David Lehre, a.k.a. Chad Future, is not the end of Kpop as we know it.
Wading through the negative commentary hurled his way, the most frequent complaint against Chad Future is that he is white, not Korean, not even Asian, and therefore cannot make Kpop music. But Kpop is, unfortunately, only ever defined in terms of race.
So how should we view a person like Chad Future? Is he appropriating a culture’s music for his own benefit? Are we seeing shades of Elvis Presley and Eminem using “black music?” Worse, a Vanilla Ice?
In the end, these issues are similar but not quite the same. Kpop simply isn’t mired in historical complexity. This isn’t a white kid wearing Native American headdresses or sporting blackface. Kpop is pop. In this case, a mix of Korean culture that can thank the New Kids on the Block as much as SES for its origins. And while there are major issues of whitewashing by a western media that refuses to acknowledge Asian males, we don’t see Chad Future as the inevitable future of Kpop stars. In the western world, Kpop is a niche market. Chad Future is a niche of that niche.
The hellfire that Chad receives over trying to make “American Kpop” happen says a lot more about us than it does about Chad Future. We have to dig deeper to understand that reaction.
What Post-colonial Criticism Can Tell Us about Chad Future
Post-colonial Criticism is a way to view art through a lens that pays special attention to the strained relations between two cultures when one has heavily influenced the other, usually through military/political rule (there’s a similar term, cultural imperialism, for economic influence). Post-colonial criticism can help us understand the vitriol surrounding Chad Future and “American Kpop,” by evaluating the art and artist within their cultural frame.
We should note right away that the United States has never held political authority over South Korea, but the military campaigns in the Korean War were not far from it. It was the United States that provided the majority of international military soldiers during the campaign against the North. Even following the Korean War, economic ties between the U.S. and Korea were extensive. Heavy American investment in infrastructure and manufacturing led to dramatic economic growth in Korea. The cultural effect of American involvement in Korea is one way to view Korean art that has been produced since World War II.
Now that we have some history, let’s get back to Chad Future. Why is his race (white) such a big deal? Even to someone who has little notion of what Kpop is, the idea that a white artist would want to invade the genre sends a warning signal to the deepest parts of our brains. It just seems so...wrong. But why?
A Postcolonial Look at Chad Future through his Music Videos
It’s hard to take Chad Future as a serious threat to Kpop when his three most recent music videos aren’t even intended for a Korean audience. All three are posted to his Vevo channel, which serves the U.S. and Europe almost exclusively (also, Brazil). But his website gives no indication that he is promoting himself solely as an American artist. So what can we glean from these videos?
“Lonely at the Top” is a slow-paced hip-hop song that sounds like it was written from David Lehre’s personal experiences of exclusion. Filmed in black and white, Chad Future (or is this Lehre?) empties his heart into the drainage canals of Detroit, reminding the viewer that he is “Countin’ on [his] hand all the people who believe in [him].” The most Kpop thing about this video is his fashion sense: bold, but ultimately absurd. We give him a pass on this one.
His relationship with an Asian woman in the video “Used 2 Be” could give some viewers reason to pause. Look, love who you love. But there is history here, of orientalism, and dangerous perceptions of Koreans and Asian women falling for white dominance. Again, we’re not telling Chad Future (or anyone) who they should love. But when viewed through a lens of post-colonialism, we can see where this video might rub people the wrong way, especially if labeled as American Kpop.
Finally, even though “The Burbs” is in no way intended for a Korean audience, that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of Chad Future’s body of work. And unless he defines himself as something other than American Kpop, this one counts too. “The Burbs” is parody that is too playful, almost amateurish. Chad Future gives a Will-Smith-style spoken-word rap and a refrain that makes us long for Chingy’s “Right Thurr.” Although he does wear a t-shirt with Korean writing on it, we could almost believe that Chad Future had never even heard of Kpop based on this video alone. Ultimately, the only thing this video does in terms of post-colonialism is place David Lehre definitively in the camp of privileged white person.
So based on his recent music videos, is Chad Future coming to take over Kpop? It hardly even feels like he’s targeting the same audience. If he’s going to insist on calling his music American Kpop, however, he’s not necessarily doing himself any favors either.
The Defense Rests
We’re not here to argue that Chad Future should be accepted as a Kpop star. We’re simply pointing out that the hateful comments thrown his way have almost nothing to do with his music. Instead, these hateful comments seek to turn Chad Future into a symbol of white oppression. We’re suggesting that the reaction against Chad Future is a gut reaction, one ingrained in our culture and with good reason. But it is also a reaction that Chad Future, the human being, doesn’t deserve.