In 2015, a New York-based quartet by the name of EXP Edition attempted to enter our cultural consciousness, marketed as the first all-American K-Pop boy band. They were (and are) the brainchild of Columbia graduate student Bora Kim and her project partners Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao, who sought to “explore gender, sexuality, business culture, fandom and cultural appropriation in Korean pop,” as Popdust writes. Kim told her alma matter: “I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more, since I’m in New York, where so many talents are just one online recruitment ad away.”
EXP Edition somehow raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter to move to Seoul, South Korea and record a debut LP; that’s when they lost two members and established themselves as a quartet with members Frankie, Šime, Hunter and Koki. In April 2017, they released their debut LP Feel Like This, and as you can imagine, people were pissed, mostly outraged at the blatant cultural appropriation. At the time of publishing, the video has racked in 7,000 thumbs up and 10,000 thumbs down reactions on YouTube. Not great. Check it out below:
YouTuber heryesareyo put it best:
“K-pop is supposed to be a safe space for Asians to have a platform for entertainment that they often times aren’t given in the west. Because of the narrative that white westerners have projected onto them, Asians are often portrayed as undesirable, anti-social, and nerdy. They are hardly ever given leading roles in movies, and are not really taken seriously or given opportunities in entertainment positions...we don’t need mediocre white boys trying to be idols in Korea when they are able to become successful in literally any other part of the world.”
So why are we talking about EXP Edition now, at the start of 2018? Because the “experiment” of EXP Edition has continued and on Tuesday, the group teased a comeback single, “Stress,” which you can watch on the top of this post. This time, the video has more positive reactions than negative ones, and the comments reflect a newfound embrace of the non-Korean K-Pop grow. It’s certainly concerning, but if they have a fan base... could this be the future of K-Pop? Do you have to be Korean to make the stuff?
Personally, I wish they would’ve disappeared into oblivion after a disastrous 2017, but hey, the world ain’t nice, and racial appropriation seems to excel on YouTube.