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.

Stray Kids unlock last stop of their US tour in Los Angeles

stray kids los angeles concert
by Emerson Redding

As the screens opened one by one during the theatrical VCR that showed the breaking of a new lock each time, the Microsoft Theater in Downtown Los Angeles broke a new threshold of excitement and loud screams. When the final lock finally broke and the last screen separated to reveal the eight members of Stray Kids, we were officially in “District 9.” This past Sunday, Feb. 16, marked the last night of Stray Kids’s Stateside leg of “District 9: Unlock Tour,” orchestrated by SubKulture Entertainment, that took the unstoppable boy group around the country on eight stops. 

Stray Kids kicked off the night with a remix of their debut hit “District 9” and continued to electrify the crowd with “Victory Song” and “Question.” The group performed “Rock” off their second mini album I Am NOT as they began to interact with lucky Stays —their fans— in the front row before showcasing their incredible dancing skills with their iconic dance break previously seen at KCON LA 2019 that seamlessly transitioned into “Side Effects.”

The group took a short break to introduce themselves and officially say hello to the LA Stays, who were eagerly awaiting one of the most anticipated moments of the entire show: Felix doing the famous TikTok “Renegade” dance during his part in “M.I.A.” which became a tradition in each city. 


While Stray Kids is undoubtedly talented as a full group, their three units perform just as well alone. The dance line, known as Danceracha, composed of Lee Know, Hyunjin, and Felix were first up with their captivating unit stage for “Wow.” Before anyone had a moment to catch their breath, the screen behind opened to reveal Han standing on top of a staircase to begin “Mixtape#4.” Although this song appears on 2019’s Clé 2: Yellow Wood, the original pre-debut 3Racha version was already a fan favorite for its inspiring lyrics that boast successfully journeying on with a “Broken Compass.” The compass is quite an important symbol in the world of Stray Kids; a spinning one can be found inside of their official lightstick, dubbed nachimbong based off the Korean word for compass, nachimban.

stray kids los angeles concert unlock
by Emerson Redding

One of the most beautiful moments of the night was the performance of the latest title track “Levanter” and the VCRs that bookended it. In case you didn’t know what Stray Kids was all about, Felix’s narration introduced the song explaining that “Stray Kids is not the only one who got lost; those who got lost could be anywhere. All strayed steps come together to make a new road and Stray Kids will be with each and every step. Stray kids everywhere all around the world.” After the song, a simple but poignant VCR repeated Felix’s words, adding on lyrics from “I Am You:” “stay together you and I,” and a rendition of one of the group’s catchphrases “you make Stray Kids stay” and “we all make stray kids stay.” 

The VCR ended by emphasizing that their other catchphrase “Stray Kids everywhere all around the world” does not mean just the group themselves, but is a calling to every “stray kid” out there who may feel lost. Later during the night, leader Bang Chan took time to explain that meaning again when he expressed how thankful he was that Stray Kids have created this “district” full of Stays and other stray kids. “It doesn’t matter who you are; whether you’re a boy or girl or whatever you choose to be. It doesn’t matter where you’re from … Ethnicity doesn’t matter either. Everyone is welcome in our special district and we promise that this special district, we will always have pride in it and always represent our beautiful and wonderful Stays.” Chan’s heartfelt words brought another tradition of the “District 9: Unlock Tour:” the “best leader” chant that Han started and Stays made heard in every corner of the venue. 

Those touching, slower moments were sprinkled in throughout the show, alongside the bright and powerful stages that Stray Kids are known for. The ballad version of “I Am You” that perfectly transitioned into the “We Go” unit stage for the 3Racha rappers Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han executed that duality perfectly. Speaking of duality, Changbin was also a part of vocalists Seungmin and I.N.’s beautiful unit song “My Universe,” which showed a different side of the rapper than normally seen during his super fast-paced verses. 

stray kids los angeles concert unlock
by Emerson Redding

In the last act of the show before the encore, Stray Kids showcased their powerful stages of “My Pace,” “Double Knot,” “Boxer,” and remixes of “Hellevator” and “Miroh.” Stays all around the venue joined Stray Kids and enthusiastically screamed the fanchants for these songs, but Stays’ work did not stop there. The actual members left the stage but quickly reappeared in video form for the “Stay Featuring” segment, in which Stray Kids instructed Stays to do things like clap and dab on beat for parts of “Get Cool” and “Miroh.” The last thing Stays had to do was cheer as loud as they could for Stray Kids to come back out, which they did with zero difficulty.

Also on KultScene: 50 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2019

For the encore, the whistling of “Grow Up” began and Stays knew it was yet again time to take a moment for reflecting and feeling every emotion. As if the song itself wasn’t enough, a VCR with the English translation of the lyrics played behind the group as they performed, reminding Stays “You’re doing alright now. Stay strong, cause you’ll do just fine. I promise I’ll be by your side.” Stray Kids made that promise with the release of I Am NOT and have kept it since. 

stray kids los angeles concert
by Emerson Redding

After the song ended, the group was surprised with a VCR project made by Stays full of messages celebrating the group’s achievements, thanking them for all they have done for their fans, and reminding them that Stays will always be there for Stray Kids too. The group tried their best to thank their fans for the surprise. Han told Stays, “Because of you, we exist. You guys are brighter than the sun. I’m so proud of you guys.” Felix called Stays their “shining stars” and ended his speech telling Stays, “Don’t stop shining because you mean everything to us.” 

