Non-Asians in Korean Music Videos: A Response
So MrCKDexter, a.k.a Fangirl, co-authored this awesome post on non-Asians in k-pop music videos a few weeks ago (thanks for the mention!). I wanted to respond sooner, but I had so much to say, that it took forever for me to collect my thoughts in a coherent fashion, lol. I posted this as a long comment on their blog, but decided to post it here so others could join in the conversation. Before their post, I hadn't thought about the casting of non-Asians in general as much as I thought about the High High MV in particular, but I can offer a few (or many) thoughts. Read on after the jump...
My stance is kinda similar to Fangirl's: what stands out to me when non-Asians are cast in Asian pop videos, is that they've been cast as opposed to an actual Asian. That is, a Asian girl/guy is much easier to find than a non-Asian girl/guy, just due to the sheer number of Asians present in Asia as opposed to people of other races - so when non-Asians are cast, there has to be a particular reason for it, right?
A common reason stated by fans about the reason behind non-Asian appearances is the desire to appeal to a global audience. I think that appealing to a global audience could be a reason, but not in every case. For example, the music video for HOT's "Candy" is one of the earliest examples of a non-Asian in a k-pop video. It's also first example I've seen of a non-Asian woman being the main love interest in an Asian music video. I find it interesting because it back then, k-pop was just getting off the ground. I doubt they had aspirations of appealing to a global audience back then. Instead I think they simply wanted to bring Western-style music and visuals to Korean audiences. So they decided to make it as American as possible, which meant including a white girl as the love interest. I was more convinced of this when I saw the video for their first single "Warrior Descendants", which looks (and sounds) like it was made by a 90s LA hip hop group. HOT was really the beginning of k-pop - it hadn't yet developed into what we know it to be today, so I think I can safely say that then, it wasn't aimed at attracting American audiences, but rather, wanting to appear more global to a local audience.
You see this attitude in most Korean entertainment today: it's constantly updating itself, trying to be more current than whatever came out last week. As more non-Asians arrive in Korea, more of them are appearing in popular culture because they're becoming a part of the society there. And also, as Korean entertainment expands abroad, there are more opportunities to cast non-Asians in videos. If I was to attempt to give a catch-all answer as to "why" you see this phenomenon, I'd probably just say that there are enough non-Asians in Korea (or enough non-Asians that can be accessed by the Korean entertainment industry, as some of these videos were shot abroad) that directors are beginning to use them in their videos.
Another problem with some explanations that support the "global appeal" theory is that they read as if non-Asians will only watch Asian music videos if there's a white person in it. Not only does that totally ignore the existence of people of other races who are interested in k-pop and spend money on it (example: the huge k-pop fandom in South America), but it ignores the fact that the global k-pop audience already watches plenty of videos with no non-Asians in it whatsoever. And, as we've seen from the numerous attempts to break into the US market by Korean artists, there's a lot more that needs to be done to get people to watch your video than putting someone of another race in it. It can't be as simple as that, surely, or else they'd have no trouble succeeding in the US.
Now, as a standalone concept, I don't think there's anything wrong with non-Asians appearing in k-pop videos. However, such appearances always hint at existing social issues regarding race and gender in Korea. If the world was all kumbaya and colorblind, I wouldn't bat an eyelid at them. But it's not, and so I question the motives behind that creative choice because i'm interested in finding out what they hoped to achieve by putting a non-Asian into the video, and what they may be saying, inadvertently, about the Korean social dynamic by putting a non-Asian person in a particular role.
Each appearance of non-Asians in a k-pop video that I've seen has had different dynamics at play. The most common example I've seen is a white female as either an antagonist/negative influence (U-Kiss, "Shut Up"; Winterplay," Touche Mon Amour"; Big Bang, "Beautiful Hangover", and kind of in this Cass Beer CF MV with Lee Minho and Jessica Gomes) or a party prop/sex object/just someone to flirt with (High High). I've already discussed the conceptions of white women in Korea that might play into this, but just to reiterate: white women are often seen as "bad girls" - promiscuous and easy. Therefore, Koreans don't regard them as good long-time partners, and rather as women to just mess around with, or who will mess around with you. At least, that's what the scenarios in these music videos imply.
|Warning: Dating foreign women comes with risk of strangulation (from Winterplay's video, link above)|
Finally, coming to the most recent example of non-Asians in a Korean music video - CNBlue's video for "Intuition". First of all, it's weird that the entire security force for the building they "break into" was non-Asian - somehow I find it hard to believe that a white man in Korea would be working anything other than a white collar job. Also, how come the black man is the only one they seem to do any physical harm to? In the MV teaser below, at about 0:26 they spray him in the eyes with their spray paint. In the video, it's re-edited to have them simply overcome him to get to the elevator. Still, he's the only person they actually put hands on. Why does he have to be the one downed by kids? Why is the black man in this particular role? (And then, notably, never seen again, while the other non-black, non-Asian men have an epic run up the stairs scene) It does seem like it's just to make them seem badass, so he's technically just a prop. But he may also stereotyped - i.e. all black men are big and strong (and, according to Western media, more violent than men of other races), therefore downing one with an aerosol is a big deal. It's also possible that they cast him and the other non-Asians because it would be disrespectful to disregard the authority of, and cause harm to an elder Korean man (respect for elders is a HUGE deal in Korea) so they cast "foreigners" so that they wouldn't offend any viewers or sully the image of their idols. We'll never know for sure unless the director of the video gets asked, but - intentionally or not - these are the issues that the video touches upon.
To touch on the BoA video mentioned in Fanboy vs, Fangirl's post, it seems like the white dude there is just a novelty - whatever romantic connection they attempted to establish between BoA and the white dude is completely vague since all he's doing is watching her through his creepy CCTV eyeball. Also, he's watching other people for the same amount of time, so it's not like she's particularly special or anything (to him) - she's the star of our video, but not his main interest.
So, you don't see a lot of explicitly positive portrayals of non-Asians in music videos. If they're not just there as eye candy/ props, they tend to be portrayed in a negative light. Counter-examples do exist though: the aforementioned HOT video, and also Narsha's "Mamma Mia" video. Knowing that Korean woman/Caucasian man relations aren't exactly encouraged in Korea, I was shocked when the video came out and she was tonguing a white guy in close up HD glory. I was like, whoa girl! Even though it seemed like it was just there for shock factor, I couldn't help but wonder about what else might be going on - is she objectifying the white dude? Is the white dude objectifying her? Are we, the viewers, objectifying them all as we get close ups of Narsha's butt and the guys' abs? *brain fart* Then we get into the whole "What do Koreans think about white dudes (and also, specifically white dudes dating Korean women) and do we see evidence of that attitude reflected in this video? Why was he cast in the first place? Would Korean men react badly to seeing a Korean woman having multiple Korean lovers and not being ashamed of it?" *sigh. It's analyzing these kinds of things that make me wish that people just got along and we didn't have to deal with complicated issues of race and gender: it can ruin your enjoyment of a lot of entertainment if you're constantly thinking about it.
This is just music videos, but there are also many examples of non-Asians popping up in Korean dramas and movies as well. Again, you have to wonder - what audience is this intended for? Why specifically choose a non-Asian for this role? Would it be different if it was an Asian person instead? We just have to keep asking I guess - until the world has homogenized enough that we don't notice these kinds of things anymore.
Thoughts on this issue? Sound off in the comments!