K-pop Extremes: 4 times Korean idols faced racism and xenophobia on American interviews

NCT's Johnny is among the Korean idols who've faced racism via American interviewers. (Image via Twitter/ @NCTsmtown)

Korean idols from the K-pop world lead an extremely hectic life. During comeback season, they often rush from the recording studio to the dance room and go straight to music award shows.

Overseas schedules come with their struggles. Juggling concerts, appearances at various shows, and giving multiple interviews can take a toll on stars. To make things worse, singers can be subject to ignorant American hosts disrespecting Korean idols because of their ethnicity.

K-pop Extremes gives readers a look into idols' lives beyond the glitz and glamor, uncovering hidden truths of the Korean music industry. This article sheds light on the various instances of racism that idols face during their career.

Four times Korean idols battled racism thrust upon them by American interviewers


While the K-pop industry is not entirely bereft of its share of cultural appropriation and casual racism, American interviewers often cross the line while talking to Korean idols.

1) A reporter assumed NCT's Johnny couldn't understand him at the Met Gala 2022


NCT 127's Johnny created a lot of buzz when he attended the Met Gala for the first time earlier this year. His appearance, in a black suit sans a shirt, was appreciated by fans of the group.

The NCT singer's debut at the prestigious gala was marred by a racist comment by paparazzi who wanted a good photograph of him. The reporter kept calling Johnny but could not catch his attention due to the noise and chaos. Frustrated, the photographer remarked,

"He doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. F**k."

The person responsible for the comment later apologized and said that he assumed that Johnny would not understand English because he was a K-pop idol. Such microaggressions are a softer form of racism that needs to be addressed.

2) Interviewers complimented NCT's Mark and Johnny on their English


Any cursory internet search will reveal the nationalities of NCT 127's members. Thus, it was astonishing that an interviewer from KTLA 5, a Los Angeles-based news channel, was caught exclaiming that Mark's spoken English was good. Mark is Canadian-born and spent most of his childhood in Vancouver before being scouted by SM Entertainment.

Similarly, his co-member, Johnny, was also complimented for his English, to which he was seen murmuring,

"I'm from Chicago."

This interviewer was probably not intentionally racist. However, the fact that there wasn't much research conducted about NCT 127 suggests a great deal of ignorance. This further points to casual and subconscious xenophobia.

3) Howie Mandel being condescending towards Girls' Generation's Tiffany


One of the first acts to expand internationally, Girls' Generation is among the most popular Korean idol groups. When they made their 2012 debut on LIVE! with Kelly, the girl group was interviewed by Kelly, and Howie Mandel of America's Got Talent fame.

Most of the interview went smoothly, except when Howie told American-born Tiffany twice that her English was excellent. The singer took it in her stride and joked that she "studied very hard" to get to that level. It was meant to be in jest, however, such a joke speaks for how ingrained and internalized racism is.

4) SEVENTEEN being asked about BTS on a podcast


There's no question that BTS has reached unbelievable heights in their careers. However, it is unfair when the Dynamite group is compared to every single group that achieves anything remotely similar to them.

SEVENTEEN's Vernon was recently asked a question about BTS' success by the host of Sirius XM. The rapper maturely answered the question, suggesting that both groups have traversed a difficult journey to scale several heights. The comparison between the two groups denies the diversity of the music within Korean idols.

Globalization within the K-pop world has come at a cost, with only a handful of American and Western interviewers giving these stars the respect they deserve. Hopefully, this changes as more groups enter the market and challenge preconceived notions.

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Edited by Sayati Das