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The Rise and Fall of BEAUNITE: Understanding Singapore’s Overnight K-pop Sensation

By  December 10, 2017

The very concept of a home-grown Korean pop (K-pop) act might sound oxymoronic to anyone completely insulated from that particular hyper-polished, acronym-dominated world. Coupled with the Internet’s insistence on ridicule, the premature death of BEAUNITE (aka #BEAUNTIE) – a local 13 member girl group with capitalistic, cartoon-like plans of world domination – could probably be seen from a mile away. Schadenfreude aside, this was a sign that the genre had finally attained peak cultural penetration by transcending into meme territory and provided an excellent opportunity for those unschooled to educate themselves about the forces behind this flaming trash heap of a debut.

For instance, it was news to a K-plebeian like yours truly that reality shows are part and parcel of being in a South Korean “idol” group which in turn is distinct from the definition of a K-pop “artist.” BEAUNITE falls under the former (or at least is inclined to) which panders to the more cosmetic aspects of society that rewards superficiality over talent. Slumming it and toiling as a “trainee” is mandatory, say K-pop gatekeepers who expect their idols to be nothing less than jacks of all trades on top of conforming to narrow beauty standards, of course. There is nothing new about fans vocally expressing discontent with the purported misrepresentation of their genre (or in this case, their country as well) but BEAUNITE’s presumptuous lack of content and prior experience explains the unanimous uproar against them.

We’d love to say we were declined a comment after reaching out to the group’s representatives but we knew better than to assume that actual adults (let alone Singaporean helicopter parents) were actively supporting this endeavour. Instead, we turned to Linda, our newly-minted K-pop correspondent to shed some light on this recent development.            

S: As our resident K-pop expert, what do you think of BEAUNITE’s “debut”?

L: They seem to be a harmless bunch of Koreaboos* who have their heads a little too far up in the clouds. People take issue with the “K-pop” branding - the fan community has gatekeeping tendencies and gets offended when a non-Korean group with no prior training (the average idols trains for years under their company before getting to debut) claims the label. You might have heard of EXP Edition, a K-pop group that only consists of Caucasian members. They garnered negative reactions from K-pop fans and the Korean public for similar reasons stated above.

S: So can K-pop exist outside of Korea?

L: The industry has developed strong global ambitions in the last decade - many groups promote in Japan, where Korean members learn Japanese and release music exclusively in the language. I've actually seen this used as a defence for EXP Edition: if Japan can accept a Korean group releasing music in Japanese, why can't Korea accept a non-Korean group doing K-pop?

There's also EXO, one of the most popular K-pop groups. They debuted with a concept where they have 2 subgroups, EXO-M and EXO-K: 6 members sing in Korean while the other 6 (4 of them Chinese) sing the same song, but in Mandarin. The Chinese members of EXO-M were still considered K-pop idols since they were backed by a Korean company. This leads me to believe that a Korean company somehow has to be involved in order for a fully Singaporean group to be validated as a legitimate K-pop act. Simply appropriating K-pop elements like what BEAUNITE appears to be doing isn't going to work, with or without high production value.

S: What should BEAUNITE’s next step be?

L: BEAUNITE shouldn't be discouraged from pursuing their passions for music/dance, but they should do away with the K-pop group label. There is nothing wrong with covering K-pop dances, but when you publicly designate yourself as the official maknae** of the group, or adopt a fake Korean name, you should probably reflect on your life choices. Their Koreaboo syndrome is a result of an ever-growing Hallyu*** craze here – there's a line between appreciating a culture and fetishizing one, and many K-pop fans here definitely belong to the latter. Still, it's sad to see really young girls being the target of so much hate.

Well, one thing’s for sure – I sure hope Xuan, the self-proclaimed meme queen, can at the very least appreciate the fact that she had a hand in creating a late but definitely great viral phenomenon.

 

Photo credit: BEAUNITE

*A non-native Korean who is obsessed with Korean culture to the point where they denounce their own national/native identity and proclaim that they are Korean. These people typically start off as K-Pop fans, but some Koreaboos also start off as StarCraft II or League of Legends fans since they are very famous competitive sports in South Korea. The word “Koreaboo” itself comes from the term “weeaboo”; a non-native Japanese person who is obsessed with Japanese culture.

**Maknae is a common Korean term used by older people, generally young adults, to refer to the youngest in a group. It's often used as a title in place of their name.

*** “Korean wave” or “Korean fever,” it refers to the sudden increase in popularity of South Korean culture around the world in the last ten years largely due to the Korean entertainment industry boom and the popularity of kdrama and kpop.


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