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.

Thoughts on Being Infinitely Inspirit, in Honor of INFINITE’s 10th Anniversary

K-pop boy band INFINITE promotional image

When it comes to K-pop, I have a lot of love for fandom names and have self-identified by many over the years, but when it comes down to it I don’t think I’ve ever felt more of a connection than the one I have with INFINITE’s fandom, Inspirit. On the 10th anniversary of their debut on June 9, 2010 with “Come Back Again,” I couldn’t resist the urge of writing something about how this fandom name, this verb, has come to mean something truly special to me. 

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “inspirit” simply means “to fill with spirit.” Synonyms include words like “encourage,” “hearten,” and “embolden.” These are all feelings that my love of INFINITE has encompassed over the years, even though that flame of love that once burned so passionately now sits nestled in my heart like an ember steadily, only flaring occasionally in moments of intense emotion. 

What is it about INFINITE that I find, personally, so uplifting? It’s hard to put into words, but I wanted to try, so if you’re interested, please bear with me. If not, please go watch “The Chaser” music video, it will probably be enough of an explanation. 

If you’ve ever gotten yourself into a mess of your own making, you know that there’s no more of a disheartening feeling than recognizing you have to just deal with It. It is one of the hardest experiences in the human lifespan, I believe, when you have to take ownership of something you’ve done that has changed your life forever and impacted it in a negative way that cannot be undone. Unlike many bad situations, you can’t point to others when the impact of the decision hits, it is all on you and your poor judgement. Obviously there are outside factors, but in that moment, it is absolutely devastating. 

At the very tail-end of an experience like this, which I will not get into because honestly I don’t want to spend time thinking about that situation any more than I already did back then, I “met” INFINITE in 2010. Their First Invasion is such an innately bright and warm album, and it captured my attention. I didn’t necessarily go full-blown Inspirit until 2011, after INFINITE’s discography (“BTD!” “Can U Smile!” “Nothing’s Over!” Be Mine!” Paradise!” Shot!, the most underrated INFINITE song in my honest opinion) absolutely dominated my listening and their variety show Sesame Player landed the members, and their ragtag escape routes as they ran screaming in a game of tag of sorts with their managers, into my heart. 

Over the years, my relationship with INFINITE has grown and changed. I’m around the same age as the members, and a lot of my life’s milestones have happened alongside theirs as I progressed in both my academic and professional careers, always with their music guiding things in the background. 

Whether it was their bright summer concert videos or their poignant ballads or their oh-so-impactful choreography, I inevitably felt all the feels when watching them perform, and then turned to their variety shows where they inevitably did something really, really, really dumb and it was a mess that had at least one member shouting at the others about how ridiculous they were being. 

And, of course, the love of my life, “The Chaser” dropped in 2012. I remember exactly where I was in college, and in which seat I sat in and on which old oak table I banged my head on, when I watched its music video for the first time and knew I’d probably never find another song I liked more. Still haven’t, but who knows? Maybe someday! (Sorry, “Last Romeo,” you’re a close runner up though.) 

The next year, I studied abroad in Seoul as part of my degree and saw INFINITE several times, and witnessed in-person at One Great Step the members’ teary reaction to bombshell news that SM Entertainment was acquiring INFINITE’s company Woollim. It was emotional, and being in my early 20’s it became a moment I ended up thinking back to a lot when career paths diverged. Fittingly, when I started my first job I used an INFINITE lanyard, the one from the third gen fanclub membership kit, the only membership kit I’ve ever invested in from a K-pop group, and even when I was going to a newsroom at 2am it made me happy to think about the songs I love, and the warm-feelings the men behind them have given me, and it made me smile. 

I really wanted to write something more in-depth about my love of all that INFINITE stands for to me, but the words aren’t coming, as the capacity to turn those feelings to the prose I feel is appropriate has failed me. But I hope whoever is reading this still enjoys as I ruminate on how I’ve been happy with their songs, sad with their songs, and their music has more or less been what I turn to, even now ten years later, when I want to just put on music and enjoy in the background. It has more or less become the soundtrack of my twenties, and there’s something I find truly inspiriting about that. 

It wasn’t until the last month or so when I really actively thought about how INFINITE is so important to me. It’s one of the only fandoms I’ve ever been part of that none of my close friends enjoys as intensely as me, so it’s always kind of been this little K-pop room that I can sit in on my own when I need a break from everything. 

