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Cultural appropriation has become an issue within the music industry that has arisen in discussions among music artists and producers. As the concept continues to be spoken in relation to Korean pop artists taking Black artists’ music and making it their own without understanding the cultural association of the lyrics, dance, apparel, and racial background, the idea that it is one-sided has come to be questioned. Many would argue that when someone is supposedly appropriating particular concepts to a specific culture, it should not always be considered controversial. People have noted that Black artists knowingly engage in songwriting for Korean artists to understand that they may be copying dancing styles, gestures, and racial experiences.
Western music artists, especially Black artists, have become familiar with the concept and have actively stopped participating in writing music for Korean pop artists. Korean pop artists have suggested that Black music and the claim that their culture is being appropriated is a misunderstood concept. Some Korean artists have indicated that it is the producers that promote Black artists’ music and that the music career itself promotes the use of Black music as a point of sale. In addition, Korean pop artists have also indicated that they are not appropriating someone else’s music culture because they have used different genres and illustrate their appreciation for the culture.
Korean artists are producing pop music, which has been historically derived from western pop artists. Their music utilizes music elements obtained from multiple music genres. In particular, the primary genre used is pop music. Evidently, the majority of South Korea’s music artists have labeled their music under the Korean pop genre. One of the reasons indicated by Korean pop artists has indicated that the use of western pop music provides a greater chance of being recognized and increasing financial gain. Knowing that the audience of Korean pop music has expressed interest in western music, Korean pop artists use upbeat, rhythmic, soft, and catchy soundbites to gain appeal from many listeners. However, western music qualities used involve elements from black hip hop culture. The Korean artists imitate the style and dark theme often portrayed in Black western videos and music themes.
On the other hand, some staunch supporters claim that Korean artists continue to borrow with no attribution and respect for cultural norms deliberately. According to the author of the article, “Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation,” Bari Weiss states that “few of us doubt that stealing is wrong, especially from the poor. The accusation of cultural appropriation is overwhelmingly being used as an objection to syncretism. The mixing of culture and thoughts and ethnicities often ends in the creation of new subsets of thoughts and culture. Thus, creating a melting pot.”
Despite Korean artists using a different music genre as their go-to for popularity, they still exploit black culture in their music videos and promotions as an aesthetic for their pop songs. They benefit significantly from dressing and acting like gangsters while actual Black hip hop artists struggle to be acknowledged for their work in the music industry. Black artists’ themes are being used to benefit another country, let alone media inspiration for racially different artists, yet do not receive credit for it. Bari Weiss also states that “the impulse is one of homage and not derision, borrowing should be encouraged. Culture should be shared, not hoarded.” Korean artists are continuing to steal from Black hip hop artists even without producing hip hop music. Hip hop artists’ culture is being shared with numerous other artists for these new, unique ideas; however, their credit and culture are being hoarded.
Korean artists are trying to become a commercial success since the music industry is still a business. When it comes to the topic of business, the top priority is financial gain in order to remain successful. Any industry would take advantage of any possible resource that could be useful to make a profit. The Korean music industry is no different from how they would try to adapt to popular trends for economic gains independent of cultural appropriation ramifications. According to the author of the article, “What is (the wrong of) cultural appropriation,” Patti Lenard states that “cultural appropriation can be defined as the taking of a valuable, yet reusable or non-exhaustible aspect, of another individual’s culture for one’s own use, where the taker knows what they are doing, and where the context of this taking is contested.”
The continuous barrage of arguments on both sides of the spectrum of cultural appropriation and its impact on fashion, media, and music will continue to have a significant impact on whether the value of attribution and political correctness outweighs the popularity and revenue that is afforded by western pop and hip hop influences. Patti Lenard also states that “cultural appropriation appears to be additionally defined by the existence of underlying power structures which support or permit those with more power to take from those with less.” One example that Patti Lenard used was Kylie Jenner wearing cornrows in an Instagram post. Kylie Jenner may not be wearing a predominantly Black hairstyle with the intent to exploit the culture; however, she is still receiving high praise and profits off of it. No matter what kind of intentions artists would have, their main objective is to make money at no cost, whether they are culturally appropriating or not.
Society tends to mistake what it means to appropriate culture, which brings debates about whether a celebrity is exploiting that culture or not. There is nothing wrong with opposing whether Korean artists are unethical with how they promote and produce their music. However, the lack of consideration for a culture that is oppressed should not be justified by a business standpoint or whether the hip hop genre was only used in songs. An artist should be successful without exploiting a different culture and showing respect towards it from behind the scenes. Nonetheless, artists continue to seek modes of increasing popularity and wealth regardless of political culture and social appropriateness.
Patti Tamara Lenard, P. B. (n.d.). What is (the wrong of) cultural appropriation? – Patti Tamara Lenard, Peter Balint, 2020. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1468796819866498?journalCode=etna
Weiss, B. (2017, August 30). Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/opinion/cultural-appropriation.html?smid=em-share