Last month, we introduced you to EXP Edition, a New York-based “K-Pop” band made up of non-Korean members. The quartet (originally a sextet) started as the project of Columbia graduate student Bora Kim in 2015; Bora sought to “explore gender, sexuality, business culture, fandom and cultural appropriation in Korean pop.” EXP Edition released a single, “Feel Like This,” soon after, and were met with backlash for their blatant cultural appropriation. (In YouTube terms, the single received 10,000 thumbs down to a meager 7,000 thumbs up.) The group disappeared for a while (good), returned this year (bad), and for whatever reason, time has been good to them: some K-pop fans are warming up to the idea of New York boys entering the Korean pop music arena. The group even scored an interview with AllKPop.com, a go-to site for K-pop fans, on Tuesday, in which it became extraordinarily clear that these guys do not think what they’re doing is bad and/or racist.
EXP Edition’s Frankie told the website:
“At first when EXP Edition debuted I don’t think we expected such an overwhelming backlash. Every time we get a negative response we take into account what it is that people are collectively feeling and we really try to improve those things. After our first music video not having any choreography in it we insisted that this next video showcase our choreography. Also our goal has not been to “fit in.” We’re by all means very different and its something we continue to embrace, but in many other ways we had to step it up. Creating a song that was more “Kpop” but still had EXP Edition flare to it was key. Improving our Korean and pronunciation, which is something that has come with a lot effort but also just living in Korea for a longer amount of time.”
Here’s the thing: It wasn’t the lack of choreography that angered fans; it was watching non-Korean guys essentially pretend to be Korean. Later on in the interview, Frankie is adamant that EXP Edition is a “K-Pop group” and “not idols” (the term for a Korean pop star signed under one of the major entertainment media companies in Seoul), which is all fine and good, but they’re already infiltrating K-Pop spaces in all the other ways?
I don’t know, man. Their argument appears to be that having non-Korean members enter the K-Pop music world, EXP Edition are somehow validating the fact that K-Pop has become a worldwide phenomenon. No one could (or rather, should) doubt K-Pop’s ubiquity. But I have a problem with judging international success by its appropriation from other countries and people of other races. K-Pop doesn’t need an EXP Edition co-sign to prove that it’s everywhere. It just is.