The importance of my bond with INFINITE, more as an idea than as a band, hit a few weeks ago. I saw a comment on social media by someone who I consider a friend and who considers themselves a K-pop connoisseur, saying that they feel rising acts, including INFINITE, are really gaining in popularity among international K-pop fans lately. I had to physically restrain myself from commenting, because I couldn’t really come up with a way to reflect how comically tragic that was, and my little freak out over it kind of honed in to me how my life has become better because INFINITE exists, which is honestly so cheesy I’m kind of laughing as I write that line but that’s the beauty of how we as humans interact with art, no? 


I went through a variety of thoughts as I read the post. Were they really talking about INFINITE? The INFINITE who had raised the bar for synchronization in K-pop. The INFINITE that had brought forth their own distinct synth-pop, baroque-esque style of boy band songs that are best when played with a full orchestra. The INFINITE that has such good album introductions they may as well release them on their own album. The INFINITE that not only released multiple concert albums to show off both their expressive vocals and acknowledge the fan experience with Inspirit’s supportive fanchants honestly dominating some tracks, but also released instrumental versions of their discography onto an album because why the hell not when the music is so good? The INFINITE I always returned to when I needed to be uplifted? 

It wasn’t that this friend saw international K-pop fans discovering INFINITE,I realized. Rather, their perception came from how, I think, Inspirit have kind of been hopping back to life on social media now that Sungkyu’s back from the military (and throwing staff’s phones) and Woollim was pushing some content ahead of the tenth anniversary. But it hit home to me that INFINITE has, in a way, become removed from the consciousness of many K-pop fans currently in English-speaking spaces. Their music and their career is recognized, but the impact that INFINITE had in the moments that they were at their peak has kind of gone by the wayside, some of the moments that I almost can feel physically when I think back to that time of my life. Obviously this is to be expected that an older group feels some loss in popularity; change is fast in the world of K-pop. But the experience reminded me that even though INFINITE as I once remember it may be gone, the memories and the feelings aren’t. So maybe I’m not always talking about INFINITE, but the impact my moments with INFINITE have had on me is always there.

More recently, a few days ago, I was listening to “Still I Miss You” from the One Great Step Returns concert album, and it struck me how the song could apply to my relationship with INFINITE. As I was sitting there, singing along to the fanchant of the members’ names and the members’ voices, I thought “Ah, I guess I will always miss INFINITE as it once was” but then it hit me. Just because INFINITE isn’t always there anymore, just because INFINITE has changed and grown up a bit, the feeling of exhilaration their music, their career, made me feel throughout the past decade will likely never leave me. It’s not that I’m missing INFINITE, it’s that I’m still feeling their impact on me and my life even now. 

I guess, at the end of this ramble of my thoughts, all I really want to say is this: Happy anniversary, INFINITE, and happy anniversary to anyone else out there who has become infinitely inspirited by your bond as a fan with them and their music. I’m signing off to go watch the newly-released Begin Again fanmeet video!

What are your thoughts on INFINITE? 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.

K-Pop Unmuted: the best of the decade part 2

On Episode 48 of Kultscene’s K-pop Unmuted, Joe, Scott, Stephen, and Tamar continue their review of the last decade of Kpop. In this second of two episodes, we each select a Wildcard category, choose our Songs of the Decade, and pick our Albums of the Decade.

You can also listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Spotify, SoundcloudGoogle Play Music, and the Apple store.

K-pop Unmuted: The best of the decade part 1

On Episode 47 of Kultscene’s K-pop Unmuted, Joe, Scott, Stephen, and Tamar look back on the last decade of Kpop. In the first of two episodes, we discuss our personal Kpop journeys over the last ten years, we pick our Artist of the Decade, and we list our picks for Top Five Music Videos of the Decade.

You can also listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Spotify, SoundcloudGoogle Play Music, and the Apple store.

James Lee talks working with friends, ‘Falling’ memes, & latest releases [interview]

james lee singer kpop
Courtesy of SubKulture Entertainment

James Lee is taking control of his career and doing things on his own terms. The former bassist and keyboardist for the Korean rock band Royal Pirates is exploring variations of synths and visuals as he brings his music Stateside. Having spent his life performing in rock bands, Lee is using his expertise in producing, writing, and singing for his new projects. 

