Although a majority of K-pop idols are now careful to not upset the sentiments of their fans from different cultural backgrounds, certain acts of cultural appropriation, colorism, and racism are still present in K-pop industry even today, which ends up creating dissatisfication among people globally.
Previously, many K-pop idols had been wearing clothes, symbols, and hairstyles that either had religious or cultural significance, thus making all of that a part of their stereotypical concepts. Before the advent of now prevailing 'cancel culture', a lot of this was overlooked and buried by fans, however now, even the minutest mistakes get highlighted and called out online.
Some K-pop idols do have apologized and reflected on their past, such as Stray Kid's Han who used an offensive anti-black word in one of his pre-debut songs. However, there are still many K-pop idols who have not shown any signs of changing despite constant correction from fans.
Let’s look at five K-pop idols who have been guilty of committing such actions.
Five K-pop idols who have a past in cultural appropriation and colorism
1) Wendy from Red Velvet
In 2018, a clip of Wendy from Red Velvet "talking like a black person" went viral on Twitter, upsetting K-pop fans. Wendy appeared on the talk show Talk Mon where she showcased her knowledge of English dialects. The singer, who grew up in the US and Canada, then went on to imitate how black women speak using exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions, which was interpreted by fans as mocking black women.
International fans found the impersonation disrespectful and called her out for her fetishizing behavior. Many were disappointed that a person who grew up in western culture was propagating such stereotypes about black people.
2) G-Dragon from BIGBANG
In 2013, G-Dragon uploaded a picture of his face covered in black paint, on his personal Instagram account, which shocked K-pop fans alike. As part of the formerly popular group BIGBANG, fans expected their idol to have some cultural awareness about the harmful history of blackface.
Blackface is a racist portrayal of black people done by non-black people who cover their faces in black paint, making it offensive since it is looked upon as a tool to spread racist stereotypes. Black K-pop fans were enraged at his actions and were quick to call out his behavior and ignorance.
He was also seen wearing neon dreadlocks, which is a protective hairstyle reserved for black people, in the music video for his song Good Boy, .
3) Lisa from BLACKPINK
In the music video for Kill This Love, hit girl group BLACKPINK'S Lisa was seen wearing silver box braids, a hairstyle with roots in the black community. While Black people are discriminated against for wearing their traditional hairstyles, people noted that K-pop idols like Lisa end up wearing them freely for hip-hop concepts, and are often heavily criticized.
Many netizens were of the opinion that it was disrespectful of the artist to use something that is so personal to the Black community for her video, propagating certain stereotypes against Black people.
This was not the only case of cultural appropriation that Lisa was caught in. In the music video for How You Like That, Lisa was seen rapping next to a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha, placed on the floor beside. This disrespect to their deity had enraged Indian fans all around the world. Although YG Entertainment never released an apology, they later edited that particular part from the music video.
4) Taeyong from NCT
NCT U came under fire after the concept for their song, Make A Wish was released. Muslim K-pop fans around the world were extremely disturbed by the appropriation of their culture and blatant disrespect for their religion. Their music video sets resembled the architecture of a mosque, the religious place of offering prayers for the Muslim community.
Taeyong went on to mock Desi culture further on Mnet’s M Countdown by making hand gestures and facial expressions that were supposed to resemble 'Indian dancing' as the ending pose of their stage. Following in his footsteps, other members also started bobbing their heads in a similar manner. Despite hurting religious sentiments, SM Entertainment did not issue any apologies for such behavior.
5) Baekhyun from EXO
There have been certain cases of colorism amongst K-pop idols, where they have called their group members offending nicknames as "terms of endearment". Baekhyun from EXO had his member Kai’s name saved as 'Blackie' because of his darker skin tone. He even joked about another team member Lucas being hard to see as his skin tone is darker compared to the other members of Super M.
Such comments have consistently landed the K-pop idol in hot water, with fans viewing this as a gateway to making racist comments. They believe that someone who can openly be a colorist to their team-mates can say much worse behind closed doors.
With K-pop’s increasing global popularity, many K-pop agencies are now conducting sensitivity training to inform K-pop idols of the repercussions of certain words and actions that could land them in trouble with international fans. It is possible to not know the cultural significance of certain objects or symbols, however, the act of education is a step forward to reduce the global barriers of ignorance.