K-pop had not seen a worse year than 2009 in terms of scandals and shocking news. But then 2014 and the so-called K-popcalypse came, and 2009 didn’t seem like such a nightmare anymore. And while members leaving groups and fatal accidents were the biggest headlines of the year, not all scandals were sorrowful. Truth is, most of the scandals made us face palm and experience third person embarrassment for idols and their companies. These controversies involved cultural insensitivities, misogynistic messages, entitlement sentiments, and uncalled for beef, and they all prove that if K-pop wants to compete in the worldwide market, changes must be enforced.
Hyomin’s Nice Body
Back in June, T-ara member Hyomin released her solo song Nice Body, which was well-received by the public. Many publications complimented her for her even slimmer body and provocative dance moves. However, this, to other publications, proved to be a disconcerting release and reaction. Nice Body seemed to be a song about wanting to have a fit figure, but a closer look at the lyrics and music video revealed it to be a misogynistic mess.
Nice Body objectified and promoted the idea that a woman’s body’s sole purpose is to serve men. It also promoted girl-on-girl hate, comparing a fat and a skinny girl (even though both characters were played by Hyomin), while highlighting the latter as the ideal one and shaming the former as undesirable.
But even if the song was cringeworthy for its overall offensive and destructive message, the public’s acceptance and lack of understanding of this was even more alarming.
BTS’ First Few Episodes of American Hustle Life
BTS embarked in, most likely, the most challenging and important journey of their careers in 2014, when they spent a month in Los Angeles under the mentorship of hip hop legends. The boys were set to learn about hip hop culture and history through a boot camp-like reality show. By the end of the program, BTS learned new skills like beatboxing, intricate choreographies, and soulful singing, which they displayed in a showcase with fans. All of this sounded great, but anyone who saw the show can attest to the awkwardness and downright embarrassment of the first few episodes of American Hustle Life.
For starters, nothing promotes black stereotypes like having a bunch of African Americans simulate a kidnapping and take BTS to a safe house in Compton, California (“the ghetto”) while scaring the life out of them. And who can forget the most cringiest moment when V spouted out words he had heard in rap songs but had no idea what they meant at Coolio? Or Rap Monster cosplaying as Stevie Wonder, by donning a wig and acting blind. Those scenes were highly edited, but it was impossible to miss how pissed off Coolio was.
By the end of the show, BTS did show they had learned a lot about what American hip hop music and culture is all about, but those first few episodes will forever make audiences face palm.
Zico’s Tough Cookie
Another person who spouted out English words that he had heard in Western rap songs and recreated them in his own song was Block B’s Zico. In 2014, the rapper released his solo track Tough Cookie, which sounded and looked more “hip hop” than his stuff with Block B. The music video included a whole lot of faceless women shaking what their mommas gave them, Zico decked out in jewelry, and, of course, violence. But even if this imagery is somewhat problematic, the bigger issue came with the rappers use of the “f word” in his lyrics.
The outrage, as expected, began in the West. Audiences were baffled that a K-pop idol used an offensive and derogatory term for homosexuals. And yet, Zico had previously come under fire for similarly using the “n word” in his lyrics. In this instance, after fans educated him on why the usage of the term was problematic, the rapper changed the word, only to bring it back later on. Zico’s agency claimed he had no knowledge of what the word actually meant and didn’t want to disrespect anyone; he never personally apologized.
With this situation, there are two options: either Zico genuinely thought that word was just another cuss word or, like many Western artists, knew and meant it. Either way, Zico should’ve apologized personally, not through his agency, and changed the lyric. And since this is Zico’s second offense, he should really be schooled on foreign cultures or at least properly research what the words he writes mean.
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Red Velvet’s Wendy Black Stereotypes Impressions
Another artist who recently came under international criticism was Red Velvet’s Wendy. Back in November, the group was featured in a radio program and, as is typical in Korean shows, when the hosts asked the girls to show off a talent, Wendy proceeded with her impressions. While many singers often imitate actors or comedians, Wendy chose to imitate female and male black stereotypes. For women, she acted sassy and stressed that their eye expressions were important. As for the men, she went as far as to say they were thugs and acted “gangsta.”
A non K-pop international publication caught wind of the video and called the singer out for her ignorance and racism. However, K-pop fans knew that this wasn’t just another case of Koreans not knowing Western culture. Wendy is from Canada, a country as diverse as the U.S., and should’ve known better than to go off to a country where people are not as well acquainted with black people and promote stereotypes. Neither the singer nor SM Entertainment apologized for the situation.
