Queerbaiting in Today’s K-Pop Industry

Courtesy of BTS Official

From its humble beginnings in the 1990s, K-Pop has truly become a global phenomenon and is continuously growing in the past 3 decades since it emerged. With its very unique aesthetic, addictive tunes, intense choreographies, exceptional production values, and incessant creation of highly attractive and extremely talented “idols” that train for years in order to achieve the nearly perfect standard of the K-Pop industry,  As of this very moment, the industry is worth billions of dollars and shows no signs of declining any time. 

The biggest companies in the industry such as BigHit Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment, and Cube Entertainment are all multimillion dollar companies. According to thekoreanguide.com, SM Entertainment is worth an estimated $950 million dollars, followed by JYP Entertainment worth around $755 million dollars, followed by BigHit Entertainment that is worth an estimated $610 million USD, followed by YG Entertainment worth an estimated $520 million USD, and last but not the least, Cube Entertainment with a net worth of $100 million USD.

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment

For the massive industry that it is today, controversies cannot be avoided. As K-Pop continues to expand, issues in the industry arise, one of them being queerbaiting. According to dictionary.com, queerbaiting refers to the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction (in a TV show, for example) to engage or attract an LGBTQ audience or otherwise generate interest without ever actually depicting such relationships or sexual interactions. 

A huge role that plays a part as to why cases of queerbaiting in K-Pop proliferated is the existence of the “shipping” culture within fandoms. By definition, shipping is the desire of members of a certain fandom for two idols or characters, fictional or non-fictional, to be together romantically or sexually. Unfortunately, a lot of members of the fandoms in K-Pop fetishize on homosexual relationships especially those that appear sexual in nature.  

With this knowledge, a lot of record labels used this to their advantage to “sell” the groups that they have in their company. A few of groups that have been accused of queerbaiting is the boy group OnlyOneOf of 8D Entertainment in the music video for their song “libidO.” Another would be the girl group QODES of EJ Entertainment in the music video for their song “LALALA,” and of course, the infamous Irene and Seulgi of Red Velvet for the music video in their song “Monster.” The themes that all of these music videos have in common are the hefty amount of “skinship” happening within the members of the group. 

Courtesy of Stone Music Entertainment

Courtesy of Official QODES

Courtesy of SMTOWN

There have been a lot of discussions within fandoms surrounding this matter involving fans protecting the “idols” from scrutiny. A lot of fans only deem it as mere “fan-service” and not something more harmful than it is. LGBTQ+ representation is a great thing but has the potential to be exploited by those who have no intentions of developing LGBTQ+ narratives in real life. To this day, South Korea remains to be a society that is not accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. There are no laws imposed by the government that protects the LGBTQ+ community from oppression and discrimination. Same-sex marriage is also not approved in the country and LGBTQ+ relationships in general are still frowned upon by the majority.

Looking at this perspective, one can gather that non-heteronormative love is only acceptable in the industry and the society if it is performative. It is also very hypocritical as K-Pop idols who are actually members of the LGBTQ+ community do not garner the same critical acclaim. A great example would be Holland of Holland Entertainment. He is an openly gay Korean idol that had to launch his own label in order to release his debut album as he was rejected by a lot of companies. He released a music video for his very first song entitled “Neverland.” Said music video featured a kiss between two men and was flagged by YouTube as “inappropriate for younger groups.”

Courtesy of HOLLAND

This only goes to show that media is a powerful channel that could impact a lot of matters in the society. As a collective, we must use it for the betterment of many and not in a way that could harm other people especially those who belong in a marginalized group or sector.


References:

Ae C. (2021, March 22). How Much Is The Kpop Industry Worth? – 2021. TheKoreanGuide. https://thekoreanguide.com/how-much-is-the-kpop-industry-worth/

Dictionary.com. (2021, June 18). queerbaiting. https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/queerbaiting/

Jones, I. (2020, November 9). The Queer Concept: Queerbaiting In The Kpop Industry. Women’s Republic. https://www.womensrepublic.net/the-queer-concept-queerbaiting-in-the-kpop-industry/

Tizzard, I. (2021, February 7). K-pop dictionary: Queerbaiting. Koreatimes. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/opinion/2021/02/197_303622.html

Ritschel, C. (2019, April 9). Queer-baiting: What is it and why is it harmful? The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/queerbaiting-lgbtq-ariana-grande-celebrities-james-franco-jk-rowling-a8862351.html

Published by Francine Matunan

Always wondering.

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