EXP EDITION, All-American K-Pop Group, Sparks Controversy for Existing
K-pop is, presumably, born and bred in Korea. Or...is it?
EXP EDITION first popped up on the scene two years ago, raising eyebrows for the fact that all the members of the (then-six piece) group hailed from New York City — but not one from South Korea. (Note: they're not to be confused with EXO.)
The boy band also has a unique origin story; born of a thesis project by Colombia graduate student Bora Kim and her project partners Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao, they are, essentially, an academic experiment, intended to explore gender, sexuality, business culture, fandom and cultural appropriation in Korean pop.
“I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more, since I’m in New York, where so many talents are just one online recruitment ad away,” Bora Kim explained in an interview with Columbia about her I’m Making a Boy Band project.
After raising over $30,000 on Kickstarter to fund an EXP mini-album, the group has since dwindled down to four members after two years: Frankie, Šime, Hunter and Koki. Together, they moved to South Korea, recorded music, studied Korean, rehearsed and prepared for their (re-)debut, which seems to be coming any day now.
Yesterday (Apr. 13), the trailer for the group's single, "Feel Like This," arrived on YouTube — and it's already been met with more down votes than up.
"#borninNYmadeinSEOUL," the description declares.
The comments section is full of outrage, confusion and a small smattering of tentative support, with many commenters critical about Western, non-Asian acts assuming the role of Korean pop stars, uncertain about the degree of appropriation they're seeing — or whether it's even appropriation to begin with.
"K-pop is supposed to be a safe space for Asians to have a platform for entertainment that they often times aren't given in the west. Because of the narrative that white westerners have projected onto them, Asians are often portrayed as undesirable, anti-social, and nerdy. They are hardly ever given leading roles in movies, and are not really taken seriously or given opportunities in entertainment positions...we don’t need mediocre white boys trying to be idols in Korea when they are able to become successful in literally any other part of the world," heryesareyo wrote.
"Can POC do something that doesn't need to be taken/used by white people," adds Yasmin.
Others seem slightly more receptive to the idea of EXP EDITION: "i have no idea what to expect but i wish you guys luck in y'all's debut. i know alot of people are giving you hate but i wont be close minded like them. so good luck to you guys~," said faithlantisxx.
Many commenters have pointed to Alex, a non-Asian member of RaNia, as a comparison, including Mity: "Its funny how ya all hatin coz they're white, but at the same time you were happy when Alex debuted w/ RaNia. Who's racist now?.. (I don't care if you're white, black or blue, kpop is asian, so let it be asian)," one commenter explained.
And the list of non-Korean idols in general goes on and on, as K-Pop Shoebox points out: "People dissing them for not being korean. LOL. f(x) Amber, Super Junior Henry, Cosmic Girls Cheng Xiao, Fiestar Cao Lu, TWICE Momo, Tzuyu, Sana, GOT7 Jackson, Bam Bam, Seventeen The8, f(x) Victoria, EXO Lay, FREAKING ALEX FROM RANIA. You all have a problem with them being white, not with them being non korean, cause otherwise you would be against all the people I just named, too. If you're dissing, at least diss right."
Whether EXP EDITION will achieve lift-off beyond "Feel Like This" remains to be seen, but so far, it seems the boys are in for a harsh uphill battle.
Will the Internet allow them to happen? And should they even happen? Is any of this okay?
Sound off in the comments below.
K-Pop Groups That Disbanded Over the Years: