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Embarrassing Confession of a K-Pop Fan

A 'K-Pop vs American music standards' moment that makes you realize: sometimes you just gotta step back and look at a brighter side of things.

So, it all started when I got a notification from Twitter—specifically, of Monsta X’s account having retweeted a Billboard tweet announcing that Monsta X will release an English version of their most recent comeback single, “Shoot Out,” for US radio.

Various thoughts ran through my mind at this moment, but I had to stop myself when I realized that none of them were positive thoughts. No sunshine and daisies here. I couldn't even say that I was happy or excited. To be quite frank, I was upset that they were releasing an English version. But the catch was that I wasn’t upset with the members, or even Starship Entertainment—I was upset with America.

This isn’t a necessarily a new thing. With the way our political atmosphere has been derailing as of late, I find myself upset with America on the daily. This announcement, though, just rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the way it was worded, maybe I let my cynicism get the best of me. Either way, it developed into an interesting progression of thoughts.

With all of the hype that BTS has stirred in the American music market, a new door opened up for Korean artists. I’m not saying that BTS was the very first to break through to the American market, but I am saying that at the current time, BTS has provided ginormous influence in regards to the American music market, opening itself up to Korean artists.

BTS has their fair share of English songs. They even released an English version of a comeback single, and it hit American radio long before this. While I can still wholly admit that I felt the same reservations when BTS released their English music, BTS provided me one thing that helped calm those nerves. It was the fact that BTS has repeatedly and still continually rejects the pressure of the American market to produce solely English music. The English music they have released so far has been collaborations with American artists. BTS has confronted questions about whether they will produce English songs by answering that they intend to continue to produce Korean music that can breach the American music market.

That resolution quieted my fears that the American culture would eventually taint BTS’ music, forcing them to succumb to the pressures to adapt to the American market’s standards—which is essentially what I felt was happening to Monsta X upon reading their announcement.

I mean, who can blame me? Who hasn’t heard the whispers? Especially since NCT 127 released an English version of their recent comeback single, “Regular.” Whispers among the K-Pop community have said that there is about to be a war to see which Korean artist can dominate the American music market after BTS achieved such fame. And what would be the best way to penetrate such a market? Produce songs in English.

On the business side of things, I get it. By producing songs in English, they are opening up their own market for a whole new set of audiences—which means a whole new set of incomes and sales. So yes, I get it. But my heart was so steadily fixated on the fact that the business side of it wasn't the point. The point was that, in my eyes, a band that I highly respect, love, and support seemingly felt as though they had to release an English version of their song specifically "for US radio"—which, to my enraged brain, translated to "in order for it be successful in America." 

The fear that the K-Pop industry now has its eyes set on penetrating the American music market and that they already acknowledge America’s less-than-open culture, and are willing to adapt to the American standards in order to be successful, became very, very real. And it was a terrifying moment.

It was a moment that only further made me question America’s society, our social norms, and that lack of openness towards other cultures, especially when those cultures are trying to find some kind of success in America—and it wasn’t pretty.

To me, it all became a situation of yet another culture having to adapt to America, having to change themselves and their music in order to even be acknowledged by an American audience. It just became another situation that further proved other cultures’ view of America. The fact that these artists feel the need to change themselves to be more suitable for an American market simply proves that other cultures already acknowledge America’s close-mindedness, and are willing to change themselves in order to reach their goals of being successful here. And that’s when my inner activist spirit came alive, full-force, because they shouldn’t have to. They shouldn’t have to change their music, shouldn’t have to re-write a single word in any form of translation in order to be successful.

I mean, there was already a strong, blooming fan-base in America that fell in love with these artists when they only spoke and sang in Korean. Most of the time, it wasn’t even in spite of them speaking in Korean, it was because they were speaking in Korean. Those of us who have been into K-Pop for this long already know what it is to appreciate these artists for who they fully are, whether they can speak a lick of English or not. We came to love them in all of their Korean-ness, and it was that cultural relevance that I became so intensely defensive of.

I sat down to write out my thoughts with the intention of turning them into another piece to be published—a piece discussing the disgusting social and political influence of the American music market on K-Pop. My brain was working in overdrive, just dying to get my angry, judgmental thoughts down so that I could show everyone else, and tell everyone yet another reason why I disagree with American society.

However, even a red-hot frenzy such as that couldn’t stop my writer’s brain from kicking in, and I began typing out the introduction to this piece. It was meant to set the stage, to provide my own contextual background so that my readers would understand why this was so enraging to me.

I even began with a disclaimer that read as follows, “I am all for K-Pop artists producing music in other languages. But—”

I then dove into describing the intense dedication that international fans show for artists by highlighting the fact that they don’t always speak the same language as the artist, and that the only way these fans can manage to sing along to their favorite K-Pop songs is by listening to the music over, and over, and over... and over, and over again, until they, at the very least, have memorized the very basic pronunciation of the words. I then transitioned into discussing how, in response to these fans’ dedication, the artists feel a responsibility to share in this dedication themselves. They actively learn other languages in order to communicate and engage with their fans, because they want to be able to put forth at much effort as they have in order to express how much they love and are grateful for them.

It was in the middle of describing this when I realized that I had basically spent more than half of my piece gushing about the beautiful relationship between K-Pop artists and fans—and, surprisingly, I found that I wasn’t even angry anymore. 

It wasn’t that I had stopped being angry at America for its oppressive societal pressures, but more so that I had suddenly begun to view the K-Pop artists’ engagement with the American music market in a different light; one that I had spelled out for myself without even really having to think about it.

So, instead of hating on America for its societal pressures to adapt to its standards, which was my original intention, I ended up describing the real reasons why these artists want to produce English versions of their songs—to be closer to and be able to communicate in various ways with their fans.

It dawned on me that I had lost my trust in the very thing I was trying to justify and make a victim of—the love and dedication that the artists always genuinely desire to share with their fans. I had lost sight of all the ways these artists want to genuinely share their music with us, and in doing so, create a connection and a bond over the music they produce as a way of thanking the fans for loving and supporting them.

Political and social tension can ruin your views and belief of a lot of things; it can strip your hope away, and make it feel as though there has to be something to blame, something to hate.

And, trust me, going through all of these stages to reach my glowing epiphany has not changed my outlook on the same American societal pressures that I had set out to douse in gasoline from the very beginning. The ager is still there, and the desire to set it all aflame is still very active.

I hope my story can help serve as a reminder to you that you have to do your best to see the good in the world. If we only seek the darkness as the answers to our pressing questions, all we’ll ever see is darkness.

So, to pay homage to this epiphany, be on the lookout for my piece on the beauty of our K-Pop idol and international fan relationship. It’ll hopefully make you feel as much sunshine as it made me feel, and remind you that there’s still something worth all of the drama that life ensues—even when you believe one of your favorite K-Pop groups are under attack by American social standards.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again soon.  

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