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.

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Thoughts on IU & Suga’s ‘eight’

Animated image of IU looking out a plane window in the music video of "eight" by IU and BTS's Suga.

I don’t really know what “eight” is about, but while listening to it there was a lot flying through my head. IU and Suga have both been longtime loves of mine, people whose music I often turn to when I’m sad and need to find kinship in the music of those who have put their feelings and thoughts on adulthood and life into the world. Many artists do it, and, of course, I listen to many others, but this pair are two I especially turn to time and time again when I get introspective. So when they announced their collaboration, I knew immediately that it would be devastating and something I seek solace in. Once I read that the song by the soloist and the BTS rapper-songwriter is about their feelings of being 28 (as per Korean age reckoning) and the latest in IU’s series of age-based reflective singles, I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time thinking about it once I heard it.

Waking up this morning to a text from a friend about whether I had heard the song yet, I sat there staring at my phone. I couldn’t. I knew I needed to shower and have coffee before I was remotely in the mental space where I could absorb it; I have been having a lot of sleep problems lately, and I knew that I wasn’t in a state of receptiveness for something I was sure was going to make a sizable impact on me. That was a bit of a mistake on my part, though, because as I was checking my email and Twitter while making coffee I inevitably saw other responses to the song, and went into it and its music video with some preconceived notions, the most notable one being, based on a series of connections audiences had made, that the song is about Sulli and Jonghyun, two stars IU was close to before their untimely passings, both of whom have relations with the number “eight”: Jonghyun’s birthday was April 8, 1990, and Sulli and IU were friends in the public eye for eight years.

Watching the music video, I feel inclined to believe that there is the potential of that interpretation being intentional, considering that IU’s “Love Poem” similarly felt reflective and, more importantly, the animation adds to this theory: the cartoon IU exists in reality, on a plane crying, while watching the fantastical view of another woman flying around on the back of a dragon after the futuristic, real-life IU tears up when the woman jumps onto the dragon’s back. The woman she’s looking upon is clearly not IU herself; she doesn’t have the singer’s iconic beauty mark. Is she Sulli? I don’t know; she too had a beauty mark and the animated woman does not. But it feels like that’s who she is an allusion of, similarly to how the dragon is a near-reference to Jonghyun’s well-known dinosaur-like features. Does this mean the song is about the pair, and that’s who the woman and the dragon are representing? I don’t really know; I may be looking too deep into it and they’re mere representations of childhood whimsy that’s been left behind. We won’t really know unless someone who worked on the song and/or music video lets us know that, but I’d like to think that they’re homages to the pair, with the song’s lyrics expressing how beautiful goodbyes take place in memories.

The girl and the dragon in IU and Suga's "eight"
The girl and the dragon in IU and Suga’s “eight”


While I wouldn’t put it beyond the pair to dedicate the song to the duo of beloved individuals, and I’ve thought much of the same about other recent songs from IU, I’ve spent a lot of the morning (it’s around 2PM as I’m writing, but I woke up at 10:30am so… don’t judge) thinking about how the song may not, or not only, be about lost loved ones but also lost selves, with “eight” serving as a reflection of an apparent conversation between the self of the present and the self of the past, an individual who travels between memories. In fact, even though I already had the idea that people were interpreting “eight” to be a memorial song, this was what took up the forefront of my mind as I was watching the music video for the first time; I could see the connections to the lost pair, but I was drawn more to the allusions I saw towards the past of IU herself.

Not only are the lyrics reflective, poignant in the way they look back on the past, but the music video jumped out at me with what I thought might be intentional references to past IU music videos, such as with the white dress she wears not only reflecting the color of mourning in Korean culture but also the dress she wore in “Mia (Lost Child)” while the maroon shirt with a peter pan collar immediately recalled what she wore in “You&I,” which fit in the trend of IU self-referencing past releases in her work. While watching again, I also saw glimpses that reminded me of “Palette” and “Twenty-Three,” but I couldn’t decide if I was looking too hard for a pattern.

In “eight,” IU is singing about being “forever young” and happiness, and the music video begins with her actively choosing to save her memories; it’s unclear based on the futuristic setting whether she’s offloading her memories to a storage system entirely, or merely saving them beyond her own mind because they’re something of value that she wants to make a backup of. Either way, the interpretation can align with the emotions expressed in the song, about how memories are beautiful things that remain “forever young,” the way they were, as memories crumble into the sands of time, with only the “sandcastle” of memory, as Suga adds, impermanent and impossible to recreate in the exact same way, with the exact same specifics, ever again, both wonderful and poignant.

To be honest, I haven’t watched the music video for “eight” enough times, and I haven’t listened enough times yet. In part because there’s no such thing as “enough,” and in part because I constantly reassess art as I interact with it in different moods, and that’s the most wonderful thing about art, in my opinion: it changes and shifts as we as humans do. I’ll probably watch a few dozen more times before the end of this week, as I try to get lost in the artistry rather than in my own thoughts. “eight,” like so many IU and Suga songs, make me think about how we, as humans, interact with our thoughts and memories, how those memories shape how we interact with the world, and how everyone’s interpretation of memories and the past is different, so I wanted to turn some thoughts into words before I lost this stream of consciousness as I found comfort, and contemplation, in “eight.”

What are your thoughts on “eight?” 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: 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.

Which Song from BTS’s ‘The Most Beautiful Moment in Life’ Albums Are You? [QUIZ]

bts quiz what song are you describes

By Sana Parvayz

BTS, aka Bangtan Sonyeondan, has risen to fame within a short span of time, especially coming from a small entertainment company. The group debuted with “No More Dream,” on June 13, 2013, and since then, they have accomplished a lot. Last year, the group came back with their fourth mini album ‘The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2,” a follow up to part one of the series released six months prior. Divided in two, both EPs emphasize youth. Part one portrays the difficulties, insecurities, and issues faced by youngsters. Whereas part two expresses the adventures and joys of being a young adult. “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” portrays the intensity of emotions youth feel, either happiness or sadness, and how being a young-adult is the most pleasing moment in life.

These albums proved to touch upon the inner feelings of fans and overall youth, given that their fourth mini album stayed on the top of Billboard’s World Albums Chart for straight four weeks. And with two flawless albums, Bangtan Boys definitely deserved it. The songs on these albums range from euphoria to desolation, narrating through several emotions that an average adolescent and young adult goes through. And since they’re about youth, we can all pick one we can relate to. However, we’ve taken the liberty of finding that out for you. Take the quiz to see which one of the songs from both EPs best embody you.

Also on KultScene: 5 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching ‘Infinite Showtime’

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