Born out of controversy, Wa$$up has seen a barrage of negativity from their very first twerk, especially from American Kpop fans. The accusations are plentiful: Wa$$up is trashy. They're appropriating black culture. They have no talent. And the thing is, there are problems with Wa$$up. But the hate against the girls is so venomous that it is no way proportionate to any of their flaws.
"Wa$$up is Trashy"
That's the nicest way we can paraphrase the rampant slut-shaming. It seems to be perfectly fine for Kpop fans to call Wa$$up obscene names but not okay for them to shake their bodies. There is an outrage with American fans because they have an idyllic image of Kpop as a more classy form of pop. Many American fans prefer Kpop because their stars are so unlike the highly sexual Lady Gaga's and Rihanna's of the American pop scene. They fear Wa$$up as a harbinger of the American style they hate. But isn't Kpop large enough to hold many different artists and styles? There can be very valid discussion about the over-sexualization of female (and male) artists in Kpop, especially as of late, but to shame these artists relentlessly is bad form, and doesn't add to the conversation.
And the thing about Wa$$up, is that American audiences are judging them based off of their own western lens of sexuality. Jiyeon was recently asked to change her choreography for music shows because the hip sway against the wall was deemed inappropriate, to the confusion of many American fans. Hyoseong rarely shows her cleavage in live performance because it would be too sultry. Wa$$up has made some adjustments too, but the twerking has remained. Why? Because twerking is not viewed with the same hyper-sexuality as Americans have come to view it. There are very few groups that don't move their butts. Even popular groups like Kara, Sistar, and T-ara had butt dances that swept the nation. Korea is highly conservative but it's clear that they just don't care as much about butts as we do.
"They Have No Talent"
Maybe Wa$$up's latest video "Fire" for the upcoming World Cup isn't the best video to prove they have talent. Everything in this video is awkward: the dancing, the cheesecake, the green screen. But at the end of the day it's also just a silly video coinciding with the World Cup. If you think Wa$$up doesn't have talent, you're not paying attention.
Nari is a spectacular dancer with almost unparalleled energy and enthusiasm. She's a natural. And have you seen Nada rap?
We're not saying that Wa$$up is an elite group, or even a great group. But to say they don't have talent is blatantly untrue.
"Wassup Steals from Black Culture"
In America, appropriation is a huge issue marked with a deep history. "White culture" has been stealing from "black culture" for decades and decades now and any instance of appropriation, of taking someone else's culture and using it for your own means, shouldn't be taken lightly. It's clear that Wa$$up leans heavily on using "black," or "hip hop" culture to establish their identity. "Nom Nom Nom" even has black men that serve as little more than props to give Wa$$up street cred.
But is it at the same level as Avril Lavigne's "Hello Kitty" or Katy Perry dressing like a geisha? There are some things to consider when looking at Wa$$up. Besides twerking and rapping, and an occasional Jamaican announcer, there's actually not as much hip hop coming from Wa$$up as they'd want you to think. The hip hop is more of an artifice. There seems to be a reverence to the idea of "hip hop" that Wa$$up has embraced more than its content. And really, that makes sense for a Kpop group.
Kpop is built on appropriation. Korean artists have taken elements of western pop and made it their own. That's the beauty/absurdity of it. The only thing that makes the appropriation of "black culture" any different is the history behind it. The American history. We think that there can be a conversation about appropriation with Kpop and Wa$$up but it's not with the same history or context. And it's certainly not used with the same intent as appropriation's most damaging cases.
We're not saying Wa$$up is without faults, we're saying that American Kpop fans need to look at these girls from a different lens. To shed that western perspective. Which brings us to our last point:
Wa$$up is Fun
And ridiculous, and silly. They're also good to their fans, and more self-aware than you'd think. Observe:
Wa$$up took the time to film this highly meta reaction to the reaction Mister Popo had watching their video for "Nom Nom Nom." Mister Popo is a popular Kpop YouTuber and a big supporter of Wa$$up. This made his day, maybe his year, and they've even met all together in person. Doing that was nice...and fun.
At the end of the day, isn't that what Kpop should be all about? Fun? Kpop fans should not forget that.