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Why does Kpop face backlash from international fans regarding cultural appropriation? 

Experts say that in order to attract international fans, K-pop entertainment companies and artists need to acquire knowledge about different cultures and histories.

K-pop is expanding its influence internationally, and its fan base is therefore becoming more diverse than ever. Content produced by artists and their companies is watched and appreciated by audiences around the world, not just within Korea.

This means that Korean artists are currently under pressure to have a deeper knowledge of historical and cultural contexts. However, many controversies over this matter show that the Korean music industry still has a long and challenging way to go if it really wants to make an impact on the world.

Kpop has constantly come under controversy

Many controversies over cultural and historical perceptions have happened in Kpop. An example is when GFriend’s former member Sowon had to give an apology for sharing offensive photos. In the controversial photo, she holds a mannequin dressing up as a Nazi soldier.

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Back in July 2020, the MV for How You Like That of Black Pink came under controversy for including the image of Ganesha – a Hindu god with an elephant head and a human body – without understanding its important meaning to Indian fans. In light of criticism, YG Entertainment decided to edit the MV and remove the scene with the statue of Ganesha.

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In 2021, Big Hit Entertainment – BTS’s management company – also apologized for sampling a speech of cult leader Jim Jones in Suga’s mixtape What Do You Think?.

“Today, K-pop isn’t just for Koreans. Artists and companies are targeting the global market, so they should take into account the opinions of people of different cultures,” Lee Gyu Tag, a professor of cultural anthropology at George Mason University Korea, told The Korea Times. “They need to learn about different cultures, taboos and histories to better understand their fans,” the professor added.

Solutions to resolve all disputes

Kim Hern Sik, a pop culture critic, agrees with Lee Gyu Tag’s viewpoints. Kpop management companies, according to Kim Hern Sik, should create departments or teams to deal with issues related to history and culture.

“For example, music videos are often made by an out-of-company producer. But each company needs to form a team and have its employees double-check to see if their content might be offensive to a part of viewers or not,” he said.

“They should be more vigilant because a controversy involving cultural or historical issues can tarnish a singer’s reputation to a large extent. It is important to act quickly – such as: announce an apology if a company finds out there’s something wrong with their music product,” Kim said.

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BlackPink quickly edited the MV right after being criticized.

Referring to Sowon’s case, while many international fans were irritated by her actions, certain Korean audiences stood up for her. They claimed it was “simply a mistake.” Differences in culture, according to Kim, can cause local fans to have different perspectives than those in other nations.

“But I believe domestic K-pop fans should try to understand the feelings and pain of their fellow international fans. They shouldn’t turn a blind eye when international fans seek mutual understanding and respect.”  Mr. Kim emphasized.

Kim pointed out that Korean fans should put themselves in the shoes of global fans when it comes to cultural and historical issues… “K-pop idols and their agencies can learn about culture and history if there are good sources. But currently, there are not enough references for them,” he said.

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