The K-Pop wave in India vs Indian stereotypes around masculinity

You must have heard the term ‘K-Pop’, multiple times in your life. But are you confused about what it actually is and why is it such a big deal? Don’t worry, we are happy to help!

K-pop short for Korean pop is not just a genre anymore. It has become a culture. Its growing importance as a major driver of global culture, can be seen in everything, from the Netflix series to the dominance of Korea’s skincare routines in the cosmetic industry. People often refer to it is Hallyu- the Korean wave.

The Korean wave has been building for two decades, but K-Pop culture has only been globally recognised from the past five to ten years. The first time the South Korean artists hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart was with the crossover hit “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls in 2009. The song was released in four languages globally and since then, K-pop music has been a growing industry. Now in 2020, a Korean boy band named BTS has successfully become the second boy band in history after Black Eyed Peas to hit both the 1st and 2nd places at the Billboard Hot 100 list simultaneously.

The culture is no more confined to music, it is in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and continues to contradict our own thoughts and makes us feel better in every way. It has become a voice, to everyone who couldn’t express themselves for a long time.

Still want to know why is it so popular? Let’s start where it all started!

K-Pop was given birth by a single performance in 1992

Usually, all other music genres have evolved from some sort of other music and remixes and it is very difficult to trace when they exactly came into existence. But contemporary K-Pop can, it came into being on April 11, 1992, because of one single performance by a group named Seo Taiji and Boys.

The group had performed their music on TV for the first time. The creator and the main lead of the group, Seo Taiji was previously a member of the South Korean heavy metal band Sinawe. Taiji’s former band was brief but was a hugely influential part of the development of Korean rock music in the late 80s. After the band broke up, Taiji turned to hip-hop and recruited two stellar South Korean dancers, Yang Hyun-suk and Lee Juno to join him as backups in a group dubbed Seo Taiji and Boys.

On April 11, 1992, they performed their single “Nan Arayo (I know)” on a talent show. The performance was given the lowest score of the evening. But immediately after the debut of the song, it topped the South Korean singles charts for a record-smashing 17 weeks. The record stood as the No. 1 streak for more than 15 years, the longest in the country’s history.

It is also very important to note that at the time when the band broke records, it was a very crucial time for the country in other aspects as well. A change was happening and it was happening fast. The K-Pop we know today wouldn’t have existed if it was not for democracy and television.

Just a few years back, in 1987, the South Korean government was re-formed as a democracy which automatically brought a developing modernisation and the lightening of censorship. Prior to this, there were only two broadcast networks in the country, and they were largely controlled by the government. Everything that would air on the television or radio, had to be approved by the government. This concluded in the non-existence of independent music production. Rock music was considered to be controversial and was subjected to ban. The musicians and artists were introduced to the public via televised talent shows, where they were only allowed to sing a patriotic song or ballads.

After the democracy came in, the radio and television industries expanded and the citizens were exposed to multiple genre of music from outside the country. As of 1992, the national TV networks had paved their way through 99 percent of South Korean homes and the viewership was the highest on weekends.

It was the first time when modern American-style pop music had been remixed with South Korean culture. The group had not only made history, but it had also challenged the conservative norms around musical style, fashion, song topics and censorship in South Korea. The group did not sing the traditional or patriotic songs, which was the normal setting for the music industry in the country at that time. They sang about teen angst and the social pressure to succeed in the presence of an exhausting education system. They insisted on creating their own music breaking the usual settings of the music industry.

The Seo Taiji and Boys officially broke up in 1996. By that time, they had changed the South Korean music industry and made a way for the young song artists to be more experimental with their work and create something new, which represented them.

The formation of Idol groups and the monopoly of the three

Between 1995 and 1998, three big music studios appeared in the South Korean industry. The three namely, SM Entertainment in 1995, JYP Entertainment in 1997 and YG Entertainment in 1998, started producing what came to be called the idol groups. YG Entertainment, one of the three big companies was created by one of the members of Seo Taiji and Boys, Yang Hyun-suk.

The three companies still play a very big role in the production of music bands and the exploration of music in South Korea.

The first idol group in South Korea surfaced in 1996 by SM Entertainment. The group was named H.O.T. and consisted five singers and dancers who represented what the company believed teens expected from a modern pop group. The H.O.T. was a combination of singing, rapping and dancing and consisted different personalities united through music.

Normally, the Korean artists perform in groups comprising at least five members. Each member has their own position in the band, the leader, the main vocalist, the lead vocalist, the sub vocalist, the main rapper, the lead rapper, the sub rapper, the main dancer, the lead dancer, the visual, the face of the group, the center and the maknae.

The industry is highly competitive, so children start their training from around the ages of 10 to 12. They start attending special schools where they are imparted with specialised singing and dancing lessons. They are taught the way to moderate their public behaviour and are prepared for a life as a pop star. Throughout the week, children are trained and there are music performances on weekends, through which they gain fans before even officially debuting. Eventually when they are old enough, they are placed into groups made by the companies according to their behaviour, voices, moves and expectations. These groups are known as idol groups.

Although the outcomes have been phenomenal, the process has been condemned. Recently, the public has started to pay attention to the problems in the process. The tiring nature of it and the clear monopoly of the companies have resulted in multiple suicides, which generated a demand to reform the policies and practices. Eventually, the contracts of these people have been relaxed and the situation is changing slowly.

