And sometimes this is real life
I always feel my insides twitch whenever I watch an episode of “Kids React.” It’s probably because there’s something that bothers me about preteens carrying an air of maturity beyond their years and harshly criticizing whatever comes their way. Trufax: I used to be one of those kids, and I really hate looking back on my days in middle school and high school days because, well, I was one really pretentious teenager: wannabe-politics nerd by the sixth grade, wannabe-music hipster by age 14, you get the picture.
Looking back on it, a lot of this pretentiousness was driven by my desire to be taken seriously and was garnered from the opinions of the adults around me. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that it was okay to just like stuff and to not pay heed to how others would judge me for it. As a result, I always feel kind of suffocated whenever I see preteens and teenagers making strong-worded critical judgments on anything…because you’re eleven, dude. You ain’t seen the world yet.
It’s kind of ridiculous that K-pop fans are bashing the kids in this video — firstly, there’s not one thing said in this video that should have been surprising to anyone (and if there was, then they’ve probably drank a little too much of that K-pop Kool-Aid); and secondly, they’re kids, guys. Despite my distaste for preteen pretentiousness, it’s pretty pathetic if you’re coming down on twelve year olds just because they don’t agree with your taste in Korean pop idols.
But I think that this video was a trigger for many K-pop fans. A lot of the things that the kids said in the video ring familiar to those who’ve tried to introduce their friends to K-pop and were only met by reactions of bewilderment and disgust. And as ludicrous and silly as pop music is, it’s always going to hurt a little when a friend bashes on something that you genuinely like. But after a few bad experiences, you learn to get over it and accept the fact that music elitism is always going to exist and that people are just as entitled to dislike things as much as you are entitled to like them.
In my own experiences growing up in a primarily white, upper-middle class town in New England suburbia, pop music was never a respectable genre. There were people who just had different tastes in music and there were people who thought that pop music was straight-up sacrilege, but no matter who you were, you just didn’t like pop music. This mindset seemed to be manifested during childhood; I remember hating Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys all the way through my elementary and middle school years because everyone hated Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, and anyone who actually liked them would be the subject of automatic schoolyard ridicule. This mindset continued throughout grade school, and the only thing that changed was our reasons for bashing a certain pop artist. N’Sync looked girly. Jessica Simpson was ugly. Britney was a slut. Lady Gaga was manufactured. Rihanna was a fame whore.
By the time high school rolled around, the consensus on pop music was pretty much set: “real” musicians and singers write their own music and produce their own work, and pop/mainstream “musicians” are slaves to capitalism who cater to uneducated and unsophisticated audiences. Which are all reasonable conclusions, but one can’t ignore that this distaste for pop music had less logical origins in elementary school classrooms. Clearly something’s up when an entire generation of kids enters and exits grade school all with the inbred hatred of the exact same thing, and one can’t help but wonder where all this hate for pop music came from,
Can it really be considered normal behavior for kids to express such outright hatred for something at such a young age? Or rather: was it normal for everyone in my second-grade class to immediately voice their absolute distaste for Bush and their fervent support for Gore when asked about the 2000 presidential elections, given the fact that I grew up in a state that practically bled Democrat Blue? Parental and adult influence plays a key role in the opinions of their young kids — opinions that have proven to last. That, then, leads to a bigger discussion about Society a la Suburbia and the hidden prejudices manifested within.
The biggest issue I had about this “Kids React” video was that so many kids seemed so disgusted by the fact that no one was singing in a language that they could understand. On the one hand, this is completely understandable: American radio stations don’t play anything that’s not sung in English, and American pop culture channels don’t cover anything that’s not made in America (with the exception of anyone contained in the average American’s knowledge catalogue of glamourous British people). Likewise, many Americans seem to have a hard time believing that people all over the world listen to American music — because why would you listen to music from another country if you have your own music in your own language?
On the other hand, EXCUSE ME WHILE I RAGE.
The issue isn’t that Americans don’t like listening to K-pop. The issue is that Americans don’t seem to have a problem with rejecting K-pop solely on the grounds of it being sung in a language that they don’t understand. There are tons — TONS — of reasons to hate K-pop, but it really irks me that the first (and oftentimes the last) criticism that most people have about K-pop is the fact that it’s not in English. If it’s not that, it’s something equally BS’y, like “They look like [insert name of popular White artist here] wannabes” or “They all look the same” (which is an argument that can be interpreted several ways; my Chinese parents say this about K-pop artists all the time, but I don’t think it’s out of ignorance for their own race. But when you consider the “all-Asians-look-alike” stereotype and its connotations of de-individualizing Asians and lumping an entire race into one large, black-haired, brown-eyed mass, then you’ve got to reconsider).
And K-pop isn’t the only offender; people can’t really seem to get into Epik High or other K-indie/hip-hop artists just because they can’t understand the lyrics (or rather, they can’t be bothered to take thirty seconds and Google the lyrics). But bring in the much-hated genre of pop music into the mix, and K-pop doesn’t stand an effing chance amongst American audiences. While it may seem rather idealistic, I think that K-pop has great potential for breaking the Asian stereotypes within American culture — something that, despite various APA movements and a billion episodes of Glee, hasn’t actually happened yet. But if the first thing that’s causing Americans to reject K-pop is the fact that it’s from an unfamiliar culture, then there’s really nowhere to go.
By no means is this a new issue — America’s cultural ignorance is something that every other country in the world has a beef with, and it’s something that America continues to deny. (Melting pot, my ass.) I watched video knowing that it’d just confirm what I already knew about the narrowmindedness of White America, but I was a little shaken by how these kids reminded me of my own childhood and my own hometown…and how little twelve-year old me could’ve just as easily been one of them. Despite having been bullied because of my race in elementary school. Despite being sideeyed by my middle school classmates whenever I would proudly declare my heritage to the class during a history project on immigration, and then never having the courage to do it again. Despite having to justify my interest in K-pop as “something that Asians just do.”
Sometimes, that’s the worst kind of ignorance: the kind where the prejudiced are fooled into thinking that a thing like prejudice couldn’t possibly exist in such a nice, liberal neighborhood. It’s the kind where vast racial disproportion is never even considered an issue amongst the town residents; the kind manifested in an environment that takes all its cues on multiculturalism and diversity from Oprah and sees “cultural understanding” as nothing but a hip trend that looks good on a bumper sticker but means nothing in practice.
Man, this post feels like a giant piece of brain-vomit, but it’s something that I just needed to get out of my system. I think I’m still struggling a lot to reconcile my current identity with the experiences I had growing up in my hometown. And sometimes I wonder if it’s worth stressing myself out by looking back at my years growing up, or if I should just let bygones be bygones.
Oh, the things that pop into my head when I’m home on break for an extended period of time.