K-pop idol dons blackface in least thoughtful homage to Trayvon Martin possible
Update 08/01: G-Dragon’s representatives has released a statement claiming that the incident is a huge misunderstanding. You can read more about the response on Spin’s updated article and a portion of the rep’s statement to Spin below:
The facepaint is only a color variation for his album cover which includes black, white, and red. It is in no way meant to be a political or racial statement…It’s being derived by a simple photo shoot where GD was using different facepaint colors for his upcoming album.
You already know all about the Trayvon Martin case—I won’t rehash it.
I am, however, going to tell you all about a little guy named G-Dragon. This is him. And that photo above, too. He’s a 24-year-old Korean pop star named Kwon Ji Yong who Wikipedia informs us is not just a rapper but “singer, songwriter, dancer, lyricist, producer, model, endorser and fashion icon.” He’s basically a modern renaissance man. Rumor has it he’s also almost done with his cure for cancer and is pretty sure he can cure world hunger too. If that weren’t enough, he’s also a member of the popular Korean band Big Bang who apparently non-ironically released this press photo. “Endorser” indeed.
But G-Dragon’s life has not been all fun and games. In 2011 it was found through urine and hair analysis that G-Dragon had been (drumroll please) using drugs. Marijuana to be specific. That’s right, the devil’s grass, jazz cigarettes, the Pope’s puff pastry—whatever you call it, G-Dragon was smokin’ doobies left and right. His image suffered and he lost a number of endorsements which seems to suggest that the Korean hip-hop scene is a little different than the American one.
Well things had been going pretty swimmingly since then but now the Dragon’s back in trouble: G-Dragon has Instagrammed a photo of himself wearing a hoodie. Oh, that’s not so bad. Maybe the Korean star wanted to make a statement of solidarity with his American fans still upset over the Trayvon Martin case—by wearing a hoodie, G-Dragon is joining the masses of “I am Trayvon Martin” protestors demonstrating Zimmerman’s (alleged) profiling of Martin based on his race and dress. This doesn’t sound so bad, let’s take a look at the photo.
Well this is awkward. So it’s not actually confirmed that this photo is explicitly Martin-related, but I’m definitely confirming right now that this photo is of G-Dragon in blackface. Y’know, the kind that we used to love so much in minstrel shows because they showed how goofy and zany black people are before we started to wonder if maybe it was actually super racist.
Allow me to give Mr. Dragon a massive dose of benefit-of-the-doubt here. Surely this is just a huge cultural misunderstanding and the result of differing regional perspectives on race and ethnicity and if he’d ever known that western reaction to the image would be so negative he would’ve never made the mistake again.
What’s that? My mistake, scratch all that. G-Dragon has been in blackface before, dressed as Outkast’s Andre 3000, and you only get one chance to pull the cultural misunderstanding card. Turns out that K-pop is actually no stranger to blackface. (As an aside, Japan’s not too great in this respect either. Here are just two depictions of black-inspired characters: Mr. Popo from “Dragon Ball” and Jynx from “Pokémon,” now depicted as purple.)
Though I can’t read Korean, Google Translate seems to show that none of the picture’s comments indicate any real offense taken. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising as the photo has almost one hundred thousand “likes.” I must just be missing the joke.
G-Dragon’s PR manager must be the second least happy PR manager in the world. Then again, I suppose it could’ve been worse. I mean, not by a lot, but technically it could’ve been slightly more offensive…somehow. Go see Buzzfeed’s article on the Top 20 Hilariously Racist Things G-Dragon Could’ve Done, as Told by “As Told By Ginger” GIFs!
With the verdict delivered, much of the “news” of the Martin case has passed, but the fallout is likely to last us a while. Be sure to stay tuned for my post next week on Carlos Mencia’s George Zimmerman impression.