For a lot of people, K-Pop gaining traction in the United States didn’t change their lives at all.
Some haven’t even heard of it. Some were excited to see their favorite artists becoming popular in their own country.
But for me, and for a lot of other Korean Americans like myself, it was incredibly validating.
If you aren’t aware already, K-Pop is Korean pop music. It has started to gain popularity worldwide, with fans of all ages, races, genders, and native languages listening avidly. Discovering K-Pop was the first time I truly saw people that look like me being praised in pop culture media.
When I was a kid, “Mulan” and “Lilo and Stitch” were two of my favorite Disney movies. Mulan was Chinese, and Lilo was Hawaiian, but I think in some ways I saw myself in them.
At least, I saw myself in them much, much more than I saw myself in any of the other animated characters that were popular at the time. There aren’t a lot of ways for a Korean person to discover and feel accepted in their own culture in Vermont.
For a long time, I didn’t even realize that not seeing myself in popular media was having any kind of effect on me.
Looking back now, I can clearly see the ways I was influenced by it.
I used to write stories when I was a kid, and in almost every one the characters were blond haired and blue eyed.
I used to try so hard to convince other kids that my hair wasn’t black! It was just very dark brown.
I used to think my monolids were ugly – they were almost a source of shame for me. A clear, definitive marker of the ways I was different, and not in a way that felt like it should be celebrated. Now, however, I can log onto Twitter and see idols with monolids being praised for their beauty.
Representation in media might seem like a small thing, but only to those who are consistently represented in media.
K-Pop blowing up in the United States is not the be-all-end-all of stereotypical portrayals of Asian people in media, the cure for the model minority myth, or the downfall of racism.
But it’s certainly a start.