Over the past year, fans of Kpop saw the unexpected rise and success of the group Bulletproof Boy Scouts – aka Bangtan Boys, aka (and henceforth as of writing this) BTS. Few rookie groups of 2013 were able to compare with the levels of critical and popular success that BTS reached in such a short time. But what is it that makes BTS such a whirlwind in the Kpop scene? Let's consider their placement, somewhere between the mainstream commercial interests which drive Kpop, and the rebellious images and concepts that run counter to it. Branded as one of the best Kpop groups to come out of the industry in recent history, BTS is a refreshing mixture of hip hop and contemporary Kpop styles. However, BTS is also ideally placed to raise questions as to the legitimacy of Kpop as a cultural agent, and not merely empty entertainment.
[There is a crucial dialogue that needs to take place in the context of Kpop's alleged appropriation of hip hop culture, whether or not this is racist, and how this affirms negative stereotypes of certain peoples. In this particular article, I want to offer my own perspective to this long-standing debate. I have chosen a more controversial argument, in that I believe the addition of hip hop culture to Kpop is beneficial even if the methods of doing so are still naive. I will discuss these reasons below.]
Almost all Kpop groups are required to participate in some sort of variety show. BTS' program is called American Hustle Life. The premise is that BTS lives in Skid Row, LA for two weeks under the guidance of several producers and the one and only Coolio in order to educate them about hip hop life. I see where there are problematic ideas within this premise. For example:
Situations where “black people are scary” and the members are frightened by them because they are “real” hip hop
Living in a “ghettoized” area
Producers and editors treating hip hop as a style/fad/clothes/shoes/otherwise materialistic endeavor and emphasizing “swag lessons” instead of the political roots of hip hop culture
But even though some have decried the show (and by extension the group itself) as culturally appropriating attitudes and lifestyle, American Hustle Life is a positive step forward for Kpop culture...