Muses of Glimmer and Gilt: K-pop as Cultural and Economic Imperialism

The people have spoken!

A Prelude

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of K-Pop.

  • K-Pop content dances across my Twitter posts and Instagram stories.
  • The K-Pop edits and analyses by the YouTuber mera never fail to put a smile on my face.
  • My blog’s About Page contains myriad K-Pop references.
  • I penned my CommonApp college-application essay around the K-Pop genre and how it shaped me. 😱
  • And lately, I’ve been making a ton of K-Pop playlists, as pictured below:
A playlist titled, "it's your last day of school and you have taken off your coat."
A few of the songs listed in the "it's your last day of school and you have taken off your coat" playlist: 
1. Don't Wanna Cry by SEVENTEEN
2. Plz Don't Be Sad by HIGHLIGHT
3. Can We Talk Abgain by Purple Kiss
4. MAMA by BTS
5. Reset (feat. Jinsil) by Tiger JK
6. Serendipity (Full Length Version) by BTS
7. 4 Memory by DREAMCATCHER
A playlist titled, "the snake that tempted Eve stares you in the face, grinning like they've found gold."
A few songs from the "the snake that tempted Eve stares you in the face, grinning like they've found gold" playlist:
1. Hann (Alone) by (G)I-DLE
2. Love Song by NCT 127
3. Lie by BTS
4. TAIL by SUNMI
5. Monster by Red Velvet - IRENE & SEULGI
6. Fast Pace by SEVENTEEN
7. PARANOIA by KANG DANIEL
A playlist titled, "meeting your companion-turned-enemy on the battlefield after years of tumult."
A few songs in the "meeting your companion-turned-enemy on the battlefield after years of tumult" playlist:
1. Excalibur by KINGDOM
2. FANTASIA by MONSTA X
3. Blood Sweat & Tears by BTS
4. I Need U by BTS
5. No diggity by ONEUS
6. DDU-DU DDU-DU by BLACKPINK
7. OOM (Out of My Mind) by 3YE
A playlist titled, "walking in a rainy city at 11:47 P.M. after experiencing severe heartbreak."
A few songs in the "walking in a rainy city at 11:47 P.M. after experiencing severe heartbreak" playlist:
1. Song Request (feat. SUGA) by Lee Sora
2. Youth (NIGHT) by Oohyo
3. Hikikomori by BANG YONGGUK
4. Intro: Singularity by BTS
5. Pretend by Suzy
6. Round and Round (feat. Han Suji) by HEIZE
7. HOLO by LeeHi
8. You, Clouds, Rain (feat. Shin Yong Jae) by HEIZE
A playlist titled, "a team of protagonists developing tech and training hard before the tournament."
A few of the songs in the "a team of protagonists developing tech and training hard before the tournament" playlist:
1. Got That Boom by SECRET NUMBER
2. Not Shy by ITZY
3. I CAN'T STOP ME by TWICE
4. I Got a Boy by Girls' Generation
5. God's Menu by Stray Kids
6. +HWA+ by CL
7. What Type of X by Jessi
8. Don't Call Me by SHINee
A playlist titled, "turning off the lights in your room to watch the fireworks your neighbors lit."
A few of the songs in the "turning off the lights in your room to watch the fireworks your neighbors lit" playlist:
1. LALALAY by SUNMI
2. Like Me (Prod. Mokyo) by ph-1
3. Purple (feat. TAEIL of NCT) by SOHLHEE
4. 10s and by PENTAGON
5. Blue Moon by Gyeong Ree
6. WHISTLE by BLACKPINK
7. Somebody to Love by fromis_9
8. D (Half Moon) [feat. Gaeko] by DEAN
A playlist titled, "driving through the shining neon streets with your windows down."
A few songs in the "driving through the shining neon streets with your windows down" playlist:
1. Boogie Up by WJSN
2. About Love by Red Velvet
3. Game Over by Yubin
4. Elevator (127F) by NCT 127
5. Hot Pink (Remix) by EXID
6. Black Pearl by SUNMI
7. ALIEN by LEE SUHYUN
8. 200% by AKMU
A playlist titled, "skipping past the benches of a park, thinking about that special someone."
A few of the songs in the "skipping past the benches of a park, thinking about that special someone: playlist:
1. Cat & Dog by TOMORROW X TOGETHER
2. Artificial Grass by AKMU
3. Bom by BOL4
4. Blue Hour by TOMORROW & TOGETHER
5. About Love by Red Velvet
6. Lil' Something by CHEN, HEIZE, & Vibe
7. Elevator (127F) by NCT 127, a duplicate from the previous playlist
8. Bad Boy by Red Velvet
A playlist titled, "laugh-attacks (in the fading summertime) with your closest friends."
A few songs from the "laugh-attacks (in the fading summertime) with your closest friends" playlist: 
1. What is Love? by TWICE
2. Dance The Night Away by TWICE
3. Leo (feat. BAEKHYUN) by BOL4
4. Stress by TAEYEON
5. CROWN by TOMORROW X TOGETHER
6. Now or Never by APRIL
7. Bet You Wanna (feat. Cardi B) by BLACKPINK
A playlist titled, "the sharp, aching, giggling emptiness that comes after a three-night bender."
A few songs from the "the sharp, aching, giggling emptiness that comes after a three-night bender" playlist:
1. 90's Love by NCT U
2. Gone by ROSÉ by BLACKPINK
3. Black Out by IU
4. Spark by TAEYEON
5. The Footsteps of My Dear Love by GAIN & MINSEO
6. instagram by DEAN
7. Jamais vu by BTS

(The art that I used for my playlists’ covers is from the illustrator Livia Fălcaru, whom I adore!

And I’m thinking about transferring these playlists to my YouTube channel…)

So in the recesses of COVID-quarantine in March 2020, when my AP English Language and Composition teacher assigned the juniors a dissertation that would encompass ten-percent of our final scores, and I chose the dark side of the K-Pop industry as my research topic, absolutely no one was shocked. 😋

Dear traveler, welcome to that dissertation!

Before we begin, however, I would like to make a few disclaimers:

  • I completed this essay last year, on May 21, 2020.
    • For the most part, I have maintained the original state of the essay as it was turned in, save for a few small line edits for clarity and readability. (I also included some images.)
    • My writing has come a long way since I wrote this!
  • Given the date this essay was written, some information may be slightly outdated or otherwise disproven since the source-referenced’s publication.
    • Please keep this in mind as you read!
  • On that note, my opinions have changed drastically since I first wrote my dissertation. (The past year brought upon many changes in us, after all.)
    • I am proud of my research, but I would quite truthfully disagree with some of the subjective commentary I make.
      • For instance, this essay is BTS-focused. Though I still love the group, my taste has expanded much since then. (hehe)
      • I also cited Vladimir Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in this essay.
        • If I wrote the essay today, I would not have cited this; back then, I lacked adequate understanding of this source.
  • This dissertation sits in front of a background of the pandemic’s beginnings, and it emits some super naive, early-pandemic vibes, especially in the personal touches. 🙈
  • Moreover, the dissertation frames K-Pop in a rather negative light.
    • This framing might be an effect of my assignment’s requirements, which required students to choose a single position and stick to it.
    • Consequently, some information presented in the essay feels rather cherry-picked.
    • The assignment was as follows, for reference:
      • “Write an extended argument for your position on your issue of choice using the sources you have collected as support for a major grade. You may use your previous position essay as a draft, revise, edit, and incorporate counterarguments and refutations from the opposition position draft you did previously. Use MLA guidelines for documentation (in-text and Works Cited). Essays will be scored according to the AP Synthesis Rubric for a major grade.”
  • Reading the essay a year later, I recognize the clinical, high school-assignment tone throughout my writing. 
    • In other words, my intended audience was my (super cool and awesome) grown-up English teacher.
    • I was completing this for a grade and as AP-Exam practice, and I didn’t have teenagers or K-pop fans in mind while writing this.
    • I explain a lot of information that K-Pop fans will already know — though such things would be wholly new data to my English teacher.
  • As a fun fact, I repurposed a few lines and ideas from this essay in my CommonApp submission! 
  • All citations are available at the end of the essay.

