It’s time to stop infantilizing K-pop idols

By Shaazia Ebrahim and Fatima Moosa

One of the greatest impacts of the global pandemic and sweeping social movements against police brutality and for Black Lives Matter is the questioning of the celebrity. As a society we have increasingly been questioning the role of the celebrity and how much power we, as fans, attribute to them. K-pop idols are not exempt from this conversation. 

Throughout pop music history, groups and bands have formed close relationships with their fans. Pop artists around the world owe a lot to their fanbase and interact with fans in various different ways. They release new music and special merchandise, hosting concerts and releasing special interviews, documentaries and films specifically targeted at fan audiences. This is doubly true for K-pop, as fans and the idols they stan share a unique relationship, built over years and through different media narratives. That bond is a large part of the allure of being a K-pop fan for many. 

It’s been long understood that K-pop artists interact with their fans differently. K-pop idols are particularly deferential towards their fans, and just about all K-pop groups and idols have special names for their fans. Idols have been known to write songs specifically for their fans. They interact with their fans through online platforms and in real life through fan meets and concerts. In turn, fans give their all for the artists they love, through things like time, action, and money spent on them to help further their presence in the world. 

But this relationship is not always positive. K-pop fans are fiercely protective over their favourite idols and only rarely hold stars accountable for problematic behavior.

On K-pop Stan Twitter especially, there is sometimes a tendency to ignore criticism against idols. Fandom in general closes ranks and defends their faves by attacking the critic. This is accompanied by a need for those fans to “protect” the artist, fearing what it will mean to the artist if they find out about this criticism, or what the repercussions will be. 

Often artists are subjected to harsh comments and hate. New music, content and even public behaviour from idols are scrutinised by internet users and rival fans. This hatred can and has had severe consequences on the artists subjected to it. 

But for fans, there is a responsibility to identify and distinguish between valid criticism as opposed to the hate and unnecessary criticism. Just because something is not positive, does not automatically make it hateful or toxic criticism. 

Often, when some fans call out their faves’ problematic behaviours they are labelled as antis. There’s no arguing against the fact that within the K-pop industry and K-pop fandoms, anti fans are a big thing. Antis are people on the internet who find every fault with artists they dislike. They are often part of rival fandoms and will dig up any questionable actions idols or groups have taken in order to discredit them. Antis are also known to usually bring forward these harmful types of information before a comeback or any such important event within the group, seemingly attempting to negatively impact conversations. They can also threaten idols using social media. 


But every criticism leveled against an artist is not an attack from an anti. Idols should not be protected to the degree where they don’t end up taking responsibility for their problematic actions or even understand why their behaviour is wrong. 

By labelling any and all criticism against their faves as being the work of antis, fans are in danger of absolving them from taking responsibility for their behaviour. Well-meaning enough in its intention, by constantly making these excuses, fans could actually be infantilizing their idols.

The most common definition of “infantilization” is treating someone like a child, even if they no longer are. When fans treat their idols like someone who needs to be protected from all the ills of the world, this kind of behaviour can be seen as infantilization. Another way this manifests is when fans presume to know what their faves are thinking or meaning with a particular action. 

This can be seen in the way some fans responded to BLACKPINK’s use of a statue of a Hindu deity as a prop in their music video of “How You Like That.” During Lisa’s solo scene, she is seated on a throne with a statue of Hindu deity Ganesha on the floor beside her. Hindu fans demanded an apology from YG Entertainment saying that Hinduism is not an aesthetic and that it’s disrespectful to place a deity on the floor, trending things like #mycultureisnotyouraesthetic and #YGApologise. With the uproar, YG eventually edited it out, but didn’t publicly acknowledge the issue.

Some fans defended Blackpink saying the group has no control over what they wear or the staging for their music videos, with some even harassing Indian and Hindu Blinks. Fans accused those calling Blackpink out as antis, dragging the group so their own particular favorite groups can shine. These Blinks trended #YGPROTECTBLACKPINK imploring YG to protect Blackpink from “defamation” and “malicious tweets”

Blackpink have been accused of cultural appropriation before and each time fans defended them without considering nuances. In the video of “Kill This Love,” for example, Jennie wore a Bindi and Maang Teeka and Lisa wore box braids.

Another instance of this behaviour happened when AB6IX’s Youngmin was caught drunk driving in June 2020. No one was seriously injured during the incident but Youngmin left the group following the incident. Some fans decried this decision and expressed their sympathy for Youngmin.

But his actions could have had serious repercussions. If he was old enough to drink alcohol and drive a car, then it is evident that Youngmin should take responsibility; whether that means leaving his group is up for debate. The same act of taking responsibility and changing his ways would be expected of any person of his age, and fans should be more aware of this, rather than trying to defend their favorite stars’ wrongdoing. 

BTS member Suga was also recently the centre of attention. Some online users pointed out in his latest mixtape, he used cult leader Jim Jones’ sermon to introduce his song “What Do You Think?” The cult leader has been associated with the mass murder-suicide of 909 people, and for preying on Black people in particular. While BTS’s company, BigHit Entertainment later issued an apology and removed the sampling, many fans defended him and felt that it wasn’t necessary. 

Fans also excused the sampling saying that Suga meant to criticise Jones in the song, infantilizing the artist by framing his own creative endeavor in their own perspective, regardless of the actuality of his feelings.“If you don’t know why he used it then shut up pls, literally causing unnecessary hate to bring good people down That way of sampling speech to mock someone was used by hip-hop artists many times before,” an ARMY reportedly tweeted, offering an interpretation as defense, regardless of the artist not saying such. 

Fans regularly provide similar excuses for idols engaging in problematic behaviours, especially seen when K-pop idols engage in culturally insensitive behavior at best, antiBlackness at worst.


Recently, Stray Kids released an episode of their variety show, Finding SKZ: God Edition. During the episode the members dressed up in various costumes with Hyungin wearing thick red lips and a curly-haired afro wig. This look donned by Hyungin seemed to be an imitation of Michol, a character which has been criticised for being a Blackface caricature. 

But fans took to social media to say he was putting on a caricature of a Korean cartoon character called Go Eunae. They also said anyone calling Hyungin’s “look” racist don’t understand Blackface.

Others took to social media to explain that saying those caricatures were racist and shouldn’t be explaining to Black people what Blackface is. 

This isn’t the first time the issue’s come up, and fans reacted this way: similar excuses were made for EXO-CBX when Baekhyun applied lipstick to Chen’s face, making his lips extra huge, in what looked like Blackface. Chen then said that he looked like Michol.

Hyungin and Stray Kids later addressed the issue. They posted on Instagram a message saying: “Yet, we are still lacking in many things and we are trying our hardest to become better. We would like to apologize to anyone if we have stepped on a rake. It was never our intention but due to our lack of understanding.” However, the initial reactions from many fans showed he isn’t even allowed to be accountable. Instead, fans seek to explain his behaviour away saying that this is something he grew up with.

Given how entrenched racism and antiBlackness is globally, it is especially important to hold idols accountable when they are displaying behaviours that perpetuate racism and anti-Blackness. Criticism and conversations, not denial, is needed. 

It’s important to question how fans hold their idols accountable. Fans must be aware that their faves are adult human beings, capable of making mistakes and repenting like any other. Idols’ problematic behaviours going unchecked is a reflection of an uncritical and complicit society. When idols engage in behaviour that harms certain groups of people through cultural or religious insensitivity or racism or when they engage in irresponsible behaviour, they must be called out. Their platforms mean that their actions can be detrimental to marginalised groups and set harmful precedents for their younger or more dedicated fans. This is not to harm, it is to help them grow and avoid hurting others in the future with their behavior.  

This is particularly important as we support movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Celebrities have the power to amplify or derail these movements given the platform they have. But more so, fans have the platform to overpower these important movements if they consistently defend their favs without consideration for the impact of idols’ actions. 

Want to support Black people and Black-led movements for justice? Donate to the TGI Justice Project, sign this petition demanding justice for Toyin Salau, follow/donate to the African American Policy Forum (donation link here), and learn more about many calls to action here.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

K-pop activism must go further than fancams

This year is quickly teaching everyone that K-pop fans never miss a single beat. Not when promoting their favorite artists, or even when involving themselves in racial and political movements. Their weapon of choice is none other than the fancam: the 2020 stan’s most powerful — and potentially problematic — online tool for building K-pop’s visibility in a media landscape that often racializes and erases it. 

American media has a long history of denying K-pop—and people of Asian diasporas more broadly — their place in U.S. pop culture. Articles about K-pop from the early 2010s, like John Seabrook’s “Factory Girls,” demonstrated that American media acknowledged K-pop’s existence, but diminished it as a fad of Korean absurdity instead of a legitimate musical production (only a handful of writers and outlets, including Billboard and the now-defunct MTV Iggy, gave K-pop any serious attention). It was only when BTS’ albums began topping the Billboard 200 regularly that American entertainment publications, who knew differences in the facial structures of the Kardashian sisters down to DNA, suddenly scrambled to become relevant to the growing Stateside K-pop fanbase, even mixing up K-pop idols with Instagram models in the process. 

