As humans, we are allowed to have our own likes and dislikes, and just because something is popular at the time does not mean everyone will agree with it.
However, when a publication like The Guardian publishes an obviously biased and bordering on being racist piece against the backdrop of giving an album review, then one has to wonder what exactly is going on.
Recently, The Guardian’s head rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis reviewed K-Pop band BTS’ (Bangtan Sonyeondan) latest LP Love Yourself: Tear.
While the actual review was no more than a paragraph, the entire article was littered with preconceived judgement and bias against anything k-pop without delving into what exactly the album really was about.
Not only did the critic stereotype BTS and their fans, but he also seemed to have generalized the normal audience too.
Let us take a look at some of the problem areas in this ‘review’ if it can be called that:
1. Internal prejudice of the author:
The way the entire review was worded is extremely unprofessional and drips of the inherent prejudice and bias that the author seemingly has against k-pop and its various facets.
Underhandedly mocking the English titles of BTS’ songs, pointing out the stereotypes of k-pop industry, pointing out how the fans don’t understand the language but still sing-along to it and attributing most of BTS’ success to their social media outreach.
And the line, “you do wonder how much it has to do with the music” seems to single-handedly present that the author does not consider this music.
Also words like ‘weird’, ‘different’, ‘alien’ show exactly what the author thinks about k-pop and as a result BTS.
This automatically makes the review biased and not objective keeping it limited to just the music.
2. Factually incorrect:
The article also seems to be factually incorrect in a few places, the most obvious being when the author said, “43 minutes of music available in five different CD editions.”
There are only 4 versions and not 5.
It also seems that the author spent absolutely no time at all trying to research or look up the meaning behind the songs like Anpanman that references to the Japanese comic character who is apparently a superhero who doesn’t look like the conventional hero. His body is more on the round side, with chubby cheeks, but his determination to help people out is what sets him apart.
Likewise, Paradise that the author so callously called a ho-hum R&B track is actually about how it’s alright to live without a dream. In today’s competitive society, having a dream and working towards it is all we are taught. But the song talks about how it is perfectly fine even if you don’t have any particular dream and want to live life normally.
3. Generalising The Fandom
Over and over the author seems to be generalizing the fandom of BTS by alluding they are obsessive, over-interfering, and will blindly follow BTS’s every single command.
He also seems to be not realizing how connected the world today is when he says
“The reasons traditionally given for BTS’s success back home – their lyrics are, by K-pop’s germ-free standards, pretty raffish and controversial – don’t hold here: you can’t imagine British teenagers are that desperate to hear youthful criticism of societal conventions in South Korea.”
This automatically assumes that, one a British teenager must be a simpleton willing to live in a bubble and not be aware of what is happening around their world. And second that only teenagers would be a fan of BTS when in fact this has been proven wrong again and again that the BTS fandom’s demographic surpasses age, gender, ethnicity, religion, and culture.
Also, the author seems to be assuming that BTS songs are location-centric, when that is not at all the case. This point is ethically wrong, since you cannot just say that someone in Britain is not going to give a damn about such issues in Korea when in fact the truth is they are happening everywhere.
Topics like teenage depression, suicide, and other such problems are global issues and he saying otherwise is socially and ethically wrong.
As per a Washington Post article, teenage depression went up by 33% between the years 2010 to 2015 while teen suicide attempts increased by 23%. The more horrifying number would be the 31% increase in suicides committed by people in the age group of 13 to 18-year-olds.
Globally also, as per a WHO report, there has been an increase of 18.4% from 2005 to 2015 of people living in depression, which amounts to almost 322 million people.
In India the teenage depression rate as released by WHO showed that about 1 in 4 kids would be suffering from depression in the age bracket of 13-15 and the estimated suicide rate per 1 lac people in India within the age group of 15-29 was an alarming 35.5%.
Even in the UK itself, the depression and anxiety rate have risen by almost 70% in the past 25 years which is not exactly a healthy number.
Issues like teenage depression and suicide are a global phenomenon and not just limited to Korea. So it’s not a matter of where the kid is sitting, whether in Britain, India, US or South Korea or understanding what the Korean crowd is going through.
That is where songs like 2! 3! basically inspire people through lyrics that say if you face something difficult, it’s okay, close your eyes and count till 3 and then you walk ahead. It’s like an anthem that they wrote for their fans. It also encourages support and empathy by asking the other to take their hand and laugh instead of being sad.
Their songs and concepts are unique in how universal they are which is what brings middle-aged men, women in their 20s and 10-year-old kids to become a fan of BTS.
Their collaboration with UNICEF on the ‘Love Myself’ anti-violence campaign itself gives their Love Yourself album a global perspective so you cannot just say that a kid sitting in Britain doesn’t give a damn to what is happening in Korea.
Today if Taylor Swift or Charlie Puth are a global phenomenon it’s because it was very easy for them considering America is a superpower and their reach is much higher.
But coming from South Korea, that too while being a small K-pop group initially and then becoming a global phenomenon is not easy and points to how there definitely has to be something more than their social media presence and neon hair colours to their success.
This level of widespread effect cannot be achieved if they are not talking about something that people are able to relate to.
Have to say that such an extremely unprofessional and racist review from a publication like the Guardian was certainly not expected.
Having been an avid reader of the publication I assumed they had better standards than allowing an album review that does not even go in-depth on the various aspects of the songs or music.
Again, to clarify this is not due to the review being unflattering, and frankly, I would have respected the author more if he had gone into detail as to why exactly the album was not good enough. Taking a look at the various genres the albums has, the lyrics, the composition, there were a multitude of areas that the review could have talked about.
However, the review was more of a biased rhetoric and demeaning the fandom and the band and just a small amount was the actual review of the album.
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