Saturday, March 15, 2014

So... I'm breaking up with 2NE1 + thoughts on appropriation

An hour of procrastination from work on this particularly sunny afternoon has resulted in the following rant. I can't promise I'm back for good, or that it will be high quality writing, but it is some fairly somewhat thought-out thoughts on k-pop, so I figured it was better suited for here than the tumblr.

In other news, follow the tumblr!!! And on Spotify. Thanx.



I am a 2NE1 fan. My fandom has waned over the years, due to sporadic releases, mostly of the lackluster variety. But for some reason, while listening to their latest single "Come Back Home" I got really annoyed. While the production is decent and the vocals are fine, their use of the reggae sound as a backing track just pisses me the hell off.

(I do love the visuals in this video though.)

It's not so much the appropriation of the sound but the use of it in such a bland way. It's just one of the many sounds that they've rotated through in the past four years. And then they call themselves unique or iconic when they barely even try. Like it's not even like "we are interested in African-American culture and stories and are inspired by them." "African-American", a.k.a black music, is just another hat that they can wear to set them slightly apart from the rampant electropop of most non-YG k-pop (and I say slightly because pop music in general is heavily influenced by African American music) which is so damn pretentious. Like no other k-pop group does hip-hop/R&B tinged music.

It's not like their music is "more black" than other k-pop groups. Hell, the only black people ever to grace the hallowed halls of YG HQ are Will.I.Am and Will Smith - who are more mainstream than white bread, so they don't count enough to give YG "street cred" except maybe with the tiny subsection of the Korean k-pop fan population that gives a shit. Everyone else they've worked closely with have basically been the epitome of appropriative white people - Jeremy Scott and Diplo. Like, REALLY? And somehow your half-assed reggae is more superior than whatever sexy-but-not-really vibe SNSD is putting out these days? Please. Yang Hyun-suk needs to take several seats. 

Put your money where your mouth is, is all I'm saying, YG. There are tons of black artists who would probably be cool with working with you, and who will actually help make 2NE1 sound GOOD.

(No shade to Lydia Paek, whose has breathed intp 2NE1 the only wisp of life the group has seen in the last 3 years.

But really.)

Now, a word on appropriation.

I grew up in Nigeria in the 90s. And I'm from a minority ethnic group in Nigeria. I don't speak either of my parent's native tongues. My life is one complete smorgasbord of appropriation. I speak a mix of Yoruba/Igbo/Warri pidgin, I wear Dutch wax prints at home like it's my job, yet my dress is mostly Western. I grew up listening to contemporary gospel, hip-hop, R&B, and a hefty dose of US/UK pop music. None of these are particularly connected to my heritage. Yet I wear them like I own them. I am sometimes painfully aware of how none of these things are really "mine". But no one calls me out on being who I am, neither am I myself uncomfortable with my identity. Why?

Power dynamics, that's why. Power dynamics means that I am not in a position where I have subordinated these other ethnic groups, or where my race has insulted and discriminated against the very people whose trappings I now choose to wear. Power dynamics means that I wear Western dress because colonialism made it so that my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had to adopt this clothing to be upwardly mobile and "civilized".

Power dynamics, then, need to be taken into account when we talk about appropriation in k-pop. Because power dynamics in each situation, are different. It is important to note that k-pop groups who simply wear hip-hop as an accessory to push sales are not appropriative in the same way that the underground rapper hustling in Hongdae is.* Still appropriative, but whether or not you think that's wrong or not is a different question.

I can't speak to what is good or bad appropriation is in genera,l because that determination is super subjective - it's based on what you think the natural order of the world should be, and whether you think any deviation from that order is bad, or whether some cases are worse than others. But I can say what makes me uncomfortable and not uncomfortable.

The general use of R&B by non-black people does not make me uncomfortable - they do a good job of writing and singing the stuff. The preferential praise of non-black R&B singers over black R&B singers makes me uncomfortable. Why? Racism means music and TV execs prefer white faces to black faces. Adele over JHud or Melanie Fiona, for example.

The general use of hip-hop does not make me uncomfortable - while many people consider the only music worthy to me called hip-hop must be "rooted in the struggle", I am not one of those people. Likely because hip hop was not grown in my backyard, but was an import that deeply influenced my older siblings. Hip-hop is powerful music, made to give power back to an oppressed race. Not allowing those people who have felt its influence in their lives to access and use it to gain a little power back for themselves on a personal level seems counter to what it stands for. Hip-hop is no longer as counter-cultural as it used to be, but it still provides some friction oppositional to the mainstream waves of music, and diversity is important.

But, the use of hip-hop as a different colored stage outfit to be worn when convenient - that makes me fucking uncomfortable. Especially when its done by a group under a CEO who claims to house more "true artists" than other k-pop management companies.

I mean no disrespect - or compliment - when I say: Nigga, please.

2NE1 only hypes up the African-American bit because they think it makes them edgy and different. but it does not. At all. Other groups that claim the hip-hop/black music influence are at least consistent in their music, and are constantly finding new ways to blend that aesthetic into their pop music. E.g. Block B, B.A.P, YG's very own Big Bang and Seven.

2NE1 however, are crazy electro-pop one day, mopey ballad the next day, then faux-reggae the day after that, and have the fucking nerve to be all, "We take music from BLACK PEOPLE - omg we're so hip, not like those other girl groups." Like, my eyes could roll 360 degrees through the back of my sockets and to the front again and it still wouldn't be enough to express how much BS I think this is.

First of all, stop claiming African-American influence like you actually have black people working behind the scenes on making you sound more "authentic" than other groups. Secondly, stop feeling superior to other girl groups, because you're no different. Thirdly, MBLAQ tried the whole "influenced by black people" thing, and dropped it BEFORE THEY EVEN DEBUTED, because they knew it was BS. And yet YG is still making statements about this shit like anyone actually believes it, like it's anything other than media play. Come back with a Korean Music Award for hip-hop or R&B, and then we'll talk.


TL;DR: YG, you tried it.

*I don't know if the underground rappers actually hustle in Hongdae - I just like that image. And the sound of it - it just rolls off the tongue. Hustling in Hongdae.

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