Content Warnings:

  • Discussions of: 
    • Suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety, suicide notes, and suicidal ideation
    • Hospitalization and injury
    • Physical and psychological abuse
    • Eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia)
    • Sexualization of minors
    • Exploitation of workers

And now…

Let’s get into it, dear traveler!

Muses of Glimmer and Gilt: K-pop as Cultural and Economic Imperialism 

Seldom does a musical event quite match the energy of a BTS concert.

On average, roughly fifty-thousand grinning attendees — donning BTS merchandise; preparing their cell phones for “fancam” recordings of the show; memorizing “fan chants” that correspond with the choruses of songs; and syncing their light-sticks to the concert’s setlist — flock to venues such as New York’s Citi Field or London’s Wembley Stadium (Rolli) to witness the crisply-curated performances of Bangtan Sonyeondan.

During these two-hour concerts, the excitement of the spectators becomes a frenetic euphoria: stage lights flash in a dozen different colors, backing music from boom-boxes shakes the floor, and an elated cheer settles throughout the crowd. 

If not for the chaos of the present day, I might have been given the chance to participate in this excitement — my tickets for the July BTS concert have been printed in dark ink and pinned to my wall, along with my photocard posters, which I have received as gifts from friends and relatives.

BTS is one of my favorite musical groups.

  • On my phone, I have downloaded each of BTS’s studio, single, and compilation albums.
  • Occasionally, I watch live-streams of RM, SUGA, J-Hope, V, Jin, Jimin, and Jungkook as they pass time in their dorms. 

This enthusiasm for BTS, which I share with fans across the globe, is lucrative — on the Gaon Music Charts in Korea, BTS sold 9.8 million physical albums (Buchholz and Richter); through these albums, along with ticket and merchandise sales, they yielded an astounding $4.65 billion for the South Korean economy.

This pioneering seven-member boy-band is remunerative in its cultural currency, too:

  • They have earned five Guinness World Records, such as “Most viewed music video online in 24 hours” (Nguyen), and have topped the iTunes charts in sixty-five countries (Bhutto, 165).
  • Most remarkably, Kim Namjoon, the leader of BTS, spoke in front of an audience of world leaders and diplomats at the Seventy-Third UN General Assembly (Lufadeju). 

Through their trained, optimistic personas, BTS has created an environment of zeal that transcends both language and culture.

The overwhelming success of BTS demonstrates the broad capabilities of the K-pop industry from which they have descended.

This industry allows for the creation of global phenomena like BTS. Simultaneously, it catalyzes a pernicious environment centered upon endless yield, and epitomizes the despotic natures of cultural and economic imperialism. 

For K-pop’s carefully-manufactured opulence best exemplifies noxious productivity — it closely emulates the rapaciousness, expansionism, and exploitativeness that characterize imperialism (Lenin), which in turn cultivates an alarmingly skewed dichotomy between the rightful fair treatment of K-pop workers and the desire for agencies to produce an adequate yield for consumers.

Therefore, the structures of K-pop should be completely reshuffled in order to end its systematic corruption. 

From its inauguration, K-pop’s focus was rooted in acquisitivity — according to the renowned reporter Fatima Bhutto, the industry is a “perfect storm of colonial history, heavily Americanized culture, and neoliberalism.”

A Brief History of Korea

Korea itself has been invaded more than four-hundred times throughout history; it spent centuries under the control of Japanese and Chinese forces.

When the United States occupied and partitioned Korea in 1948, the new colonizers aggressively established an anti-Communist bulwark in the South. (Bhutto, 167) This set the precedent for South Korea’s desire to rise up against foreign authorities. 

Then, South Korea experienced economic catastrophe during the 1997 International Monetary Fund Crisis, in which currencies across Asia collapsed in merit. In turn, the value of the Korean won decreased significantly, and South Korea’s economic focus on industry was overturned.

