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A Hip Hop Story
Tokyo, Japan: home to the newest fashion trends, growing technology capital of the world, culinary empires, and of course B- Culture also known as Black Lifestyle Culture. Black Lifestyle has become known as one of the largest growing subcultures in East Asia. Created as a response to the homogenous beauty ideals of the East, B culture signifies the concept of cool within Black Hip Pop culture in the United States and embraces the qualities of fashion individuality, expression of one’s true self, and rebellion against stereotypes. For Japanese youth, B culture is empowering, inspirational, and cool. However from a Black American’s perspective, B Culture may be negatively impacting the imagery of Black abroad and enhancing stereotypes that are already problematic to the black population in the west.
Watch this short clip on B-Style in Japan:
My cousin for example, lives in Bangkok, Thailand and follows B-Style very closely only because in the past decade it has grown not only in Japan but into China, South Korea, and Taiwan. For her, B-Style is a way for East Asians to find their own personal cool within the influences of Black hip hop artists because they also define what their cool is. In Asian culture, it is common for women to be regarded as loose, immoral, and vulgar when she expresses her opinion or deviates from the norm. East Asian culture is very homogenous and is emphasized on youth to follow closely.
When Black Hip Hop culture was exposed to East Asia, their ideas of individuality expanded. They saw Black Hip Hop artists as strong and powerful. They saw charisma and an abundance of confidence that not many Asians possess. To them it was not about commodifying a culture but rather paying “tribute”. Instead of skin lightening creams which are very popular among Asian men and women to achieve the standard ideal of “white skin”, B-stylers tan their skin. My cousin tans at least once a week and sometimes twice depending on the occasion. To her, it is empowering and she also feels that there is beauty in dark skin that people fail to realize.
A lot of people are not aware of the fact that South Korea and Japan have the highest suicide rates of the world combined. Their youth struggles to find the balance of perfection and competition. With the newly industrialized economic boom that is now happening in the east, younger generations must work even harder to succeed in a highly competitive open market. With years of colonization and war, beauty ideals have morphed into achieving a “western white- like appearance” while still having to conform to cultural and traditional norms. Millions of East Asians go through skin lightening treatments and endless plastic surgery to achieve an unreachable ideal. Following closely to the western ideal of beauty with a few touches of imperial Asian qualities, anyone who achieves the ideal will be successful.
However, those who follow B-Style believe differently. Asians with naturally tan skin look to African American figures in the United States as inspiration to be beautiful despite differing from the norm. Though many Asians are not aware of the historical damages and imprints left in Black communities around the world, they do connect with a sort of oppression Blacks have faced. They see Blacks as the minority group that have established their own sense of style and cool which puts them even above the majority white ideal. Despite the positive influences it has on youth in Asia, there is still problems that come with the subculture.
For one, stereotypes remain established even outside of the United States. Though the B-Styles are playing homage to rappers, dancers, designers, and artists in the Black Hip Hop culture, they are still commodifying stereotypes. They only see what is on TV and in the media. They view Black women as being the only ones who can rock very riskay clothing without being vulgar but in all, not all Black women wear that kind of clothing day to day. They view Black hair as nappy, cool, but still nappy and unmanagable. The word “N*gga” also is not a problem with B-stylers because they see it as a word of endearment. This can however be taught, and though B-Stylers have a lot to learn from, it is not impossible.
I think B-Style is more positive than negative in Asia because it does provide Asian youth with a connection. A way to develop their expression and confidence. They view Blacks and powerful and influential. They see them as the counter norm, people who had paved the way for self-expression. To many Asians, it is a way to counter their own homogenous racist communities.
And so, we are at it again with culture appropriation. This time it extends to Latinos and Blacks.
This is CL, I am a fan of hers. She is a part of one of the biggest Kpop companys in the world called “YG Entertainment”. I will make another post that explains how the pop industry works in Asia but for right now. I want to further talk about the culture appropriation that continues to happen in Korea. I like CL for a number of reasons but one of them is not the culture appropriation that she does. CL is a very strong figure in Asia because she does confront gender inequality and double standards when it comes to women in society which is a big deal in Asia. In Korea specifically, women are regarded as sub to men and in the industry there is a huge stereotype on Asian artists that paint them out to look very dainty, timid, and sweet. CL on the other hand is in your face and is not afraid to discuss topics of double standards within her constraints as a woman. The problem however is that she does not realize that she is putting constraints on blacks and latinos with her visual representation. What strikes me however is that after doing research I also found that the people behind her production team are actually African American and Latino producers who travelled from L.A. to work with YGE. Does that make it any less offensive or wrong? Absolute
So we have heard a thousand times before, there amount of cultural appropriation within the United States and now, even the world. The “concept of cool” is alive in many communities across the globe but in Korean society in specific, black culture appropriation has never been more relevant. For East Asian countries, South Korea’s music industry has trampled them all thus making their sphere of influence heavy in the East. Korean pop also known as “Kpop” has been the center of focus for a lot of pop culture in Asia and is among the top industries in the world. Kpop alone racks in millions a year because of its pop industry and yes I do and will emphasize “pop”.
What is problematic with his industry however, is the way they appropriate Black American culture from the United States into their music. I understand the concept of cool in Asia is to mimmick this culture and to be accepted by the United States as a western mainstream industry but what they consistently do with this so called “pop” influenced by black hip hop is not okay. This furthermore strengthens the stereotypes of Black Americans worldwide. It does not even stay in the United States anymore. So now we have thousands of Asians thinking all Black people are confined to the box that their Kpop idols put them in. I am not saying all Kpop artists do this but with the growing Kpop industry it has been a recurring theme.
For a sample of G Dragon’s music, please visit the link below to his Music Video of One of a Kind.
For Kpop artists who claim to have respect for the Black music industry and its artists, I understand wanting to play up to the concept of cool. However, without any restriction or understanding of what appropriation does to a group of people, it because extremely problematic. I am a fan of Kpop but whenever I see idols doing this time and time again, I get very disturbed. Already Black Americans are faced with these pre constructed representations of them in the states and now it is even worse in Asia. On the pro though, there is a lot of interest of Black artists, especially rap abroad. I know there are many outlets that do not appropriate the culture and respect it accordingly but this mimmicking has to stop and I hope it does.