K-pop idols navigate global sensitivities over skin tone remarks

In recent times, the global spotlight on K-Pop has intensified, bringing with it a wave of scrutiny. A growing number of K-Pop idols are finding themselves at the center of controversies, facing backlash from international fans over their remarks concerning skin color.

Incidents of colorism in K-pop

Shinee Taemin, Minho and Key
(from left) Taemin, Minho and Key. – www.instagram.com/@shinee

Recently, SHINee members Key and Taemin faced significant criticism after making comments about fellow member Minho’s tan, which he acquired from golfing. Fans pointed out that their remarks, while made in jest, could be very hurtful. Recognizing the gravity of their words, both idols promptly issued apologies via their Instagram profiles.

The apologies issued by Key and Taemin.

Last year, ITZY’s Lia found herself under the microscope for comments she made about group mate Chaeryeong’s desire to tan. Chaeryeong said that Lia told her that she would not be “pale nor sexy”. At the time, her comments caused many international fans to ddebate the correlation between ‘sexiness’ and skin tone, which can be a sensitive subject for many international cultures.

These incidents ignited a broader conversation among Korean netizens about the importance of cultural sensitivity, especially as K-Pop continues its meteoric rise on the global stage.

International perception of the issue

While acknowledging that Korean beauty standards are often strict, some Korean fans noted that international fans have their own misconceptions. For example, international fans mistakenly assume that all idols undergo procedures to lighten their skin.

A case in point is BLACKPINK’s Lisa. Over time, her skin tone appeared to lighten, leading to rampant speculations of intentional skin whitening. Many have rightly pointed out that factors such as lighting conditions during photoshoots and natural sun exposure can significantly influence skin color.

Lisa’s skin tone varies in photographs, depending on lighting conditions and filters.

Understanding from both sides

The debate is multifaceted. Some feel that as “global representatives”, Koreans should exhibit heightened cultural sensitivity. Others believe that international audiences often lack a similar level of understanding and empathy. The longstanding “whitewashing” debate in K-pop is a testament to this divide. Disagreements persist on the authenticity of photo edits, with many pointing out that lighting plays a pivotal role in how photographs turn out, leading to misinterpretations.

As K-Pop’s influence grows, these discussions underscore the need for mutual respect and understanding in the global community.

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