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.

The erasure of Black K-pop fans in the wake of BLM & activism

kpop blm black lives matter Black fans erasure

The past few weeks have seen an increased interest in K-pop and the politics that surround it as U.S. fans implemented tactics used to promote their favorite acts to fight police brutality and racism. The emergence of K-pop fans as “unlikely allies” and “unsung heroes” for the Black Lives Matter movement received praise from celebrities, politicians, and the media for their allyship and activism. Their notoriety on social media was reimagined as they became viewed as vigilantes fighting the good fight. That notion was furthered when fans and TikTokers used their savviness to sabotage a Trump rally in Tulsa, OK, by reserving seats and not attending the event. 

The mainstream coverage surrounding K-pop’s political activism centered around stereotypes and one-dimensional takes on the identity of K-pop’s fandoms. The surprise activism of assumed young, white women became the story but ignored the activism history of K-pop fans and the diversity of fans. While media outlets began to explore K-pop’s fandom in-depth, the erasure of Black fans from most conversations was a deafening reminder of history repeating itself. Black people – especially Black women – are left out of conversations that impact them. In fandom, the erasure of Black voices results from anti-Blackness and co-option. 

Black fans served as the backbone of K-pop fans joining the Black Lives Matter movement.  They rallied together laying the groundwork to bring attention to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and police brutality within their fandoms and the K-pop industry. They used #BlackLivesMatter hashtags within their fandom spaces and tagged their favorite acts. 

Initially, their efforts were met with pushback aimed to keep K-pop and politics separate from each other. 


Throughout K-pop’s legacy, it has not been able to remain completely apolitical. Artists have shown support for comfort women and been caught in the crossfires of foreign politics in Asia. When the #MeToo movement reached South Korean, girl group Girls’ Generation’s debut track “Into A New World” became a protest anthem for women fighting against sexual harassment and abuse. The attempts to not pressure K-pop idols into speaking about police brutality is a by-product of the anti-Blackness within the diverse communities that make up the fandom.

Anti-Blackness perpetuates a single-story about Black people and culture derived from European colonization and globalization. These stereotypes are passed within non-Black communities and find placement within K-pop fandom. While some non-Black fans may find themselves accepting of Black fans, the hostility that manifests suggests otherwise. The policing of hashtags that focus on representing Black fans and gaslighting conversations that address their mistreatment are examples of anti-Blackness at work. The most visible way anti-Blackness rears its head among K-pop fans is during conversations about appropriation. 

Within K-pop’s fandom, the appropriation of Black culture and hip-hop is a constant conversation among its Black fans but often overlooked by their counterparts. They excuse appropriation as ignorance while dismissing or talking over the voices of their Black peers. For non-Black fans, the need to preserve the integrity of a K-pop idol often overshadows the need to provide Black fans the space to educate on why cultural appropriation is harmful. K-pop’s incorporation of hip-hop made the latter palatable for consumers who wanted to enjoy hip-hop without having to address its politics and legacies. 

However, the politics of hip-hop is fighting for human rights for Black people. Some K-pop acts have taken initiative in acknowledging the impact of Black culture and music on the industry. Some donated to organizations supporting Black Lives Matter, while others advocated by posting petitions and sharing the stories of Floyd and Taylor.  Rapper CL of former girl group 2NE1 and R&B singer Crush took to their Instagrams to show solidarity and share how Black culture influences the K-pop industry and their careers.   

As seen with the hijacking of #whitelivesmatter, co-option has been a beneficial tool for fans to gain control of or change narratives. While they were able to drown out racist rhetoric and troll the hashtags enough to trend within Twitter’s K-pop category, the intent of showing solidarity with BLM became distorted. 


White Lives Matter originated in the wake of Ferguson Protests as a means to preserve whiteness, according to The New York Times. Evolved from a meme, the hate group has become a fixture in opposing Black Lives Matter. Fans who hijacked the tag did not consider the ramifications of trending the name of a dangerous group. The ignorance in their actions furthered Black fans being second to fandom clout, as performing good deeds outweighed addressing microaggressions in and out of fandom and sharing resources to support their peers. 

The Black experience is constantly having to choose an additional title –– doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.–– to prove you are more than what society equates your Blackness to. One can be Black, but to truly survive in this world there must be an additional value. This idea translates into fandom spaces with the underlying expectation of Black fans setting aside their Blackness for the greater good of fandom. 

Despite the negative aspects of stan culture, fans who experienced racism within BTS fandom created #BlackARMYsequality and #BlackARMYsMatter to call out racism within the fandom in 2018, according to Teen Vogue. Elismarie Ortiz started the #BlackArmyBeauty project to recognize and celebrate the beauty of Black fans within the fandom after seeing her peers getting harassed, as reported by Buzzfeed. From there, fans created #Blackout days for within their respective fandoms in which fans post selfies alongside the members of their favorite groups. #BlackoutBTS and the hashtags that accompany it display how fans could mobilize to bring awareness to anything. Black fans also fellowshipped with each through cookout and block party hashtags and #blackstantakeover to show community within their fandoms. Much like #Blackout days, fans shared selfies of themselves alongside members of their favorite groups. It may seem frivolous to some, but its ability to uplift and reestablish confidence within K-pop’s Black community is a reminder that Black people deserve to enjoy entertainment as much as their peers.

Sharing experiences and providing each other space to discuss fandom experience brought to light how K-pop is covered in western media. Presenting K-pop’s fandom as monolithic discounts its diversity. The push for wider representation when it comes to reflecting the demographics within K-pop’s many fandoms challenges media outlets to abandon their biases when reporting on K-pop and its fandom. The movers and shakers of modern political movements are left out of narratives until outlets are called out. That should not be the case. Media and fandoms have to actively work to include the Black voices they leave out, starting with listening.

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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.