Korean Pop music, or K-Pop, is a rising genre in the West throughout recent years. When people think of the genre, they usually think of Bangtan Boys, better known as BTS. However, there are numerous other groups that contribute to the K-Pop scene: SHINee, Big Bang, Girls Generation, Infinite, 2NE1, etc. But no matter which group, K-Pop artists are not only creating new music concepts in East Asia but beginning to normalize LGBTQIA+ community representation.
Go Tae Seob (also known as Holland) is a popular artist who became the first publicly gay K-Pop singer when he released his song “Neverland” on January 22, 2018. This song addresses the struggle of being gay in South Korea, as it is common for people who don’t identify with the hetero-normative standard to be shunned and ridiculed. The music video for “Neverland” was even R-rated in South Korea because of a kiss scene that Holland decided to insert.
“Neverland” is based on James Matthew Barrie’s play, “Peter Pan.”, which is most known as the Disney movie, Peter Pan. A boy named Peter who, along with refusing to grow up, resides on a fantasy island that is far off from the modern society of London that’s called Neverland. The interpretation of Neverland in Holland’s version deals with South Korean society’s treatment of the queer community, which alienates them from society because of their hetero-normativity. Holland’s version of Neverland represents the LBGTQIA+ community and how he experiences this alienation.
Before Holland’s debut, there were many other queer music videos and representations in the K-Pop industry. One of my favorites includes “Please Don’t…” by K.Will. The song revolves around the marriage between two characters played by Ahn Jae-hyun (right), Dasom (middle), and Seo In-guk (left), who is the friend that attends the wedding. There is an evident love triangle between the three.
The lyrics are about the unrequited love Seo In-guk has for his friend, who is being married. However, what makes the music video interesting is the cinematography that misleads the audience into thinking that the theme follows South Korea’s hetero-normative society.
Along with K.Will, the K-Pop girl group After School presents queer elements in one of their top hit songs “Because of You.” The group was under Pledis Entertainment and released the music video for the song on February 12, 2010. It topped the charts and displayed what groups under a small agency can do and achieve. The lyrics tell the story of a love that was long forgotten, the memories which cause pain as well as happiness. The music video brings in queer elements, as it can be depicted as a love triangle between three women.
All in all, K-Pop is a genre that pushes the boundaries of music within Korean culture with various depictions of the LGBTQIA+ community. The music is a way to normalize the queer community in Korean society as artists such as Holland, K.Will, and After School touch on that topic through their lyrics and videos.