Covering K-pop in the U.S. 101

I’ve been immersed in a lot of K-pop content recently, and the majority, if not all, of it has originated from Korea or in many cases, from the K-pop fandom itself. However, I’ve also watched some of the American media coverage of K-pop, and it’s lead me to have some strong opinions about it. I’ve seen too many misinformed interviews and cringey appearances to not write this post, so please forgive me for being a little salty in the paragraphs ahead. This is my crash course on how stateside media should handle K-pop.

American content creators: Please read the Do’s and Don’ts below before you shoot any K-pop performance, invite a K-pop group onto your talk show, interview a K-pop artist for your podcast, or in any way, shape or form cover K-pop for your U.S. audience. Please. I speak on behalf of every American K-pop fan that has cringed through your K-pop content because it so often has completely missed the mark.

  • Please please Do your research. If you ask uninformed questions, it’s going to make things really awkward. Awkward interviews suck. Ask relevant questions that show that you’ve done at least a little research into K-pop and the artist you’re dealing with. When Good Day New York had GOT7 on their show, it was really nice that the hosts had learned a bit about the group ahead of time. A few minutes of googling goes a long way to knowing what to ask and what not to ask. If you wanted a not-awkward interview with Jay-Z, you wouldn’t ask him if he’s dating anyone special. Because he’s married. To a really famous singer. And you’d know this if you researched Jay-Z for 2 minutes. So please, research the K-pop artist for a few minutes. If you have 20 minutes or so, watch Netflix’s “Explained” K-pop episode; it’s really informative and entertaining.
  • Don’t ask, “What’s the craziest thing a fan has done to get your attention?” Don’t encourage that crap. Idols won’t answer this question anyway, so you force them to redirect, making for an awkward moment. More importantly, crazy fans are disturbing and dangerous, so let’s leave their stories alone and let sasaeng behavior die the death it deserves.
  • Do ask: “What’s something special your fans have done to show their support?” Always treat the fans collectively, because it’s not about just one fan, it’s a fandom. All K-pop artists will have stories to share about about cool things their fandom does for them! Fandoms have names, colors, Twitter accounts… definitely ask about their fandoms.
  • Don’t play snarky tricks on K-pop artists and fans at the expense of their sincerity. K-pop as a genre is extremely sincere, it’s one of the big appeals to fans that are tired of the sarcastic and patronizing nature of the western music scene. In return for this sincerity, fans give their heartfelt support to their idols, and this artist/fandom relationship is taken very seriously in K-pop. Exploiting or mocking this sincerity to get a laugh is ignorant at best and downright nasty at worst.
  • Do play silly games with K-pop artists! Hilarious content doesn’t have to come at the cost of respect. In fact, K-pop idols are pros at making fools of themselves and doing silly things to entertain audiences. James Corden nailed it when he had BTS play the “Flinch” game on his show. Idols often hone ridiculous individual talents that make great content too, so ask the group members to show off their unique charms!
NCT 127 show off their hidden talents to American viewers.
  • Don’t complain about how there are too many of them in the group, and why do K-pop acts have to be so big, and geez there’s so many of you, and I’ll never remember all your names, yada yada yada… It’s a cultural thing; teamwork and the uniformity of large groups is admired and celebrated in South Korea. It’s fine to be curious about why K-pop groups have so many members, just ask them about this with respect. Making it a joke or complaining about it just embarrasses the artists and makes you look like a jerk.
  • Do ask what inspired them to become a performer. No one becomes an idol without some kind of inspiration to be one, because it’s really really hard work. If you don’t have your heart in it, you’ll probably have quit K-pop long before an American interviewer has the opportunity to ask why you entered the industry.
  • Don’t ask, “Are you dating anyone?” K-pop contracts generally preclude the artists from dating publicly, and certainly from discussing their private romantic life with the public. The only reason an interviewer would ask this question is if they’re an idiot or an asshole. Don’t be an idiot OR an asshole. I get it that love is a very common theme in K-pop, and if the performers’ feelings about it is germane to their art, then ask about it (see below). But if they don’t sing love songs, don’t ask about their love life! Do your research and ask them something relevant to their actual songs.
  • If they sing love songs and you really want to know their opinions on love, Do ask: “Have you ever been in love or had your heart broken?” or “Describe your ideal relationship.” This allows them to discuss the most common theme in K-pop without prying into their private life. Some idols may feel comfortable talking about romance personally, while most will probably speak generally about it. Either way, it won’t be awkward if you’ve asked the question in a way that allows them to speak about personal feelings without edging near a breach of contract lawsuit.
  • Don’t cut away to the audience during performances. Don’t do it! K-pop artists work hard on their performances. Really really really freaking hard. The audience is NOT IMPORTANT!!!! If it’s a celebrity audience, then maybe just cut away once or twice for a brief celebrity reaction shot. But if it’s only real people in the audience, NO ONE cares about them. Now I realize cutting away during a standard western pop act might be necessary to keep things interesting for the viewer at home, because there often ain’t jack-diddly happening on stage (sorry, but it’s true). However, this is not the case in K-pop. There never ISN’T something happening in a K-pop performance, every millisecond is perfectly timed and synchronized to the song, so please please please keep the freakin’ camera on the freakin’ action on the freakin’ stage! Stop showing us screaming fans in the audience. We know the group has fans. We ARE the fans!!!  And if you tell me the reason you cut to the fans is to show (insert patronizing voice here) “how popular K-pop is in America,” just stop with that BS. K-pop has grown because what’s happening on the stage is mesmerizing and magnetic. That’s how fans are made. No one becomes a K-pop fan because they suffer FOMO watching someone lose their sh*t on TV. You’re missing the point when you cutaway. K-pop is eye candy. Show it.
This is how a live K-pop performance should be directed, with multiples cameras following the action and NO CUTAWAYS.

That’s the end of my rant for now. However, if I think of additional advice, or if you have some that you’d like to add, I’ll gladly post another section on this subject. Until then, American media – please study this pre-requisite course. There will be a test.

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