Theorizing the Korean Wave| K-Pop Without Koreans: Racial Imagination and Boundary Making in K-Pop

Ji-Hyun Ahn


With K-pop groups beginning to include non-Korean members, K-pop has become increasingly transnational and hybridized. All aspects of K-pop have now transcended Korea’s national borders, from production to consumption and from performers’ nationalities to their music and fashion styles. There have even been some intriguing experiments in creating K-pop groups composed mainly, or even entirely, of non-Korean/Asian members, such as EXP Edition, CoCo Avenue, and KAACHI. Interestingly, and perhaps predictably, these groups have faced vigorous pushback from K-pop fan communities and have generated heated controversy about the definition of K-pop. In this article, I interrogate the racial politics of K-pop by carefully examining international K-pop fans’ reactions to and discourse about these three groups. By examining how fans’ online engagement has challenged the conventions of K-pop with non-Asian performers, I advance the discussion of the racial dimension of the genre, which has received little attention in the current Korean Wave scholarship.


K-pop, cultural appropriation, hybridity, race, EXP Edition, CoCo Avenue, KAACHI

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