This LA show made it obvious that Stray Kids and Stays were indeed meant for each other. Stray Kids created a world full of power and love, and brought it to life with their “District 9: Unlock Tour.”

Did you go to Stray Kids’ U.S. tour? How did you like it? 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: 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.

Stray Kids: JYP’s new direction

Ever since the conclusion of JYP Entertainment’s survival reality program Stray Kids, where the nine members of the group took part in various challenges set by the company to prove that they were able to debut as a whole group, the victorious (and complete!) group was busy with promotions for their pre-debut EP, Mixtape, which featured the group’s tracks that were mostly performed during the program.

Following its release, Mixtape proved to be a fan favorite and topped charts in the States, and also proved to encompass the essence of what is unique about this group and, by extension, showcased the new direction that JYP Entertainment is taking in debuting this group. All the seven tracks on the EP were composed in some way by the members of Stray Kids, be it in lyric-writing, songwriting or arranging. In particular, the members of “3RACHA,” a previously established trio within Stray Kids consisting of leader Bang Chan and rappers Han Jisung and Seo Changbin, wrote the lyrics for all the songs and took part in the music composition for six of them. The ownership and individuality shown here is rare in the K-pop industry, considering this is a group who has yet to officially debut.

Also on Kultscene: Artist Spotlight: Samuel 

It is even more surprising considering JYP’s usual management of their groups. With the exception of rock band DAY6, whose debut EP was also composed of songs created by the members, JYP’s boy groups mostly started out with EPs and title tracks composed by Park Jinyoung himself (i.e GOT7’s “Girls Girls Girls” and 2PM’s “10 Out of 10”). The members of these groups eventually went on to create their own music for their later albums and title tracks (i.e Jun K’s “Go Crazy,” JB’s “You Are”) after a few years, which is a common practice in the industry. Stray Kids releasing Mixtape could thus be an indication of a shift in JYP Entertainment’s priorities for their new groups: no longer are they optimizing safe and polished debut performances but instead highlighting releases that showcase more musicality and creative freedom. Perhaps this is to align with the current trend of self-composed music in the industry but whatever it is, it is definitely paying off for Stray Kids.

The exceptional composing skills of the members, especially the members of 3RACHA, were constantly displayed throughout the program, an instance being their rap face-off with YG Entertainment trainees, where Changbin and Jisung wowed with their original track “Matryoshka” (from their third mixtape, Horizon).

Since last January, the trio have been releasing their original tracks through SoundCloud and YouTube, with a total of three mixtapes out at the moment. The exposure they received as trainees does explain their prowess now especially for long-time trainee Bang Chan, who has so-far single-handedly done the producing and mixing for most of 3RACHA’s tracks, with Changbin and Jisung contributing to the lyrics.

The trio’s experience shows in their works, and really helped the entire boy group establish a very unique musical identity right off the bat. With the music video of “Hellevator,” the title track of “Mixtape,” racking up millions of views on YouTube before the reality show even premiered, anticipation was high for Stray Kids thanks to this intense song which highlighted the various strengths of the members, in particular their synchronized dancing. The group continued to impress with their music through the missions on the show, where they took on challenges such as performing at a live broadcast and busking on the streets.

While the group as a whole is definitely still a rookie one, especially with regard to the vocal areas, Stray Kids has proven that they can (and do) distinguish themselves from other rookie boy bands, not just musically but with their fresh personalities as well. Often displaying tough and charismatic images on stage, they played up their youthful charms on the show once off stage and even now on the occasional V-live broadcasts that they do. With an average age of 20 (youngest member Jeongin is a 2001-er), the members are cute and playful especially when they interact with each other.

Also on Kultscene: Weki Meki’s “Lucky” Album Review

Speaking of which, the unity of this group is remarkable, despite only being formed a few months before the show. Perhaps this is where Stray Kids differs most from Sixteen, the survival show from which TWICE was created in 2015. In Sixteen, the 16 members competed against each other to get into the seven member group (it was later changed to nine members), which naturally created a lot of rivalry among the members. Stray Kids, on the other hand, was promoted and run as a show where the group “fought” with JYP to debut together. Their adorable friendship and dynamic were on display from the start, and got viewers passionately rooting for the group to stay together. The most unique part of this survival show was the lack of competition between the members and the cooperation they displayed. There was very little “fighting for the main part” that often goes on in such shows, and instead, there were so many moments where the more experienced members sacrificed their own practice time to help those who were lagging behind or in danger of elimination. The hard work and effort that the whole group put in to help each other improve led to heart-wrenching and tear-jerking moments for members and fans alike when a few members ended up being eliminated through the course of the show (they were eventually brought back in the final mission), further endearing the group to the viewers.

With all the hype and popularity Stray Kids has already gotten so far, their debut is definitely a highly-anticipated one. It still has to be proven if the “free-reign” direction JYP is taking with this group will last in the future, but for now, it’s producing results and I cannot wait to see how far this group will fly from here.

Have you been keeping up with Stray Kids? What do you think of the new direction JYP is taking with them? 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.