Truedy, a female rapper in Korea, gained fame on the Korean rap competition show Unpretty Rapstar in which she cited the singer Yoon Mirae as her role model. Yoon Mirae is one of Korea’s many multiracial artists with a Korean mother and an African-American father, an experience that she has cited as being a major influence on her music; however, Truedy is full Korean, yet has chosen to use makeup to perform in similar artistic and fashion styles as Yoon Mi Rae and then some. Truedy demonstrates the shallow understanding Koreans have of African-American and hip hop culture through her bastardization of Yoon Mirae’s mixed race experience. Truedy has been criticized for performing in blackface and ultimately for her ignorance, but anti-blackness in Korean entertainment goes beyond just this one artist.
Yoon Mirae is known in South Korea for being a hip-hop legend as well as her unique style of rapping. She was born in Texas as Natasha Reid to a Korean mother and African-American father and debuted in 2001. Yoon performs her blackness and Koreanness through the fluidity of her music, performing soft K-drama soundtrack ballads like “ALWAYS” to rapping about the conflicts she has had with her identities in “Black Happiness”. Although Yoon has been seen by many to be “Korean-passing”, she also performs in hairstyles “traditionally” associated with African-American and hip hop culture. Truedy grew up seeing Yoon’s performances and listening to her references of blackness and the discrimination she experienced. She then took Yoon’s musical and physical performances and debauched them into her own performance of what she perceives as “black” and “hip hop style”. Yoon’s mixed background is not one that is by any means secretive in Korea, nor are multiracial Korean artists uncommon in Korean entertainment. However, anti-black sentiments in Korea manifest through the erasure of the non-Korean, non-”American” experiences by people like Truedy. Truedy has darkened her skin, crimped her hair to look like natural hair, creates thick double eyelids through the application of makeup, and also wears clothes she perceives as “hip hop” clothing. Her music and references to black people in combination with the physical performance of blackness is essentially minstrelsy.
“Reflecting a fusion of African American and Korean musical sensibilities, K-pop’s hybridity goes beyond reductive scripts of authenticity generated by discourses of cultural misappropriation and imitation” (Anderson 291). This “fusion” as Crystal Anderson puts it is evident in K-pop along with Korean hip hop, and Korean music’s “hybridity” not only performs cultural appropriation but also attempts to claim it as something other than its origins. The viewers and fans of Truedy’s season of Unpretty Rapstar were surprised to hear of her lack of a multiracial background in combination with her consistent references to “black people” in her raps. Truedy is the symptom of a larger problem in Korean entertainment, appropriation of black culture.
According to Anderson, American pop music first arrived in Korea with the onset of the Korean War along with white and black GIs that were stationed in Korea. The effects of these GIs extend further than just the introduction of American pop music but it also resulted in a spike in mixed race babies that were a relatively new idea to a homogenous South Korea. Fast forward to present day when there are famous artists that are mixed, yet the representation of these artists masks the racist sentiments that remain from the Korean War. Although Truedy has received multiple online criticisms of her black face, the status quo in Korea is okay with this racism and appropriation of black culture. In a world that is gradually getting smaller and more globalized, Korea needs to start being more aware of the necessity of understanding experiences and learning rather than appropriating.