Creating LGBT+ Spaces in K-Pop
My first introduction to K-Pop was through the transgender pop star, Harisu. Ha Harisu is a successful solo artist and actress, though she seems to be working mostly in China now.
Short YT playlist available here for those who have never heard of Harisu.
This gave me the initial impression that Korea was more accepting than the United States of LGBT+ people, but boy, was I wrong. As an outsider who considers themselves underneath the LGBT+ umbrella coming into K-Pop fandom, I was surprised to learn that despite all the fanservice (read: queerbaiting) that goes on among boy groups and girl groups, Korean culture is just as phobic as the United States.
However, the cultural attitude toward LGBT+ people seems to be changing slowly but surely as a younger generation comes of age. BTS’ Rap Monster has stated openly that he supports LGBT+ issues. Their song “I Know,” a thank you track to fans, acknowledges not only female audience members, but male fans as well in the refrain:
Know you love me, girl
So that I love you
Know you love me, boy
So that I love you…
While this may not seem like a significant move to some, in an industry that generates fanbases by marketing an imaginary romantic relationship with their audience where consumption is the only mode through which that emotional connection can be expressed, acknowledging male fans of boy groups as an equally important part of the target audience is almost anomalous.
Groups like Spica (now disbanded), Mamamoo, and GFRIEND have all done “girl-love” concepts that focus on exclusion of males from the scenario and celebrating the close bonds of friendship. GFRIEND’s song, Fingertip, features members evidently fighting over Eunha. While not explicitly LGBT+ in nature, it is certainly left open to interpretation, and the LGBT+ K-Pop community has taken advantage of that. Also, who could forget Anda’s iconic bop “Touch,” which features wlw scenes and strong imagery tied to the Japanese lesbian community?
Starship Entertainment in particular seems to have taken an interest in LGBT+ issues. In 2012, K.will released the MV, “Please Don’t,” which features a possibly unrequited homosexual love interest. Monsta X’s The Clan series features members Hyungwon and Minhyuk in a close friendship that fans have taken liberty with. WJSN’s “Secret” features two of the members in an embrace; some fans have argued the characters are meant to be a couple. Sistar (now disbanded) collaborated with Giorgio Moroder to release “One More Day.” The MV focuses on an intensely dramatic lesbian storyline. In “Love is a Dog from Hell,” Mad Clown’s own brother plays an MTF trans woman in a romantic relationship with another woman. While we, as outsiders, cannot say what the company’s aims are at including LGBT+ relationships in so many of their videos, we cannot deny it’s there.
Granted, this all could be another form of queerbaiting that involves drawing in an LGBT+ audience. U.S. artists have done similar things. There is often a perception that LGBT+ people represent an untapped market because of the fact that we don’t have kids, therefore we have more disposable income (which is patently untrue but anyway).
Personally, I think it’s great that at least artists are starting to acknowledge their LGBT+ fans. Representation of LGBT+ people in Korean media is giving us the chance to feel more connected to the fandom, and hopefully begins creating a space where being LGBT+ is not stigmatized. It has the potential to open up the door for more, better, and wider representations.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list of LGBT+ friendly songs and MVs, just what I could think of at the time. I’m sure I missed some. Feel free to add your faves as well!