Since I have a Web site dedicated to the Korean music group Block B, I feel somewhat obligated to go poking around to where fans are talking to each other to see if anything important has come up. I am 43 years old. Let’s just say that sometimes, I feel a little out of place.
Probably the second-most popular question is the one in this post’s title. (The most-popular question is, “How would it be if one of the members asked you to marry him?” I’ll tell you–it would be hilarious. Unless he meant it, in which case it would be extremely awkward.)
Being a sophisticated and erudite adult, I of course have never asked myself the question, Why are the members of Block B all so gay? Instead, I have asked myself the question, Why are the members of Block B all so comfortable with homoerotic humor?
And that they are!
Trust me, there’s plenty more where that came from.
Given that the members of Block B are either all straight or all pretending to be straight (and if it’s the latter, then they really should stop trying to make out on camera), the sheer volume of homoerotic humor is indeed startling. And it seems like the first instinct of most Americans trying to understand it is to parse the various group members’ attitudes toward homosexuality–U-Kwon once said he thinks it’s OK; Zico once used a slur. [ETA: Following the controversy over the release of “Tough Cookie,” Zico’s label stated that “he has no prejudice or negative intention with respect to homosexuals, and he has respect for sexual minorities.” (Translation by Kari @ blockbintl.)]
But I think that’s a red herring. After all, assuming that U-Kwon and Zico have very different attitudes towards homosexuality (although honestly, I don’t think once using a foreign slur proves much given Zico’s limited English proficiency–the main gay neighborhood in Seoul is called Homo Hill after all*), they both have an equally great enthusiasm for homoerotic humor.
The 7:36 mark
The thing that struck me about this video was that the homoerotic humor was not just funny to the members of Block B. U-Kwon and Taeil pretend to be in love, and everybody responds with laughter.
What’s going on here? I don’t think it has nearly as much to do with attitudes toward homosexuality as it does with something called fan service.
What’s fan service? Basically it’s tossing in a little titillation here and there as a “service” to your fans. Wikipedia talks about it in the context of Japanese popular culture. Note that 1. fan service is geared toward women as well as to men, and 2. Americans are so hostile to fan service that it is removed from the anime and magna exported here.
Fan service also exists in K-Pop. Indeed, Zico will sometimes preface pouncing on another group member with, “We have to give something to the fans.”
The Korean pop industry involves the so-called fan service, which is largely based on bromance of a non-sexual nature between band members of male idol groups. Fans pair their favourites into “OTPs” (one true pairing), who in turn reinforce the pairs by acting cute and brotherly with each other on television.
Block B mocks a lot of the conventions of K-Pop, so it’s no shocker that instead of acting cute and brotherly, they act like they’re trying out for the Korean version of Queer as Folk.
And they’re by no means the first to call into question the non-sexual nature of these bromances.
The fellow playing Jeremy is Lee Hong Ki of FT Island, and that’s a band that is also not shy about pushing the bromance envelope. Get the members of Block B and FT Island Tweeting together, and the slash fiction literally writes itself.
My point is not, here’s your HoYay! My point is, here is something that Americans and Koreans look at and interpret very differently, because Americans are completely unfamiliar with a concept that is very familiar indeed to Koreans. Americans see Block B members fondling each other and ask, Why are they doing that? Are they actually gay? Are they making fun of gay people? What does this mean? Koreans see it and say, They’re mocking fan service.
Fan service is really an alien and unwelcome concept to Americans–we regard it as pandering. But while it is possible to slice fan service pages out of a Japanese magna, it is pretty much impossible to remove fan service from K-Pop. What does Block B do at their fan meets? They hold hands with their fans–these are even called “high touch” events. They have “romantic moments”–skits replaying romance scenes from movies–with especially lucky fans.
While I think that K-Pop will have to adjust its marketing to the U.S. market, and I think that trying to sell music as sex with some background noise is a mistake in this country, fan service is an issue where I think Americans should just try to unclench. It’s not easy, because we do not regard fan service as harmless–we rant against the obvious cheesecake in magna, we’re insulted by gratuitous shower scenes in anime, and when we see singers encouraging fans to regard them as romantic objects, we think this is a dangerous and frightening practice. Americans are very much indoctrinated into the belief that every person who has a crush on a star is on the path to being an insane stalker hiding in the bushes with a roll of duct tape and a loaded gun.
Obviously, there are insane stalkers–and K-Pop is infamous for them. But I don’t know if that’s so much the result of fan service as it is the result of inadequate law enforcement and anti-stalking laws. (ETA: Ask a Korean notes the similarities between K-Pop stalkers and certain British soccer stalkers; I would be surprised indeed to learn that the owners of Liverpool F.C. ever engaged in fan service.)
The thing is, if you watch the Block B “romantic moments”
The 4:58 mark
the audience does not consist of delusional nut jobs–it consists of people who think that what’s going on is screamingly funny. And when the group spends the day with a fan who repeatedly states with all evident sincerity that she hopes one day to marry Taeil, they’re totally cool about it–and there’s no reason for them not to be, because she is to all appearances a perfectly pleasant and well-adjusted young lady. [ETA: Sadly, the version of this with English subtitles was yanked off YouTube.]
The 11:33 mark
Now, it may be that Block B just doesn’t attract insane stalker fans, because they don’t encourage people to idealize them.
Your knight in shining armor.
But you know, what’s so awful about “high touch” events and “romantic moments,” as long as no one takes it too seriously? What’s so wrong about a teenage girl wanting to marry a singer? When I was 14, I very sincerely wanted to marry Simon LeBon of Duran Duran, and I wasn’t leaving old tampons on his doorstep, threatening people who didn’t like his music, or poisoning the orange juice of that guy from the Thompson Twins.
*YES!!!! I think they need a new name!
ETA: Aaaand everything comes full circle at the 2:11 mark, when they do some fan service for a fanboy!