"there’s so much to learn and enjoy and grow along the way!."
K-pop is a growing phenomenon based on South Korea’s pop music industry.
Although the worldwide appeal of K-pop is recognised, its influence on South Asia is sometimes overlooked.
The popularity of this genre has grown further in Desi countries due to its cultural similarities. However, the release of more commercial and English-language songs has transcended K-pop’s impact.
Superstar groups such as Bangtan Boys (BTS), Girls’ Generation and EXO are all household names for South Asian fans.
But what makes K-pop so influential to the likes of South Asian women? On the surface, it could be hard to make a connection.
Similarities between style to the emphasis on beauty standards can all be reasons why Desi females engage with K-pop.
One of the easiest ways to see the relationship between South Asian women and K-pop is through social media.
Hemani Sheth from The Hindu Business Line outlined the impact of Indian women:
“Women in India are carving their own space on Twitter and are engaging in a diverse range of topics.”
She later adds that:
“From K-pop to cricket, women discussed their passions on Twitter.”
According to Statista, as of November 2021, Twitter has over 206 million users sending out daily tweets. Over 22 million are from India alone, showcasing South Asia’s dominance of the social media site.
With South Asian women from all countries discussing the genre’s artistic and social impact, there is a platform to witness how effective K-pop is.
DESIblitz looks into the finer details that relate the Korean music industry to South Asian women.
The Dance Fascination
If you ask a K-pop fan what makes the genre recognisable, they may emphasise the hypnotic nature of its dancing.
Digital expert Jennifer Rousse-Marquet has described the genre, stating:
“K-Pop is a fusion of synthesised music, sharp dance routines and fashionable and colourful outfits.”
In the modern world, K-pop has had a big impact on dance.
Mesmerising choreographies have had fans intently watching, learning and performing some of the most iconic dances from their favourite groups.
The dance element of K-pop makes the music genre so distinguishable.
Commonly, tracks become popular solely for their immersive grooves. This is why the industry wholeheartedly celebrates dance.
For example, the 2021 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) had multiple dance prizes up for grabs in the star-studded ceremony.
In the end, it was Blackpink member, Rosé, who won ‘Best Solo Dance’ performance for the track ‘On The Ground’ (2021).
The song ‘Butter’ (2021) by BTS secured the ‘Best Dance Performance Male Group’, and Lee Jung Lee triumphed with ‘Best Choreographer’.
The hard-hitting sequences have helped K-pop establish itself as a genre of dramatic quality. This is one of the most poignant reasons that South Asian women love this type of music.
Bollywood and Hindi music, heavily consumed by South Asian diasporas worldwide, value similar cinematic elements.
Freelance writer, V Kumar, encompassed this thought:
“The screenplay adds a lot of interest to the song, and can significantly contribute in terms of glamour. Rich choreography, innovative picturisation and well-knit videography can be a treat in itself.”
Bollywood has received praise for its elaborate dance sequences. For many, dances, which follow its musical style define the movie industry’s success.
Times of India even highlighted how certain actors gain further attention for their exceptional dancing skills:
“The man who has never let us down with his acting skills has a separate fan base for his dancing skills. Hrithik Roshan is quite an inspiration.”
This illustrates just how pivotal dance is within music, especially for South Asians.
When looking at other genres such as western pop, RnB and hip hop, dancing can sometimes be sultry and provocative.
Although Desi communities need to move towards accepting these traits, the more cultural nuances of K-pop dance make it more favourable.
Therefore, the dance element of K-pop can make it more accepted by South Asian women. But how pivotal is this for Desi women and their fascination obvious?
In 2020, The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chennai, India, put together a ‘Dream K-pop team’.
The group of five dancers were responsible for releasing choreographies for an Indian fanbase to learn from.
Rhea Rajkumar, a member of the team, expressed her love of the genre and the project itself:
“The idea behind the project is to unite as individuals whose deep passion for K-pop has helped in achieving so many things in life and to share this passion with others.
“We want to highlight how being a K-pop fan has been a wonderful experience, and there’s so much to learn and enjoy and grow along the way!.”
