For Western fans of Kpop, it’s no secret that some of us flock to Kpop for a more wholesome take on pop music. But the Korean sensibility and reaction toward potentially scandalous images and actions can be both a boon and a bane. The censorship we enjoy one moment may also go much too far in another situation, especially when it comes to issues of sexuality, race, and disability. Attempting to reconcile the civil liberties we take for granted in America with a culture that frequently shuns and shames “the other” can make any fan question his or her allegiance. Enter Planet Shiver’s “Rainbow.”
Personally, I’ve been desperately waiting for a Kpop music video that affirms the dignity of all humans for a long time now. That may sound idealistic, or even simplistic, but I believe it is neither of those things. Kpop, for all its charms, is an extremely racialized music genre. Think about it for a moment. Lacking any other definition, we’re talking about a genre here that is reserved for people of Korean descent (mixed descent will do in a pinch; failing that, Asian descent is allowed; non-Asians need not apply). Within that racialized context, it is rare to ever see “the other.”
We catch glimpses. There is a cast of white males in AOA’s “Like a Cat." In Wa$$up’s “Nom Nom Nom,” there are several black males, and more in Tiny G’s “Tiny G.” Wonder Girls sang with Akon. We see white women in Xia Junsu’s “Uncommitted,” Xhoumi’s “Rewind, Gary’s “Shower Later,” and TVXQ’s “Something.” We even catch sight of the mythical black female in Rain’s “La Song.” This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but token appearance of other ethnicities, it must be said, is not a tacit approval of their worth. Their presence, in fact, can serve the opposite function.
The black men are expelled from Tiny G’s video in an unceremonious fashion, and the black women in Rain’s music video are hypersexualized in a sillouette animation. In an ironic role reversal from Western culture, the white male plays the nemesis in AOA’s “Like a Cat.” And this goes beyond race. Take, for example, 4Minutes’s representation of homosexuality in “Whatcha Doin Today,” wherein two males are fed sugar pills that suddenly turn them gay. It’s a goof, a gag. It’s slapstick comedy that shames the homosexual. This is not true representation.
And within this history, within a culture that seems unsure about how to treat or handle “the other,” comes Planet Shiver’s “Rainbow,” featuring Crush. I’ve been waiting for something like this to come out. And waiting. And waiting. Finally, someone in Kpop is willing to make a statement. Through a music video that is classy and affirming, we’re reminded that race, sexual orientation, age, and disability do not make someone less than whole. We’re reminded that societal expectations can be constricting and unfair. We’re reminded that in a global society, nothing is gained by exclusion of “the other.”
It’s a message that probably sounds idealistic. Maybe you even think it sounds stupid, or obvious. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen a true affirmation of human dignity within Kpop. And I think that deserves our attention. We would be fools to think that one song will change the world. But we’d also be fools to believe that it won’t.
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.