Na’Kia Hammock loves K-pop.
The 26-year-old Sandy Springs photographer has been a fan of Korean pop music for years and said she doesn’t find many other Black K-pop fans. So when K-pop artists and fans came together to support the Black Lives Matter movement, Hammock was pleasantly shocked.
“It was so unexpected, and that’s what makes it so much more amazing,” Hammock said. “We’re over here with the Black Lives Movement — angry, sad and scared — and then all of the sudden, it’s just the amount of people who showed up out of nowhere from the K-pop community to support it was just amazing.”
K-pop fans and idols have made international headlines as fans have banded together to fill with K-pop photos and memes the social media hashtags that counter the BLM movement such as “#WhiteLivesMatter.” Fans of global K-pop sensation BTS, who refer to themselves as ARMY, matched the boy band’s $1 million donation to the Black Lives Matter organization in early June.
Hammock said her surprise at the artist and fan’s support for BLM also comes from a years-long controversy about Korean artists appropriating black culture.
“They sample or are inspired by Black culture,” Hammock said. “Some things are pretty offensive, and yet because their fan bases are so large, they get away with doing such weird and wild things, like hair in braids or dreads or things like that.”
However, Hammock said more K-pop artists are acknowledging their influence from Black culture, such as Korean-American rapper Jay Park, who posted a lengthy Instagram post in support of BLM.
“Me being inspired by Black culture aside, me having Black homies aside, just as a man and a human being … to think how helpless he felt and how inhumane he was treated … to think what if that was my dad, or uncle or homie makes me sick to my stomach,” Park wrote in the post about the killing of George Floyd.
Park’s post made ATLocal media director Robbie Atkinson an even bigger fan of the artist because of his willingness to speak up.
At ATLocal, a promotion company that brings K-pop events to Atlanta, Atkinson creates videos for K-pop artists to send to local media companies. In that role, she said, she has talked to artists who have acknowledged their inspiration from Black culture.
“It’s one thing to be able to align with our culture, our music, our aesthetic,” Atkinson said. “But when you can stand behind us in the face of these problems as well — and racism doesn’t just affect the Black community, but it’s also a human rights issue — that feels amazing.”
Atkinson said the silence of some artists feels even more noticeable now that others are voicing their support for Black Lives Matter, but when she pointed that out online, some K-pop fans became defensive.
“I think education is a form of activism, maybe not the same as what other groups of K-pop fans are doing,” Atkinson said. “Showing them the perspective of a Black fan of K-pop. You don’t have a right to invalidate our perspective or experience just because you don’t have that same experience.”
Atkinson made a video a few years ago pointing out the problems with K-pop artists appropriating Black culture, which she also said caused backlash from some fans. She said other K-pop fans sometimes dismiss concerns from Black fans, which she hopes is starting to change as artists stand with the BLM movement.
ATLocal director Ashlee Rackthai said the company has turned to social media to educate its followers and employees about the BLM movement.
Social media is the main way K-pop fans connect because they’re so scattered around the world, local K-pop fans said. Since K-pop fans also tend to be young people, social media platforms such as TikTok become a major connector. K-pop fans and TikTokers said they registered tickets to President Donald Trump’s recent campaign rally in Oklahoma and did not show as a prank to empty the arena, The New York Times reported.
Kaylee Bolson, a 21-year-old Woodstock resident, said K-pop artists tend to do a lot of activism, such as for the LGBTQ community or during the international women’s march in January 2017. She said she’s proud of her favorite artists who have become so vocal about BLM.
Bolson said the Atlanta K-pop scene is bigger than in other U.S. cities. There are speciality stores like K-Pop Store in USA on Buford Highway in Doraville. But fans still connect mostly through social media, such as Facebook groups and Twitter. When there are conventions or concerts in the city, Bolson said, she’ll use the platforms to meet up with fans and go together.
Though Bolson said she misses concerts and seeing fellow fans in person at events, she hopes fans continue to use their voices on social media to support the BLM movement.