BP RaNia, or Black Pearl RaNia, has had many ups and downs since their debut in 2011. They have cycled through so many members, there has not been one member that has stayed in the group for the entirety of their existence. It is not unusual for KPop groups to add and remove members, but BP RaNia is quite the anomaly cycling through 13 members since their debut. However, their most discussed addition to the group occurred in 2015 when they added Black, American rapper, Alexandra Reid, to the lineup. Using the pseudonym Alex, she became the main rapper for the group and even the leader for all international promotion. As an entity, KPop is heavily influenced by Black musical aesthetics like Hip-Hop, Rap, and R&B, but when a Black artist is added to a group, can this change the way audiences react to and understand authenticity? Or does it create a facade of inclusivity and representation?
Alex was added to the group in November of 2015. Originally, fans thought she just going to be a feature for the next comeback, but the company confirmed her to be a member. While others have noted that she is not the first Black KPop idol, she is the most prominent in the current era of KPop. Alex has been a part of the last two BP RaNia comebacks, Demonstrate and Start a Fire, in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Part of the reason that fans thought that Alex was only a feature for the song, Demonstrate, was because she was no where to be seen in the music video. She has rap verses in the beginning and toward the middle, but absolutely no face time in the video. The live performance of Demonstrate had her there for her verses, but she would walk off stage when she was done. This makes audiences question whether or not Alex is as important as the rest of the members despite being an official member of the group, especially because she is not seen in the promotional picture shown above. While there have been many Asian KPop idols that have been born and grew up in the US and Canada, like Wendy of Red Velvet and Kim ChungHa of I.O.I. and some of mixed race, like I.O.I.’s Jeon Somi (White and Asian) and Yoon Mi-rae of UPTOWN (Asian and Black), there has seldom been KPop stars that are not Asian. Alex’s questionable place in BP RaNia can potentially be provoked by her nationality and race.
It is not a secret that antiblackness is pervasive in the global atmosphere due to a history of colonialism and objectification of black bodies, and this is not exclusive to the “Western” regions of the world. People have written about the issues of antiblackness in KPop, and we as (non-black) KPop fans need to be willing to acknowledge and denounce it. This racism has potential to alienating Black KPop fans, and it can cause inherent problems in the industry for idols like Alex that are Black. Before joining BP RaNia, Alex was a solo artist in the US for Def Jam, which speaks to her skills as a rapper. Her rap verses in BP RaNia songs have great flow and lyrics, and her American accent stands out distinctly from the rest of the women singing in Korean. This speaks an already established binary of who is a part of the group and who is not. With BP RaNia’s most recent comeback on December 29th, fans were hoping that the company would change and allow Alex to be visible, which is often an issue for Black women worldwide. Unfortunately the music video for Start a Fire did not deliver. It only shows Alex rapping by herself while the rest of the girls are being shown off by the camera and dancing in a group of six sans Alex. The live performance for Start a Fire are not any different showing Alex walk off stage at 0:28 and coming back at 2:07. By placing Alex on the peripheries, BP RaNia is making a statement on how they value Blackness.
The way the BP RaNia treats Alex is a prime example of issues of visibility and neoliberalism. Because Alex is made to seem more of a featured artist rather than a solidified member of the group, the company is suggesting that she does not have a firm place in the girl group and that blackness does not fit in a KPop group. Including a Black artist in a KPop group is indeed a large step to recognizing the reach of KPop, but the way that BP RaNia is creating this visibility is actually more harmful than it is good. Simply putting the face of a Black woman in a KPop group is not going to change the antiblackness and appropriation that permeates through the industry. This is especially a problem because KPop gets so many influences from Black music like Hip Hop and R&B. However, this does provide potential for establishing stronger solidarities among women of color, but this can only happen if KPop fans and BP RaNia acknowledge the harm they have done to Alex and Black artists hoping to branch out genre-wise. There has been some mobilization by KPop fans in response to this, and in a recent live stage of the side track “Make Me Ah”, Alex stayed on stage for the entire performance. This is the beginning of ending the performed visibility for Black people transnationally.