Modeling Black Womanhood in K-pop

Given the influence of black popular culture on K-pop, it is not surprising that female K-pop artists also draw on images of black womanhood, especially those associated with hip-hop. While some scholars focus on prominent, sexualized images of black women as the defining model, other scholars point to the more complicated nature of representations of black womanhood.

Erick Raven‘s “HyunA: The Nexus of Blackness, Feminism, and K-pop” argues that the female K-pop artist draws on a form of black feminist hip-hop to craft an image that challenges Korean standards for women. Placing her in a context that includes African American female hip-hop artists Queen Latifah, TLC and Salt ‘N’ Pepa as well as Korean female rapper Yoon Mirae, Raven argues that HyunA “uses the highest regarded social benefit that she possesses, her body, to commit feminist acts of subversion against traditional expectations for Korean women in order to attract social attention and criticism for the purpose of promoting positive change for women” (196).

In order to make this argument, Raven’s article de-emphasizes the nuances of blackness. It describes blackness in the United States as “the indispensable antistandard, an object accounted as deformed, dejected and dismissed to make obvious the fully formed, accepted and embraced according to hegemony. . . . Thus, a black body is given life and made into a ‘person’ inscribed with the DNA of American hegemony, which defines the societal roles and acceptable norms and expectations for a black ‘person.'” (192). This characterization of blackness is defined by what it is not rather than what it is, by forces outside of blackness. It is very complex in its own right. Raven’s article overlooks the ways that African Americans have constructed their own conceptions of blackness in ways that do not centralize “hegemony.” To argue for this kind of blackness silences African Americans and denies their participation in the very creation of blackness.

Similarly, Raven draws an uncomplicated line in a defiant black female tradition from the blues to hip-hop, overlooking the complexity of black womanhood in the process: “This defiant tradition first established by the blues women went dormant after the 1920s, but re-emerged through hip-hop” (194). This characterization ignores any number of black female artists who not only drew on the blues tradition, but used music as a means to express themselves. It ignores other modes of popular music and genres, such as jazz, rock, and punk that black women inhabited. It also overlooks other ways that black women disrupt popular music, including songwriting and music production.

Moreover, Raven’s article focuses on HyunA’s use of her body to promote a black feminism rooted in hip-hop, ignoring the trope of the hyper-sexuality of women in hip-hop. Raven cites black female hip-hop artists like Queen Latifah and TLC, but does not discuss how these artists critiqued the hypersexualization of black women in hip-hop. The article also glosses over how Korean female rappers like Yoon Mirae, the veteran female Korean hip-hop artist, followed suit by challenging hypersexualized images in her concepts and music videos. Marquita Marie Gammage‘s “From the Auction Block to Hip-Hop” examines the role media in the form of hip-hop music videos play in the promotion of the hypersexuality of black women. One finding suggests: “Black female characters in popular rap music videos are reduced to hyper-sexual commodities. . . . . This study also substantiates propositions by Black feminists that rap music videos, loaded with hyper-sexual and sexist imagery, contribute to the devaluation of Black womanhood” (49).

Other scholars of black womanhood in hip-hop focus on its complicated nature. Rana Emerson‘s ” ‘Where My Girls At?’ Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos” argues that music videos by black women exhibit a combination of themes that simultaneously challenge and uphold “hegemonic” themes, resulting in complex representations of black womanhood. Emerson explains that their videos emphasize black women and their bodies as well as other themes that promote agency and independence: “What seems to emerge is a contradiction between the complex and often unconventional representations of Black women artists and the appearance of objectified and clearly one-dimensionally sexualized Black women dancers” (129).

There is no doubt that female K-pop artists are influenced by black womanhood. Just as black womanhood is complex, so is the nature of its influence in K-pop.


Emerson, Rana. 2002. ” ‘Where My Girls At?’: Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos.” Gender and Society 16 (1): 115-135.

Gammage, Marquita Marie. 2015. “From the Auction Block to Hip-Hop.” Representations of Black Women in the Media: The Damnation of Black Womanhood. New York: Routledge, 34-70.

Raven, Erick. 2020. “HyunA: The Nexus of Blackness, Feminism, and K-pop.” The Journal of Popular Culture 53 (1): 192-214.

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Modeling Black Womanhood in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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.
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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.