In many ways, K-Pop has changed my life.
You see, K-Pop isn’t just a plate of abs that look like inverted ice cube trays or ridiculously stylish dudes singing god knows what. To me, it means more. To us, the Asian American community, it means much, much more. The arrival of K-Pop on American shores serves as a watershed moment in which Asian Americans were finally able to look down into a puddle of airbrushed idols and superstars and ask themselves…
Is that… me? Is that what I look like? Is that… who I really am?
Growing up I never had Asian action figures. Mine were always beefy White men with marble sized eyes and noses shaped like arrowheads. I idolized the manliness of Don Draper from Mad Men and wished I were as tall and beautiful as Adam Levine. But I never thought about it from a racial point of view. I didn’t have to question it because I just accepted it. Because that was just what men looked like. That is what the hero looked like. That is what a masculine, sexy man did: he rappelled down a building, all 6 foot 2 of himself, and saved the day with his super White self. And I loved it.
So when K-Pop came around I was confused. I wasn’t used to seeing Asian people in such high production videos and films. I wasn’t used to them taking off their shirt, or kissing other women, or acting sexy. That’s not an Asian Guy! Where’s the Kung-Fu? Where’s his calculator? He’s the sidekick of some taller White guy – where that guy? Is this a mistake? It must be a mistake! To see nothing but effeminate Asian Men growing up was quite damaging. I saw it all and wondered if I was destined to be half a man, but what made it worse was the rest of the country seemed to agree.
It’s funny. If you look at this blog and go back far enough, you will arrive at a place where there are no photos of Asian Men or K-Pop stars. You know why? That’s before I knew about K-Pop. And why did that suddenly change to a bright splash of yellow? Simple: When I discovered K-Pop and realized the endless supply of people who looked like me, in non-stereotypical ways, with emotions and expressions and styles that represented who I was, I made a promise to use nothing but Asian Men in my photos. I don’t plan on going back either.
In all honesty, I actually dislike most K-Pop music. Not because of something inherent about Korean Pop, but I just hate most Pop in general. I’m more of a Jazz Man. Nevertheless, I will be forever grateful for those dancing and singing machines half-way around the world because for the first time in my life, they made me feel like I was something more. More than just a side-kick, more than just an owner of a Dry Cleaners, more than just a caricature. I can be the hero who rappels down the building, all 5 foot 7 (and a half!) of myself to save my girlfriend from a sneezing cold or my career from spiraling into an expected heap of Nursing, Engineering, or Accounting.
K-Pop changed my life, and the lives of many Asian Americans, not because it gave us a new standard, a new identity to aspire to…
K-Pop changed our lives because it wiped the white tile clean, painted it yellow, and said, “here… now it’s your turn.”