Have you ever heard any of these phrases before:
"They all look the same."
"They look like girls."
"They must be gay."
"They wear makeup and jewelry."
"How do you differentiate between them?"
"You don't even understand what they're saying, what's the point?"
"Korean sounds funny."
Obviously most of these comments are either racist, sexist, homophobic, or all three, but why is it that Pakistanis still use them? It is no unknown fact that we are living in an age of the Korean Wave, which is a term used to describe the increased consumption and popularity of Korean pop culture. May it be through K-pop, K-dramas, or Korean cultural festivals, Korean electronics, cosmetics, beauty products, or fashion, you may have known at least one friend/acquaintance who is an ardent fan of the Korean culture. In Pakistan mostly, it was the popularity of BTS that brought fans into the Korean blockhole (read = paved the way don't fight me on this). However, the number of people who "oppose" the Korean wave is no less than those who are big fanatics.
The biggest cultural shock that people receive is because of the appearance of the K-pop idols - they wear makeup, jewelry, unique costumes, and dye their hair in a plethora of popping colours - which, in the Pakistani context, translates to being "too girly".
It may come as a surprise to many people, but makeup and dying hair is not reserved for Korean idols and actors only, it is a common feat! Not only do boys wear jewelry and makeup, it is common in Korea for heterosexual men to openly show affection to their male friends and "hold hands" in public. It just goes to show that different cultures have different definitions of what is considered "masculine" or not. But a funny instance to remember is when BTS fans in Gujranwala hoisted a billboard for a Jungkook's birthday, but a Jimati Islami politician of the city brought it down because it promoted homosexuality. I mean.....
Do give this a read if you want a good laugh:
Other than appearances, many find the language itself to be a barrier, not realizing that music is a language in of itself (or that translations exists you know). If language were such a problem, why is it that K-dramas and movies are gaining so much popularity? Other than the storyline itself, Korean dramas/movies have the best cinematography and graphics, and the emotions that actors put into their characters is just Oscar-worthy. Speaking of which, here's what Director Bong Joon-ho had to say when he won FOUR (yep, you read that right) Academy Awards for his movie "Parasite" in 2019:
Not only this, but K-pop has been making history on many fronts by having its "first ever Korean/Asian to...." moments. BTS have been achieving it all - from receiving the highest Korean Merit Award to performing in the United Nations to becoming UNICEF's Ambassadors to selling all of Wembley to becoming the BIGGEST band on the planet (this is just 0.1 percent of their achievements). Their message of self-love and anti bullying has resonated with so many that their achievements have shown all of this was not possible due to just a bunch of "crazy fangirls" as is the image of their fandom amongst haters. There is still this concept in our desi households, "ye bhi One Direction ki tarha ek phase hai, utar jaye ga". Well Mama Baba, it's been five years and the "phase" isn't over.
In fact, the Korean wave gained so much popularity for their insanely robot-level synchronized choreographies, music theories, concepts, and hidden messages, that fans started finding Western music bland.
And so, there is the problem of Western media exploiting the Korean popularity to gain viewership for their own award shows, T.V shows, music videos, and much more. Even Pakistani news pages, that once criticized and passed racist remarks on K-pop, have taken to forming headlines for as trivial a thing as "BTS Jin Took a Selfie Today". Still, I find it upsetting how Geo Pakistan with Huma and Abdullah (two people I considered very woke and sensitive) hosted a show on BTS and passed remarks like "ye tou koi Pakistani larkay bhi apnay baal dye karke kisi basement mai ja ke dance kar len this is good." Not to mention the judgy faces people make if one tells them that they are Korean culture fans. If only we had the basic decency to accept and respect people's choices of the kind of media they consumed, AND also understood that that which is different is not necessarily bad.
Despite all the racist behaviour , however, I do appreciate the Pakistani fans of K-pop/K-dramas who have formed communities that host fund-raising projects and conduct fanmeets. It is interesting to see how the embassy of South Korea in Islamabad itself hosts a prestigious K-pop festival every year.
It must also be said that nothing is completely rainbows and unicorns. Despite all the amazing things it has to offer, the South Korean society is considered "conservative" in the sense that it is still intolerant towards LGBTQ and the toxic culture of upholding an idol's "image" has resulted in various idols losing their careers over baseless scandals. The toxic and unrealistic beauty standards, cruel trainee life, sexualization of underage idols, bullying scandals, forbidden dating, and sasaeng (stalkers and creepily obsessive fans) are some of the many issues that remain unresolved in South Korean Pop culture.
That being said, the Korean wave is still a phenomenon to marvel at, for how it ceaselessly keeps growing and soaring on new heights.
I don't know how to end this blog so here's a catchy song with amazing choreography I guess. Enjoy!
P.S it's called Cheers by Svt