Korea lacked natural resources, agricultural produce, and military technology with which to bolster trade, and scrambled to recuperate itself (Kim, 6). 

After all, South Korea steadfastly refused to be battered by its tribulations.

Following the IMF Crisis, the nation aimed to implement an economic epicenter which would avoid a drastic reshuffling of the society’s organizational infrastructure.

Its government wanted to successfully recover the reserves of the treasury, and allow Korea to compete with the West and other Asian countries economically.

Truly, outside forces had deeply transformed Korean society — but as a result, the peninsula nation innovated a hybrid cultural identity which combined its influences and cultivated its own unique traits (Kim).

This cultural identity would be South Korea’s salvation, since the focus of Korean economy shifted from its lapsing industrial sector to its burgeoning cultural scene.

The Korean Wave

Thus began the unstoppable tides of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Hallyu is defined by the intense globalization of Korean cultural exports, including feature films, television shows, video games, and pop music (Bhutto, 163).

From these cultural pursuits, Korea could spread its prowess, which had been previously elusive; the country could emerge as a national powerhouse, proving its hegemony over pop culture. This reflects the power-grabbing features of imperialism (Lenin). 

K-pop is Hallyu’s most successful commodity, given its gains in commerce. K-pop idols are coached to be as profitable as possible.

Prospective idols, some as young as five-years-old (Padget), are scouted by managers or enlisted into auditions for agencies such as SM, JYP, and YG.

Upon acceptance into a company, they participate in the rigid trainee system for several years before debuting to the public (Bruner).

After this initiation, K-pop idols are aggressively advertised.

Music videos and album releases are only a small fraction of K-pop’s production. Idol-themed coffees, creams, dolls, beverages, clothing and figurines currently inhabit the global market (Nguyen).

  • The faces of the female group Girls’ Generation are emblazoned on the boxes of cupcakes.
  • Candles named for the pop duo TVXQ! fill the stock of online stores.
  • An assortment of fabric sprays are named for the members of SHINee (Bhutto, 174). 

Pictured: TVXQ! candles, EXO-flavored milk, SHINee Fabric & Room Spray, Red Velvet Fish Sticks, TWICE kitchenware, and BTS coat hangers. (I couldn’t find any official images of Girls’ Generation cupcakes, but I had mentioned them in the original essay!)

K-Pop and the World

K-pop’s imperialistic consumerism assertively targets a global audience. It panders to fans in the West: many K-pop songs are titled in English, and include English lyrics — and the East: as Gooyong Kim of Cheyney University explained, “Since American culture is too foreign and Japanese culture carries colonial connotations, Asian people’s enthusiasm for K-pop is rooted in their desire for shared temporal, historical, and cultural values and experiences.” (Kim)

Often, multiple versions of songs, remade in Chinese, Japanese, and English, are released as supplements to originally Korean works.

  • The boy-group NCT, which was created to pique as many demographics as possible, implements this technique in its releases.
  • The band’s current roster of eighteen members is continually being divided into subunits that represent different cities, such as Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Bangkok. (Bhutto, 175).

But the international conquest of K-pop is best displayed through K-Con, a globally-held convention based on Korean music.

  • K-Con has branches in the United States, Mexico, France, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Japan, and Australia.
  • Hundreds of thousands of K-pop connoisseurs attend this convention and participate in its extensive list of programs (“KCON USA”). 

Promoted Fan Culture

Such endeavors are intended to extend K-pop’s reach as an export and pander to potential customers. Large K-pop groups like NCT are formed not to achieve artistic goals, but to maximize the revenues that can be generated from each member (Kim).

In order to advance the sales of the various K-pop products and events, the personal lives of idols — aspects of which were developed and modified during training — are auctioned through constant social-media posts.

  • Information regarding idols’ heights, weights, preferences, and opinions are circulated, engendering a parasocial connection with viewers (Nguyen).

This gives fans the incentive to invest in K-pop’s many wares and functions; by supporting the companies which house idols, fans feel that they are supporting the idols themselves.

