• Jas

Confessions of a Black K-Pop Stan: Part One

Updated: Jun 7

Yes, we exist. No, we're not (all) delusional.

The date was August 18, 2020, and after a tumultuous year filled with unprecedented change and loss, my brain was completely fried. I was beyond burnt out - I was barely even existing. I hadn’t felt excitement in months, I was falling deeper into the familiar grips of clinical depression, and I couldn’t bring myself to even think about surviving more than one day at a time…and then along came Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS).

What started as laughing at a BTS meme thread on Twitter quickly became a full-blown obsession. Suddenly, I had a burst of energy that I hadn’t felt in months - maybe even years. I consumed dozens of hours of BTS content on Youtube and Weverse - music videos, live performances, variety shows, and documentaries. The intricate choreography, carefully styled stage looks, charming personalities, and catchy tunes were impossible for me to resist. Within 48 hours I had listened to their entire discography, consisting of an impressive nine studio albums (eight at the time), four compilation albums, and six extended plays. I quickly learned all of the Korean slang connected to idol culture and dubbed myself an official member of the BTS ARMY. Much to my surprise, this newfound energy extended to other areas of my life as well and I became much more active at work and with my friends. Through Twitter, I built a treasured friendship with two fellow BTS fans who are now my closest confidants.

As my hyper fixation on BTS waned, I branched out into the larger world of K-Pop and have discovered groups like TOMORROW X TOGETHER, ATEEZ, and ENHYPEN who make great music and do their best to remain as unproblematic as possible. I explored other groups as well, but as I conducted my deep dives there was always one great big elephant in the room: the blatant anti-Blackness coming from groups and individuals whose music, style, and entire aesthetics are based on hip hop and R&B culture.

There’s a common misconception in some circles that Black K-pop stans are divorced from reality and don’t realize that the K-Pop industry, like all others, is rife with anti-Blackness. After all, how could we enjoy music from a group whose non-Black members have worn dreads or made disparaging comments about skin darker than a paper bag in the past while claiming to love and protect Blackness as a whole? While I can’t speak for everyone, for me the answer is simple: I accept the transgressions I can deal with and kindly ignore artists who cross my hard line. The reality is that as a Black woman, I will always have to be prepared to be disappointed by my faves - simply due to how deeply ingrained anti-Blackness and misogyny are globally. This has been my truth long before I became a K-Pop stan and will continue to be long after I’ve moved on to my next obsession. If an artist I enjoy who has done or said questionable things in the past offers a sincere apology and changes their behavior for a sustained period of time, I choose to forgive them. There are, of course, limits to my forgiveness. If an artist repeatedly engages in anti-Blackness - either directly or indirectly - I cut them off. For artists engaging in blatant blackface or maliciously using racial slurs, I have a one strike policy. Other than that, I try to give K-Pop artists the same grace I would give to my western faves.

At the end of the day, being a Black K-Pop fan is much like being a Black fan of anything else: you gotta stay woke.

Click here for Confessions of a Black K-Pop Stan: Part Two where I switch the focus from artist behavior to fan culture and detail my experiences navigating K-Pop fandoms as a Black fan. You can also check out this playlist of some of my favorite K-Pop songs (BTS-focused, of course)!

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