New Orientalism or Old Hybridity?: Indian Music in K-pop

Sarod. Wikipedia.
Sarod. Wikipedia.

In “So Contagious: Hybridity and Subcultural Exchange in Hip-Hop’s Use of Indian Samples,” Sarah Hankins explores the sonic meaning of music from South Asia in African American music, specifically hip-hop. This made me wonder about the implications for K-pop, in light of its own practices in relation to hip-hop and its own cultural exchange with South Asian sounds.

Hankins frames the discussion between two poles. On one hand, the use of Indian samples in hip-hop recordings could signal “what Sunania Maira and others call new Orientalism—a cross-cultural appropriation of commodities encompassing such trends as the emergence of ‘Indo-chic’ within Western fashion” (194). In other words, such sampling could be seen as taking from a culture (as a Westerner) without acknowleding the original context (which happens to be in the East), what some may identify as misappropriation. On the other hand, the positioning of African Americans in relation to Western power dynamics complicates this explanation for Indian samples in hip-hop: “African Americans are a minority group and, in a broad sense, a diasporic one; in this light, their creative production is distinct from that of a hegemonic Western popular culture” (194). Hankins resolves this by asserting an argument where hip-hop’s use of Indian samples “is better understood as part of a subcultural exchange of commodities, one result of which is the creation of hybridity as a means to negotiate a relationship between both parties, as well as to a dominant culture” (195).

This strategy may help to explain the use of Indian musical soundscape in K-pop, which is not limited to hip-hop groups. Listeners can identify Indian music in a variety of K-pop songs. It can be heard in the back half of the chorus for 2NE1’s “I Am the Best”:

f(x) also uses it throughout the single “첫 사랑니(Rum Pum Pum Pum)”:

Most recently, MFBTY incorporated similar sounds into “Bang Diggy Bang Bang”:

As Hankins suggests, K-pop’s use of Indian sounds signals more hybridity and less new Orientalism. Like African Americans, South Koreans occupy a subject position that is not hegemonic in relationship to South Asia. If anything, they may be located on the same side of the Orientalist divide as a small economic power in East Asia dwarfed by China and Japan. At the same time, the use of Indian sounds relates more to the hybridity that defines K-pop. As the music videos by 2NE1, f(x) and MFBTY show, they cite Indian sounds but do not uncritically invoke the culture in the visuals. Instead, these videos follow the expectations of the respective K-pop groups. “I Am the Best” continues 2NE1’s representation of a hip-hop-inflected futuristic vision, with lots of eclectic outfits, shiny surfaces and attitude. The only visual in the video that invokes the East may be the large black pyramid near the middle of the video. f(x)’s video features their characteristic quirky style and bright colors along with choreographed dance.   MFBTY invokes their signature hip-hop style with a bit of humor in its video.

Hankins’ article does provide new insight in thinking about how other cultures use Indian sounds in pop music.

Image: “A Sarod.” Wikipedia. N.d. Web. 15 Apr 2015


Hankins, Sarah. “So Contagious: Hybridity and Subcultural Exchange in Hip-Hop’s Use of Indian Samples.” Black Music Research Journal 31.2 (2011): 193-208.
Creative Commons License
New Orientalism or Old Hybridity?: Indian Music in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: