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The Dark Side of K-Pop Was What Drew Me to the Genre – Allure

The Dark Side of K-Pop Was What Drew Me to the Genre – Allure


I started listening to K-pop in high school, when my cousin introduced me to TVXQ. Listening to non-English pop, as an Asian-American teen, blew my mind and made me feel less alone as the only Taiwanese kid in my school. They were as talented as the boy bands I grew up with, like *NSYNC and B2K, but polylingual sometimes debuting songs in Chinese, too and looked more like me than my neighbors. I found a community of girls online who were just as obsessed as I was. If I was awake, I was probably logged on to my private K-pop-exclusive Twitter, crying over the last performances of my favorite groups, and wondering how much the tickets would cost if they ever toured in New York.

The dark side of K-pop made listening to the music more addictive. Every day felt like it might bring seismic change to my borrowed world. In 2009, almost as soon as I had met them, members of TVXQ took their management to court over their Draconian 13-year contracts. When the internet excavated 2PM leader Jay Parks years-old MySpace and found careless comments about his trainee experience, there was a petition encouraging his suicide circulating hours later. Just as one scandal reached a fever pitch, another would ignite. It was exciting to love K-pop because it seemed so tenuous and dramatic and harrowing. But in a way that wouldnt affect me personally these young people werent actually my friends. This was Shakespearean tragedy you could listen to on your iPod, back when you owned such a thing. Who could say no?

Well, plenty of people actually. Americans often questioned my K-pop obsession. Outsiders would look on at K-pop with derision, pity, confusion. Idols changed their entire style including getting plastic surgery at a high frequency. Westerners would tell me they had a hard time keeping up. Faces seemed to change all the time, they said. It must be exhausting, they said. I considered these opinions racist David Bowie and Lady Gaga changed their looks constantly as a point of artistry, so why not Asian stars? I would watch my idols change or refuse to change, despite the expectations to do so and get even more invested in their stories. These people were only a few years older than me and were already beautiful, graceful, relentlessly productive. It was incredible but also another level of this darkness. I loved them because they were good at their jobs, but I was afraid for them, too. Their makeovers for some double-eyelid surgery, for others jaw reshaping or rhinoplasty were said to be encouraged and or paid for by their management companies and added to a debt they had to work their way out of once they debuted.

As an artist, you know being attractive will get you more attention...and get you the center position [in a group], explained independent artist Grazy Grace, in a YouTube video on her experience as a trainee (parlance for fledging idol) in the K-pop industry. Nobody is putting a gun to your head. Its honestly the opposite... When [an idol is] doing camera tests and know theyre going to debut in front of so many people, they feel the need to correct, even [just] a little.

This isnt the case just for idols theyre simply the most visible people negotiating Korean beauty standards. According to a 2015 Gallup Korea survey, one in three South Korean women between the ages of 19 and 29 said theyve had cosmetic surgery, and nine out of 10 adults there said a persons appearance matters in life. Plainly, it does: resumes in South Korea often require a headshot.

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The Dark Side of K-Pop Was What Drew Me to the Genre - Allure

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