How to Love Kpop and Not Be a Koreaboo

So you wanna stan a Kpop group? You’ve watched their MVs, you’ve bought their merch, maybe you’ve even picked up a word or two in Korean along the way but where do you draw the line?

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8 comments

So you wanna stan a Kpop group? You’ve watched their MVs, you’ve bought their merch, maybe you’ve even picked up a word or two in Korean along the way. But around you you’ve seen people call their faves “Oppa” and you’ve seen others try out Korean beauty trends in an attempt to mask their decidedly-not-Korean ethnicity. So what’s the deal? Where do you draw the line?

There is nothing cute or funny about pretending to be from another culture. As much as anyone is welcome to love Kpop, there are boundaries that we as outsiders have to adhere to. It is not the responsibility of any Korean person to teach us better; we should seek to better ourselves.

We are not their target audience–live with that

I’ve touched on this in a post before but the first thing you have to remember about Kpop is that it is first and foremost Korean music. Made in Korea. By Korean people. For Korean consumption. As a non-Korean person, I’ve made my peace with that and enjoyed Kpop respectfully without feeling shunned or cast aside or excluded in any way. Because I understand that for all intents and purposes, it’s not about me.

That said, I don’t how many times I’ve seen people talking about their faves not speaking English enough or not giving the international fans any love or whining about how they don’t have enough tour dates in X country. I mean, of course we want them to pay attention to us–that’s normal–but when you start to get malicious with Korean fans because they get “more attention,” that’s when it becomes a problem. You’re allowed to be a little sulky, you’re not allowed to be petty.

If you are not Korean, don’t pretend you are

I don’t have enough time or energy to explain why you shouldn’t fetishize Korean culture. I don’t even know why I have to explain it at all. People should assume that it is bad to turn an entire country of people into a cute style trend, but there are still people out there floating on the internet misusing romanized hangeul to be cute.

Frankly, it rubs me the wrong way when I see people using romanized hangeul in any context, but it’s especially gross when they use it to talk to their idols, either by Tweeting at them or commenting on Vlives “Saranghae oppa.” (That was painful to type out.)

The other thing I frequently see is people using Korean beauty trends to make their face look less like their face and more like a Korean person’s face. To be blunt, it’s a form of yellowface. If you don’t know what yellowface is, I invite you to peruse this Wikipedia article. It’s one thing to try out a new K-beauty product or maybe try a look from an idol’s comeback, but it’s another thing to pretend to be Korean when you’re definitely not.

Final thoughts: BE RESPECTFUL

With touchy topics, I normally like to soften the language in my blog so that no one feels offended and people are ready to listen and maybe learn something to change their behavior, but there’s no tiptoeing around racism. Because that is what it is when you fetishize a culture. Korean culture exists like any other culture does–for its people. When you treat it like a product for consumption, you’re engaging in racism.

There are respectful ways to be a part of the Kpop community and I think we all as non-Korean people should always take a moment to look at our behavior and double check ourselves. Because if it makes you a little uncomfortable, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

So go out, listen to your favorite groups, buy their albums, support their comebacks, but just remember: be respectful and don’t be a koreaboo.

8 comments on “How to Love Kpop and Not Be a Koreaboo”

  1. I’m back and I really can not express how strongly I agree with everything you have written. Some key points I want to also express:

    1) I also find it silly when people would like their idols to speak/learn more English. With the internet these days, and the awesome fans who do this for free, most of the interviews, variety shows, etc., have been translated. There is nothing wrong with reading subtitles. I understand sometimes the translation may not be always spot-on but it appears if anyone is being misquoted through translation, the good fans are there to make the correction. Also, if people REALLY want to understand their idol word for word, perhaps they can try and learn the language themselves. It’s not a horrible notion – it’s never a bad ideal to learn another language. I wish I had the time to learn Italian, Japanese, Spanish and brush up on my native language, Mandarin! (I can speak it – but I’ve become illiterate since I dropped out of Chinese school and just from not having the opportunity to practice.)

    2) “why you shouldn’t fetishize Korean culture” Thank you! I can not express how it’s actually racist to turn any culture into a fetish. This comes from much personal experience growing up as a Canadian-Chinese. When I was dating, I learned about this very quickly, after my first horrible relationship with my high school boyfriend who was Caucasian but preferred Asian women. I don’t think it is horrible to have certain preferences for looks – I think we all do. But he was only into the looks and any myths and fantasies of the Asian culture, particularly Asian women. When it came to actually accepting my culture, all he did was bash it. Then in university, I met a lot of similar non-Asian men whom I started to coin asian-philes. They romanticized the Asian culture rather than taking the time or wanting to take the time to actually understand and accept the culture. In the end, I felt like I was being viewed just like any sexual fetish – a live submissive sex toy. To be fair, some Canadian-Asian guys saw me the same way – so it’s not just non-Asians with this attitude.

    3) The whole ‘oppa’ and ‘noona’ thing. I once watched a North American female fan post her encounter with Jungkook at a fan-signing and asked him to call her Noona. I cringed and felt very uncomfortable. I can not tell a person to stop whatever fantasies they have. Fantasies are fantasies but keep it to themselves! Because as you said, it’s disrespectful. I also watched another fan meet where a Korean female fan asked Jungkook to call her ‘mommy’. I felt sorry for him. It sounded so degrading. Yes, they are beautiful and good looking. Yes we have our biases – fine, fine, fine… celeb crushes is a normal thing. But there is a limit as far as what lines are crossed and deemed disrespectful.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences! As a non-Asian woman, I can only say so much in this regard because although I’ve experienced Latina fetishization, it’s different for each culture. I think what you said about the non-Asian men viewing you a certain way is what I was trying to get at with BTS. Like there’s a point where non-Korean girls are only invested in them—and any Korean guy—because they express some kind of fantasy they have. And that’s really reducing the complexity of a whole human person to something much less.
      That’s awful about the fansigns!! I’ve heard of the first one but the second one is…ugh. That’s really uncomfortable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for writing this! It perfectly expresses things that I have tried to express, and you hit the nail on the head.

    So, I’m just going to start by saying, in my opinion, there is a right and a wrong way to learning about a foreign culture. What you expressed above accurately explains a number of the wrong ways to go about learning about a culture, as there is a healthy boundary that you must have, and this healthy boundary goes both ways. There are some who fetishize Korea, and there are others who fetishize the country you are from. I, personally, have met my fair share of foreigners who very aggressively approach me because I’m American, and I have obviously witness it the other way around. As someone who knows how uncomfortable it is to be someone’s fetish, I understand your points perfectly.

    I think this post really nicely touches on very easy ways that fans can ensure that they don’t end up falling into that category of “Koreaboo”, a term I despise for its extremely negative connotation, and ensure that they maintain a healthy relationship with the culture.

    The best way to approach any foreign culture is to learn about it, but it has to be a well rounded learning. If you are going to pay attention to the music, I think it is also important to understand a bit about the culture, politics, language etc, as all of these things influence that music that we are all listening to.

    Also, if you really enjoy K-Pop, I highly urge anyone to try and learn Korean. I taught myself, and can proudly say, with some help from my friends, that I can now what Korean Dramas without subtitles. It’s totally worth it, as knowing a foreign language is one of the most valuable skills anyone can have. It will open so many doors for you and really help you learn about yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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