Otherwise, fans would not snack on Girls’ Generation cupcakes or light TVXQ! candles. They would be unlikely to pay $250 to $1500 for a K-Con ticket, or wager the mere chance to shake the hand of a member from K-pop groups like LOONA, (G)I-DLE, TXT, and The Boyz — dubbed by the K-Con executives as the “Hi-Touch” event — for a price of $320 (“KCON USA”). 

Exploitation in K-Pop

When an institution heavily dependent on human labor focuses solely on production, a hotbed of exploitation — which evolves directly from the tenets of imperialism (Lenin) — is made apparent. K-pop idols are perceived as products, and are treated thusly.

Regardless of sickness or injury, idols are expected to work for little to no pay. Frequently, idols are seen falling asleep during events due to exhaustion.

The limitations of the human body are viewed by K-pop companies as nuisances.

  • Tao, formerly of EXO, experienced twelve separate instances of hospitalization in two years.
    • Upon each case, he was sent back to his idol duties within a day.
  • When Hangeng and Siwon of the boy-group Super Junior were rushed to the emergency room after becoming ill prior to an awards ceremony, their managers ripped the IV needles out of their arms, and the members were whisked away to the auditorium. (Padget) 

An idol’s wellness is further deteriorated by the standards placed upon them. Idols’ physical appearances are controlled and fabricated through compulsory plastic surgeries (Kim), and they are often subject to mandatory dieting and weigh-ins.

In many companies, dance and singing practices begin at midnight, and last up to fifteen hours.

  • Infinite, one popular K-pop group, revealed that their shared living room is bare of furniture in order for them to undertake additional dance practices at night. 

Moreover, idols, such as the young women from the now-disbanded group After School, are barred from mobile-phone usage, and, at times, are prevented from seeing their families.

If one member of an idol group shows any sign of insubordination, such as being tardy to practices or speaking to spectators when unprompted, then all members are punished with strenuous physical activities or intense verbal abuse (Padget).

Idols are intentionally isolated and conditioned.

“From an early age, they live a mechanical life, going through a spartan training regimen,” commented Lee Hark-Joon, a South Korean journalist and producer dedicated to the study of K-pop. “They seldom have a chance to develop… normal social relationships… ” (Choe and Lee) 

Abuses are more acutely shown in the sexualization of idols. Agencies believe that sexuality, especially teen-female sexuality, secures capital. Idols’ bodies are brandished regularly.

Young female idols are instructed to exude aegyo, an innocent and childlike eroticism akin to Lolita. Aegyo is meant to entice male fans and avoid alienating female fans.

As such, female idols are marketed to the West as exotic objects. In their showcases, female idols are little more than props — they wear revealing costumes, dance venereal choreographies, and sing suggestive lyrics. Contrastly, male idols emphasize the epitome of masculinity, which is meant to engender empowerment in men and interest in women. (Lin and Rudolf) These inequities are fostered by imperialism’s disregard for impartiality. 

And as a result of the pressures of their occupations, idols suffer acute mental strain. They undergo intense scrutiny both from fans who adulate them and companies who profit from them.

  • Member PO of Block B was diagnosed with stress-induced schizophrenia after succumbing to the backlash received after a scandal.
  • The soloist IU attested to her bulimia as a result of the pressures of work as well as obligatory diets: “I always felt anxious after I made my debut and from a certain time, I filled the void through food… At that time, I ate until I threw up, and I even sought treatment.” (Padget) 

And in 2019, two widely-beloved K-pop stars, Sulli and Goo Hara, committed suicide.

Though the strict idol lifestyle was not solely to blame for their deaths — personal struggles, cyberbullying, and depression plagued the two women’s lives, and an individual’s suicide can never be simply explained — the industry may have exacerbated their pain with its exploitations. (Choe and Lee).

Suicidal ideation is common in the realm of K-pop: to cope with their stress and anxiety, idols and trainees often turn to self-harm. (Padget)

Just two years before Sulli and Goo Hara’s passing, Kim Jong-hyun of SHINee took his own life.

