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.”
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