K-pop is one of the biggest genres of music after English Pop. And rightly so. K-pop or Korean Popular Music follows “idol culture” wherein idols become insanely huge celebrities through fan culture.
K-pop plays a very certain and integral part of the LGBTQ+ community. We presume it’s because of the more genderfluid nature of the artists, and perhaps also the way female and male idols express.
Eddi is an openly LGBTQ+ individual and uses his YouTube platform to curate content. He expresses how in South Korea, being openly part of the community isn’t very common. Most people tend to stay in the closet because of how conservative society is.
However, K-pop has a way of slyly breaking boundaries. “I saw that there wasn’t a lot of gay stuff in K-Pop media, but I saw in the culture that the men are a little more open to touching,” Eddi says. “The closeness they have that they express in public is more open than in the US.”
Don’t get us wrong, Idols are very rarely openly queer. And the entire LGBTQ+ scene in K-pop is not too drastically different than the general society. What makes it different is the concept of “skinship”
“Skinship is the term that is in use to describe the act of intimate, non-sexual touching between very close platonic friends. This usually occurs between two same-sex individuals. It involves acts such as holding hands/arms, hugging, and kissing on the cheeks” says Urban Dictionary.
Furthermore, men or male idols are often expressing more feminine traits. They’re hugging, kissing, holding hands and even crying – most of which is thought as unmasculine. We don’t see such actions being in display around the world without condemnation. Neither do we see such acts gaining the amount of support that they do.
— 누나비 NUNA V (@_nuna_V) July 13, 2019
“Holding hands, having arms around one’s waist or a quick peck on the cheek or forehead would be various ways of defining skinship. And it’s greatly hyped in the K-Pop fandom, especially when it’s between members within the group or idols with other idols of the same-sex,” says Frances. Lai Frances is a freelance journalist who alongside Eddi served as a panellist at KCon.
“In the media right now, Western media especially, there isn’t much LGBTQ+ people of colour, let alone Asian representation,” Frances says. “So I believe fans somewhat look to K-Pop and hype up ships and their skinship as a way of relating.”
And we completely agree, most twitter fan followers identify themselves as part of the community, often sharing gay/lesbian fanfics, art pieces or fan edits. Others just hype up the glorious friendships that idol group members share.
Clothing, Hair and Make-up:
American culture isn’t exceptionally conservative, but the way K-pop stars express themselves is still refreshing to LGBTQ+ people in the west. Male and female idols often dress in uni-sex outfits or play games where they cross-dress. Moreso, men are seen with manicured nails, heavy make-up and bright hair colours.
“K-Pop groups were always made to cater to every individual fans’ desires, and some fans adore feminine guys and sensitive types,” Eddi says to Kotaku. “Fans are mostly exposed to K-Pop’s boundless gender-bending males, filled with makeup, concepts and enforced shipping/tactical skinship that has us all wondering about idols’ sexuality.”
“I think it’s safe to say masculinity is often tied with metrosexuality in Korean culture,” Frances says. “An example that comes to mind is probably TVXQ’s ‘Mirotic’ music video, or even BTS’ ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears’.
“You have men in makeup, wearing skin-tight pants and loose, flowy tops and showing skin. I remember showing them to some people and they thought their looks were too girly or, in other words, ‘gay.’”
“I’d also like to add TWICE’s ‘What Is Love?’ music video in general,” Frances says. “They decide to pair themselves up and alternately take on male roles in heterosexual pairings.”
The video showcases the popular girl group paying homage to various romantic movies, with the girls taking on the role of the male love interests as well as the female ones.
Speaking of BTS:
BTS is currently one of the biggest k-pop boybands and for enough reason. They debut in 2013 and have risen to fame through constant hard work and pushing. They have also been one of the fewest k-pop idols who openly speak up about social issues.
Using their new fame, they were attendees and guest speakers at the United Nations’ “Youth 2030” event in 2018. The event was to launch Generation Unlimited, a UNICEF initiative “that aims to ensure that every young person is in education, learning, training or employment by 2030.”
“No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour or gender identity, speak yourself, find your name and find your voice by speaking yourself,” says RM, leader of BTS.
And not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that BTS has spoken about the importance of loving oneself. Since 2017, the group have released 4 albums. The general theme of all 4 albums is to slowly but surely, learn to love who you are. The group also released a bunch of music videos and creative projects that have been part of this movement. Especially since 2017, when BTS partnered up with UNICEF to launch a worldwide campaign named the same.
Basically, it’s easier for the LGBTQ+ community to see themselves amongst the k-pop idols. Their loving, nurturing relationships without any regard to gender is what the community loves to see. And the reception of these relationships, regardless of the true sexuality behind them, is so pure. They love being part of fandoms, feeling support from fellow peers and seeing their idols.
We think that it is with Korean culture, where you can expressively show your love and support. Regardless of if you’re a fanboy or fangirl. It’s just okay to be freely expressing your love for somebody.
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