Fancams, or short clips of K-pop idols performing their songs, have appeared all over the internet in recent months, from the replies on Trump tweets to those on entertainment news publications; South Korean media conglomerates regularly release fancams now in recognition of the trend’s impact. They serve as a further embodiment of K-pop’s increasing relevance to western pop culture. To some, however, K-pop stans’ trolling is ruining the internet as we know it. The relentless posting of fancams has earned considerable backlash in the form of online rant videos entitled “F*CK K-POP STANS” and the viral #fancamsareoverparty hashtag, alongside similar tags and statements that trend every few weeks. The sudden ubiquity of fancams has even been covered and analyzed by multiple outlets, including Mashable, members of the Cardiff University community, and Distractify.

At its core, K-pop fancam spam is a political practice, a deliberate repurposing of traditional methods of spamming and trolling for the sake of questioning the boundaries of politics and racialization. By posting under Trump rants and Fox News articles, as well as Ariana Grande tweets and Pop Crave reports, K-pop fandoms mounted the argument that their favorite artists deserve visibility in pop culture. And if EW or ClevverNews won’t post enough about it, then stans will. In this way, posting a fancam is a subversive callout of the racialized marginalization of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai artists in American and western media, even if fans themselves often engage in the practice only for promotional — and not overtly political — purposes. With the fancam, ARMYs, Orbits, BLINKs, and other K-pop fans assert that the cultural products of Asian artists cannot be reduced to a fad or moment. They instead create a constant virality that, for the American onlooker, is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen the fan communities that post these clips mobilize and weaponize fancams for a related but different political purpose—the obstruction of anti-Black racism and policing. When Dallas police asked citizens to upload videos and images of protestors to their iWatch Dallas app, K-pop fans deliberately flooded the app with K-pop fancams, forcing the app to go down temporarily. K-pop fans similarly flooded the #CalminKirkland hashtag, which was used by the Kirkland Police Department to identify people involved in “rioting or looting,” with fancams of artists like BTS and ITZY. Most notably, K-pop fans and TikTok users banded together to sell out tickets to Trump’s 2020 campaign rally in Tulsa, only to leave those seats embarrassingly empty. Commentary in the MIT Technology Review as well as a tweet from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have now acknowledged the political power of “K-pop allies.”

Also on KultScene: The erasure of Black K-pop fans in the wake of BLM & activism

But the fancam may not be the perfect weapon of choice in the fight for racial equity, as there are critical flaws in this narrative of justice-seeking and AfroAsian solidarity among members of the K-pop fan community. While fancam spam might have been a form of subversive justice for underrated K-pop artists, it does not resolve anti-Blackness within K-pop audiovisual cultures and fan circles, let alone anti-Blackness in America and around the world.

Black fans on Twitter and in a number of publications and forums have commented on anti-Blackness in K-pop fan communities. K-pop groups have also carried out anti-Black racist behavior, from Blackface and singing the n-word, to rampant cultural appropriation of hairstyles and dress. Fans and commentators regularly point out that much of K-pop’s musical roots can be found in past and present Black American cultural productions. The global emergence of K-pop has made clear that, while there is justice attained in achieving greater visibility for Korean and other Asian artists, anti-Blackness might actually be amplified by K-pop fandoms in some ways, in spite of the recent rally around the Black Lives Matter movement among its global fan communities. 

Overwhelming hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter with fancams has been recognized and praised in some media circles, but the practice has actually been criticized by Black K-pop fans and followers. KultScene’s very own Nnehkai Agbor comments that while “co-option has been a beneficial tool for fans to gain control of or change narratives… fans who hijacked the tag did not consider the ramifications of trending the name of a dangerous group” whose name and goals are rooted in hate and anti-Blackness. Kpopcast co-host Stephanie Parker also found the practice of hijacking racist hashtags a disturbing and anti-Black rather than anti-racist. “Did you ask a single Black person if this was a good idea? No, I can answer that for you… no,” she said on an episode of the podcast titled “Listen to Black K-pop fans.” Clearly, what may feel like online activism and anti-racist collective action to non-Black K-pop fans might actually be nothing more than using moments of racial tension to promote your faves at the expense of Black fans and Black people. 

A recent Reuters article brought these tensions to a front with the headline “Global K-pop fans emerge as a political force, but some in South Korea worry.” The article cites wariness from South Korean fans of popular K-pop groups, who are worried “that their favourite artists will be pulled into foreign partisan fights.” While the voices of South Korean fans should definitely be centered in narratives about K-pop and the Hallyu wave, we also need to question whether the fight against anti-Blackness is “foreign” to K-pop artists. Despite the fact that many K-pop stars come from South Korea (and often Japan, China, and Thailand among other countries as well), we must remember that K-pop artists often perform musical styles and genres that were first pioneered by Black Americans navigating the repercussions and realities of centuries of subjugation and oppression. Some K-pop stars like GOT7’s Mark Tuan and ITZY’s Lia have lived in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, which demonstrates that K-pop artists and K-pop music, at some level, may not be so “foreign” after all.

This is not to say that K-pop has no Korean roots — that would be an absurd and ignorant claim. Songs like “I Love You” by 2NE1 pull influence from trot, a genre of popular Korean music that was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, and has connections to Korea’s own history with Japanese imperialism and colonialism. K-pop stars also regularly advertise Korean culture — products, food, tourism, sites, and history — in music videos, vlogs, and dramas. But to act as if many K-pop artists are simply unrelated to or “foreign” to the fight for Black liberation is equally ignorant of the genre’s musical roots. This is why a $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter from BTS — a group whose music largely draws from and is inspired by Black productions of hip-hop and rap — is not only a reflection of BTS’ choice to engage in American movements, but also a demonstration of the considerable stakes that K-pop and its fans have in justice for Black people and communities in the U.S. and around the world. 


These complicated racial realities and tensions inherent in K-pop’s global emergence beg the question to fellow fans: Why are you posting fancams right now? 

The mobilizing capacity of global K-pop fans has the political power to center more narratives than just those of our favorite idols. Wouldn’t it be better to trend hashtags about Oluwatoyin Salau, a young Black woman and activist who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the midst of fighting for Black lives and Black trans lives? Shouldn’t K-pop stans be using our collective power to center thinkers like Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who have imagined a world without police and prisons for decades and continue to inspire activism and organizing around the issues of police and prison abolition? 

As BLINKs, ONCEs, ARMYs, Orbits, and fans of other K-pop acts, we have stakes in movements for Black liberation, too. We also know how to challenge online boundaries and find new avenues of representation and visibility through tweeting, spamming, and simply existing where we sometimes feel we aren’t supposed to. Let’s use this ground-shaking energy for efforts that go beyond symbols and tags—instead, let’s emphasize trending donation links, petitions, and Black-led protests and organizations that center Black people, their experiences, and their voices. Or else, we risk drowning out other voices in favor of our own, which seems a lot like what we were fighting against in the first place. 

Want to support Black people and Black-led movements for justice? Donate to the TGI Justice Project, sign this petition demanding justice for Toyin Salau, and follow/donate to the African American Policy Forum (donation link here).

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Why K-pop idols should support & engage with Black Lives Matter

Photos of protesters at Black Lives Matters protest in Seoul, South Korea. They hold signs bearing "Koreans for Black Lives Matter," "We Against Racism" and "We are the voice to those no longer here" in English.
Courtesy of Raphael Rashid

By Danielle Young

On Jun. 6, 2020, the story broke that BTS, the world renown K-pop sensation, had donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement. The response from this news was positive, well-received, and celebrated widely throughout Black Twitter and fans of the group, myself included. There was a massive movement within the Black BTS fan community for BTS to be involved, to use their substantial platform to uplift Black voices as they had with other issues. 

Their Love Myself campaign with UNICEF was a digestible and, generally, non-controversial stance to take — no one could argue against stopping violence against children and teens. But in a world saturated with white supremacy and anti-blackness, stating that Black Lives Matter is controversial and argued against. 

BTS not only stated that Black Lives Matter, but they also backed it with monetary support. They should not be alone in this, but all of K-pop should be mobilizing to support the Black Lives Matter movement, especially the larger companies like YG and JYP Entertainment. However, this should happen not out of obligation — like many large companies in the west have been doing solely performatively to save face and money — but because the backbone of K-pop is Black culture. 

On Jun. 18, SM made a statement about Black Lives Matter — a rare  time they’ve taken a political stance as a company. Most people would argue that this was a good thing, and it is because it now puts them in a place where they can be held accountable. But we are at the point in this movement where statements are not enough. SM has had a long history of appropriating Black culture and ignoring criticisms by continuing to be repeat offenders, and was recently called out by a Black songwriter who alleged the company hadn’t paid her appropriately for her work, though another songwriter later alleged that from his perspective SM paid “well.” Hopefully SM realizes that Black Lives Matter is more than just police brutality in this single moment and reflects their commitment to this issue in the future.  


The magic behind so many of K-pop fan favorites songs are Black people. K-pop exists only because of Black people, and we are owed that much from an industry that continues to appropriate Black culture and ignore the very people who demand that the culture be respected. To say that Black Lives Matter and make donations to the movement is truly the very least that the K-pop industry can do.