Last year, the singer released his first solo EP “The Light” thanks to a successful Kickstarter, detailing his journey through recovery after a restaurant’s windowpane crashed into him leaving him with a severed wrist in 2015 while living in South Korea. Despite five surgeries and painful physiotherapy, Lee was unable to regain proper function of his hand ultimately leaving his position in Royal Pirates two years later. Following “The Light,” Lee linked up with NEKO, Amber Liu, and more artists for his following singles. 

To ring in his new career endeavours, Lee embarked on his first Stateside tour alongside rock band Fyke and Kevin Woo, former lead vocalist for K-pop boy band U-KISS. Lee also teamed up with Woo for their first collaboration “Falling.” Originally released in August, the pop track explores a missed chance at love and an unsuccessful attempt at moving on. 

While its lyrics are melancholic, the music video displays a relentless desire of sabotage. The music video, released on Oct. 26, opens with a bloody Lee before cutting to him unsuccessfully delivering a speech to a blushing bride and groom. From there, chaos ensues as Lee and Woo disrupt the wedding with fire, chainsaws and commotion. “Falling” features cameos from Lee’s family and YouTubers Mike Bow and Linda Dong. 

In Lee’s follow-up single “Losing It,” the crooner opens up about his mental health during his rigorous rehabilitation from a life-changing accident in 2015. Backed by pop-synths and subtle bass, the track’s somber lyrics and emotional delivery redirected listeners from “Falling”’s comedic moments. In sharing his struggles, Lee hopes those suffering from PTSD know that they are not alone. 

Since speaking candidly about his injury over the past few years and redirecting his career, Lee is looking forward to making more feel-good tracks. The singer partnered with Thai-German based singer/actress Janine Weigel for an upcoming track scheduled for release on Nov. 22.


Lee took time from his busy schedule to chat with KultScene via email about new music, support, and his future. 

You and Kevin completed touring together recently. How was sharing that homecoming with him? 

“It was so much fun to be able to play shows with one of my best friends. We all had the same energy and just wanted to make sure the shows were fun for everyone. I hope we are able to do it again in the future!” 

How does opening this new chapter in your career feel? 

“I’ve been working on other artists’ music, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to build a career this way, but I would also like to release my own music consistently. I hope that this chapter leads to more opportunities for better music. I also want to be the best version of myself that I can be, and this feels like the right direction.” 

Initially, “Falling” was released in Aug. What made you decide to release the song and music video at different times? 

“At first, we weren’t sure if we would have the budget, but a company called Mydailylive.com graciously stepped in and helped us out! We also had to shoot some pickups, and I was traveling quite a bit, so I had to wait until I got back to LA to film the flamethrower scene.” 

 Where did the concept for “Falling” come from? What was the process like? 

“Everyone knows that feeling of falling for someone, whether it be a slow drip or unexpectedly finding yourself in love —so, lyrically, it was really easy to write. I’ve also been in rock bands all my life, so the arrangement was fun for me to write. I also knew that the contrast between Kevin’s voice and mine would give the song more depth —and obviously, he killed it.” 

“Falling” has dark comedic moments in it. How do you feel about the memes coming from the music video? Do you have a favorite? 

“The memes were the best part. I loved seeing my fans excited and proactive about the video, and the fact that there were so many memes shows that the video had a lot of interesting moments. My favorite was a clip of Kevin singing, ‘I keep coming back every time,’ but the top of the image had the words ‘My Acne,’ basically calling Kevin a pimple lol.” 

How did the blow torch and chainsaw become incorporated into the video? 

“That was actually the director’s idea (Brad Wong). They just seemed like outrageous things to have at a wedding, so we thought it’d be great to throw them in there.” 


How does it feel to have your parents be a part of the music video? What were their reactions? 

“Anytime I can involve my family is such a pleasure. I feel lucky that they get to be part of my projects, and it’s fun for me to see their acting.” 

What was the best part of working on this project? 

“Creating so many memorable scenes with some of my best friends.” 

Earlier this year you released “Mad” featuring NEKO and “Anxiety.” How was the journey from then to now with “Falling?” 

“With NEKO (Erik Lidbom), I wanted him to take the driver’s seat because I respect him so much. Not only does he have hundreds of hits, but he is a great guy and taught me so much in such a short amount of time. I was a bit more angsty with ‘MAD’ and my own track ‘Anxiety,’ and my goal was to make something artistic that represented my journey. However, with ‘Falling,’ the goal was to also have fun, and I think we achieved that!” 

