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Are non-Korean K-pop groups like Exp Edition, Kaachi and 5High cultural appropriation – or is ‘K-pop is only for Koreans’ racist?

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 2/7/2020 Alecsandra Tubiera
a group of people posing for the camera: Exp Edition, a K-pop group with no Korean members. Photo: @expedition.official/Instagram Exp Edition, a K-pop group with no Korean members. Photo: @expedition.official/Instagram

With the continuing rise in popularity of Korean idol groups and solo acts worldwide, some agents and promoters are keen to recreate these artists' success for themselves.

One approach is to create a non-Korean K-pop group, a trend that started with Exp Edition, an all-American boy group formed by Bora Kim in 2014. She wanted to know if K-pop was only called such if the artists were all Korean. The group were promoted in the US until 2016, when they moved to South Korea, where they learned Korean like most foreign K-pop idols.

More recently, three other non-Korean groups have been the centre of attention on social media. Kaachi, a London-based four-piece girl group with only one Korean member, has faced accusations of cultural appropriation, as well as more objective criticism of their lack of training and synchronisation. The group were forced to clarify that they weren't being managed by the same company as the controversial BTS stan, Oli London, when netizens piled into them with hate comments on the rumour they were associated with him.

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Meanwhile, two more girl groups are in the works; 5High, an all-Indian girl group, released a cover of South Korean girl group Dreamcatcher's Piri, while Rosegold, an all-American girl group, has recently held auditions for potential members. Despite not having formally having debuted yet, they were sent hate mail on social media. So, should K-pop be filtered into who can and cannot be considered a genuine K-pop artist on grounds of nationality?

K-pop and J-pop record producer Jeff Miyahara, who worked with Exo, Girls' Generation and TVXQ, says K-pop has always been multicultural and will continue to be so, as there are and were non-Korean members in famous groups such as Got7, Seventeen, U-Kiss, and others.

"I'm half-Korean and half-Japanese, and to see something like this (non-Korean K-pop groups) is such a proud moment as the music we created from Asia has impacted people worldwide so much that they decided to put their own artistic take on it," he said.

Miyahara says the line "K-pop is only for Koreans" is completely ignorant, racist, and small-minded. "The music was a representation of the culture and the potential that was Korea, and was always meant for the global market and not just for Korean fans. To see as a result, cultures mix and assimilate what K-pop started to do should be an honour," he told STYLE.

"I think fans are getting the wrong idea of K-pop. It's easy to categorise the genre as K-pop, but it's something universal and not meant for racially segregating fans and artists. Artists like Kaachi and even Lana are going to get some amount of backlash because they are starting something new, but what they don't realise is that they are opening up opportunities for the next generation of artists

For Miyahara, music has always broken down walls for communication and people should take the time to get to know upcoming non-Korean K-pop groups, and be cautious about what they say online as these artists are people too.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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