So many people’s interest in South Korea and the culture is because of K-pop, and Korean entertainment in general. Fans want to learn Korean, and some may even have a romanticized vision of the country and its people. For Black people and biracial Black people in South Korea, the country is not the land of K-pop and K-dramas. They experience prejudice and distcrimination solely because they are Black. Anti-Blackness thrives in South Korea just as it does in the U.S. and other places in the world. And while it is unfortunate that we rely so heavily on celebrity culture to influence what we believe in, the impact of K-pop idols supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement can have a massive impact, giving those who have already been doing work in South Korea the platform to have their voices amplified. With BTS donating $1 million, it directly caused a spontaneous project for the entire fanbase to mobilize and match the donation under the hashtag #MatchAMillion. 

People in South Korea joined in on the global marches for equality for Black lives on Jun. 6 in Seoul. The protests serve as a starting point for South Korea to reexamine the societal issues that are ignored and then left to fester and be normalised. There were about 100 people at the protests and those who had some things to say shed light on the issues in Korean society towards Black people. A Black teacher even had the chance to voice their experience stating, “Racism here is when I find a seat in the subway and people avoid sitting next to me, or when my friends and I are turned away from clubs for no reason, or when jobs only want to hire white candidates.” 

This experience mirrors what Sam Okyere, a Ghanian TV personality, said in a viral interview, where he was on a subway and a Korean woman asked, “What a Black bastard like [him] [was] doing in Korea,” telling him to go back to his country. Shim Jihoon, a 34-year-old social worker who organized the Black lives march said that, “People have asked why I organised such a protest in our country, but I know that there are migrant workers, multicultural families, and international students who face discrimination even here at home.“[If attitudes don’t change] what happened to George Floyd might happen here too.” 

South Korean activists are hoping that the younger generation will take on the torch that the previous one fumbled. As a Black fan of BTS and a general enjoyer of the K-pop genre, I’m not sure what the future of the movement will look like in South Korea, or really in the world for that matter. It was surreal to see the fans of BTS raise an additional $1 million to match BTS’s for Black Lives Matter. The praise for the feat was bountiful, but I saw what happened before there was a decision to match the donation: fans who were posting on Weverse about Black Lives Matter, a platform where artists and fans can talk directly, were blocked from trending. Of course, there were supporters, but the sheer amount of dissenters was deeply discouraging and hurtful. 

This is unsurprising and not unique to fans of BTS. Across K-pop, idols have done things like blackface, appropriated Black hairstyles, or have used racial slurs or imagery deeply rooted in racism. When Black fans of these groups voice their opinions on why this is harmful and not okay, they are met with the same pushback and excuses out the wazoo. More often than not, racism against Black people is viewed as an American problem and not something that can permeate through the lives of those who are not white and in America. It is everyone’s responsibility to dismantle the anti-Blackness within their society because anti-Blackness is global. With the latest mobilization of activism, it is important that South Korea and the K-pop industry really take a look at how they view Blackness and Black people, not only within the U.S., but also within their own country. 

The intersection between K-pop and Black Twitter could be part of this turning point. Fans of K-pop have a lot of influence, and the relationship between fans and artists can be one that is symbiotic. Information on how to mobilize and educate people on racism, white supremacy, and non-Black people of color’s responsibility in dismantling anti-Blackness can be disseminated, just like projects to match BTS for their $1 million donation. Like everything in this moment for the movement, it is about what we do after the dust has settled and the hard work begins.

What are your thoughts on K-pop companies and stars’ place in speaking out against Anti-Blackness? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Being a fan of BTS & their youth-oriented music as an adult

by Yasamine Entesari

Becoming a BTS fan is not exactly the smartest decision to make when you don’t have much free time. Between albums, music videos, live performances, Bangtan Bombs and Run BTS episodes, just to name a few– BTS puts out such an overwhelming amount of content that it might literally keep you as busy as a second job. If you join the fandom (called “Army”) a bit “late,” like I did, it becomes near to humanly impossible to catch up with years of content.

But falling in love with BTS is not exactly something you decide – it’s just something that happens; you can never predict when or how. With me, as much as I’ve been listening to their music for years, the obsession started when I went to research what was the deal with this BTS guy being promoted as a full member of the KOMCA.

Regardless of your motives, getting to know BTS is indeed worth it for anyone in any age group. However, there is something so peculiar about being a BTS fan when you’re in your late 20’s or older. You find yourself taking a break from a business essay to watch an old performance of babyface Bangtan singing about being in “2nd Grade.” You accommodate coloured merch, albums, and photo cards between power and rent bills in your budget.

I’m not alone in this – I dare say a big part of BTS’ fanbase is made of adults (mostly females) in their late ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s; regardless of people who say that pop sensations’ fan bases are made up of dumb 12-year-old girls, a belief often used to delegitimize an artist’s talent or success.

The music of BTS, and the personalities and stories of its members can inspire love and admiration for people of any age. The same probably could be said about any K-pop group or pop star of any culture. However, in the case of BTS, something adds a particular meaning to the “older fanbase” passion for the group: the interesting (and maybe contradicting) fact that BTS’s entire purpose is focused on youth. I can’t speak for all the adult fanbase, but as for me, this particular aspect of BTS’ artistry is one of the things that made me love them – even if I am, supposedly, no longer young enough to relate to their narrative.


Actually, I’m not that old  – I’m only two years older than Jin, BTS’s oldest member. However, a few years can make a lot of difference when you are in your teenage or young adult years. For example: the disproportion between the fact that the youngest member, Jungkook, won an “Artist of the Year” award at 19-years-old when I was 26 and still trying to figure out what to do with my life, could be enough to make me feel like a loser. But, actually, the more I dug into BTS’s story, I ended up feeling the opposite.

Maybe some of us older fans think that it’s too late for us to pursue our dreams and do meaningful things like BTS. But through their music we find out that they, too, feel insecure and scared, even after achieving so much.

How ironic is it that BTS has chosen to speak about the beauties and sorrows of youth, yet they are so overloaded with work that they barely have the chance to enjoy their own? We’re talking about a group that is releasing their fourth album in less than 12 months, while they get ready for a world tour with more than 20 sold out stops. These guys don’t rest. Yet, they seem so passionate about what they’re doing, it doesn’t seem like they think they’re “wasting” their “best years.”

As young people, we have so many things in our favour and so many against us at the same time, and we end up not knowing what to do with the gift of youth – like the famous quote often attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde: “youth is wasted on the young.” Youth might be, borrowing the words from the title of a BTS’s album series, “the most beautiful moment in life”; yet it’s also so full of contradictions. Society expects an adult to know everything about life; yet, everyone agrees that before you turn an adult you have to enjoy being “young, wild and free.” How are we supposed to learn and build everything we need to be a successful adult, and have the most amount of fun possible at the same time? Which one should we choose?

Sometimes it’s inevitable to think if anything could be different today if I had been more of less “myself” in the past; if I had worked/studied more, or if I had worked less and “enjoyed” more of my youth. Nevertheless, I somehow feel at ease when I see Jin, Suga, RM, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. Just like everyone else, they’re doing the best that they can with their “best years.” They’ve decided to follow their biggest dream, because they have one – but they say it’s okay if you don’t have one too. They’re giving their all and trying to be okay with the fact that even that all might not be enough to make them feel proud and content. And if like is like this with these seven amazingly talented beings, why wouldn’t it be with me? When I think of it, I too can find comfort and stop blaming my younger self. Because I too did my best. I did what I could being the person I was at that time.

Seeing the member’s personal colours also help fans to relate to BTS in so many ways. In “Reflection,” for example, a boy confident enough to name himself “Rap Monster” confessed that, even after achieving so much, he still wishes that he could love himself. In “Awake,” the member with the most unwavering self-esteem in the group (Jin) sings that he’s aware that he may never fly as high as he’d like to. It’s sad, but it’s also empowering because it sounds human; it sounds genuine


The fact that insecurity and fear coexist with confidence and determination, for the group, is what makes their music and their individual personalities relatable to 12 to 60-year-old people. And the fact that they share it with us gives us a feeling of “we’re all in this together,” regardless of age, gender, race, or culture. It makes me think we’re not that different after all – and if people who feel “lost” can relate to seven guys that inspire such amazing feelings, then, well, maybe we are not so lost. Maybe we are doing something right.

When you’re 28, like me, you think you should already have life all figured out. Younger friends, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but I have to spoil something: it is possible that five, 10 or 20 years from now, you still won’t have figured everything out. And it’s okay. We all have doubts, insecurities, and challenges in life, regardless of having found ourselves or not. With due proportion, life is the same for everyone: nothing is guaranteed, the fight gets harder after each battle you win. And it’s okay.

I remember watching one of the many interviews BTS gave while they were in the United States for their first US performance at the American Music Awards in 2017 and I felt really touched by one of the comments in the video. It was from a 60-year-old woman who said: “I just found out about these boys and I am feeling so much joy from watching them, they make me feel young again.” I thought that was the same reason why I grew to love and respect BTS so much. They make me feel okay about not being what I thought I should be right now – and this is feeling young too.

