K-pop is slowly taking over the world, in wake of the Hallyu wave, and certainly, it is something of a spectacle to watch.

From the videos, to the choreography, the songs, lyrics, over the top beautiful idols and more, K-pop is less of a genre and more of a visual and audio package with something for everyone.

Except the LGBTQ community.

Because one cannot deny that the K-pop community is still quite regressive in thinking and it is further highlighted that in the entire industry, there is only 1 publicly gay idol, Holland who recently debuted last year.

While homosexuality and same-sex relations are not illegal in South Korea, the government still does not recognise marriage or civil unions between same-sex partners.

For transgender people, sex reassignment surgery and changing their gender information on official/legal documents is allowed once they have crossed the age of 20.

But there still exists quite a big gap between what is legal and how the society accepts it, since it has been noticed that people of the LBGTQA community even now face a lot of pressure and difficulties.

Jokes, mocking, and judgement from society and peers are common in South Korea for those who are open about their differing sexuality.

Why Is K-Pop So Hesitant With LGBTQ?

One reason for the lack of representation in the K-pop sector could be that the general public is still not entirely accepting or even knowledgeable of the LGBTQ community.

The mass viewer remains someone who goes by the traditional mindset of how a normal relationship should be between a man and a woman.

This is evident in how the public reacted to some gay and LGBT themed shows and they had to be cancelled in fear of public outrage. Shows like the 2011 KBS drama special “The Daughter of Bilitis” that revolved around the lives of lesbian women had to be shut down as soon as it aired the first episode because audience threatened to boycott the network on various online forums and message boards.

Another show, called the “XY She” a cable talk show by KBS Joy about the MTF transgender people was also cancelled after the first episode because of negative reaction by the public and also the network was concerned with the safety of the cast and crew.

Thus, K-pop, which is quite largely dependent on the mass audience, has to appeal to everyone and not offend them in any way.

But at the same time, there is the whole part of ships (pairings that you like) and fetishizing male-male or female-female relations within the K-pop sector, often that is encouraged by the companies themselves.

The agencies or companies usually have pre-prepared ship even before a group debuts, or make the changes based on which the largely female audience is leaning towards.

‘Skinship’, and excessive show of physical affection is not uncommon to see, and this is called as ‘fanservice’ wherein the idols are playing into the fans’ fetishes.

But while such fanservice is liked and applauded by the fans a lot, the same kind of enthusiasm is absent for an actual homosexual relation.

It is shameful to see that such same-sex fanservice is used as a way to play into the fantasies of the cis-het fanbase instead of allowing as a platform for representation and normalising the LGBTQ community.

Used as a marketing technique, to keep the cis-het audience interested and give them something ‘tasty’ to consume, but at the end of it all, it is just a pseudo-queerness done to keep up an illusion but not really admit to anything.

However, in the midst of all, actual queer representation is severely lacking with only a handful of actual celebrities who identify as LGBTQ+ and even fewer who are actually speaking about these issues.

Changing Mindset Within K-Pop

There is a changing mindset with K-pop though, with the debut of the first openly gay idol Holland.

His debut MV (music video) ‘Neverland’ that was released in January this year featured K-pop’s first same-sex kiss and was highly applauded for finally bringing about a change in the industry.

His MV even trended on Twitter worldwide with the the hashtag, #HollandDebutDay while his next song ‘I’m Not Afraid’ had a larger representation of various LGBTQ+ individuals.

This song was appreciated by the queer community and hit almost 1 million views in about 24 hours while ‘Neverland’ has 10 million views.

Holland is an independent artist right now, and is still struggling to find a label to back him as an artist, which results in difficulty in connecting with the general population.

Not just Holland, but even other groups and artists are slowly and gradually showing support in other ways to the queer community.

BTS, the South Korean band that is taking over the entire world right now, has often shown their support by recommending and following gay artists. Jungkook, RM, V have often recommended some from LGBT artists like Troye Sivan, Sam Smith and even stated how they are their fans.

Their agency BigHit while holding auditions in the US also had opened their gates for LGBT and trans people to audition.

While doing the promotions for their recent Love Yourself album, for the question, “what is the message of this theme?”, BTS’s leader RM said that, “I think love – and not just between a man and a woman or genders…” and added that, “love doesn’t just have to be between people and people, but it can be between you and yourself.”

Another member Suga also stated during an interview with Billboard that, “There’s nothing wrong. Everyone is equal.”

Read More: Why & How K-Pop Fans Get Almost Hostile If They Find Out That Their Idols Are Even In A ‘Normal Relationship’

K-Pop idol Jo Kwon, former leader of 2AM group had posted a picture in June with celebrity chef Hong Suk Chun who is considered among the popular gay personalities in South Korea.

Posting a selfie with Hong, Kwon wrote that, “So delicious. And so amazing. He’s just the best,” but he was bashed and trolled for doing this with homphobic comments. However, Kwon lashed back at them with an Instagram post, saying, ‘There are people who look this way, that way, with this kind of personality and that personality, this kind of preference and that kind of preference. They all deserve to be loved. I hope you learn to respect others first.’

He added that, “Stop discriminating. Someone can also hate and discriminate against you. We can’t satisfy everyone in the world but there is a basic line. Don’t change my feed full of rainbows to dark clouds.”

And ended by saying, “Everyone has the right to be loved. If these people never harmed you in any way then please give love and live a beautiful life.”

LGBTQA In South Korean Entertainment Industry

Although K-pop is still not there yet, the entertainment industry is slowly showing signs of changes.

