K-pop An Embarrassment To Asians?

After watching SNSD’s appearance on Letterman and The Morning Show, I felt the stirrings of internal angst. I had delayed watching this clip for as long as possible, but being a self confessed masochist, curiosity eventually got the better of me.

Following the video, a very small part of me felt glad that Kpop was getting so much global exposure. A slightly bigger part felt angry that it was SNSD and not DBSK who had made history (oh why, oh why did they have to break up?!). The biggest part of me, however, felt EMBARRASSMENT. Yes, that’s right, embarrassment. And the reason for this is a cultural one, not a bitchy one.

With the Hallyu Wave having spread to China, Japan and most of South East Asia, it seems that the next logical place to take this phenomena is to the United States. American culture is however, different to Asian culture; with Kpop being an even more distinctive sub-culture. One would therefore have to question whether the American public would share our love of fanchants, “shipping” same gender couples, and pop groups big enough to form a cult.

The differences:

Kpop attempts to provide the audience with a ‘sensory overload‘. The aim is to capture the them through synchronised dances, repetitive choruses, outlandish clothes and charismatic gazes. In fact, the majority of MVs distract from the song itself by shifting the focus of it’s audience to the storyline, or in the case of SNSD, to the members’ faces.

Western Music however, is actually about…well…music. Music is seen as a form of artistic expression and an outlet for individuality. Instead of emphasis being placed on mainstream and Billboard Top 40 Musicians, people also tend to have their own followings. Music comes in varied forms (i.e. more than just Pop), and the life cycle of a band can range from ‘one hit wonder‘ to a successful 10 year career. Americans also a more retrospective attitude to music, where older bands aren’t seen as obsolete and ‘new‘ doesn’t always mean ‘better‘.

Somehow I can’t see these lyrics being taken seriously: 


The Boys, SNSD

“I’m… So… Fast.” – Mr Taxi, SNSD

“Because I naughty naughty” – Mr Simple, Super Junior

“I really wanna touch myself…” – Purple Line, DBSK


One would therefore have to question the viability of Kpop expansion into America and other Western countries. Although the argument may be made that Kpop fandoms have spread all around the world, I’m going to hypothesise that if we were to look at demographics, the majority of fans would be Asians living in a Western country.

Fans in New York – 80% Asian?

The Embarrassment:

My embarrassment therefore stems from the awkwardness of seeing something trying to fit itself in an environment where it obviously does not yet belong. Now I’m not a hater, but consider this, if a K-pop group were to represent us as Asians, who would you pick? (excluding SNSD because they’ve already proved how un-awkward they can be…)

Let’s take a look at the two finalists:

Super Junior

If SNSD had a difficulty fitting on the stage with 9 members, I can’t even being to imagine the logistical problems Super Junior would encounter. They’ll probably have to build a new stage just for Shindong. In fact, how would they even introduce themselves? ‘Hi my name is Siwon, I’m responsible for the group’s visuals and sexy charisma‘? Or, ‘Hi my name is Leeteuk, I’m backup vocalist number 4‘?

Beyond introductions, there is also the itsy-bitsy problem of communication. Now Siwon is apparently known for being the best at English out of all of Super Junior, but if this is the best, then I’m worried:

Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that Siwon may have learnt his English from Morning Glory notebooks?

Super Junior is also kind of like Tinkerbell. They need fan-chants to live. I’m sure we all remember the awkward performance where the audience didn’t chant. If not, the link will be provided below.

Big Bang

Now I love Big Bang. They are my #1 Kpop group and I have nothing for them but love and respect and drool. But the one thing I can’t seem to love is their English. It seems that outside of Asia, all of their charisma just fizzles and dies and becomes… I hate to say it: ‘try-hardiness‘.

Big Bang’s acceptance speech at the MTV awards is pretty much evidence of this. The speech in summary: “YO YO YOOOO SANK U SANK U SHO SHO MUCH” WOOT WOOT. [korean. korean. more korean] SANK U!! I honestly had to unplug my earphones before my heart palpitations turned into a full blown heart attack.


Maybe I’m just a disloyal Kpop fan or maybe I’m just cynical but at the end of the day, maybe I’m right. Can you honestly tell me that listening to your favourite idol speaking English is ‘cute‘ as opposed to ‘cringe worthy‘? If so, kudos to you. Give yourself a pat on the back and pretend that it’s your bias patting you. You’re a much better fan than me any day: Hwaiting?


Nic (with the help of a friend – T)

List of songs and videos mentioned:

SNSD Letterman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4lwzdnMNxQ

SNSD “The Boys”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pA_Tou-DPI

SNSD “Mr. Taxi”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVg6BpGlMwQ

Super Junior “Mr Simple”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6TwzSGYycM

Super Junior Silent performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scRPmamUR64

Donghae & Euynhuk “Oppa Oppa”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltTwN-EL85k

DBSK “Purple Line”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1OIO3cYpzo

12 thoughts on “K-pop An Embarrassment To Asians?

