Cultural Appropriation: Korean Pop Trademark and Road to Success
It is difficult to imagine a society that is not influenced by music. The influence that music has may be illustrated as forms of expression or ways of living that often indicate struggles, oppression, or movements against mainstream authoritative systems. Music artists, especially those within the hip hop genre, utilize their experiences to express their political and social views as a form of social activism. With the understanding of the cultural aspect of music creation, which considers these forms of expressions, the concept of cultural appropriation takes form as the exploitation of another culture’s music creation by utilizing their language, environment, political or personal struggles without understanding the cultural foundation. In the entertainment industry, the challenge that often impacts success stems from consumer behavior, economic growth, and the industry’s culture. Understanding that there is a financial benefit to making music and that success is impacted by selling music, the issue becomes finding ways to maximize the financial benefit. Stardom in the music industry has become a stage where only a few musicians survive. How far the musician gets depends on the music industry’s adoption of the changes from consumer behavior and preferences to listening and purchasing music. This phenomenon has been indicated to impact monetary provision to music artists and creates the notion of “making it” in the music industry. It is in this area of entertainment is where cultural appropriation takes its shape in a debate between a wrongful act of misrepresentation and exploitation versus cultural appreciation for the different cultural traditions. In this arena, musicians struggle between adaptations to corporate suggestions such as producing, singing and dancing what is considered a “music hit” regardless of the negative impact that may come from a cultural appropriation challenge.
As people become aware of factors that identify other cultures, the areas that highlight cultural appropriation by others become apparent. These areas include music themes, fashion, language, the environment as well as the political and personal struggles. Cultural appropriation has become an apparent issue, especially among the genre of hip hop and rap music. Tummons (2008) indicated that the commercialization and appropriation of rap music by capitalists and the White consumer base has resulted in the adaptation of expressions that are particular to black culture. These implicated expressions include Black culture political struggles, their experiences in their neighborhoods, which includes police encounters, living conditions, incarceration, drug dealing, and guns, as well as baggy gangster-like attire and hear style. Further, Lenard and Balint (2020) indicated that cultural appropriation presents stereotyping of cultural minority practices that are deemed a misrepresentation of the culture, and it is seen as an offensive act. Knowing that the appropriation of rap music has been commercialized and that a stereotypic impression has been branded to the use of black music by other artists, it is difficult to distinguish the difference between someone appropriating the culture and someone respectfully appreciating it. However, it is imperative for an individual to understand the definition of cultural appropriation and how it is applied. With this in mind, there are numerous cultures that have adopted other culture’s behaviors and standards to make them their own without a proper appreciation for the cultural traditions.
The marginalization of specific groups has also been implicated in cultural appropriation. In this area, Ramsey, Warren, and Owerka-Moore (n.d.) indicated that ideas from a marginalized group are inappropriately adopted by another group for self-gain. This inappropriate adaptation is noted among low socioeconomic groups with the purpose of exploiting their culture for economic or social gain. Further, Lenard and Balint (2020) stated that cultural misrepresentation had been shown to be similar to cultural appropriation in the way in which a culture’s beliefs and experiences are misappropriated. Thus, cultural appropriation gives a false depiction of practices and beliefs, which often leads to a stereotype of the exploited group. This is an important aspect that gives validity to the argument that certain groups make use of Black hip hop artist’s music without understanding the background of the themes or the message that the lyrics carry. For example, it has been noted by de Luna (2020) that language and personal appearance, which includes hairstyle and clothing particular to Black culture, is being used by Korean-pop artists in their music themes. This form of exploitation within the music industry has become a norm, and popular groups such as the Korean popular music group known as BTS has benefited from using Black culture and its expletive language and appearance for self-popularity.
The Korean music industry has illustrated the act of cultural appropriating Black culture without the understanding of its foundation or its political and social implications. For example, Korean artists use Black culture, especially the hip hop genre, as an outlet for their inspiration. The influence of Black culture is evident in Korean artists’ music, lyrics, music videos, dance style, and the clothes they wear. This adaption of the hip hop genre has been implicated as an act of cultural exploitation. In this area, Rogers (2006) states that cultural exploitation denotes the taking of elements of an oppressed society by a dominant culture without consent and proper compensation. This is an issue that has been implicated by supporters of Cultural appropriation as being a wrongful misrepresentation of Black artists and the message they are trying to portray. In this regard, Korean pop artists have been implicated in exploiting Black hip hop culture for self-gain. One Korean artist whose stage name is G-Dragon from the group Big Bang has been dramatically implicated in the cultural appropriation of Black culture. According to Oh (2014), the appropriation of hip hop is illustrated in the music video, “One of a Kind.” In this particular music video, a combination of rhyming lyrics, heavy-handed gestures, tattoos, gold chains, graffiti as the backdrop is utilized to show off the gangster-style appearance that is often illustrated in Black hip hop videos. The details in G-Dragon’s work are significant towards the ongoing oppression of Black lives. Every detail symbolizes rebellion against the authority that continues to suppress them unjustly. G-Dragon, who is Korean, has not undergone the kind of mistreatment African- Americans have gone through because of the complexion of their skin or their experience with authority. In this regard, G-Dragon incorporates these elements of hip hop in his songs and music videos without the understanding of the significance behind what he wears, the lyrics used, or the dancing moves that are applied. In this regard, G-Dragon sees the financial benefit and the fame that comes from attracting more listeners.
