We need to stop comparing Asian celebrities to Hollywood celebrities

When will people stop comparing Asian celebrities to Western celebrities?” is a question that I legit asked a friend the other day on Twitter.

I couldn’t help it she’d just shared a post from W Magazine on a feature they did on Lee Sung Kyung, star of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, and the current envy of many a K-Drama fan (check her out on Instagram, you’ll understand). It was awesome seeing Sung Kyung getting the international attention that she deserves, but the article made one major mistake: the headline they used was “Meet Lee Sung-Kyung, South Korea’s Answer to Gigi Hadid.”

Fans and Twitter folk picked up on the story and immediately called W out on it. A good number of the tweets used clever K-Drama GIFs to tell the magazine to delete the tweet, while many others went as far as questioning them about their choice of words.  

As a writer, I try not to take headlines too seriously until I read the actual article. Publications tend to craft clickbait-y titles nowadays as a way to up their readership, and it can be annoying to find out that the headline’s got little to nothing to do with the article itself. There’s also the news value of prominence that teaches journalists to give more attention to prominent individuals.

Some people pointed out that everyone was overreacting to the W article because it barely mentions Gigi at all it only touches on the comparison because of their similarly proportioned Instagram follower counts. A reasonable argument, for sure, but still kind of shaky if you put the article into context. By phrasing the headline in that way, the publication ends up giving readers the idea that the Hollywood celebrity is more worthy to cover than an Asian one.

If you look at all the times Western media has written about Asian stars, you’d notice that this happens a lot. As the Hallyu wave began to seep towards the West, there were media outlets that called 2NE1 main rapper CL the “Asian [Iggy] Azalea,” PopSugar dubbed Big Bang “the One Direction of Asia,” and CNN once referred to former EXO member Lu Han as the “Chinese Justin Bieber”.

It all boils down to one point: the way we talk about pop culture is very West-centric. Mainstream Western media outlets might mean well, but by continuously framing articles using comparisons to their own, they don’t do much to show that an artist is anyone but an Asian version of another person. They really just aren’t very good at talking about celebrities who aren’t from the US, Canada, or the UK. This case is mostly about Asians, but it goes for other races too. Because of this, we’ve become conditioned to accepting that anyone who’s not American should be featured in relation to America because “that’s just how it is”.

But if there’s anything to be learned from angry fan tweets, it’s that journalists and tastemakers have to be responsible with the content they put out. As journalists, we are partially responsible for how people absorb information to make their own judgements. The current norm when it comes to talking about pop culture is very much angled towards the West, as if Hollywood is the only entertainment base that can be global. The outrage that fans unleash on social media whenever people make these comparisons is proof that other countries have widely popular, global entertainment industries, too.

And if you think that all of these artists should be content with getting any form of international recognition, then you’re part of the problem. By putting up with these comparisons, you’re really just propagating the status quo. If we want more representation, we have to urge publications and tastemakers to start making changes in the ways they write about non-Hollywood stars. If we keep on pushing to be recognized, we can eventually convince people of a new normal, where we feature Asian artists as their own people.

Header photos taken from Elle (Lee Sung-Kyung and CL), Vogue (Gigi Hadid), and Pinterest (Iggy Azalea).
Tags:
#music #tv

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  • booboop

    I thought this mentality only happens in the Phils. I agree with them. Let’s just describe Lee Seong Kyeong as model turned actress, w/o the comparison. Who knows, the Asians maybe far better in other aspects than them. Peace.