I Love K-pop, I Hate K-pop, I Love K-pop

Illustration by Allen B. Thangkhiew

It was a bubblegum pop song that beckoned me into the world of K-pop. The music video was vibrant and the tune didn’t leave my head for weeks. Before I was aware of it, I wasn’t only singing along in a language completely foreign to me but my form of expression had also changed.

A group called Seo Taiji and Boys was formed in the ‘90s from which the origins of K-pop can be traced back. The heavy influences of contemporary pop music produced by the group overshadowed the slower ballads that were prevalent in South Korea.

Emerging from the success of Seo Taiji and Boys’ were a slew of entertainment companies that sought to capitalise off this demand for newer music and talent. Entertainment companies like SM Entertainment, JYP and YG Entertainment came into the picture and started to produce idol groups that would not only appeal to the public with their music but would have this music performed by almost-perfect idols who had undergone years of training to perfect their art.

The curiosity that the west has in K-pop was incited by groups like Big Bang, Girls Generation, 2NE1. These groups introduced a sound that was unlike the music that dominated the charts, from the sweet vocals that were contrasted with a fast pace rap all within the same song. K-pop slowly climbed its way into the western market. However, it wasn’t until the arrival of BTS, that K-pop became etched into the fabric of mainstream pop culture.

Breaking records that had never been touched by Asian artists, BTS has become a name that is known even by the most ardent Kpop haters.

Illustration by Allen B. Thangkhiew

Rachel Debbarma, a 20-year-old student whose love for K-pop has culminated into her making fanart of her favourite k-pop idols observes, “It is rather shocking to see the interactions between the k-pop idols and their fans.”

Within K-pop, fans and idols share a relationship that is different from the ones that are seen between western celebrities and their fans. For example, fans are fed with personal interactions where they are able to engage in video calls with their idols. These K-pop idols will often hold live shows where they can interact with their fans. As a result, a parasocial relationship exists between a K-pop idol and their fans that is rarely seen anywhere else.

This has led to a toxic culture in which fans feel as though they know their idols – as if they are friends. But in reality, this relationship is all part of the ploy to lure in more fans.

K-pop is an iridescent ball filled with beautiful people with skills that have been perfectly honed to entertain their fans. However, delving into the depths of the ocean that is the K-pop industry, we find a slew of practices from overworked teenagers to a dangerous diet culture that negatively impacts their health.

In outfits that match my equally colourful hair, my self-expression is heavily influenced by K-pop in ways that go beyond the aesthetics that I prescribe to. It is an important part of me and my representation. I adore and love it.

But I’ve also become more conscious of the negative impact of K-pop.

I am reminded of the way I used to be. I was a 17-year-old girl who stared at a mirror and wondered why her body did not look like the bodies of the girls whose videos she consumed ravenously.

Looking at videos of K-pop idols that looked good from every angle, my self-esteem decreased proportionately as I consumed more of this media.

In my K-pop journey, I’ve experienced a rollercoaster of emotions.

Inspiration. Crippling insecurity. Fear. Inadequacy.

I’d scrutinize my own body and compare it to the bodies of these K-pop idols.

That my body never aligned with the ideal standards of Korean culture saddened me.

From plastic surgery to intense exercise regimes, companies actively spend an incredulous amount of time and money into chiselling idols to be as perfect as humanly possible.

There exists a brutal culture of body shaming in K-pop. Kpop idols who slightly gain weight are bombarded with comments on how they look fat and have “let themselves go”. What happens when a growing teenager sees that the bodies of these “fat” K-pop idols look just like theirs?

However, despite all of its negatives, K-pop has opened a whole new world which has helped people find happiness.

Illustration by Allen B. Thangkhiew

Shuvangi, a student well versed in K-pop, says, “through very tough times, K-pop has been there with me to weather the storm and for that I am immensely grateful.”

“I have felt joyous and exuberant because of k-pop,” she adds. “I have danced and attempted to learn new languages because of the Hallyu wave which brought k-pop into our lives.”

It took an immense amount of self-reflection to detach myself from the toxic ideals that I had allowed to penetrate my mind. When I look at K-pop now, I see it as a beautiful part of the music industry in which I can always turn to if I am in need of a song that will have me screaming unintelligible Korean that bears every ounce of my frustration.

Author: Katelyn Syiem

Katelyn Syiem is an editorial intern. She’s pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature at St.Edmunds College, Shillong.
A self-proclaimed bookworm with a proclivity for extravagant fashion and K-pop, she lets personality tests determine who she’ll be for the month.

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