The impact that cultural appropriation has on Black culture leads to many Black artists being discredited for their influence on music and not being respected adequately for taking pride in their work. This is illustrated in the manner in which Black artists are compensated by other artists who contract them for lyrics and video performance. For example, de Luna (2020) indicated the lack of compensation for the work that Grammy-award winner, songwriter, and musician Tiffany Red. Ms. Red was compensated poorly by the South Korean music publisher for a song that was written for the k-pop popular group known as NCT Dream. The sixty-six dollar monetary compensation that was provided to Tiffany Red was a clear illustration of the lack of compensation that has been implicated by the Korean pop music industry. This type of exploitation of Black culture shows another significant issue that warrants a discussion. In this area, the more dominant culture is able to capitalize on the element from Black culture and use it to receive high praises and financial benefits while the Black culture is exploited.
When considering the impact of imposition from a dominant culture onto a subordinate culture, the appropriation of culture is illustrated in the manner in which dominance takes form. For example, when Black hip-hop artists write songs for Korean pop artists, and the compensation is inadequate, the imposition of dominance is implicated. Within the realm of cultural dominance, Rogers (2006) indicated that the consideration of the subordinate culture’s political, cultural, economic, or military powers gives the dominant culture the ability to choose whether or not to appropriate from the subordinate culture. This is an exciting view of the reference to cultural appropriation because Black artists who may be struggling in the music industry may contract-out to other cultures to alleviate the financial strain. In this area, one can see the issue of the Korean pop music industry taking advantage of Black artists who are not making money and imposing their greater power within the industry to get them to write songs for low compensation.
From an oppression point of reference, cultural appropriation takes form in the manner in which one culture profits from another culture’s experiences. In this area, Matthes (2018) illustrates this conception by stating the example of the use of one particular culture’s social problem by another culture without having gone through the experience. Here, Matthes (2018) indicates how a Black woman’s unruliness, loudness and lewdness—all of which can be seen as stereotypes– is taken for granted by a White woman for self-profit without having to deal with the social problem herself. To further explain this view, one can apply it to the apparel that is used by hip hop artists. The dressed style often used in hip hop fashion has taken popularity in different countries. Eun-byel (2018) indicated that there is a rise in the baggy and large-sized clothing among young people in Korea that has created a common trend. When this fashion is analyzed for its oppressive stance and the profit that is gained by one culture at the expense of another, one can see the issue of cultural appropriation. In both examples, the Black woman’s implied character (e.g., unruliness, loudness, and lewdness) and the baggy apparel are both used by a culture or people that have not had the same experiences or have encountered the same social problems.
In light of the discussions that identify the implication of misrepresentation and exploitation of a subordinated culture by a dominant culture, the concept of cultural appropriation as an adverse inference has provided the ground for a contradiction. The countered argument redirects the notion of cultural appropriation with parameters and amplifiers that provides context to the wrongfulness that underlines cultural appropriation and sets the idea that there may be a dependent factor by the subordinate culture that must be met. In this area, Lenard and Balint (2020) indicated that cultural offense, misrepresentation, or stereotyping requires one’s cultural beliefs and norms to be insulted and humiliated by acts that are offensive or that misrepresents and stereotype a culture. Further, Lenard and Balint (2020) utilized conditions of taking, value, contested, and ignorance as well as amplifiers such as power inequality as means of conditions that should be considered in discussions of cultural appropriation. These conditions become essential because of the notion that the appropriator uses the provider in a way that demoralizes the culture. To simplify the argument, one can revert to the use of a culturally-specific attire by another culture. In this example, one can note that when a person goes to visit an Islamic country, in particular, the women must wear a hijab. The idea that a female music performer is culturally appropriating the hijab may not be so clear, especially when it is a norm in the Islamic culture. This understanding provides the foundation that has led to claims that the use of another culture’s beliefs, experiences, norms, language, or attire is a form of cultural appreciation rather than cultural appropriation. Furthermore, an argument can be made that takes into account the diversity among different people and how it may be celebrated by way of culinary appreciation. Archterling (2012) noted the celebration of diversity with a U.S. Naval ship by way of cooking a meal that reflects another culture’s culinary preference. This form of appreciation for another culture allows for counter-argument regarding cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation.
