Successful Multiracial K-Pop Idols Are Finding Challenges Based on Their Race

(Photo Courtesy: Kpoping) Jeon Somi poses with her former group IOI, 2016

As K-Pop stars like Jeon Somi and Huening Kai gain popularity, some K-pop fans are beginning to question wether multiracial K-pop idols are treated differently based on their race.

Jseon Somi poses against blue background with former K-Pop group IOI.

(Photo Courtesy: Kpopping) Jeon Somi poses with her former group IOI, 2016

The other race matters

Controversy over this issue first sparked in 2017, during the South Korean audition show, “Produce 101.” Despite consistent support for contestant Kim Samuel, he was not in the final lineup for the group Wanna One. Many international fans suspected that it had something to do with Kim being half Mexican.

Multi-racial Kim Samuel poses on natural background in a white shirt.
Multiracial star,Kim Samuel poses for Naver x Dispatch Korea (Photo Courtesy Kpopping)

Kim Samuel was a Third Culture Kid (TCK), born to a Mexican father and a South Korean mother in the United States. He moved to South Korea in his early teen years to pursue a career as a K-pop star. After many failed attempts, Kim joined the show Produce 101. After failing to debut in the group, Kim began releasing music as a solo artist. However, many of Kim’s fans wondered why he was unable to debut with a K-pop group. Many fans turned to Jeon So-mi as an example.

Multi-racial Jeon Somi poses in a white shirt against a natural background
Multiracial star Jeon Somi (Photo Courtesy: Kpopping)

Jeon So-mi was also a TCK, born in Canada to a Dutch father and South Korean mother. However, unlike Samuel, Jeon received many opportunities to become a star. She was signed to JYP, a large entertainment company. She participated in Produce 101 just one year prior to Kim Samuel’s debut. Both of them had well-rounded talents, popularity in South Korea and internationally and high chances if entering the final lineup.

However, only Jeon Somi debuted in the audition show’s K-pop group. Many felt the only difference was that Kim is half-Mexican, while Jeon is half-white.

The whiter the better?

The Korea Herald published a piece that may support the theory that being half-white is an advantage for multiracial K-pop idols. In this article, the author states that South Korea has a triracial hierarchy.

A blue pyramid inforgrphic  that represents the Tri-Racial Hierarchy in South Korea by Hyein Amber Kim
(Photo Courtesy The Korea Herald) The Tri-Racial Hierarchy in South Korea by Hyein Amber Kim

According to this analysis, Koreans may consider Korean-white multiracial people like Jeon Somi as honorary Koreans. However, Koreans may consider non-white multiracial people like Kim Samuel as “collective dark.” This is certainly a much deeper issue in South Korea.

However, if this report is accurate, some may treat K-pop idols differently based on race.


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