Pritz‘s Nazi Costumes
Continuing on the downward spiral of cultural insensitivity, we find rookie group Pritz. A video of one of their performances made headlines around the world due to the resemblance of Nazi imagery in their outfits. The girls wore a red arm band that featured a logo similar to the Nazi swastika: a white circle with a black cross.
Even if their intention was not to push Nazi propaganda, the international press was baffled at the idea that not a single person involved in the creative process of putting Pritz together thought that the armband was a bad idea. With matters of cultural insensitivity, audiences often defend idols by saying “they didn’t know better” or that they’re not obliged to know about every country’s history. World War II, however, is world history, and at least one person in that company must have seen a picture of Nazis at least once in their lives.
Pandagram, the group’s agency, contested with complete surprise. They admitted they didn’t even understand why people would think the logo drew Nazi comparisons and said that was never the intention. They also explained the logo was actually a Korean speed limit traffic sign. They never edited the music video to take out the arm bands.
Red Velvet’s Happiness Music Video
Prior to Wendy’s scandal, Red Velvet debuted with a bang of public outcry last summer. The music video for Happiness was mostly a collage of colorful images that showcased the girls’ youthful energies. However, a closer look at the music video revealed two problematic images. The first were a set of American newspapers triumphantly announcing the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The second pertained to the burning Twin Towers from the 9/11 attacks in New York City, while one of the members played with a toy plane atop. As expected, not only were American fans upset, but also Japanese. You know, the two largest music markets in the world, where the real money is.
SM Entertainment responded rather quickly to the controversy and stated that the director had used generic imagery for the music video. The company also announced that it would edit the images out and re-upload the video. And while in this particular case the girls weren’t at fault, they did come under criticism. Like with the Pritz issue, audiences were incredulous at the fact that no one caught the images before the release and that such headlines would be a generic image.
Netizens Response to Taeyeon and Baekhyun’s Relationship
Earlier last summer the K-pop world was shaken with the news of SNSD’s Taeyeon and EXO’s Baekhyun’s relationship, which SM Entertainment later confirmed. Taeyeon followed group mates Tiffany, Sooyoung, and Yoona in going public with their relationships, and yet, hers wasn’t smoothly accepted by fans. Sones and EXO-L went on a rampage, searching both artists’ Instagram accounts for clues of their relationship before it was announced. What they found was a whole bunch of vague codes which fans claimed proved that the artists had deceived them. They claimed that Taeyeon had opened her Instagram account for her fans, but since they claimed she had actually used it to post code messages with Baekhyun, she had essentially betrayed them.
Fans bullied Taeyeon to the point where she was spotted in an airport apologizing to fans and crying. SM Entertainment never addressed this particular issue, but kept Taeyeon from appearances and Baekhyun continued with his world tour outside of Korea.
The fans’ reaction to the relationship and the faux scandal of the Instagram betrayal only proved that not all fans are ready to see their idols date. Even if Taeyeon had indeed used her Instagram account to communicate with her boyfriend despite her vow that the account was for her fans, fans should’ve given her her right to live normally, at least through SNS.
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One of the most bizarre collective scandals of the year included a spark in diss tracks throughout K-pop. In the summer, Kemy from rookie group A.KOR released a diss track directed at 2NE1’s Bom for her drug scandal. She called the singer out for having her company bury the story, plastic surgery, getting preferential treatment by law enforcement, among other things. And while the rap has some truth to it, audiences viewed the track as uncalled for and disrespectful given that Bom is her sunbae (elder in the music world).
Another rookie idol believed to be causing trouble last year was YG Entertainment’s Bobby, who had gained recognition from the hip hop community for his rapping while filming the competition show (which he won) Show Me the Money. Although it wasn’t confirmed, fans dissected a series of raps throughout the year and claimed that Bobby had dissed rappers in BTS, VIXX, and Boyfriend. Shortly after the diss, VIXX’s rapper Ravi responded with his own track, putting him in his place as a sunbae and pointing out how he was an idol rapper as well. Then, without being addressed, M.I.B’s SIMS jumped into the situation by dissing Bobby as well.
The whole diss battle seemed to come out of nowhere and for no real reason. Both instances included rookie artists insulting their sunbaes in the name of rap. And while this practice is often seen in America, it’s important to point out that the U.S. doesn’t have a rank society like Korea. Bobby and Kemy are both rookies and might think they’re above idol-dom, but they should be aware of their place and realize they are, indeed, idol rappers as well.
What K-pop scandal or piece of news made you cringe the most in 2014? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.