K-pop Makes Me Feel Less Invisible — But It’s Not Enough


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For anybody listening to what’s hip and stylish in music, the meteoric ascension of Ok-pop (Korean pop) in America’s consciousness has been a very long time coming. Not solely is the genre-blurring music revolutionary and carried out by extremely enticing people, the artists are additionally ridiculously gifted. Regardless of gender, they will rap, sing, act, and dance — all whereas being Asian (often South Korean) — and I’m devouring it.

Three years in the past, I fell down the Ok-pop rabbit gap whereas on the lookout for Mando-pop (Mandarin pop) for my children to devour as a result of I consider in tricking my youngsters into studying Chinese. (Don’t get the misguided concept that my children are fluent as a result of they’ve listened to a couple Chinese songs or watched Chinese exhibits. They’re bilingual and biliterate as a result of I’ve spent the GDP of a small nation on making them so.)

Little did I do know that I’d now gratefully throw away all my dignity and self-respect for even the possibility to shoot my shot with Ok-pop group BTS. But regardless of my husband’s perception that I’m into Ok-pop just for the abs and the androgynous beefcake (not an oxymoron), an enormous cause I’m such an enormous fan of Ok-pop is as a result of lastly, there are Asians being cool, gifted, and scorching — an entirely completely different narrative than the one I grew up with within the ’80s and ’90s. Ah, who am I kidding? In the ’00s and ’10s, too.

picture of 7 male BTS members on rocks
Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment, Ok-pop band BTS

I get so bored with itemizing as soon as once more, the dearth of Asian Americans in music, movie and tv, and the humanities. It’s just like the fixed rehashing of outdated wounds and slights, the very act of getting to elucidate our exclusion and justify it with proof a microaggression in and of itself.

It is a continuing, ineluctable reminder that we’re invisible — that I’m an outsider within the nation of my delivery. I’ll at all times be requested, “So where are you from?” repeatedly till I’ve given them my total resident historical past solely to be confronted with “So where are your parents from?” after they discover out I used to be born and raised in California.

So to see Ok-pop consistently trending on Twitter, to see Ok-pop artists circulating as memes, to see the parallel rises in Ok-dramas and Korean movies, it pleases my cynical, shrivelly coronary heart.

But it’s not sufficient.

Don’t get me mistaken. I’m so grateful my children may have these photographs of wonderful East Asians on their screens as an alternative of Short Round from “Indiana Jones” or Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles.” (Sidebar: I’ve by no means favored a single John Hughes film — don’t @me. I discover them so whiny and the epitome of white entitlement.)

I’m delighted that my children can see options to Asian Americans performed for laughs and neutered like they did to poor William Hung of “American Idol” (who, although a horrible singer, was tremendous courageous) or Ken Jeong in “The Hangover” sequence.

Courtesy of Rainbowbridge World, Ok-pop band MAMAMOO

But Ok-pop will not be the identical as Asian American. There are Asian Americans in Ok-pop like Jay Park, Eric Nam, Jessi, and Amber Liu, however they’re artists who needed to go to South Korea to get well-known and import their fame again to the U.S.

It is a sojourn each Asian American is aware of by coronary heart. America doesn’t need us — and so considered one of our solely avenues to success is to reverse the journey our forebears made and get well-known sufficient in Asia so the U.S. would possibly suppose now we have broad sufficient attraction to signal to a U.S. label or be in an American movie as a lead.

But even once we make an American film, we get shunted into the Best Foreign Language Film class by the Golden Globes like Denver, Colo. born Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” starring Steven Yeun and the Asian American Lulu Wang helmed movie “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. As if a rustic with out an official nationwide language comprised of 14% immigrants as of 2018 even has a international language.

We — who’re simply as American as chop suey — are perpetually international no matter what number of generations our ancestors have lived and died right here, outed by our outward look.

So although I’m ecstatic to indicate my youngsters photographs of East Asians in popular culture — of people that my youngsters seem like phenotypically as a result of illustration issues — it’s not remotely sufficient. Though these celebrities and artists seem like my children, culturally, they aren’t in any respect the identical. Plus, Ok-pop stars in no way even start to mirror the breadth and depth of Asian Americans — nor ought to they.

Including multiracial Asian Americans, Asian Americans comprised 6.5% of the U.S. inhabitants in 2018. And but, our illustration in pop music is abysmal. According to a research of the brand new artists signed to 3 main labels in 2018 and a part of 2019, 2.35% have been foreign-born Asian and solely 0.67% have been Asian-American. In the pop style, the numbers fared marginally higher with 7.45% foreign-born Asian (largely established Ok-pop artists), 2.13% white/Asian, and 1.06% Asian-American.

I’m giddy at the truth that South Korean band BTS is nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance on the 2021 GRAMMYs, has gained the 2019 Billboard Music Award for Best Pop Duo/Group, and are the primary all-South Korean act to have three primary hits on the Billboard Hot 100 — all achievements past my childhood (and grownup) creativeness.

But the truth that I can depend on one hand a few of the extra distinguished Asian American winners and nominees of the GRAMMYs (H.E.R., Jhené Aiko, Kelis, Amerie, Bruno Mars, and Ne-Yo) is damning. I gained’t be happy till Asian AMERICANs — not simply East Asians or Ok-pop stars — are heart stage so incessantly that it’s laughable to try to depend. That we’re so distinguished, so undeniably American, that my youngsters and their youngsters will take as a right being seen. They won’t ever know any completely different.

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