Diversity among different cultures has become a global celebration that allows the appreciation of different cultural values. In addition, professional skills that allow interactions between different cultures has been noted to be an asset in the professional setting. As indicated by Bennett (2019), this appreciation is seen in college and university campuses where different organizations engage in experiences such as culture, food, and fashion with other cultures. In this area, students engage in celebrating another culture by eating their food, participating in traditional dances, and wearing traditional clothing. Further, Dhadda (2014) indicated that cultural appreciation is also identified as an essential professional development skill that allows for effective engagement with other cultures in the workplace. This is an essential aspect of the professional development of administration in any company that is engaging with consumers. The ability to interact with consumers would require an understanding of a culture so that there are discussion and buy-in between the parties. Paralleled with these indications, Han (2019) indicated that the teaching of Art embraces an appreciation of different cultural images.
These ideas of cultural appreciation prompt the notion that there is a line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation that may be difficult to see. For example, when reviewing the issue of misrepresentation and exploitation of a subculture group by a dominant group as in the case of Black music and Korean pop music, the argument becomes about the purpose behind the appropriator and provider (e.g., Korean pop artist as the appropriator and Black music artist as the provider). According to Hurt (2018), Korean pop artists make use of rap music and its epitaphs as a form of attribution to previous artists in the genre that provides inspiration for their music. Hurt (2018) also indicates that Korean pop artists are not claiming an invention of rap music but rather an appreciation of it. This counter-argument indicated by Korean pop artists exemplifies that there is a line ascribed between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, which, according to Han (2019), needs to be considered. In this area, the communication between the opposing parties—Black artists and Korean pop artists—would need to understand the transcend that came from earlier starts of a Black music artist that allowed for the mainstream transformation of Black music. According to Danielsen (2012), the ability to utilize rhythms that were known to be Black but not heard as Black catapulted pop music and provided Michael Jackson the ability to market his music without being regarded by race. This idea has come to be known as crossover and provides the foundation for the argument that can be made against cultural appropriation.
Within these stated conclusions and debates between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, one common theme emerges, which is noted to be whether it is a “bad or good” intention. Weiss (2017) stated that there are instances where popularity and the use of another culture’s tradition (i.e., ninja suits by dancers or kimono attire or cornrows hairstyle) by music artists may be regarded as exploiting and misrepresenting another culture. On the other hand, Weiss (2017) also indicated that in the speeches given by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there was a language used that was particular to the trials of Israelites. In the former example, the intentions were bad if the cultural tradition was viewed as a misrepresentation of cultural traditions by using ninja suits or kimonos and cornrows. In the latter example, the words utilized by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided remarks towards a movement for social justice and equal rights. Therefore, when taken into consideration, these two examples implicate the intention to misrepresent and exploit a culture versus the intention to appreciate another culture.
In conclusion, the challenge that plagues music artists still remains an issue of durability within the music industry. These challenges are attributed to the industry’s promotion as well as the adaptation to consumer choice and preferences. The challenge between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation has also factored into the challenge that music artists face. The argument and debate regarding misrepresentation and exploitation of a subordinate culture by a dominant culture have been implicated heavily among Black artists and Korean pop artists. The downfall of another culture has implicated the success of one culture. It has brought some animosity between those who view Black artists’ experiences, political struggles, and cultural traditions in appearance and language in the music scene as a misrepresentation and exploitation of their character. In this area, the notion that Black artists are being used, underpaid, and devalued for their impact in the music industry by way of not providing credit for their contributions by Korean pop artists has taken center stage in the debate of appropriation and appreciation. As it always seems to be the case, there are different points of reference to what is being implicated. On the one hand, there are those that would argue the view of cultural appropriation as a misrepresentation, exploitation, and a form of a stereotype of Black artists’ struggles and political views. On the other hand, there are others that would argue that it is not cultural appropriation and that it is a cultural appreciation via a celebratory act of inclusion. From these arguments and suggestions one can understand the imposition from both areas and may decide to venture into their own interpretations of the issues. Perhaps, the idea that should replace the debate between cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation among Black artists and Korean pop artist should be grounded on not seeing color or race. This disregard for “blackness” in the American music industry afforded the ability of Michael Jackson to succeed. Regardless of the stance taken the trademark and road to success is an issue that will be viewing them differently by supporters and by opposition. As they rise to fame and fortune, Korean pop artists will continue to enlist Black artists’ music themes to increase sales and performance while Black artists will continue to make their music. The pressing issues then become the intent behind the actions as well as the interpretation by the appropriators and the providers.
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