After all, regardless of age, we can all be young as long as we’re okay with the fact that we don’t know everything and that we can always learn and improve – like Suga says in “Nevermind:” “We are still young and immature, don’t worry about it.”

What do you like the most about BTS’s concept? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Debunking the “Factory” Narrative: K-Pop’s Authenticity and Shifting Gender Politics

Girl in Fine Bros video sighing while watching "I Am the Best" by 2NE1

In January 2012, the Fine Bros released “Kids React to K-Pop,” the latest weekly installment of their growing “React” series, which featured elementary school children watching and answering questions about videos—in this case, Korean pop music videos. For the Fine Bros, a pair of YouTube moguls whose 16 million subscriber base is built on videos of kids, teenagers, and fellow YouTubers reacting to viral content, K-Pop videos were merely an addition to their collection of outlandish content used to sustain weekly production quotas.

But for many of K-Pop’s English-speaking fans, the Fine Bros’ video was a modern miracle. K-Pop groups, with as few as four or as many as fifteen members, release multiple albums and high-budget music videos per year, performing with elaborate choreography and colorful fashion. In 2012, after several years of potential blow-ups and no immense international breakthroughs, few of them had much recognition in the West. Influenced by a variety of global music genres, K-Pop was, as fans believed, ready to explode in English-speaking markets once Westerners were finally exposed to it. The Fine Bros, with a significant North American viewership, were giving K-Pop a new platform for global advancement.

In “Kids React to K-Pop,” they showed the children some of the genre’s most over-the-top songs (“Bonamana” by 13-member Super Junior) and highlighted those videos’ most outlandish moments (2NE1 members struggling in straitjackets in “I Am the Best”).

“How do you think they found each other and decided to start a band?” they asked the children, knowing that their innocence (“They were probably long-time friends!” a kid guessed) would be shattered by the reality that members of K-Pop groups are chosen by companies that put them through a rigorous training regime before debut, atypical in the garage-band-rock scene of the U.S. The questions became increasingly slanted as the video progressed: “Do you still like the music, even though it was essentially created by a company and not the artist?”

Also on KultScene: SHINee’s ‘Good Evening’ Music Video & ‘The Story of Light EP.1’ Album Review

By the end of the video, the kids had decidedly negative impressions. “Lots of weird people probably like it,” one said. “If I even liked one of them, I would be liking the person that trained them,” another concluded. When made aware of the genre’s growing worldwide presence, a third cried, “I hate my generation so much! Why couldn’t I be born in the Eighties?”

K-Pop fans were furious — a genre whose musical output they took seriously had been reduced to an exotic spectacle of Asian quirkiness that Americans could dismiss as too foreign and corrupt for their collective taste. With such a dialogue surrounding the genre, it is no surprise that journalist John Seabrook’s October 2012 New Yorker article on 9-member Korean ensemble Girls’ Generation was called “Factory Girls.”

Despite some K-Pop acts gaining momentum in Western markets over time—BTS became the first Korean act to top the U.S. Billboard 200 with their studio album Love Yourself: Tear earlier this year—discourse on the genre is barely advancing. In a recent article about Korean music acts performing at the PyeongChang Olympics, TIME defined K-Pop as “music churned out by South Korea’s music-making factories.” A quick Google News search of the genre yields a variety of articles, like the recent entry from CBC News entitled “The Punishing Pressures Behind K-Pop Perfection,” that portray the genre as the Fine Bros do in their video.

Most fans will not deny the indisputable truth — there is merit to the claim that K-Pop stars are rigidly controlled by companies and contracts. During interviews, four-member girl group BLACKPINK discusses rarely being allowed to leave dormitories outside of official schedules. Passing their third anniversary as a group, seven-member Oh My Girl revealed that their management only recently allowed them to use cell phones following the success of a recent single. Sadly, the term “slave contract” is well-known to many fans, whose favorite idols have suffered at the hands of companies that hoard profits and abuse workers. Laws have been passed in attempts to rectify the situation, but work conditions for most K-pop idols are less than ideal.

This “factory” narrative, however, is more reductive than it is factual—it dismisses thousands of singers, dancers, artists, producers, managers, stylists, technicians, A&R teams, and designers as industrial robots with no independent agency. While the portrayal in TIME’s headline attracts the attention of American onlookers fascinated by outlandish foreign creations, it fails to capture the essence of K-Pop as imperfect, but not worthy of dismissal by Western audiences.

“Authentic music” fans and critics often deem K-Pop meaningless and shallow. The initial impression is understandable—it is sometimes the case that none of the members of a group play a minimal, if any, part in the process of crafting music or choreography, aside from actually performing it (which in itself somehow gets overlooked, as if many Western pop stars don’t do the very same thing). But beneath the narrative that Western media curates for its viewers, one can quickly find evidence of K-Pop stars heavily involved in their artistry. G-Dragon, leader of popular boy group BIGBANG and successful soloist, is credited as the main (and sometimes only) producer of both his solo releases and those of his group; BTS is also often known to self-produce their hits. The same dynamic is true of a variety of male and female K-Pop acts—in recent years, producer royalties reaped by idols like G-Dragon, Jinyoung of male outfit B1A4, the late Jonghyun of SHINee, and L.E. of girl group EXID have rivaled those of K-Pop’s biggest behind-the-scenes producers hired by companies to make music for groups.

Speaking of hired producers, Western music writers struggle to grasp is the idea that K-Pop’s artistry isn’t exclusively about creative musical production—to some Korean artists, onstage performance is far more valuable than lyrics or melody. Unlike the American music industry, K-Pop places heavy value on dancing ability and performative skill. In a way, this system actually makes musical performance inclusive of a different kind of talent, creating an industry in which dancers, rappers and vocalists can enjoy the fame, audience, and respect often claimed by singer-songwriter solo pop stars in the U.S. Those with legitimate musical passion, maybe for singing the lyrics instead of penning them, can occupy the spotlight. Is that inauthentic or illegitimate? To rockists or classicalists, maybe so. But to those who aren’t theory geniuses or lack a natural talent for musical composition, it may just be “authentic” as ever, and no less worthy of the praise that critics and writers give to Western pop stars who work with production teams.

The debate extends to gender politics as well. In his “Factory Girls” article, John Seabrook portrays Girls’ Generation as a group of one-dimensional personalities constructed by their companies, calling member Tiffany’s characteristic eye-smile a “jolt of cultural technology.” But it would be Seohyun, another member of the same group, who would depart from her image as the group’s chaste maknae (youngest member) and pursue a sultry vibe for her solo debut mini-album Don’t Say No in 2017. The album concept and image change were entirely her own choices, some of which she made against her company’s advice. She also recently participated in the North-South Korean dialogue on multiple occasions, becoming a symbol of peaceful intentions of the South through performances in Seoul and Pyongyang.

Just like Taylor Swift’s pivot from country to pop with her album Red or Lady Gaga’s image shift in Joanne, female K-Pop stars can be fluid performers, capable in their own right of forging unique artistic destinies. When the Fine Bros reduce them to props of an industrial complex, they are robbed of the creative legitimacy and individualism they seem to rightfully deserve.

Cutesy K-Pop girl groups are often the first to receive criticism for musical and visual concepts that strike Western viewers are misogynistic and infantilizing. And they’re not entirely wrong—the patriarchy is as strong as ever in K-Pop, and many girl groups’ biggest hits are written by men and targeted for consumption by male fans. But as these groups top the charts and become noticeable fixtures of the Korean entertainment scene, the performers themselves reach a new level of empowerment. Seabrook’s “Factory Girls” Girls’ Generation have now been a girl group for a decade, comprising multi-millionaire members who each own property and run individual ventures, and have their own public personas. On her solo reality show, member Sooyoung recently talked about popular Korean feminist book Kim Ji-Young, Born in 1982, explaining her reaction: “Things that I thought were nothing, were actually being treated unfairly just because I’m a girl.” With a platform built on her multi-gender fandom and supported by millions of dollars in the bank, Sooyoung is now one of many female K-Pop idols reading the book and talking openly about feminist issues in the media, despite South Korea’s overall aversion to the term “feminist,” which she has indeed shied away from.

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The cutesy songs may have patriarchal overtones, but the women performing the music have much more to say—the cultural structures they conquer as a group allow the members to use their newfound capital to then subvert those same structures. The Wonder Girls, formed in 2007, debuted to major commercial success singing bubbly pop songs produced by Korean singer-songwriter and businessman J.Y. Park. While the group’s popularity has fluctuated over the years due to a failed American advancement and lineup changes, the members grew to self-produce their music as their careers progressed. Member Yeeun, credited as HA:TFELT in solo releases, co-composed and wrote her entire debut solo EP Me? in 2014. By the release of their 2015 comeback album Reboot, members of the group were credited for lyrics and production on all of the album’s tracks, taking the sound of their music in a retro pop rock direction. Their subsequent 2016 reggae-rock hit “Why So Lonely” was also written and produced by the group’s members.

