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K-Pop, Boy Bands, and…Politics?

A special guest column by my daughter Lexie! Today, she muses on why politics in art crashes and burns.

If you were swept up in the wave of Beatlemania that hit during the British Invasion back in the 1960s, or if you recall with fondness the Boy Band explosion of the 1990s that gave us groups like the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, you probably remember exactly how popular these guys really were. The squeal of millions of fan girls became yet another shot heard ’round the world, and before anyone knew it more and more boy bands started to pop up all around the globe.

East Asia, interestingly enough, is no stranger to the phenomenon of corporate-created girl and boy groups—particularly in the realms of J-Pop and K-Pop. I’m not ashamed to admit that I may have fallen a bit into the fandom for these acts, and my friends are no different. However, after watching them swoon over their favorite member of EXO or the Bangtan Boys, I have to ask myself the question: “Why exactly are they so popular?”

I started doing some detective work, conducting small interviews with my fellow fans to get the scoop. There were, of course the obvious answers—“They’re cute!” “Their music is catchy!” “Wow, can they dance!” and “Did you see that last music video?”—but one of the most frequent and intriguing answers I got was this:

“I like how they’re not political.”

It wasn’t the answer I expected, and it really got me thinking. In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious: Korean teens don’t much care about what Donald Trump is tweeting (why should they?), and the band managers are quite strict about what the group members are allowed to say abroad. What’s more fascinating to me, however, is how my friends—most of whom tend to be left-leaning—also want politics kept out of their entertainment. It seems as if they’ve also gotten tired of hearing their favorite celebrities drone on about whyTrump is terrible or why America is an awful place. In fact, it seems like they’re downright exhausted from all the preaching and virtue signaling that gets shoehorned into practically all of their media: movies, television shows, music, you name it. As a musical artist and a writer myself, I can sympathize.

In my humble opinion, politics should stay far away from art, culture, or anything fun. When an overtly political message is clumsily inserted into a movie or book, audiences tend to dislike it either because they don’t agree with the message or they don’t appreciate being lectured. At best, the audience feels as if they’re being talked down to—and at worst, the entertainment experience is totally ruined. People seek entertainment to whisk themselves away from the trials, tribulations and misery of stuff like politics. Having it shoved down their throats completely defeats the purpose of escapism.

Of course, this isn’t to say that a book or a movie should never have a message. Some of my favorites, in fact, convey powerful messages that are very important to the overall story. But there’s a thin line between making a subtle statement and preaching, and you have to be exceptionally talented to pull it off. A lot of celebrities, meanwhile, carelessly spread the dreaded political virus that is infecting our culture. From late-night hosts bashing the views of half the country to musical artists ham-handedly injecting leftist imagery into their music videos (looking at you, “This is America”), it seems as if the regular Joe can’t escape from the dumpster fire that is modern American politics.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, you have a group of goofy, charming boys making videos with them yelling intensely at a claw machine game in an arcade and dancing around onstage in their pajamas. I think my friends and I are going stick with those guys instead.

Alexandra Giller is currently a junior in high school.

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