Sruthi Ram, another member, also reported how relevant the essence of South Asia is within K-pop’s music:
“I got interested in K-pop because of its connection to Indian classical music.”
“The songs are really catchy and fun and most importantly, I love how music connects one without language barriers.”
Rhea and Sruthi’s accounts capture how more South Asian women see K-pop as both new and familiar.
Interestingly, this is portrayed through the increase of K-pop-related dance competitions in South Asia.
The Online K-pop Dance Competition and Changwon World K-pop Festival are just a couple that has advanced the East Asian genre.
These competitions are therefore a positive influence on South Asian women wanting to showcase their K-pop interest and how dance is a major part of this.
This in itself shows the globalisation of K-pop’s influence on South Asian women.
The ‘Idolisation’ of Visuals
A fan of the K-pop industry would have undoubtedly come across the word ‘visual’. Whilst the definition of ‘visual’ can differ, it is almost always directed towards the appearance of a person.
But, how does this correlate to the popular music genre? Writer, Joyce Wu, from The Cornell Daily Sun describes the notion of “visual.”
“The visual is a role in a K-pop group given to the member that best fits Korean beauty standards.
“Typically, displaying pale skin, large eyes with double eyelids and a slim chin, among other traits.”
Korean beauty standards are a common point of comparison inflicted upon K-pop idols. Despite ‘K-pop’ referring to the genre of music itself, the label can promote an idolisation of artists.
Whether it is their fashion sense or natural beauty, K-pop encourages fans to follow members’ lives outside of their songs.
Consequently, this pushes people to focus on the artists in an unhealthy manner. Having a light skin tone is a specific beauty standard that is of high ‘importance’.
This has given rise to colourist discrimination within the industry.
In August 2020, Overachiever Magazine highlighted how colourism is prevalent within South Korea:
“Every country has its own beauty standards, and South Korea is no different…
“… colourism – the prejudice and discrimination of those with a darker skin tone, usually within the same ethnic group – is also prevalent in South Korean society. ”
As the article continues, a critical link is made between colourism and K-pop artists. It emphasises how these musicians come under fire if they don’t adhere to the standard of having pale skin:
“Pale skin is favoured in the industry and increases an idol’s brand reputation.
“Colourism in a South Korean context is rooted in feudal history and still has implications today.”
However, it would be ignorant and incorrect to solely pin South Korea for housing some discriminatory attitudes.
In fact, South Asia is a region constantly under fire for its colourist controversies.
In August 2020, the BBC amplified the connection between skin tone and success in India’s industries, reporting:
“Billboards of upcoming movies seemed to show that only light-skinned men and women could make it in the country’s film industry.
“Television advertisements for skincare products emphasised that the fairer a woman’s skin, the more likely she is to find a job, a husband, or happiness.”
The idolisation of having ‘fairer’ skin has similarly been a beauty standard that South Asian women have tried to accomplish.
It shows that although people admire the musicality of K-pop, the appearance ‘demands’ are having the opposite effect.
The hatred against this beauty standard was explored by Anaa Saber. The Pakistani beauty expert conveyed:
“Many women have this obsession with being fair; lightening and bleaching is a multi-million dollar industry.
“I grew up in the US, where we think pale is ugly, but Pakistanis feel the same way about being dark.”
Many South Asian women already speak out about their annoyance to colourist attitudes. However, many are still cornered and discriminated against by these opinions.
Additionally, this colourism attitude also has a link with the class system.
In countries like Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, most people, including women, have to work outside under the sweltering sun.
This is partly due to poverty and limited opportunities so ultimately, the skin darkens quicker due to the working conditions.
Actress Chye-Ling Huang backed this by revealing:
“[Colourism] seems to stem from classist ideas of beauty.
“If you are lower class and have to work in the outdoors, you’ll have darker skin, therefore lighter skin is a status symbol of wealth and is more coveted.”
The complexion element is so drilled into K-pop, that the effect on South Asian women is paramount.
This is particularly the case for impressionable young girls who see these ideologies and start second-guessing their appearance.
Despite all the positive energy, the industry puts out, its lacking of inclusivity is damaging. South Asian women already suffocate with their own beauty ideas.
Therefore, a correlation in standards from the glamorous world of K-pop can heighten this feeling. More importantly, will this ideology change in the future?
