The importance of K-pop as viewed by Grace Kao, an ARMY member at Yale University
A special lecture examines the influence of K-pop on Asian-American society and the music industry in the United States
1980s British New Wave and 2020s K-pop share musical and visual aesthetics
Grace Kao, a Yale University sociology professor who is famous as a member of ARMY, recently gave a special lecture on K-pop.
On April 17, the Department of Sociology and Center for Teaching and Learning at Korea University invited Professor Kao to give a special lecture titled "The Importance of K-pop to the Society of Asian Americans and Music" at the KU auditorium.
During the lecture, Kao spoke about how the popularity of K-pop in the West has the potential to bring about changes in the fundamental racial experiences of Asian Americans. She also compared the British New Wave from the 1980s to K-pop in the 2020s, highlighting the centrality of music videos in the development of these two genres and discussing their shared musical and visual aesthetics.
Professor Kao is currently a sociology professor at Yale University and the director of the Center for Empirical Research on Stratification and Inequality. She won the 2017 American Sociological Association's Section on Asia and Asian America Contribution to the Field Award and was named the Robin Murphy Williams Lecturer by the Eastern Sociological Society in 2018, solidifying her position as a leading scholar in the field.
Since 2020, Professor Kao has offered a K-pop-related course (Race and Place in British New Wave, K-Pop, and Beyond) for undergraduate students at Yale University.
The special lecture focused on the origins and characteristics of K-pop through its importance to current and future generations and its connection to the culture of the 1980s. Professor Kao explained that BTS, who achieved the first-ever K-pop #1 on the Hot 100 Billboard Singles Chart, following up on the success of Wonder Girls and Psy, is the band that has had a significant impact not only in K-pop but also in many cultures and societies.
Professor Kao said, "Asian Americans and East Asians in the traditional media had been reinforcing stereotypes about themselves. BTS has sparked a sense of identity and pride among the Asian American, East Asian, and entire Asian community. Although racial discrimination still exists, an increasing fondness for Korea within the US and the positive effects of various phenomena have resulted from K-pop."
The professor introduced the origins of K-pop and mentioned that some hold the prejudice that K-pop is simply influenced by black music, as was the case for Seo Taiji and Boys. Korea’s pursuit of rapid growth reinforced this prejudice, which had a negative impact on the popularity of K-pop.
But Professor Kao emphasized that K-pop was influenced by various genres, not simply black music. Bang Si-hyuk and other record label CEOs are fans of 1980s music, and the influences from 1980s are evident in music videos, visualization effects, and characteristics of city pop. The global popularity of a culture not belonging to the English-speaking world is unprecedented.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, giving students the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions. One student asked about the future of K-pop after BTS, saying that the group’s popularity could not last forever. Professor Kao replied, “There are many concerns, but new groups are emerging and making their presence felt. We can’t expect another BTS, but I believe new groups will be loved for who they are. This is also a matter of luck.”
Professor Kao was invited to give the special lecture by Shin Eun-kyong, a sociology professor at KU. They met in February when Professor Shin visited Yale University for a digital humanities study program with students in the College of Liberal Arts. At that time, Professor Kao said, “BTS’s explosive popularity made me realize that Asian Americans too can be idolized and admired. Like how Obama brought about positive developments in the status and experiences of African Americans, K-pop has deeply transformed the racial experiences of Asian Americans in the United States.”
This left a deep impression on Professor Shin, who went on to plan the special lecture. Professor Shin emphasized, “21st century K-pop is contributing to improving the awareness of racial inequality, and this transformative power is acting as a driving force behind the popularity of K-pop.”