Harisu or Lee Kyung-eun is South Korea’s first transgender entertainer working as a model, singer and actress. She identified as a female from early in her life, and went through the sex reassignment surgery in around 1990s.

Not just that, but prominent celebrity Hong Seok-cheon, came out as gay in 2000 and also runs a successful restaurant along with being a member of the Democratic Labour Party.

In August of 2017, K-pop group Topp Dogg’s member Hansol also came out as asexual during a livestream on social media. Hansol had been having quite a rough year and had worried fans with suicidal thoughts and statements made during other livestreams and SNS posts.

However, this seemed to be a turning point for him when he admitted that, “I was thinking, and I’m asexual. I’m asexual. I don’t like anyone. I like comics. I’m destined not to get married. I like friends and I like family.

Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: Wikipedia, Instinct Magazine, Rolling Stone India 

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  1. Thank you for this. I agree, the industry needs a change, even tho I don’t like nor recognize idea of shipping, I know there’s plenty of people who do, the thing is a lot of those people are anti LGBTQA and no one seems to call them out for it because “shipping is just for fun” – which if you think of it, is a disgusting thing to say. As you mentioned in the article some idols are making waves but sadly this is not enough. It makes me sad to think that there is probably a lot of artists, actors, public figures who are a part of LGBTQA community but are afraid to come out because they are afraid the backlash they might receive or are scared that their careers will be over.
    I really wish more media outlets, whether it’s magazine’s, websites or any other started talking about this issue, because it’s real and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away.
    Let’s hope we will live long enough to see things change.

    • unless you are korean yourself you have no right to go around trying to force change in korea. its amazing that foreigners suddenly think they have the right to poke their nose in to korean business just because kpop is getting popular. there are far more countries out there who are way more intolerant than korea when it comes to lgbt issues (like many countries in africa and the middle east) yet you guys specifically target korea to attack. why? too scared of being called racist for critizising black and muslims ? so instead you attack asians because “hey! asians are close enough to whites anyway and are getting rich, so they are free game now” right? absolutely disgusting

      also the author of this article is indian. i think she is the last person in the world who should be trying to do this ridiculous moral grandstanding against korea. cause what a mess india is in right now with all its sexism, tribalism, corruption and poverty

      • I think you’re just angry that you got called out.

        Get back to us when South Korea stops witch-hunting its gay men in the military and forcing its teenagers into conversion therapy.

        You’re not so special that you can’t be criticised.

    • Hello,
      Thank you for the comment. And yes, the ‘shipping is just for fun’ attitude is something I have seen a lot in K-pop fans, who are fine shipping their same-sex ship, but when it comes to anyone being actually LGBT they turn negative towards them. And hopefully things are changing, albeit slowly, but they are changing with LGBT artists coming out and even het artists supporting the LGBT community in various ways.

  2. the touchy skinship thing is around not just because its fanservice but because asians in general dont have the same taboo as the west when it comes to being touchy with the same gender. its like that in china as well(not sure about japan). also what right do you have to go around shaming kpop or korea like this as a foreigner? if you want to protect and save lgbt people why dont you talk about the middle east where lgbt people are the MOST discriminated against? why target korea just cause kpop is getting popular? its selective outrage

    dont go around insulting other cultures as shameful like an arrogent foreigner. i could say the same thing. why are the westerners so scared of being touchy? arent they supposed to be more open to lgbt? yet its the asians that are more open to skinshipping and being touchy with the same gender even if they may not be so open to actual lgbt people. isnt it shameful for the west to be so closed minded that they are too scared of being touchy like the asians are?
    Also you are indian. deal with your own rape crises, lgbt discriminations, poverty, corruption and racism in india first before critisizing korea. korea is still MILES ahead of you guys on all fronts.

    • Hello,
      First of all thank you for the comment. It means a lot. And second, while I don’t disagree that my country has its fair share of problems, all those issues like racism, sexism, rape, poverty, corruption and more exists in literally every country of the world. I doubt you can find me any place where none of them are since that would be a utopian world.
      And sure, Korea is quite advanced when compared to India, I will not refute that, however, that does not mean I cannot ever question some things about their culture or industries considering we are living in a global world today. Also, I don’t understand what my nationality has to do with my right to criticize or comment on an industry’s problematic issue.
      Further more, as a contributing consumer of the industry, who is buying music from it, streaming, voting, and keeping up to date with what all is happening in the K-pop industry, I believe I have full right to call out and question the practices that I do not agree with or seem problematic to me.
      As for your point on skinship, I do know that the mindset in Korea is way different from the west, in India too, skinship between same genders is extremely common and you will find guys walking hand in hand very casually.
      But what concerns me is the total ignorance over the LGBT community and the assumption many people still hold that something like this doesn’t exist only.
      Also, my point was more to highlight how the K-pop industry uses this same-sex skinship and hints of LGBT to market it to the fantasies of cis-het female fans, who want their ships to sail and also be secure that some other female wont take away their bias since they are with their same-sex bandmate and all.
      And your line – “yet its the asians that are more open to skinshipping and being touchy with the same gender even if they may not be so open to actual lgbt people” don’t you yourself see the problem here? The fact that skinship is fine as long as the people are not gay? Where is the fairness in this? An entire community is being dismissed as not real because… reasons?
      So, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with me calling out k-pop for turning a blind eye and sometimes outright discriminating against the LGBT community while trying to use it for their profits.
      Thank you. Have a good day.

    • What a tirade. The writer is allowed to make comment on South Korea as much as she’s allowed to make comment on India, or anywhere else. That’s what free speech is about.

      You’re acting like a baby and a bully – just because your country has unpalatable truths and it needs modernising.


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