If you haven’t noticed, South Korean pop music, often shortened and referred to as Kpop, has taken the world by storm the past few years, largely owing its success to support from youth all over Asia and even some places in Europe and Latin America. The colorful costumes, intricate choreography, catchy tunes and good looking boy bands and girl groups that South Korea exports seem to naturally appeal to fangirls and in some cases, fanboys. With that in mind, a good number of boy bands and girl groups naturally have their eyes set on conquering the one area that seems to resist the Korean wave (also known as Hallyu): the American market.
While many will argue that there ARE huge fanbases of Kpop fans in America, those are typically found in places like California or New York, places with typically more Asians (thus Asian teenagers, who will have an easier time identifying with Kpop) than the rest of America. Another argument would be PSY’s obvious success with the smash hit ‘Gangnam Style’ and to some extent, ‘Gentleman’. One counter-argument to THAT, however, is that most Kpop fans will tell you that PSY isn’t “real” Kpop, and is little more than a meme, and in some cases, some will even tell you he is mockery of Kpop because he does not fit into the typical Kpop male archetype and instead fits more into America’s stereotype of Asians.
Speaking of male archetypes, could it be that the reason Kpop is not succeeding in mainstream America is simply because of the cultural barrier and sheer difference in male archetypes (PSY has proved that people are more than willing to dance along to a song in Korean, to an extent dispelling the language barrier theory)? After all, many non-Kpop fans have pointed out that the males in South Korean boy bands often look gay and effeminate to them. It’s also no coincidence that Asian-American males aren’t always exactly depicted as masculine in American media.
I admit, I was initially weirded out by how “effeminate” some of the boy bands could be (the cutesy cute dances you’d never catch One Direction doing, makeup, the constant skinship done as a way to cater to fangirls, etc.) and I even accused Kpop of accentuating the stereotype that Asian males like myself were all soft and effeminate. But I eventually got past that and saw Kpop male archetypes as a somewhat alternative to the male archetypes constantly presented to us by American media and you know what? I’m thankful I gave Kpop a chance.
Without further ado, here are the seven male archetypes in Kpop (that I have observed).
1. The Manly Man
Probably the closest Kpop male archetype that will be readily accepted by a mainstream American audience, the manly man or ‘momzzang’ (aka best body) will always inevitably have six-pack abs, be of average height or taller, be the playboys of the Kpop world (although did you know most Kpop idols aren’t allowed by their agency to date?) and breaks Asian male stereotypes. Examples: all of 2PM.
The adorkable may or may not always have black or tortoiseshell glasses on, most likely has bangs, may be the klutz of his group and is more likely than not a very good vocalist. Examples: Eric Nam, EXO’s D.O., Team B’s Jinhwan and Infinite’s Woohyun.
3. The Pretty Boy
This one is probably the one that seems to be most exclusive to Kpop, as Korean people do not play when they say a boy is “pretty.” With gentle features and a graceful demeanor, he is most likely prettier than you or any girl you know – especially when his agency makes him cross dress (fangirls love that, I guess). May or may not be gay. Examples: Infinite’s Sungjong, UKISS’s Kevin, EXO’s Luhan.
4. The Cool Type
He is tall, somewhat aloof and knows he doesn’t need to take his shirt off to be attractive. He looks like he detests the cutesy-cute world of Kpop and just wants to go home. Eyebrow game most likely very impeccable. Examples: Bigbang’s T.O.P., VIXX’s Leo and EXO’s Kris.
He’s really into American rap and likes to speak as much English as he can. Most likely have a solo career and/or itching to go solo. You’ll often find him hanging out with American celebrities. At worst, he is a hype beast and a wannabe and at best, he is transforming the landscape of Kpop. You suspect he secretly wishes he were black. Example: Bigbang’s G-Dragon, Block B’s Zico, BAP’s Bang Yong Guk, BTS’s Rap Monster.
6. The Smooth One
South Korea’s answer to America’s Usher’s and Ne-Yo’s, he sure can dance and sing his heart out, and as a result become a sort of combination between the ‘swag’ and the ‘manly man’. On top of that, they’re usually known as the nicest and sweetest in their groups. They’re usually the best friend of the ‘swag’ type. Also, they are for some reason inevitably short (in fact, Usher and Ne-Yo have rather humble heights as well). Examples: Bigbang’s Taeyang, Jay Park.
He’s six feet of good looks, pure talent….oh and he’s 16. Often labeled ‘noona-killer’ (older lady killer), you can’t have him. Examples: Team B’s Junhwe, B.A.P.’s Zelo.