  1. It’s amusing that out of all the people you could’ve chosen to represent American music, you chose Adele… who’s not American at all XD

  2. I agree with you. I’m from America, and I like k-pop, but I don’t know one other person here that does. And when I try to get my friends into it they’re like ‘NO’ Ha. I agree with what you’re saying about our choices in music though. You see a lot of singers here that aren’t exactly beautiful to look at that are popular. And boy bands went out of style for us when NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys stopped so I’m not sure how people would feel about such big groups like Super Junior. Of course One Direction is pretty popular here, I don’t know why, and it’s a boy band. They speak English though. Hopefully k-pop will become big here eventually so I can actually see some k-pop groups I like live. (:

    • I can completely relate. I was playing a celebrity word associations game with friends the other day (where you have to name famous celebrities) and I said ‘Yoona’. Every one thought I had made it up, despite my desperate attempts to convince them that she was an actual person. Clearly, I didn’t try ‘Yuri’ after that hahaha. I too hope Kpop expands, and hopefully there’ll be more concerts overseas 😀

    • I would like JYJ to represent Korea but of course they can’t because SME is messed up. Yoochun has good english and so does Jaejoong. Junsu doesn’t speak english he speaks engrish. Still it’s either them or DBSK. I think only those 2 are possible because SNSD is just favored by SME because they are popular. Super Junior has to go to the army and they are getting older. BIG BANG is life but they will never get as high as DBSK when the 5 were all together

  3. I agree with you about the English part. I think whoever make the lyrics for KPop songs should write more meaningful English lyrics than just include the silly and meaningless lyrics just because it’s English. For their English skill, uhh yess they need to be much better! Maybe it’s hard for them to pronounce English words properly but if they want more Western people start to like them, they should really work on that. Also, for boybands, the definition of ‘manliness’ I think play a role in their popularity in general. I think they look more ‘gayish’ for Westerners and the ‘tradition’ of shipping same gender boyband members just weird if not unacceptable, therefore more people in Western countries don’t find KPop boybands interesting let alone attractive.
    But I think KPop is slowly spreading in the States, despite their awkwardness you mention above. Doesn’t SM have kind of annual concert there? I don’t know how big they will be though, but I think KPop fans are generally more loyal than Western singer fans, therefore they probably ‘help’ by spreading KPop popularity at least on the internet.

    • Oh their Engrish always gets me. I have yet to get over Super Junior’s “Bingo” line in their new song. Unfortunately what you say is true. Not only do their songs have to be in perfect english, the lyrics do need to be meaningful and not simply a ‘google translation’ of the Korean ones.
      Nonetheless as you said, K-pop is making movement. I’m waiting in anticipation for 2ne1’s english album (i.e. hoping that it doesn’t suck). Unfortunately to really crack the American market, the group needs to promote overseas for quite a period of time and may lose popularity in Korea in the mean time (Wonder Girls being a prime example). I really hope that they do well though so that I’m not the lone person on the train jamming to Kpop an receiving weird looks when I mutter my nonsensical Korean hahaha

  4. Well this is interesting. At first I thought you were completely ridiculing Kpop and to be honest I had different thoughts about this before I read it. I guess reading this made me think a little about Kpop and its potential influences overseas, however I still think that the title is a bit too much to say an ‘Embarrassment’ really. Although the things you have said about the English levels and their meanings have truth in them, I think the use of SNSD and their obvious faults was a bit too critical as there are other groups that present kpop in a much more meaningful way, example DBSK – why did i fall in love with you or love in the ice etc… Putting aside the fact that I agree with your opinion on their English skills and its uses on their songs, being a hardcore Cassiopeia (DBSK fan) from the members I treasure their singing skills and their personalities rather than their looks(although they are very good looking) and I hope when they do spread the Hallyu wave overseas, others will appreciate that side of them too instead of just going for face value. I am so happy I found this because I am doing a project about Kpop and its popularity and influences worldwide so this will help a lot and especially since it comes from a kpop lover too. ^________^ Thank you very much~ (Sorry I ranted on too much)

  5. wow,really good infrmation and I think we hve the same opinion about..I do like kpop actually but smetimes I feel embrass too..y dis happen?
    When I watching kpop prfmance on tv,I keep complaining until my mum said”I will turn off the tv or change the channel if u still cmplaining” ahahaha
    nowadays,I see that most of the girl groups trying to look sexy..idk why or thats just my feeling..btw,I like dis article 😀

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