Dialectics of Mass Fascination: The Cultural Economy of Korean Pop (Undergraduate Capstone)

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, numerous idol stars from the Korean pop (abbreviated K-pop) scene have made, or attempted to make, their ways to American consumers. One could say, without much exaggeration, that they are ultimate cultural products; indeed, many of these celebrities undergo extensive training after having been recruited by headhunters for “star manufacturing” management companies. Not only do these companies oversee the recruitment, training, production, and promotion of their superstars, but they also are involved in designing and crafting the stars’ personas, in ways that will best appeal to their intended audiences. Very often, male K-pop idol stars appear on mass media as feminine and/or androgynous, and not at all by accident; the employment of such personas is unique to “idol” celebrities geared mainly towards younger fans, and contrasts quite sharply to the masculine, not-queered portrayal of other, non-idol male singers.

In this project, I intend to assess the phenomenon of “feminized” male K-pop stars as an instance of mainstream-incorporated (commercialized) queering, and find out why producers for management companies “cross-dress” their celebrities, how the queering of male pop stars fit or challenge existing scholarly ideas regarding gender ideals, and how fan reactions, particularly those surfaced on online fan communities, encourage or discourage the labels’ production of male stars who seem to defy the heterosexual gender norms. This project will not only provide insight to the rapidly-growing subsection of the global popular music scene, but also will bring together a wide range of popular topics, ranging from mass media treatment and commercialization of gender and Asian pop culture to online slash.

(Full text not available electronically, as of May 2020.)

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