Kpop as authentic Asian America

In going off conversations in class about authenticity and Korean music, I’d like to argue that kpop represents the whole of an authentic Asian American experience.

First of all with cultural citizenship, there is a multitude of Korean American kpop idols in the industry. Some that come to mind are Vernon of Seventeen, Somi from IOI, and solo artist Shannon Williams. These artists are born from one white parent and one Asian parent yet manage to find their place in the industry while also being a bridge between English speaking audiences and the Korean music world.


There are also plenty of just Asian Americans who are of Korean decent but we’re born in the states. People like Amber from f(x), Tiffany from Girl’s Generation, and Mark Tuan from Got7. These artists use their background in order to draw fans from the US to this foreign music.


In terms of music style, I was thinking about rap music, but more specifically about the unconventional uses of “rapping” in kpop. We can all draw similarities in sound of the trap beats of Okasian’s “Walkin’ Remix” or the smooth RnB track of Dynamic Duo’s “Jam”. But when thinking about kpop’s more well known bubble pop, a more upbeat cheery sound, there has been a recent increase in arbitrarily adding rap lines. Even on shows like Produce 101, a girl group forming survival type show, there are the traditional main roles of dancing and singing, but the inclusion of a rap role and even the appearance of a famous Korean rapper, Cheetah, as a main judge was surprising to me. Girl groups in general are generally marketed as cute girl next door types and even the “edgier” groups stick to RnB or Rock. But in new groups like I.O.I, the group that formed as a result of Produce 101, there are many additions of rap verses in cutesy songs like “Very Very Very” and “Dream Girls”.

As another example, the ballad “Closer” by Oh My Girl adds a rap track towards the end of a what is typically a slower song. Ballads are a very quintessential kpop trope yet Oh My Girl strives to subvert this expectation by throwing in a rap. Kpop group Mamamoo, a group marketed through their vocal talent rather than their visual beauty, has three very talented singers. Yet instead of adding a fourth, equally as talented, singer, their company added Moonbyul, a self declared rapper. Many of their songs, such as this cover of “The way to Sampo” seems to go out of their way to add rap lines to the songs as either a way to simply give lines to the rapper or maybe consciously trying to modernize the song and make it more “refreshing”.

As the Korean music industry is becoming more aware of their role in the transnational exchange, they seem to be increasing their production in favor of the very western taste of rap music. Perhaps this hybrid of Western music ideals in Korean music is a way to draw in the ever growing Asian Americans by appealing to their American lifestyle while still playing on their sense of home and familiarity.

Based on Crystal S. Anderson [1] ‘s definition of authenticity drawing on aesthetics, we can already eliminate kpop rap as being authentic. Just the standards of what rap is traditionally seen as versus what these Korean pop music videos are showing, they are very different worlds. However when looking at audience reaction, I felt as though perhaps people might drawing more similarities. Just from personal anecdote, I can appreciate both Migos as well as Twice in what they bring as artists.

I don’t think people are going into kpop looking for very “authentic” representations but the blending of both western styles with Asian lyrics can create a sort of wholy Asian American feeling.





[1] Anderson, Crystal S. “Hybrid Hallyu: The African American Music Tradition in K-pop.”Global Asian American Popular Cultures. NYU Press 2016.


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