Over the last couple of years KPop has witnessed a rapidly growing fanbase for its hypnotic beats, pretty faces and smooth dance moves. With groups like BTS and Blackpink drawing tremendous attention from their diverse fans all over the world, it only makes sense that Indians have too, begun to enjoy KPop. The term KPop makes most of us think of Psy’s Gangnam Style from 2012. It brought with it the ‘hallyu’ wave, an umbrella term for korean dramas, movies and more specifically Korean Pop music. Today, this category comprises of iconic groups that showcase their talents through song and dance.
Time has relentlessly pelted us with an image of an ideal man. Interestingly enough the fans of popular boy groups are fascinated by another kind of masculinity Asia has to offer. Something that is a class apart from Bollywood’s repetitive “macho” spiel that has encouraged toxic masculinity more often than not. A “perfect” desi man is stoic and rugged, according to most portrayals in media. Well groomed, lithe and beautiful men adored in Korean culture are a sharp contrast to this stereotype.
Having followed KPop since 2014, I have watched as more and more of my friends and acquaintances find themselves drawn to this genre of music, drawn to KPop mega idols like BTS and EXO.
Around the latter half of 2016, BTS gained much popularity in Europe and America with their hit Blood, Sweat and Tears. It wasn’t an easy road however, with harsh and tasteless comments springing up from non fans about how “boys shouldn’t wear makeup,” how “oriental men look like women”. As of 2019 however, they have received international recognition from Billboard and the Grammys, never letting go of their original style for a more stereotypical form of masculinity.
Desi culture isn’t very welcoming to a different way of gender expression. Asian men are considered least masculine as compared to other races, according to numerous surveys. Naturally, accepting Korean men who wear makeup is a difficult task for Indian culture deep rooted in its conventional ways. But with the number of fans ever increasing, a good chunk of Desi teens are getting acquainted with KPop and are thus introduced to a form of masculinity that isn’t toxic.
What is most admirable about this shift stems from the fact that KPop is redefining masculinity in its own ways. Men can be beautiful too; they can wear makeup and jewellery and lace. This right has been taken from them by the society. In a music video by the group EXO, Love Shot, member Kai can be seen rocking a crop top. The change brought about by Kpop boy groups might be brushed off as flamboyant fashion statements but the truth lies its power to sway people and cultures so far away from home, all the way to India.
The problem being a KPop fan in India is the constant worry about how these artists would be treated in our home country. Nobody would want to see their favourite artists being degraded for how they choose to appear on stage. The definition of masculinity carved through centuries has made Indian men averse to even wearing the colour pink, in fear of being mocked by friends for wearing a “girly” shirt. One might even go as far to call this culture oppressive and restrictive, as it takes away the freedom of self expression.
Male beauty gurus of diverse nationalities and backgrounds continue to successfully grow on platforms like YouTube. However for its population of 1.3 billion, India has yet to produce such an equivalent. That leaves us with the question of why Desi culture is so rigid with its gender roles.
Perhaps few know about the photoshoot BTS did in December of 2016, wearing traditionally feminine items of clothing such as skirts, chokers, fishnets and corsets. Celebrities doing androgynous concepts is regarded as just flash of high fashion but it has the undercurrents of liberation. Desi culture bars self expression like no other and even after decriminalising homosexuality it has a very long way to go.
Self expression is the core of forming our identity and this truth is understood by all. North Koreans go as far to illegally smuggle makeup from the South. This just goes to show how important crafting a different identity is to human beings. With Indian society refusing to shun the age old restrictions and regulations about gender roles, we might never move forward into an era where the LGBTQ+ community is actually free, is actually integrated with the society.
KPop shows something of a geometric growth today and by exposing a culture to another we can erase the definition of masculinity and femininity that were set in stone for centuries. Desi Gen Z is certainly more worldly than our forefathers ever were. Through this constant learning (perhaps from pop music, perhaps from movies, perhaps from cultures different from us) we grow more knowledgeable about those that are the same but different from us.
I admire KPop for its ability to boldly carve a way for itself, all the while leading us away from stereotypes and leaving behind a positive impact.