolls, it is in fact important that they understand that doing so perpetuates the stereotypes that behind those customs, traditions, and elements. 

Here are two videos that show cultural appropriation. 

CL: Baddest Female  

CL's red buttoned-up flannel look greatly resembles a chicano's look that had more to do about the deep history of Latinos in the U.S. than a simple fashion trend. What makes CL's wardrobe inappropriate is that while she wore it to look hip, cool, and tough; Latinos have been looked down upon for their 'cholo/a' fashion. Latinos wore certain fashion styles as a mean of resistance. Cholas' fashion was in fact part of a movement to fight oppression against racial injustice in 1960s America. Cholas also took on the certain look with baggy pants, white undershirts, flannels, bandanas for a street-tough style to represent a power shift from male dominance. 

Moving on.....


MOMOLAND's "Baam" MV contained a lot of different culture's elements. Some of the cultures' representation was done poorly and inaccurate as elements of different cultures were combined. The Egyptian culture had an Aladdin-like lamp. The lack of research of Egyptian culture was offensive. I am sure there was another way to appreciate the different cultures in the MV without wearing the cultural attires, but instead the label had the members dress in stereotypical Egyptian and Mexican cultures, with of course a West African tunic instead of a poncho. 

I think that if the idols focused more on creating expressive ideas, then there wouldn’t be the need to use other people’s cultural elements. However, it is not always the idols' fault to choose these themes or concepts. Sometimes it is, but other times it is not. If the idols had more freedom to choose their concept then they could create better and more respectful themes additionally, we would see less cultural appropriation in K-pop. Moreso, even just by being more transparent with their choice of music, fashion, MVs, and briefly explaining where their inspiration came from can make a difference. I would call that cultural appreciation! If labels took a step to educate their idols and Korean citizens in general by providing credit and reference to where their concepts and ideas’ roots came from, it’d make a major difference. 

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