Your fans have provided a large amount of support through your journey. How does that feel? 

“Without my fans, my music means nothing, so I appreciate them a lot. I’m so lucky for the ones that have stuck with me.” 

When will Jerry finally make his on-screen debut? 

“Gotta get him in a video ASAP!” 

What plans do you have for 2020? 

“I am striving to create one new song every week, and I hope to release a new track every other week. I hope that releasing music more consistently will give my fans something to chew on, reach more people, and help me get to the level I want to be at.” 

“Losing It” was written around the same time as “Mad” and “Anxiety.” What was going through your mind during the writing process? 

“I spent a week in a mental hospital after my accident. The track is about how I was unable to fix the anxiety and pain. It’s really about a moment of chaos.” 

How does it feel to be able to share this vulnerability with your fans? 

“When I write my music, it’s like a journal, so it’s quite easy to be honest. I’m just lucky that they reciprocate and support me.” 

You’ve released a lyric video for “Losing It.” Do you plan on releasing an official music video too? 

“At the moment, I have no plans to do so, but I will be releasing a new track Nov. 22 featuring my friend Jannine Weigel. She’s a singer and actress from Thailand and Germany who is a killer vocalist. It’s also a feel-good track, so I can’t wait to share!” 

What message do you want listeners to take from this track? 

“With “Losing It,” I just wanted to share what I was going through. I know a lot of people have some form of PTSD. If you can relate when you listen, I guess, just know that you aren’t alone.” 

Your music gave us a glimpse into you healing mentally and physically from your accident in 2015. What are hoping for yourself as you continue to move forward? 

“For healing, both mentally and physically, and the ability to be the best version of myself as possible —and to see my fans ASAP! I love you guys and miss you!” 

Be sure to check out “Losing It” and Lee’s new track which releases Nov. 22. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to keep up with all his upcoming projects.

What’s your favorite song by James Lee? Share your picks and thoughts 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.

K-pop Unmuted: Queendom

On Episode 46 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum, and Joe Palmer discuss the Korean competition TV show Queendom. We talked about our favorite performances, the groups’ performances, and more.

You can also listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Spotify, SoundcloudGoogle Play Music, and the Apple store.

K-pop Unmuted: September 2019 roundup

On Episode 45 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight and Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum welcome entertainment writer and Kultscene’s very own contributor Nnehkai Agbor for the first time to the show to discuss their favorite September 2019’s releases. Our picks include Dreamcatcher, TWICE, and ONEUS, to name a few.

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Spotify, SoundcloudGoogle Play MusicStitcher, and the Apple store.

K-Pop Unmuted: BTS & the MTV VMAs

On Episode 44 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Teen Vogue’s Aamina Khan joins guest-host Scott Interrante and Stephen Knight to discuss the 2019 MTV VMAs, the new Best Kpop category, and the BTS snub. Our Unmuted Kpop Picks are Ha:tfelt’s “Happy Now”, Suran’s “Surfin'”, and AGUST D (Suga)’s “So Far Away”. 

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on SpotifySoundcloudiTunesGoogle Play MusicStitcher.

K-Pop Unmuted: June 2019

On Episode 43 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Alexis Hodoyan, Tamar Herman, and Stephen Knight look back at Kpop releases from June 2019. We discuss Chungha’s “Snapping,” Sulli’s “Goblin,” Yesung’s “Pink Magic”, Monsta X’s “Who Do U Love,” NCT Dream’s “Don’t Need Your Love,” and Stray Kids’ “Side Effects.”

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on SpotifySoundcloudiTunesGoogle Play MusicStitcher.

K-pop Unmuted: The Dance Episode

On Episode 42 of Kultscene’s K-pop Unmuted, Gabriel Wilder joins Joe Palmer and Stephen Knight to discuss Kpop dance. We talk about the importance of dance in Kpop, memorable dance moments, top performance groups, great individual dancers, and much more. Our Unmuted Picks for the episode are Jo Jung Min’s Ready Q, Weki Meki’s Picky Picky, and Lim Kim’s Sal-Ki.

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on SpotifySoundcloudiTunesGoogle Play MusicStitcher.