“The life of fame was not for me,” wrote Kim in his final statement. They say it’s hard to bump up against the world and become famous. Why did I choose this life? It’s a funny thing. It’s a miracle that I lasted this long.” (Wong) 

These abhorrent circumstances are imposed by K-pop contracts, which have been labeled as “slave contracts” due to their restrictiveness. These contracts potentially span decades. Opposition to the contracts result in monetary penalties as high as several trillion won. (Padget)

Few regulations protect the humanity of K-pop idols, and the imperialistic system which the industry has firmly planted itself in ensnares its current workers and all those to come in a persistent cycle of mistreatment.

Change is necessary to ameliorate the consequences of imperialism which have scourged the industry. 

Refutations

But despite the hidden iniquity within the K-pop industry, fans and companies trust in the operation of its system.

K-pop idols decide to become trainees. Hence, they must tolerate the difficulties that accompany their choice, and should reap the benefits of fame and recognition upon the closing of their contracts.

Some groups are given the freedom to set terms to their tenure as idols — with this mindset, the sexualization and uniformity of K-pop is also disputed.

  • Amber from f(x), Jo Kwon from 2AM, and Lee Hong-Gi from F.T. Island are known for their androgynous attires and identities and hailed as stark oppositions to forced femininity (Lin and Rudolph). 

Additionally, K-pop’s widespread reach has enabled the talent of groups and soloists to positively impact listeners worldwide, myself included.

The industry has even inspired those trapped behind the Demilitarized Zone — in 2015, songs such as “Let Us Love” by the girl-group Apink and “Bang Bang Bang” by the boy-group Big Bang were blared through speakers loud enough to cross the DMZ (Bhutto).

A number of North Korean defectors have escaped their totalitarian motherland after becoming enraptured by the optimistic, effervescent promises of K-pop music.

Ryu Hee-Jin, a defector from Pyongyang, would watch K-pop music videos, which are illegal in North Korea, on repeat.

“It’s so incredible how far I have come,” she mused. “South Korean music really played a central role in guiding me through this journey.” (Denyer and Kim) For these reasons, the belief that K-pop should remain unchanged persists. 

Refutation of the Refutations

Nevertheless, this stance is misguided.

The fact that idols have deliberately chosen to partake in the industry’s system does not justify the deprivation of basic decency which they endure; nor does it warrant the exposure to physical and psychological harm which idols must confront.

Cases such as Amber, Jo Kwon, and Lee Hong-Gi are exceptions to the typical K-pop imposition of sensuality, as most mainstream K-pop artists — such as the soloist BoA, and the group TWICE, and the quartet BLACKPINK (Padget) — conform to preexisting stereotypes in their branding (Lin and Rudolf).

And the success of the few does not result in the relief of the majority. Relative self-determination is rarely granted to debuted K-pop idols; verily, only the likes of BTS — once-in-a-lifetime, momentous sensations who gross large sums for the Korean economy and are household names in every country — receive any freedom in their careers.

Even when idols receive this freedom, they are still harshly audited by their employers — BTS still undergoes diets and training (Nguyen).

The notion that Korean idols may escape their fraught situations after their incumbency as performers and recoup their losses is a misconception.

Idols, trapped by K-pop’s inflexible format, face the expiration of their careers following the expiration of their contracts. K-pop idols in their twenties are often considered old and “faded”, and their attempts to find further work in entertainment are typically unfruitful (Choe and Lee). 

And K-pop’s undeniable charm is indicative of its expansionism — though it produces favorable personal effects in its fans, its general advocacy for self-love, happiness, and liberty is hypocritical.

This industry suppresses its workers and preaches positivity in order to evoke feelings of warmth in its potential customers.

At the forefront of K-pop are the promises of youth, beauty, and success — this image only reveals a shadow of the taxing lives of idols. K-pop aims to wash away its damaging details in the gusto of the Korean Wave. 

Said Vladimir Lenin of the spread of world powers in his pamphlet, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism: “…a section of the proletariat allows itself to be led by men bought by, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin)

A similar sentiment can be applied to K-pop — the genre was intended to appeal and beguile, and as a result, its fans allow themselves to be appealed and beguiled.

