Black K-Pop: Racial Surplus and the Global Consumption of Korean Pop Music

Centre for Performance and Creative Exchange, 5:30-7pm, Theatre Studio, Jubilee Building

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Prof. Suk-Young Kim, UCLA

This talk provides a critical analysis of the performance of blackness in the Korean pop music (K-pop) industry by examining racial relations in K-pop music videos—the most commonly used media platform to circulate this music. Race relations in the K-pop industry may not always hark back to the deeply troubled paradigms of racial tension in the United States; therefore, a transpacific and transhistoric analysis of race becomes indispensable. By working through theories of Afro-orientalism and sono-racialization, this talk proposes the concept of “racial surplus” as a way to move forward from the deterministic arguments generated by proponents of Afro-pessimism. In the end, this talk unpacks the paradox that collaborations across racial boundaries often result in the erasure of black labor while Asian bodies, in the eyes of the global white audience, are cast as disciplined bodies that can process unbridled black urban culture into a digestible, safe, consumerist commodity.

Suk-Young Kim is Professor of Theater at UCLA where she also directs Center for Performance Studies. Her publications have appeared in English, German, Korean, Polish, and Russian while her research has been acknowledged by the International Federation for Theatre Research’s New Scholar's Prize (2004), the Library of Congress Kluge Fellowship (2006-7), James Palais Book Prize and ATHE Outstanding Book Award among others. She is the author of Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea (University of Michigan Press, 2010), DMZ Crossing: Performing Emotional Citizenship Along the Korean Border (Columbia University Press, 2014), and K-Pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance (Stanford University Press, 2018). With Kim Yong, she also co-authored Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Labor Camp Survivor (Columbia University Press, 2009). Her current book-length projects include Korean Language Theater in Kazakhstan and Russian Theatrical Costumes and the Vestige of Empire.