How and When did K-Pop come to India?

India’s indulging with the K-Pop culture was slow, but it has now become a cultural phenomenon. This is displayed in frequent concerts, a digital presence to die for and multiplex releases of documentaries.

K-Pop set up its roots initially in the north-eastern regions of India, the first being Manipur. When the Revolutionary People’s Front took over the region, all forms of Indian entertainment were banned in the state. Hence, the people sought refuge in the South Korean dramas and music, which soon made a home in their hearts. Even today, years after the ban has been uplifted, Hallyu has a strong presence in the north-eastern society. While the reason for the love of north-easterners towards K-Pop is still to be determined, many think that it may be because of the similar culture between the two.

But all these arguments were noted to be null and void after not only north-east but all of India fell in love with the K-Pop culture. The first time the wave hit the country was back in 2012 with Psy’s Gangnam Style. The Korean pop song broke all records on social media and became that one song the whole world went crazy about. The song not only worked for itself, it also paved a way for K-Pop to the heart of international audience.

Groups like Girls Generation, Twice, EXO and SHINee have developed fan followings in India and the most gaga everyone is about, is the boyband named BTS, short for Bangtan Sonyeondan.

In 2016, VH1 launched its segment KPopp’d which aired on the weekends. Popular music station 9XO soon started streaming several popular BTS songs on their channel.

Just a year after that, the Indian edition of Rolling Stone magazine published an interview with the leader of BTS, Kim Namjoon. Just within a few minutes of its release, the servers of Rolling Stone magazine crashed due to overwhelming traffic on their website. Shortly after that, #IndialovesBTS started trending on Twitter, peaking at No. 2 on the global trends list.

In 2017, the World K-Pop Festival held in Changwon, South Korea saw history being made when an Indian group named Immortal Army from Mizoram, took the trophy for the first time.

The Indian fandom of K-Pop have a very strong presence on social media too. What differentiates the Indian fans from the rest of the world is the fact that they do not restrict themselves when it comes to drooling on posters and are responsible for the tickets to be sold out in an insanely short amount of time.

The infamous K-Pop Contest India is organised by the Korean Cultural Center India (KCCI) every year. It started six years ago in New Delhi, with barely 37 participants and an audience of around 300 people. This year due to the COVID-19, the KCCI decided to hold regional rounds online and also let participants apply for solo entries in both singing and dancing categories. More than 1300 people competed for the solo singing category alone this year, out of which Chanchui Khayi, a 20 year old girl from Nagaland took the prize.

This clearly shows how the K-Pop culture has made its roots in India and it continues growing stronger every year. Not only its fans, but K-Pop has also influenced the fashion, music, food and culture of the country.

Despite it all, the K-Pop culture has been criticised widely in India. Let’s see why.

Why is K-Pop widely criticised in India?

Despite such a huge fanbase in India, the country is yet to embrace K-Pop completely. The reason being the vast cultural difference between the two countries. Whereas young girls contribute to being a majority of the audience of K-Pop in India, people are not too happy about it oftentimes.

With the expansion of the Korean market in India, people have become familiar with K-Pop but without ever taking the time to know the music and culture, a negative ideology has been created in India for the K-Pop artists, especially the male ones.

The main reason for this can be deemed to be the conservative nature of Indian society. Gender-based stereotypes are so common and prevalent in the country that it becomes very difficult to accept the bands which stand for breaking these stereotypes in the first place. The men in the boy bands have been called “Girl like talentless people feeding off by doing weird fan service, etc.” The absurd fact that “Girl like” is used as an insult for men, explains the problem in itself.

Makeup on men, sleek physique, coloured hair are some aspects which earn glares from the Indian society, and the men in the Korean bands exist with all these aspects. These factors are also stereotypically associated with being gay. In a nation like India, where the notions around LGBTQ+ community is still in its process of being normalised, with the existing taboos around it, being a fan of groups with all these factors is a big no from the public.

The fixed male beauty standards make it difficult for a welcome of out of the box fashion in society.

Many male Indian social media influencers have come forward and appreciated the Korean beauty standards and recreated their looks using makeup. Criticised for it? Yes, Stopped? No.

K-Pop has been overturning the Western ideas of beauty. Bands like EXO and BTS are now immensely famous globally and they have worked tremendously to shatter the beauty standards for male and female members of the society.

Apart from this, the fandom of these bands is often criticised too. Roughly 75 percent of the fandom belongs to women and they are looked down upon on many occasions. The belief that women get crazy about these bands so much is because they have difficulty in differentiating between right and wrong is another thing that is birthed by toxic masculinity.

Not only looks, but the Korean bands are also laughed at for alleged physical compositions according to absurd surveys. According to a survey, Korean men have an average penis size of 9.6 cm (3.78″), which allegedly makes them the shortest among males in the 17 Asian countries.

The survey was conducted by Tenga, a manufacturer of the world’s most popular male-masturbation merchandise.

Surveys like these tend to increase the risk of low confidence and inferiority complex in men. These also increase the risks of discrimination and criticism.

While the Korean dramas and artists work towards destructing toxic masculinity, which is something that is strongly needed globally as well, it is also criticised extensively for it.

The criticisms will continue but that will not stop the fandom from being fans and absolutely loving these artists. The Hallyu is in place and it is destructing stereotypes, maybe it will continue to do so and the world will follow.

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