A similar example of growing into self-production, singer Lee Hyori debuted as a member of girl group Fin.K.L in 1998. Since the group’s disbandment in 2002, she has gone on to become one of the most recognizable women in Korean media. Moving on from the group and into a solo career, Hyori has taken greater control of her music over time, switching record labels frequently and dropping albums for which she designs concepts and writes and produces almost all tracks. Her success as a Fin.K.L member and soloist gave her the power to control her future releases—a narrative common among matured K-Pop acts, but largely overlooked in Western media coverage. From talking about feminism to performing with more empowered stylings, female members of Korea’s entertainment industry are slowly but steadily laying the internal groundwork for change to take place. The gender dynamics of innocent-seeming girl groups in K-Pop may be more complex than a face-value New Yorker article on Girls’ Generation could tell you.

Despite the advancements, restrictive body standards, contractual abuse, sexual harassment, and other horrors do run rampant in the K-Pop industry. Trainees work tirelessly against a low success rate to become stars, and many undergo abuse by companies that push them to their physical and mental limits. But in a world where Hollywood and public opinion have exiled Harvey Weinstein from public consciousness and all-but-convicted rapist producer Dr. Luke still profits off of Kesha’s albums, how can these abuses be in any way unique to K-Pop? Of course aspects of the K-Pop industry do make certain abuses widespread, but the ability to dismiss K-Pop as a whole over its ethical questions is a simultaneous failure to hold the Western entertainment industry accountable for the same problems.
So why do Western media outlets fail to report on K-Pop’s authenticity? The simple answer is convenience. Portraying K-Pop as freakishly quirky and industrially restrictive are worthwhile efforts for the Fine Bros, whose viral video series is based on reactions alone. The same is true of the articles’ authors and publishers, who profit in clicks from those curious about K-Pop’s apparent strangeness.

But the not so simple answer is racism. The Spice Girls and NSYNC may have gotten similar flack about authenticity back in the 90s, but the Korean-American dynamic of K-Pop’s newfound Western popularity makes the “factory” narrative not only musically, but also culturally objectionable. Like Americans laugh at Japanese variety shows, gawk at harajuku culture, or imitate native Chinese speakers, sensationalizing the controversial aspects of K-Pop gives the Western mind an excuse to stigmatize Korean culture as ridiculous and outlandish. Conflating K-Pop’s nonsensical moments with its ethical dilemmas for Western viewership, TIME and the Fine Bros allow the English-speaking mainstream to dismiss foreign-ness simply because it is foreign. Americans won’t have to reconcile K-Pop’s sonic, visual, and cultural values with their own if they can simply call it weird or unethical and go on with their day. Thus, “Kids React to K-Pop” was an exercise in ignorance—a lesson in xenophobia. And as more kids “react” to K-Pop as it grows in stateside relevance, we can only hope that better lessons are taught. They are only kids, after all.

2017 Hyuna was the best Hyuna

hyuna hip & lip 2017

Between starting the year with a tour in North America and ending it as a mentor on the career-reboot show The Unit, 2017 was a busy year for Hyuna. With the disbandment of 4Minute in 2016, we might have thought that it would mean one less possibility to see her in the media. However, Hyuna surely made up for the absence of the group by promoting in a diversified range of activities, between solo projects and her work other Cube Entertainment artists, and it was a year filled with the best version of Hyuna the world has ever seen.

2017 was the year we got to see many of Hyuna’s previously unseen colors. Her star quality was evoked when she lent a hand in CLC’s transition of concept, plus she wrote the lyrics for their single “Hobgoblin” and styled the music video. She also took part in the trifecta Triple H, formed along with Pentagon’s Hui and E’Dawn. But it was in solo promotions that we saw the most interesting sides Hyuna showed this year — or, I dare to say, the best of her entire career.

While 4Minute always had a powerful concept, Hyuna’s sex appeal was too strong to be restricted to a role in a group (although, needless to say, she outshone the rest anyway). Noticing that, her agency branded her as an outrageous bombshell, which resulted in solo works mainly based in catchy electronic bops and sassy music videos. And, of course, the provocative duo Troublemaker, formed by her and former member of Highlight, formerly known as Beast, Jang Hyunseung (even if their comeback is long overdue).

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The exploration of Hyuna’s image through an outrageous concept, like said before, made it less credible for me, to the point that I’ve always had a hard time liking Hyuna, because sometimes it seemed that she was trying too hard to look like a bad girl. And, while I believe that she holds enough sensuality and fierceness to make it unnecessary to bring out these attributes 24/7, I also believe that the most wrongful side effect of it was making us think she was a one-trick pony. She definitely isn’t. And her latest releases “Babe” and “Lip & Hip” prove just that.

Although it’s not exactly a ballad, “Babe” was the softest thing Hyuna has ever done, both sonically and aesthetically. The lyrics about living a love that makes her feel younger, together with the music video that shows her in light colored dresses and high school skirts, were definitely surprising. The Hyuna factor was still there: hip-shaking, dancing between boys, her unmistakable rapping. But it was definitely refreshing to see a slower paced song and a bit less party-hard image from her.

Conversely, “Lip & Hip” might seem at first like another typical Hyuna song, and sonically, it is. However, it’s the concept for the music video and her performances that has brought us the most interesting side in the “sexy Hyuna” videography. If in “Red,” “Bubble Pop,” “Roll Deep,” and “How’s This?” Hyuna was firming her image as a sex symbol, in “Lip & Hip,” she is mostly arousing us to think of sexuality (hers and ours too) in a more curious and playful approach. The song talks about a girl’s confidence towards her own body, and the visuals showcase two versions of Hyuna dealing with her puberty changes and exploring the possibilities of how she can look like.

The music video has tireless close ups of Hyuna’s body parts, but it’s different this time. We can see how “Lip & Hip” differs from her previous work if we compare, for example, her chest shootings in “Red” —obviously meant for the appreciation of third parties — and in “Lip & Hip,” where they seem more like the recording of a young girl discovering that her boobs are growing. It’s still provocative, but through a different perspective. It is relevant to say that showing cleavage is not well received in Korea, and by showing hers, Hyuna is not only defying Korean taboos, but also defying us to think of why a natural part of the female body is so sexualized. If you didn’t catch this, you’ve been successfully manipulated.

This video plays with your mind, going from Hyuna dealing with braces (symbolising teenage struggles) to the rapper doing a sexy dance with a bustier (symbolising her grown woman attitude) in a few seconds. Of course, the type of scene that catches the most attention is the last one, and it will make you think “Lip & Hip” is just about Hyuna being the Hyuna she’s always been. But make no mistake: this is her most unique and clever music video so far.

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Overall, a good synthesis of “Lip & Hip’s” smart irony is the end, as Hyuna leaves home with torn pants that let you see her underwear, alluding to her previous sexy and daring figures in past releases. But, joke’s on you: she doesn’t appear internationally sexy or desirable, she’s just looking like a normal young girl, with glasses, a backpack, and a bear. After all, panties are just a piece of cloth made to cover a piece of skin, aren’t they?

Well, of course you don’t need to doubt your own sanity if you missed the point of the music video and only saw Hyuna’s body and sexy dancing. There is, indeed, a lot of intentional sexual content in “Lip & Hip,” both in the music video and in the performances she has done so far — but, that’s not all there is to it. And that’s where my complaint lies: Hyuna has always been sexy, but why is that the only concept we’ve seen of her so far? “Babe” and “Lip & Hip” have shown that she can be sexy while also exploring different nuances, and I just wished Cube hadn’t waited so long to show it. After all, Hyuna is more than just pretty lips and hips, but we don’t really see that a lot.

Now that we’ve seen different sides from Hyuna, I believe that there’s enough room for her to keep shining and doing amazing things. 2017 was the year that Hyuna showed that she has what it takes to last in this industry, and she definitely deserves to.

What was your favorite moment of Hyuna this year? 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.

Female K-pop soloists owned 2017

solo women in 2017

Throughout this past year, K-pop as a genre, industry, and community reached taller heights and deeper lows than ever before. From BTS’s astronomical success in the international market to Kim Jonghyun’s tragic and untimely passing, 2017 has been a year of both exciting and depressing extremes for fans everywhere. The erratic up-then-down rhythm of this year has made teasing out the bigger trends a bit more difficult than usual, especially in the world of female K-pop, which has been been plagued by an increasing pace of both disbandments and debuts since the year’s outset. In the effort to parse out this year’s happenings into valuable conclusions, I’ve noticed that 2017 is severely lacking in girl group bops. Girl groups have always been known, above all, to produce exciting songs that captivate public attention. And while there are a few singles that have done just that — Red Velvet’s “Red Flavor” and TWICE’s “Knock Knock,” among others — the numbers pale in comparison to years past, when the charts were stacked with a list of iconic hits from top-tier girl groups.

What has made a significant forward charge in 2017, however, is the collective presence of female soloists, who’ve made huge strides in public popularity and digital sales this year. From Ailee and IU to Heize and Sunmi and many more, solo women have made their voices heard in a way that K-pop hasn’t seen in years. A comparison of 2017’s highlights for female soloists and girl groups indicates an interesting trend in the female K-pop market: the rise of female solos, possibly at the expense of or in the absence of successful girl groups.

