K-Pop shows Korean pride, highlights discrimination

Grace Shin, senior editor

On July 15, 2012, Korean singer PSY’s song “Gangnam Style” was released and took the world on the Hallyu (the Korean culture wave). In December 2012, the song became the first video on YouTube to reach one billion views and remained the most-viewed video from November 2012 to July 2017. As politicians, celebrities and athletes danced the horse dance, the song gained popularity, focusing the world on South Korea.

Today, another band has risen to new heights: the K-Pop group BTS. As their songs climb the international music charts and they perform on numerous American TV shows, their influence is spreading like wildfire. This was even recognized when they were nominated for the Top Social Artist category at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards and became the first Asian artists to not only win the award but win it for two consecutive years at the 2017 and 2018 awards.

Needless to say, “Gangnam Style” and BTS have been making Koreans proud. Even when I was sick of translating the lyrics to “Gangnam Style” for others, I was happy to see the world reacting to it. Now, watching BTS take the world by storm has the same effect on me that PSY’s song once did; I’m not a diehard fan of BTS, but seeing them appear on American TV shows and with American celebrities has been exciting.

However, I feel disappointment along with  excitement. It’s upsetting to see some people respond to BTS’s American achievements with negativity. According to Buzzfeed News, one supporter of the other nominees in the 2017 Billboard Music Awards   Top Social Artist category said BTS should “go back to Korea” and disregarded their significant accomplishment as Asians.

Why should BTS’s achievements be downplayed? Justin Bieber and One Direction are examples of artists who don’t come from America and have found fame in this country, yet they don’t face the same negative remarks about not being American. Is it because BTS performs in a different language?

I believe this all comes down to the idea of language discrimination, which is “the unfair treatment of an individual based solely upon the characteristics of their speech; such as, accent, size of vocabulary, and syntax,” according to workplacefairness.org. Although this term is more commonly used in the context of the workplace, I believe it’s extended to our everyday lives and also to discrimination specifically against Asian languages.

I’m not saying anyone is at fault. This discrimination could come from the simple fact that there just aren’t as many people that speak Asian languages. According to worldatlas.com, English is followed by Spanish and then Chinese as the language U.S. native speakers use the most. It seems nice until you break it down: 37,485,470 Spanish speakers and 2,896,766 Chinese speakers.

Even as Korean places close behind at seventh with 1,117,343 speakers, there’s still a very large numerical gap that also can’t be ignored. Making every single person learn an Asian language is difficult, but it shouldn’t be as hard to request them to keep an open mind.

It’s important to accept change, whether it’s the way people look or the language they speak. As BTS returned for the 2018 Billboard Music Awards and as they come back again later in the year for their world tour, this issue remains relevant, but hopefully it will change as more Asian artists enter the American music scene.