Messages of Culture
South Asian women hold the value and importance of culture very highly. For British Asians, media, family traditions and community is a way to stay connected to their culture.
Whereas for South Asians living in their place of origin, ‘culture’ is simply a way of life.
Either way, many South Asian women find it heart-warming to see their values and lifestyles appreciated.
Mariam Rahimi, a British Asian student, spoke about the positives of having your culture feature in popular mediums:
“It’s kind of nice to see that our culture is seen as something desirable and aesthetic because a lot of the time we feel ashamed of our culture being mocked so many times.”
It is the embrace of historical instruments, original sounds and symphonic richness that links K-pop to South Asian women.
K-pop produces songs with traditional elements of Korean music – making the songs well-perceived by Korean audiences.
For example, BTS’ ‘IDOL’ (2018), is a song praised for its composition. Scoompi states:
“‘IDOL’ uses a rhythm found in pansori, a traditional style of Korean storytelling set to music with a drum.
“The track also includes Korean instruments such as the kkwaenggwari (brass gong), gakgung (horn bow), and janggu (traditional drum).”
The appreciation of culture makes K-pop something that influences South Asian women – who similarly ooze the same acknowledgement.
However, K-pop has heightened its impact on these women even further in this way. Whilst many identify K-pop as a genre of its own, the songs often take inspiration from other music styles.
A notable track that has done this is ‘Paint The Town’ (‘PTT’) (2021) by LOONA.
From a first listen, South Asians would immediately detect the Bollywood tune. Roxanne Wilson from The Kraze Mag wrote:
“Conquering the Bollywood sound can be a difficult line to toe, not wanting to spill over into appropriation territory.
“‘PTT’ (‘Paint The Town’) succeeds in fostering appreciation over appropriation, melding iconic Bollywood elements with a K-pop sound for a perfect merging of cultures.
“The song goes hard from the moment it opens with the Indian back vocals, tablas, and flute taking centre stage before taking a back seat to the intense drumbeat.”
LOONA’s South Asian audience perceived the song very well. There are a multitude of reaction videos by South Asians on YouTube all showcasing their fascination.
This has made fans anticipate more songs from K-pop groups that pay attention to a variety of cultures.
The musical attention K-pop has begun paying to South Asian styles is a positive focus for South Asian women particularly.
So many South Asian girls idolise their favourite girl group members. So, seeing them dedicate a track on their album to something that involves their own culture is relevant.
However, the most important scenario which has seen a surge of female interest is the rise of singer and dancer, Priyanka.
Priyanka is part of the group, Z-Girls, and is the first South Asian woman to be a part of a K-pop collective.
Speaking on her motivation to pursue her dreams, the gorgeous singer stated in a 2019 interview:
“I was literally depressed when I was back in college. I had injuries and for more than six months, I was bedridden and BTS songs really helped me.
“They kept motivating me like ‘don’t give up’ and ‘your time will come sometime’.”
The singing starlet even said how she learnt Korean only through listening to K-pop. Her story has inspired her whopping 43,000+ Instagram followers.
However, her status is not just redefining K-pop but she is breaking down barriers for South Asian women.
Priyanka details how she received backlash from fans who said she cannot be an idol because “she doesn’t look Korean.”
Though, her innovative strides within the genre have certainly shown all fans how two cultures can integrate.
Additionally, Priyanka’s empowering nature has surely opened the door for other budding artists.
In a dominating western world, K-pop provides a mainstream escape into a world accepted by all communities.
Therefore, with such a relevant light shone on emerging South Asian female artists within K-pop, there is a new wave of representation coming.
Not only is this beneficial for female musicians, but South Asian women who crave a creative outlet. K-pop has influenced so many people across the world.
It has fanbases in all areas and inspires people of all ages to admire the idols whose music they relate to the most.
However, focusing on specific demographics, like South Asian women, reveals how impactful the genre is.
South Asian women are undoubtedly in love with K-pop and their fondness spills over to social media, society and emerging Desi K-pop artists.
From beauty standards to fusing cultures, the genre is certainly affecting Desi women in both uplifting and controversial ways.