Favorable outcomes must indeed be celebrated, yet they do not erase the greed and duplicity in which K-pop has been rooted.

Inspiration and triumph can be derived from sources without dishonorable objectives and methods — certainly, changing the structure of K-pop and eliminating its more troublesome facets will not detract from its effects. 

Accordingly, the only solution to the deleterious nature of Korean pop is immediate, extensive reform — no amount of global spread or monetary gain is worth the cost of human life.

This reform has begun to gain traction as the Korea Musicians’ Union advocates for the rights of workers through protests and demonstrations (Kim), and the Korean National Assembly has begun to consider legislation which will impede K-pop agencies’ protect K-pop idols and trainees (Lim).

Furthermore, through the tools of the Internet, companies are being held accountable for their wrongdoings, and fans are publicly criticizing the faults of the industry as well as withdrawing their fiscal support for agencies with longstanding histories of manipulation and misdeeds in favor of independent Korean artists, or emerging, improved K-pop companies (Padget). 

In Conclusion

How much do K-pop fans really spend on their idols? This study breaks it  down. - Entertainment
K-Pop fans enjoying themselves at a concert.

My indirect meeting with BTS through the concert environment has been indeterminately postponed — I have not yet been refunded for my tickets, so I will keep my hope.

Until then, I update myself on Twitter, VLive, and Instagram. With my friends, many of whom are K-pop fans, I speculate on EP themes and ramble about new debutants.

My fascination for K-pop thrives. I have capitulated completely to the allure — the kaleidoscopic palettes, leaping basslines, and smiling figureheads — and yet I am prone to loathing and reproving all of K-pop’s shortcomings. 

Am I complicit to K-pop’s supremacy? Perhaps so — K-pop has incited in me a distinct, conflicted joy which no other industry has managed to inflict in me.

But the personal pleasure which I extract from K-pop is unable to distract me from the truth behind its radiant pretenses.

Like many fans, my disillusionment towards K-pop has been wiped away by reality — though I still grasp for the evasive vestiges of its false genuinity.


Works Cited 


(Don’t worry; I got my BTS concert tickets refunded!

This is also my second time using a variation of “gilded” on this blog, I’m noticing. 😂)

There we have it, dear traveler! Go, junior-year Sophie! I know they did their absolute best while they wrote this.

But, well, yeah. There’s so much that I wish I have articulated differently in this essay (like the description of Korea’s history, or the idea that, “…the structures of K-pop should be completely reshuffled in order to end its systematic corruption.” What did you mean by that, past Sophie? There are no real answers for that 🥴). I wish I had written about the more serious topics differently, too.

Though I was beginning to have a grasp on the complexities of K-Pop and capitalism in general, I did not have a full grasp on these. (My Lenin-source, remember? 😳) This was very much so junior-year work.

Still, it’s interesting to look back at what I had written from what I feel was so long ago. And I think I did all right!

K-Pop gives me so much happiness and hope, and I am incredibly grateful for it. I’ll continue aggregating K-Pop playlists for all my specific moods. But it’s always vital in media-consumption to critique what you enjoy, and to avoid blindly following what you love.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on K-Pop!

  • Are you a K-Pop fan? What are your favorite K-Pop groups and songs?
  • What are some of your opinions on the K-Pop industry?
  • Send me some of your most-listened-to K-Pop songs!

Plus, if I am incorrect in any part of my essay (especially given the now somewhat-outdated info), feel free to let me know. I am always happy to learn more. 💛


Thank you so much for reading, traveler! Please take care.


Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: book reviews and explorations.

Let’s connect across the Net! 💖

2 thoughts on “Muses of Glimmer and Gilt: K-pop as Cultural and Economic Imperialism

  1. Well done, you! The disclaimers do a good job of contextualizing your work, so I don’t see a reason to nitpick on the content. Plus, I’m no K-pop listener, but personal interests x academic writing is always a combo I love to read. 😀

    Like

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