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Any discussion of 2017’s Korean music cannot begin without first mentioning Ailee, as her Goblin OST song “I Will Go To You Like the First Snow” is probably this year’s biggest hit, dominating charts and public consciousness throughout January and February. While not the song doesn’t stem from a traditional promotion cycle or album release, it is likely one of the most memorable songs of this year for domestic listeners in Korea, as it encapsulated not only the sentiments of one of the decade’s most popular dramas, but also capitalized on its seasonal appeal during winter months.

Ailee’s success on its own is not an uncommon finding — a female soloist definitely does achieve a major hit every year, especially when it’s an OST ballad for a hit drama. The key to what makes this year different, however, is the fact that this kept happening throughout the narrative of Korean music in 2017. Within January and February alone, former miss A member Suzy’s solo debut also made waves, along with Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun, who herself scored a number-one album. The next major hit to come from a female solo was Taeyeon’s “Fine,” which was released at the end of February but maintained its hold on the charts deep into March.

All of these releases, from January to March, each from major names and achieving anywhere from moderate to explosive success, exist in the backdrop of a number of relevant girl groups’ promotion cycles: AOA, Cosmic Girls, CLC, Red Velvet, TWICE, Gugudan, GFriend, PRISTIN, and Girl’s Day. While a few of these groups (Red Velvet, TWICE, and GFriend, most notably) were definitely successful, some of the bigger-name girl groups on this list (AOA, Girls’ Day, and a highly-anticipated debut from PRISTIN) had little impact relative to concurrently promoting female soloists.

This trend reaches further into the year: in April, Taeyeon repackaged her album, A Pink member Eunji made a successful comeback, and former 2NE1 member Minzy debuted solo. The real force of 2017’s second quarter, however, was IU, whose album Palette and accompanying title track featuring G-Dragon took over the charts from April into May. Other female soloists promoting at this time include Kisum, Davichi’s Lee Haeri, and Baek A-yeon.

While IU, Taeyeon, and Eunji made significant headway as solo acts between April and May, female girl groups Oh My Girl, DIA, and Lovelyz did not see the same success on their releases. The only girl groups who managed to distinguish themselves were EXID, with moderate success “Night Rather Than Day,” TWICE, with chart-topper “Signal,” and SISTAR, with disbandment single “Lonely.”

Girl groups made a significant recovery in the summer, though, with comebacks from the likes of T-ara, 9M– USES, Cosmic Girls, A Pink, MAMAMOO, and BlackPink in June. The latter three made waves with “FIVE,” “Yes I Am,” and “As If It’s Your Last,” respectively, and were followed by Red Velvet’s “Red Flavor” in July, which became the year’s definitive summer hit.

Unlike previous years, during which female solos like Lee Hi or Baek A-yeon sporadically topped charts here and there while girl groups would released hit after hit, female solos went on to dominate digital charts and public popularity throughout the summer. Suran’s single “Wine,” notably produced by BTS member Suga, was an early summer hit, while Kim Chungha’s solo debut “Why Don’t You Know” is considered the most promising of former I.O.I members, remaining within the top 20 of Melon charts throughout the most of the summer.

Female solo Heize then had two equally huge hits, “Don’t Know You” and “You, Clouds, Rain,” which effectively became some of the most popular songs of the year (the latter of which can thank the rainy weather at some points during this year’s Korean summer for seasonal relevance). Hot off the disbandment of Wonder Girls, Sunmi’s return with “Gashina” was a major commercial success in August, alongside summer releases from Lee Hyori, Jessi, Jessica, and HyunA.

After Red Velvet, the only summer comebacks with any impact were those of GFriend, whose most recent comebacks have had much less impact than their earlier 2017 release, and Girls’ Generation. While the latter obviously created commotion with 10th anniversary album Holiday Night, a shortage of album stock and remarkably quick promotion cycle diminished their ability to make as big of a splash as they have in the past. GFriend then repackaged their album and saw even less success, meaning the only female release in September with lasting impact was IU’s remake album A Flower Bookmark 2. Again, solos maintained the wave of success, while girl groups faltered.

As we get to the year’s end, girl groups have recovered some losses in the form of larger-name acts TWICE, EXID, and Red Velvet making comebacks. As we look at the year-in-review, however, the bigger trend still remains — female soloists have grown more forceful this year as figures of popularity and digital success, more than they were in the past.

What was so special about 2017 that made this happen? One factor is the constant disbandments of major girl groups. Astoundingly, the number of disbanding girl groups in 2017 is almost double the number of girl groups with a number-one song on weekly charts, according to Gaon. While five popular girl groups disbanded this year — I.O.I, Wonder Girls, SPICA, SISTAR, and miss A,— only three groups had a number-one song — TWICE, Red Velvet, and SISTAR (who disbanded soon after, anyway). Such a metric does discount the success of singles that weren’t number-one, including popular tracks from GFriend, BLACKPINK, and MAMAMOO, but the comparison is still striking. With the past generation of girl groups now almost entirely unraveled, a power vacuum has opened in the world of female K-pop, quickly being filled by already established female solos IU, Ailee, Heize, and others still at career peaks.

But disbandments do more than just leave room for other acts — they directly expand the female solo market. Fewer group activities for Girls’ Generation (and the current uncertainty surrounding future activity) gives Taeyeon more room for solo work, and will likely expand opportunities for members Yuri and Hyoyeon as well. I.O.I’s disbandment was the precursor to Chungha’s solo debut, as did Wonder Girls’ disbandment prompt Sunmi’s solo return, and the same can be said about the debuts of Suzy, Minzy, Soyou, and other standout female solos of this year. The end of the previous generation’s girl groups have actually fueled the growth of the female solo market at an unprecedented rate. Newer artists now have to compete with names like those of female solos already famous from past groups, with fandoms and public interest built into their name and brand value.

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This opinion may be somewhat controversial, but it seems newer girl groups have failed to capture market share the way older girl groups had. After the first season of Produce 101, the girl group market became remarkably more competitive. Following in the footsteps of successful large girl groups Girls’ Generation, TWICE, and I.O.I, companies sought to create their own large girl groups with members who attained relevance from the show. Post-I.O.I, this trend has manifested itself as eight-member Weki Meki, nine-member DIA, nine-member Gugudan, ten-member PRISTIN, and thirteen-member Cosmic Girls. With a few older girl groups like EXID and Girl’s Day still in the mix, this influx of large girl groups surging into the market alongside already established groups like TWICE, Red Velvet, MAMAMOO, GFriend, and BlackPink has largely diluted the girl group fandom, creating too many rookie groups that should be relevant, but can’t all share the spotlight at the same time.

While Post-I.O.I groups are by no means TWICE copies, they have definitely made attempts to emulate TWICE’s success by employing similarly lighthearted concepts with songs from some of TWICE’s music producers. These groups’ songs, like Gugudan’s “Chococo,” Cosmic Girls’ “Happy,” and Weki Meki’s “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend,” have appealed to fandoms who have supported the girls since their I.O.I days, but failed to captive widespread public interest that girl groups have traditionally thrived off of. While all of these girl groups have popular members, none have emerged with objectively popular music. It is not a surprise, then, that the highest-charting post-I.O.I members are solo artists — Chungha’s “Why Don’t You Know” peaked within the Top 15 of Melon and Gaon charts, while Gugudan member Sejeong’s solo single “Flower Way” has outshined and out-charted all of her group’s collective and subunit releases.

While the past generation saw popular singles from a whole list of girl groups, including Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, Wonder Girls, SISTAR, miss A, 4minute, KARA, Secret, After School, AOA, T-ara, and more, only four or five are able to produce similar results now. The rest of today’s “popular” girl groups are instead producing results like those of past lower-tier girl groups like Dal Shabet and Stellar, who are amazing in their own right, but demonstrate that the girl group market as a whole doesn’t perform as well as it used to.

Is K-pop experiencing a permanent change? Is the traditional girl group model going obsolete? The answer to these questions is entirely uncertain, especially with incoming debuts. LOONA, an upcoming girl group, seems to be following recent trends with a total of 12 members, but their twist on the traditional model is that each of them will have released a solo album before the group’s full debut. Perhaps LOONA is one step ahead, already cognizant of the power of a solo debut despite their ultimate goal of finding success as 12 members. We have yet to see how these pre-debut projects will materialize in LOONA’s presence as a full group, but their solo works have definitely found footing among groups of international fans — a sign of hopefully good things to come.

Among the many ups and downs of 2017, solo women have become more powerful in Korean music than ever before, and the rest of the industry is quickly realizing that. How exactly this affects girl groups going forward will become more clear as time goes on. We can be sure that, in the meantime, female soloists like Taeyeon, Chungha, IU, Heize, Sunmi, and others will bring us more hits to come.

Which female soloist was your favorite this year? 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.

BlackPink & 2NE1: Unexpectedly Different

On Aug. 8, 2016, YG Entertainment’s long-anticipated girl group BlackPink debuted with their first digital single album Square One with title tracks “Whistle” and “Boombayah.” Now a household name in the larger K-pop fandom, BlackPink was the label’s first girl group since 2NE1’s debut in 2009, a fact that immediately warranted comparisons to their predecessors thanks to their similar musicality and four-member lineup. As 2NE1 inched closer towards disbandment in late 2016, Blackjacks saw BlackPink’s debut as a nail to the 2NE1 coffin, and remained especially hesitant to support the new group.

