Recent years have seen an increasing number of non-Koreans break into the K-pop market as part of a K-pop group, and this has resulted in a big question; can a K-pop group without any Korean members still be a K-pop group?
According to a new feature by CNN, the answer is yes, but not everyone agrees.
The recent debut of EXP Edition, the first K-pop group comprised of no Korean members, proved that it is possible to have a K-pop group without Koreans. However, this has since led to debates regarding issues of identity and authenticity.
K-pop Youtuber David Kim, who runs the popular K-pop YouTube channel DKDKTV, weighed in on the question, telling CNN, "what divides pop from K-pop is the K. Obviously, you could tell [EXP Edition] were not Korean without even seeing their appearance."
Critics have pointed out that not only are EXP Edition "cringeworthy," the group were essentially "foreign intruders" who have invaded a "safe space" reserved for Asian artists.
Tamar Herman, who covers K-pop for Billboard,told CNN, "it's really interesting that a crew from America is trying to figure out how to, essentially, hack the K-pop market. They have definitely figured out what it is that K-pop fans like; good-looking, talented men singing and performing sleek choreography."
Having said that though, that isn't quite enough according to Herman, who told the publication they don't, "really count as K-pop, because they don't fit into any of the existing parameters of what K-pop is."
While EXP Edition are far from the first K-pop group to feature non-Korean members, it is the first to feature white members.
The group EXP Edition itself was born out of an experiment to explore global culture and identity, and the members participated out of an eagerness to explore K-pop's racial dynamics. The group's only Asian member, Koko Tomlinson, says there's no Asian pop icons in America and he didn't have anyone to look up to as a kid, so this is an opportunity for him to do pop.
The one thing that EXP Edition has also faced is their relative lack of training compared to Korea-based K-pop stars. Due to how much training Korean idols go through before debuting, EXP Edition has also caused some resentment from K-pop fans who know that their favourite groups have experienced much more hardship.
Having said that, EXP Edition are working hard, putting in up to 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, as well as extra Korean classes. For now, the group are capable of doing interviews and TV segments in Korean, but the boys all concede that EXP Edition, "still have a long way to go" before being accepted.
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