K-Pop vs. J-Pop. This whole debate has a much more sinister backdrop than many assume.
Japan was destroyed by WWII. During its recovery, Japan copied and adapted the West. Like contemporary China, Japan developed its economy through developing infant industries. These infant industries shamelessly took ideas from the West. Frequently, the West criticized Japan for “stealing their patents and technology.” They were derided as “copy cats.” J-Pop is the product of this general trajectory. Neither rock nor funk originated from Japan.
Does this mean J-Pop is worse? Hell no. J-Pop is amazing. So is J-Rock or their Jazz. Japanese culture is fascinating. Often, J-Pop is more interesting than K-Pop — and vice versa. My point is that the reasons why we enjoy J-Pop or K-Pop might not be so historically innocent.
For example, South Korea’s pop industry gained popularity through westernization. Early K-Pop groups were shamelessly designed after western acts. K-Pop also shamelessly borrowed from J-Pop’s adaptation of western influences. This is why early K-Pop groups look like Japanese visual kei.
Many cite J-Pop or K-Pop’s musical attributes as their reasons for success. But, those musical attributes cannot exist without their economic conditions. Both genres gained popularity as their countries became extremely wealthy. Their industry was built from the bottom through severe exploitation: boy bands and girl groups signed “slave contracts.” Many were, and are, forced to undergo plastic surgery. They are worked to death; regularly, artists collapse from fatigue, sleep deprivation, and malnutrition. Their bodies are closely monitored for the “ideal weight.” Cheap, exploited labor, coupled with large ambitions, yielded huge profit. Modern production, especially in the 20th century, could not be accomplished without modern equipments. Modern genres cannot be copied without exposure to such influences, which requires a modern economy.
Furthermore, the musical attribute argument assumes that Nepalese or Thai music is not good enough. Do you really think Asia does not have creative talent outside Japan or Korea? Frankly, we’re just looking for different takes on western genres, rather than searching for genuine beauty and creativity. To prove my point: why is traditional Korean music not popular? Is it less beautiful or creative than K-Pop? No, it’s because westerners do not understand traditional Korean beauty.
So what do we really mean by the success of J-Pop or K-Pop? Mostly, we’re talking about economic success. K-Pop, for example, became a hot topic after its widespread success in Asia and later in the West. But, it’s not any kind of economic success. Indian music is loved by many, but it’s not mentioned alongside K-Pop or J-Pop. What kind of economic success are we talking about then? Well, we are referring to the perception of “successful westernization.” Many Asian fans praised K-Pop for its successful take on western culture. For instance, China regularly talks about trying to “replicate Korea’s successful westernization.” If you’re successful with music that is not western enough, then you’re not praised alongside K-Pop.
In other words, we have internalized the white gaze. What is beautiful is what we perceive to be favored by the White Race. This is why it’s so important for K-Pop to be “recognized by the West.” Great success in Asia was not good enough. K-Pop leaders like YG and JYP have always wanted to be “recognized by the West.” K-Pop fans are always trying to spread K-Pop to westerners. J-Pop fans claim to be less concerned with the white gaze, but if your entire economy is a copy of western capitalism, musical genres, etc…. You just think you are less attached to your chains. Any fan of Japanese anime or music know, first hand, the vast influence of the west. This is the truth behind K-Pop vs. J-Pop: we are hostages to white money and the white gaze. J-Pop is the relic of such power dynamics, and K-Pop is its grotesque chimera.
P.S. I am not claiming that we should not copy the west. That the west are entitled to their “patents.” Fuck that. Germany, Britain, France, and the US all developed their economies the same way. They stole from each other, built up their infant industries, until they were large enough to participate in “freer trade.” European music is just a copy of American music — and vice versa. The problem is that we are practicing this uncritically, without even considering its racial and power dynamics. How must we go beyond such cycles, if we do not even understand why K-Pop or American Pop is the way it is? For example, the history of American Pop includes the exploitation of Africans and African Americans. This makes the whole picture even more complex. Reducing such complex issues to “cool music” is not acceptable.