Alongside an introduction post about the new group, I constructed only weeks after their debut an in-depth comparison of the two groups and arrived at the conclusion that the groups were uncomfortably similar. To summarize, both groups had four members , an edgy electropop/hip-hop infused sound, and members that grew up both within and outside of Korea among other similarities. The only small differences were in the ages of the members, visuals of each group, and the lack of an assigned leader in BlackPink.

At the time, this analysis was valuable in forming an informed opinion about BlackPink’s individuality (or lack thereof) as a group. But they have now reached their one-year anniversary, and have three more tracks, variety appearances, and other developmental factors from which a collective group character is beginning to emerge, one that was not very visible only weeks into their debut. Upon reevaluation, BlackPink and 2NE1 seem more different than we originally thought they were.

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Since their summer debut last year, BlackPink has since released three more tracks — the EDM-influenced “Playing with Fire,” campfire bop “Stay,” and bubbly electropop “As If It’s Your Last.” The group has also begun to perform on more music shows than just SBS Inkigayo (YG Entertainment’s relations with other Korean broadcasting stations has been notably cold in recent years), and has appeared on Weekly Idol, Radio Star, and Knowing Bros in addition to various CFs. For comparison, 2NE1’s activity in the same time period includes disbandment in November 2016 and the release of their last song “Goodbye” as three members before entirely parting ways in January of this year.

Despite 2NE1’s disbandment, the question remains: How does BlackPink, now a sustained and trending K-pop artist in their own right, compare to 2NE1 at its peak years ago?

At the time of the group’s debut, “Whistle” and “Boombayah” wielded a powerful impact, but failed to show onlookers that the group was very different or new. With electropop, EDM influence, rap, and some attitude, BlackPink debuted with largely the same sound as that of their YG predecessors (albeit updated to match more current music trends). Had BlackPink continued entirely on those lines, the group’s musical color would be nowhere near as unique as it is now.

But through the promotion of their more recent releases, we have seen greater variety in their discography, performance, and aesthetics. Their next release, “Playing With Fire,” utilized structural changes rarely present in 2NE1’s music and employed noticeable differences in performance and styling.

BlackPink’s member structure initially seemed almost identical to that of 2NE1, but with the release of new singles, differences slowly became more apparent. Within 2NE1, CL both rapped and sang, while Minzy debuted mostly as a rapper and transitioned into singing more over time. At debut, Jennie’s role in the group largely took after CL as a rapper and singer, but her role seems to have at least slightly changed over time — she only sings in “Playing With Fire,” “Stay,” and “As If It’s Your Last.” Main dancer Lisa, unlike her 2NE1 counterpart Minzy, handles mostly rapping in BlackPink’s three latest tracks. These differences may seem minute at first, but they clear up one of my biggest assumptions from a year ago: that each BlackPink member would take after a specific 2NE1 member. While this is still at least somewhat true — Jisoo still largely takes after Dara, and the same can be said of Rosé and Bom — any differentiation here is valued, and it becomes even more important when examining the larger structure of BlackPink’s songs.

Most of Lisa’s lines in “Playing With Fire” are found in the rap section after the first chorus, similar to her part in accompanying A-side track “Stay.” 2NE1’s songs, on the other hand, took on two structures, either a back-and-forth between rapping and singing in verses — “Fire,” “Go Away,” “Falling in Love,” “Gotta Be You,” and more — or consisted entirely of singing — “Ugly,” Lonely,” “I Love You.” BlackPink songs have developed a largely different structure, delegating singing parts to three members who do not (usually) rap, and instead having one member handle one rap section along with occasional singing lines here and there.

This structure segregates rap and singing more aggressively than YG releases have in the past, conforming more closely to other K-pop releases from groups like f(x), SHINee, 9M– USES, and others in which only one rap section is included after either the first or second chorus of the song, handled by a rapper who doesn’t appear much outside of those lines. This structure was almost entirely absent in 2NE1’s music, and demonstrates a large shift away from 2NE1’s sound that, in many ways, did not conform with that of the rest of K-pop. Here, we see BlackPink deviating from YG’s sound on the whole to be more typically mainstream K-pop.

“Stay” is also an interesting departure from the YG sound. By all means, the label excels at releasing reflective and evocative ballad-oriented music, with 2NE1’s “Missing You” and “It Hurts (Slow)” as great examples. But the incorporation of a folk-inspired sing-along chorus in “Stay” differentiates it entirely from any 2NE1 or BIGBANG song. While we have yet to see BlackPink’s somber side develop, the instrumental and melodic construction of “Stay” tells us that the group’s overall sound may be different than that of their YG predecessors.

Beginning with “Playing With Fire,” the performance and styling elements have contributed most significantly to BlackPink’s emerging individual identity. While 2NE1 opted for crazy stage costumes with bright colors, crazy shapes, and outrageous yet trendy hairstyles (see: Dara’s palm tree hair), BlackPink has opted for a style that is more traditionally pretty in the world of K-pop, wearing school outfits and elegant red carpet outfits instead of crazy Jeremy Scott designs (see: CL’s unicorn dress) and bright, feathery jackets and dresses. BlackPink’s style, which is also reflected in their choreography, facial expressions, and other performative nuances, is slightly more delicate and feminine. And despite the fact that many girl groups, including TWICE, GFriend, and Red Velvet sport more feminine fashion, BlackPink largely establishes their own trends, as their dress is high-fashion and chic, often coming from luxury brands. While 2NE1’s outfits were less flattering to facial beauty and body curves, BlackPink shows off regality and poise with their fashion, and precipitates into a more chic and feminine performance as well.

2NE1 & BlackPink: Comparing Fashion & Styling

2NE1 Black Pink
2NE1 Black Pink Teaser
2NE1 Black Pink Playing With Fire
2NE1 Black Pink As If It's Your Last
2NE1 Black Pink Boombayah
Black Pink

Many of these differences are once again visible, if not amplified, in the release of their recent “As if It’s Your Last.” While many fans felt this track was reminiscent of 2NE1, the BlackPink members explained that this song captures the group’s “Pink” side, which differentiates from previous releases that were more “Black.” And the dichotomy is clear — this song has the members smiling, making cutesy expressions on stage, and wearing school uniform-inspired outfits even in the music video.

The major difference here is, while 2NE1 had a cuter side as demonstrated by songs like “Falling in Love” and “Do You Love Me,” none of their music ever fit into a “Black” or “Pink” dichotomy, as their music was usually along a smaller spectrum within what we could consider on the “Black” side. 2NE1 was undoubtedly edgier and more hard-hitting, while BlackPink fuses some of that style with more delicate visuals and musical elements in their discography. This difference, like many of the others, leans again towards current mainstream K-pop genre, as the majority of girl groups at the moment are very, if not entirely, focused on cute concepts and feminine delivery.

Surprisingly, BlackPink’s deviation from the characteristic YG style in favor of the stylings and strategies of other K-pop groups contradicts with what the group has said in response to comparisons with 2NE1. When asked about the similarities, the members say that they “do not purposely try to be different from 2NE1,” and remain focused on maintaining the YG sound. However, as the group continues to diverge from YG’s sound and style, their response becomes less consistent with their performance and music. Rather than maintaining the YG sound, it seems BlackPink is more focused on expanding and diversifying it with contemporary K-pop colors.

Clearly, BlackPink has largely distinguished itself from 2NE1, and for that reason, Blackjacks and older K-pop fans in general may feel more comfortable supporting the group and its members going forward. As BlackPink deviates, however, it does conform more strongly to the K-pop mainstream, and for that reason among others, the group seems to lack some of the impact that 2NE1 had on the larger industry.

2NE1 were known as Korea’s top digital sellers for a while because of the sheer power of their songs — “Fire” and “I Don’t Care” exist among the top-selling songs in South Korea’s history, while almost all of their following singles have charted within the top four of weekly Korean song charts, including a total of eleven number-one singles (excluding their post-disbandment release “Goodbye”). At their peak, 2NE1 had the ability to entirely take over music charts and flatten competition, and much of their music won daesangs (major awards) at end-of-year shows. The group existed among few girl groups to amass a large fandom, allowing them to sell albums in huge quantities in Korea as well. It is for these reasons that 2NE1 was immediately considered the definitive number two next to Girls’ Generation, and the now 10year-old group’s strongest competition at each group’s respective peak.

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While BlackPink has sold considerably well and seen the development of its own fandom, the group has failed to excite the public to the same extent as their predecessors did. Obviously, BlackPink is an incredibly successful girl group, but their only single that has really taken over charts to date is “Whistle,” and some of BlackPink’s singles like “Boombayah” and “Stay” have already charted lower than pretty much any of 2NE1’s singles. BlackPink has failed to clear out competition the same way 2NE1 could, as “As if It’s Your Last” had some difficulty competing with MAMAMOO on the charts upon release. The group has also yet to win many major awards, and has not distinguished themselves as the definitive competitor next to the generation’s top-performing girl group, which is, at this point, TWICE. Instead, that title would likely go to Red Velvet or GFriend at the moment, likely because these groups have promoted more and debuted earlier, and have already captured the public attention.

