I was at a mall, picking my girlfriend up from her work. We passed by several convention halls and saw a gathering of men with hairstyles that makes me want to grab a razor and cut all of their ridiculous locks off. I looked at the LED sign and it said something about a “KPOP Cosplay” convention.
It was simply ridiculous: alien hair, uncomfortable costumes, and a ton of people posing around like their idols in their music videos. The entire thing made me laugh and wonder at the same time. I understand that to cosplay means to emulate the likeness and actions of a certain character. This is particularly famous among circles that appreciate fictitious characters.
However, there is this one thing that boggles my mind a bit. Cosplay is meant to imitate a fictitious character. No one really tries to cosplay your favorite celebrity or politician. Comedians and impersonators do play these famous people from time to time, but your ordinary fan wouldn’t even dare try to dress up and act like Barrack Obama at Comic Con (though that would be a great idea). You can say that cosplaying is reserved for people who want to become characters that are impossible to occur in real life. This includes superheroes, protagonists of impossible anime, characters from novels and books and TV series, so on and so forth. The common denominator in all of them is the fact that almost every character portrayed is fictional in nature.
Having established this fact, I find it quite weird that there are actual people who will actually dress up and try to act like their favorite Hallyu star. This forced me to suddenly come up with this question while I was trying to stop myself from grabbing a razor and just shave it all off: Are the torchbearers of the Hallyu Wave fictitional characters as well?
Before every KPOP fan slam my question with fiery, passionate defenses like “Tiffany-ah is so not fake!” or “How dare you talk like that about Onew-yah aish!”, let me clarify that I was also a passionate KPOP fan at one point in my life.
How bad? To the point where I was actually writing fan fiction for a female audience. I had to learn how to fluff stuff up so that female readers will actually read my work. It was that bad. Everything began when I became a shipper of the YongSeo couple and extended to an active awareness of KPOP for a period of time.
Let me start with the Goguma couple. Seohyun of SNSD and Yonghwa of CNBLUE “got together” through an interesting reality show that eventually got me hooked. Yonghwa and Seohyun were the people who eventually introduced me to the world of KPOP.
However, even though I found myself bopping along their songs, I never had the gall to look up the meaning of their lyrics nor to follow them faithfully. I did write fanfic for the Sweet Potato Couple, though. I became more involved in the forums. I was fervent in defending the “couple” against shippers of other “antis.” I was spazzing with other Goguma shippers whenever something significant happened. I was an active lurker in the Soompi forums. I was as devoted as any KPOP fan can be.
Soon enough, I noticed that shippers both on my ship and on the other ships were doing something odd. Shipping is fun, yes, but there’s something that made me feel weird. Some are making blatant claims that the characters steering their ships actually love each other. Some are claiming they know that Yonghwa will choose Shinhye over Seohyun. It was in that moment when I realized how brilliant Korean music moguls are.
I personally don’t believe that Hallyu stars are simply what they seem to be. They are people, and people will never not make mistakes. They have their own dreams, aspirations, and quirks that not all of us will like.
However, rulers of the Korean music world has morphed the world of Hallyu music in such a way that either you are perfect or you are out. I mean, one of the most distinguishable traits of KPOP is the fact that there are new groups coming out of KPOP factories every other month or so. Everything is sorted out, and there is a guaranteed path to commercial success. While most of them don’t vary much from the others, there are several outliers who take the risk.
Beyond those outliers, most Hallyu groups follow the same formula: You must be attractive, and you can sing and dance at the same time. If one of the three is lacking, then the other components should be able to cover for the lack of it. You must also have a personality that will cater to a certain niche in the market.You will be grouped together with other aspiring stars in order to create a chemistry that will attract the market towards the group.
Saying that, a lot of a Hallyu group’s movements feel too calculated, too rigid, too wound up whenever they appear on Korean television. They do not possess the relaxed posture and disposition that their Western peers have. It always feels like they are wearing masks.
This does not event count the fact that Hallyu stars can’t even get to experience living as ordinary people without camera flashes tracking their every move. This wonderful combination of possessive-obsessive fans, controlling industry shakers, and a guard dog of a media has created an industry that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Of course, perfection is something that we should all aim for. However, removing the warmth of imperfection in order to become perfect spazzing mechanisms for the market is something I feel confused about. I say that KPOP stars are fictitious characters not because they are not what they seem, but because they are trapped in stereotypical boxes that have grave consequences when broken. They are not allowed to make mistakes. They are turned to gods and goddesses that are always under scrutiny.
The aforementioned disposition of Hallyu stars is also one of the reasons why I eventaully lost interest in KPOP. I personally find more interest in flawed characters because I am interested in discovering how they will act.
I will admit that I am not as updated in KPOP as I got busy with other things in life. I have several theories why this happened: either DOTA has taken me in, I got exhausted of shipping a couple made out of entertainers, or both. It can also be due to the fact that the predictability of the Hallyu star has bored me. Another good explanation for this kind of thinking is I simply outgrew it to the point that a gathering of KPOP hairstyles makes me furious. I think I am really getting old now.