I’m so Tired of This ‘K-Pop Is Gay’ Narrative
by Jace Amodo, April 10, 2019 11:00am
Art by Dani Elevazo
My eyes can't believe the words that followed when I typed "K-Pop is" on my browser's search bar: bad, cancer, trash—all the adjectives I used to define myself with. "K-Pop is gay," however, is one search result I wasn't too surprised to encounter.
Most fans are in-deep the K-Pop fad because of attractive celebrities. But there are plenty of reasons one would gladly fall down this pit (or climb this cloud, whichever analogy works): the incredible choreography, eye-catching visuals, and catchy tunes. Case in point: we, fans, stan talent. So what's with the hate speech?
The problem with the "gay" in the "K-Pop is gay" narrative is, it’s used as an insult. It shames the Korean men, people who listen to K-Pop, and the K-Pop genre; Let's talk about why Korean men are stereotyped this way, to start.
I've been wracking my brain how people concluded men in the Korean entertainment industry are gay.
Is it gender cues that established this stereotype? If this is because K-Pop idols wear makeup, boy you'll drown in a sea of facepalmed people. Hollywood celebrities wear one too, yet nobody questions their sexuality—or at least not as much as our Korean idols do. People wear makeup to feel good about themselves and to feel confident or presentable. Besides, it's the 21st century and people assuming makeup is exclusive to women has some catching up to do.
I think it's internalized homophobia that fuels the toxic comments. All the physical intimacy, a.k.a. Skinship, among K-Pop idols are merely acts of fan-service, and fans know these are only to please them. Although some may argue that fan-service is a fetishization of homosexuality, we can't blame the idols for entertaining the taboos of Korean society to drive their fans wild.
By Western standards, K-Pop is seen as feminine. And it's true, the industry is geared towards and is dominated by a female demographic. The double standard is that it's more acceptable for women to listen to K-Pop than men; it's only acceptable if men stan "sexy" female K-idols like the queen HyunA, AOA's Seolhyun, and EXID's Hani to name a few. I know, it makes little sense.
In an interesting Reddit discussion, fanboys talked about the stigma surrounding listening to K-Pop—mind you, I was nodding the whole time, and my colleagues thought I was being weird. Fanboys have it harder than fangirls, especially if of certain descent that isn't all welcoming with the genre or has a concept of masculinity.
When fanboys fall into the appeal of Hallyu's muses and cheer for them, it's seen as natural or weird—depending on the level of fanaticism. But when fanboys listen to boy bands, it's automatically gay. Why? The standards for Korean men are hardly on the same page as the Western's. K-idols are mostly tall, slender, and, good-looking. Taehyung, Jungkook, and Jimin from Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS) are some of the most commonly regarded pretty male K-idols. Apparently, listening to pretty boys sing and watch them perform isn't "manly."
Full-disclosure, I listen to a lot of K-Pop songs and watch a lot of K-Pop music videos. My fanaticism is limited to digital albums and YouTube videos—that is until the 2019 K-Pop Friendship Concert in Manila. There, I met Noir, April, and NCT Dream—the latter of which I'm most familiar with. It's true what they say about meeting your idols in real-life: wow. It boils enough excitement and amazement to cause a post-concert sepanx.
Funny, in an arena filled with females shouting oppa (older brother of a female person), the males who shout hyung (older brother of a male person) are the ones who stand out. Some fangirls looked at fanboys like some kind of exotic creature which is understandable because we were kind of “outnumbered.” What's weirder is how we're uncanny for liking K-Pop, but they admire our side that supports other genres.
My Spotify Wrapped 2018 revealed my top genres were K-Pop, Synth Pop, Dance-Pop, Indie Pop, and Alt hip-hop; As long as it is talent, I stan the band. So with the narrative in question and my taste in music considered, am I 20% gay? If a bisexual isn't half-gay, then there's no such thing as 1/5 gay. And even if a fan listens purely to K-Pop, it has nothing to do with their sexuality.
Is K-Pop as a genre gay? Short answer: no. As one Sarah on Twitter asks, "When did K-Pop, a genre of music, became sexuality?" This question is easily a negative connotation towards the genre, and is usually a dumb statement from closed-minded people.
"kpop is gay." when did 'kpop' a genre of music, became a sexuality? stop stereotyping korean men as gay. stop using gay as an insult.— sarah (@jintoxicated) July 23, 2017
I read a Rolling Stone article once, about how BTS is breaking K-Pop’s biggest taboos—politics and inclusivity among others. In it, reporter Jae Ha Kim explains how the group's open-mindedness on same-sex relationships could have been a career-killer. And yet, five years since their debut, they are still here: earning Billboard's 2017 and 2018 Top Social Artist and even gracing the cover of TIME Magazine Global. Did their inclusivity help in their success? Probably not (they're talented AF), but it didn't hinder it.
The South Korean entertainment industry is known for being conservative and somewhat apolitical. As with the Philippines, the South Korean government is slow and reluctant in welcoming the LGBTQIA+ community.
But it's amazing to see K-Pop idols support the rainbow flag through small gestures like recommending inclusive songs (e.g. BTS’ RM recommending Troye Sivan’s “Strawberries and Cigarettes”) to their fans, for instance. If this is any indication, the modern Korean entertainment industry is evolving. So, too, should the narrative that K-Pop is gay, bisexual, or any gender. But then again, so what if K-idols or people who listen to K-Pop are? It's never anyone's business what a Korean—or any human—prefer to date, marry, or coexist.
It’s unfortunate that many still use the word “gay” as an insult; no wonder some people in the spectrum and in the K-Pop fandom remain closeted. Ironic how this hate speech exists when Psy's "Gangnam Style," MOMOLAND's "Bboom Bboom," or BTS' "Mic Drop" is on the culprit's radar. But we won't try in vain to change what their perception of K-Pop is. Instead, we'll keep on celebrating our passion. K-Pop is an acquired taste, anyway.