It seems that, along with confounding factors like the oversaturation of the girl group market (especially with post-I.O.I debuts and comebacks), BlackPink’s blend into the mainstream has hurt its competitive viability. While the group will enjoy success, BlackPink’s music, style, and promotion strategy might need to be reconsidered if YG wants to replicate the explosive responses 2NE1 received.

Contrary to initial (and still popular) belief, BlackPink truly is different from their predecessors 2NE1, but from the standpoint of success and achievement as musicians, that may or may not be a good thing.

How different are Black Pink and 2NE1? 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.

Quick thoughts on K-pop journalism by a K-pop journalist

k-pop journalism kpop korean

International news reporting, whatever the content, is always more difficult than telling a local story. Sources are harder to reach, there are linguistic and cultural barriers, among other complications. But with K-pop there’s another special breed because of the ardent passion that fans throughout the world have for the content.

Hallyu is a fast-paced field, and often the information easily gets misconstrued. There are a lot of great sites out there releasing properly reported info in timely manners, and there are some that don’t do that.

K-pop news has really been all over the place as of late, so I’d like to address some recent issues in a short and sweet rant that uses no names aside from my own (and some outlet names) because I’m not trying to make this a call-out. I just want to point out, from the perspective of someone who has followed K-pop for over a decade and ended up writing about it (more or less by accident, but that’s another story altogether), that K-pop journalism is a bit of a mess right now, both because of creators and the audience the content is aimed at.

Fake News Thrives Amongst the Larger K-pop Fandom

There were erroneous rumors last month that a certain accomplishment by a certain band overseas wasn’t getting local (South Korean) attention. Somehow, it viral that the act was “blacklisted.” That is despite the feat getting coverage by all of the major English-language Korean outlets that cover K-pop (Yonhap, K-Pop Herald, Mwave Enews, etc., aka my daily reading) and there were news segments in Korea about it. Once the band returned to Korea, after staying in the States a few days and holding a concert in Australia, coverage was more thorough now that the act was back in Korea.

Why did that idea go viral? Because it was believable. K-pop has dealt with blacklists in the past quite publicly. But I personally don’t think that was the case, and I think the “blacklist” idea that recently surfaced was quite a good example of how fake news often looks like real news, and typically is just about what you want to believe.

Speaking of fake news, here’s the thing… Many, but definitely not all, English-language K-pop outlets are all about the clicks. Many media outlets FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD are about the clicks nowadays, because views are what’s important in this day and age. Because of this, there are often extremely exaggerated headlines to grab people’s attention. And because of the fast-paced environment, facts will often be played up without ensuring that the source is legitimate.

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My suggestion for all of this? Follow Korean news outlets that publish in English. Read reputable news sites, like Soompi or the Korea Herald, that have translators on staff and source everything from Korean reports. Why? Because you need to be able to know that something isn’t just getting made up, and that whatever you’re reading isn’t an exaggeration.

About Those Headlines…

This isn’t even just about translated material. This is about everything you read. You should know its source so that you can decide what to believe, rather than to jump on the sensationalism train. For example, there is a certain site that has a history of overemphasizing random facts of a larger article for headlines to better grab audience’s eyes…

As a journalist, I’ve had this happen. I’ve literally seen people misrepresent what my articles say. I recently wrote something along the lines of: “A Group was one of the most innovative acts” in K-pop. What they wrote: “X Outlet calls A Group the most innovative K-pop act.” Those are very different. It was small, but enough that I had to click on the site to double check that yes, they were misquoting me. I don’t know it was intentional on the writer’s part, or it merely got lost in the writing process. That’s why you should always go to source material. Not just because a random journo like Tamar Herman wants you to, but because aggregation is like a game of broken telephone. Something undoubtedly gets lost or misconstrued. It happens. I’d like to think that it doesn’t happen on purpose. But sometimes when an outlet sensationalizes something extremely sensitive, like health and legal issues, it ensures that they have lost their sense of journalistic integrity. So do your research. You. Headlines are great. But if you don’t read the article, question the article, and think about the article, you’re likely missing some important information.

This isn’t just about K-pop, but all news material. It sucks, but we’re living in the age where “fake news” is bandied about, and it’s for good reason. So just do some digging, don’t take headlines at their worth, question an article if it’s remotely intriguing, and, if you’re interested in something, click all the links until you can find the source.

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K-pop Content Isn’t Just for Card -Carrying K-Pop Fans

An article on a website dedicated to K-pop won’t think it has to explain the impact of Girls’ Generation on the industry. An article on another type of outlet will have to do so. There has been, wonderfully, an uptick in non-K-pop outlets covering K-pop. There has also, unfortunately, been a sense of entitlement accompanying them.

K-pop articles are, of course, for the fans. But every single article written is to tell the audience something. If the audience of a website isn’t the K-pop fandom, things will need to be made relatable, and the content will need to be tailored for an audience that cares about different things than the average K-pop fan does. It may be the writer’s decision, it could be an editor’s. But K-pop’s audience is growing and it’s wonderful. But it also means that you, long-term-K-pop-fan who knows which year was the best year for K-pop music in the past decade and which was dubbed the “Kpocalypse,” know a lot of K-pop facts while someone else may not. You’re an expert! The random reader is not, so things that you think are so obvious (clearly Girls’ Generation had a major impact on K-pop) isn’t really and a writer will take that into account. Things you may be interested in, like when a band is having a comeback, may be less important to someone trying to figure out why K-pop is making so much money. And that’s totally fine.

So, yeah, I guess just… think a bit first when reading K-pop news content. Before you read anything, really. Overall, just something to think about before sending cute, red-glasses wearing journos death threats on Twitter because I threw in a “Gangnam Style” reference for the uninitiated who don’t know that I have immense inner turmoil anytime anyone calls Psy a “K-pop act.”

What are your thoughts on the matter? Let us know 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.

Op-ed: Trump, BTS, & the state of K-pop journalism

Trump BTS

A few minutes before I planned to go to bed last night, I noticed something funny trending on my twitter feed: fans of the K-pop boy band BTS appeared to be getting riled up over a tweet the US presidential candidate Donald Trump allegedly shared in August, where he complimented the boy band and mistakenly called them Chinese.

But it wasn’t the Orientalist racism that sparked the outrage. It was the fact that this tweet had never been tweeted, and one of the most well-known K-pop news outlet wrote an article about it. I searched Twitter, spending a whole three minutes using the site’s Advanced Search function and couldn’t find anything except for a tweet that was clearly photoshopped. Trump, who is extremely outspoken on Twitter, hasn’t deleted any of his past faux pas, so it seems unlikely that he would have deleted (or ever tweeted in the first place, really) anything on his Twitter feed dealing with K-pop or BTS. But this website didn’t take those few moments to determine that and instead ran it as news, which many fans took as fact.

To reiterate the fact: Donald Trump has never, to my knowledge and the best of my research ability, ever tweeted about K-pop or BTS. 

After getting frustrated at the fact that a website that presents itself as a reliable news source didn’t even do the basic minimum fact-checking on what was clearly a click-bait timely news peg, I went to bed. While I slept, the article was later deleted from the site. A quick perusal of the news outlet’s social media revealed that no apology or clarification was issued regarding the original publication. Another website with a less-than-stellar track record at reporting K-pop-related stories also wrote about the tweet, but instead more fully expressed how the tweet was clearly inauthentic.


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As KultScene is not a news site and is based around the opinions of several writers who feel the urge to discuss their favorite topic, Hallyu, I typically wouldn’t address anything about the mistakes of other websites. But this morning, a reputable Korean newspaper picked up the article by the US-based K-pop “news” source and published a piece on their website about it. As a well-respected site with a credible reputation, this is extremely unfortunate. Despite fans tweeting to the outlet that the original source was faked, it has yet to be updated or corrected as of 10:00 p.m. EST on Oct. 27.

Clearly, the Korean outlet didn’t check facts itself, which is problematic for its own sake, but the article was written on the word of an allegedly reputable source. Since the modern state of journalism is an aggregate-heavy environment, it is probable that the Korean outlet expected that a reliable K-pop news outlet based in the US would do proper legwork to research claims that may possibly relate to the US election.

Journalism has always been about telling stories based on facts and research. The outlet that wrote the original piece about the alleged tweet has a track record of regurgitating information without doing research or — even worse — releasing information obtained off-the-record. I personally was unsurprised by the website’s article, since it’s clear they hire writers based on speediness and translating skills rather than any journalistic capabilities. When output and hitcount becomes King, basic steps of newsgathering, like fact-checking, will be disregarded.

The sad thing is that just about every US-based K-pop news source struggles from this. Aside from a handful of outlets, most of which have few reporters but rely on Korean news sources or international wires, none are truly able to be dedicated to Hallyu media and maintain a journalistic edge. Outside of Korea, newsgathering is nearly impossible and there just isn’t a large enough audience to support multiple news sites. Instead, websites depend on keeping their numbers up by spending the least amount of resources possible on the most amount of content.

Until K-pop journalism becomes a more viable, economical field, we’ll continue to see misreporting like this.

What do you think about the situation? Share your opinions in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.