Yearning for the beast: Young gay Japanese men’s consumption of male K-pop idols

gul yu rim
Korean fitness model Gul Yu Rim is a perfect example of the “beastly”men gay Japanese K-pop fans idolise

The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association will be held this year in Washington DC between 29th of November and 3rd December. The theme of the conference, “Anthropology Matters,” seeks to make an intervention into a world that is becoming increasingly polarised by a new iteration of the culture wars. The conference seeks to explore the role of anthropology in contemporary political debates so as to respond to the rise of neo-conservative popularism throughout the developed world.

On the afternoon of Thursday 30th November, I will be presenting a paper entitled Yearning for the Beast which explores Japanese gay men’s fandom of Korean popular cultures. My paper forms part of a panel organised by Dredge Byung’chu Kang entitled Global K-pop Fandom: Challenging Dominant Narratives of Globalization, Spatial Hierarchies and Identity Formation. I will be presenting alongside Dredge Byung’chu Kang, Erica Vogel, Bonnie Tilland, and Youngmin Choe. Our panel will be rounded off by Millie Creighton, who will act as a discussant. It is very exciting to be presenting with some of the most interesting thinkers on global K-pop currently working within anthropology today!

My abstract is below:

Previous research on Japanese K-pop consumption has predominantly focussed on the experiences of the hallyu obāsan, middle-aged female fans who idealise K-pop idols’ “soft” kkotminam (flower boy) masculinity. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork examining young Japanese gay men’s consumption of transnational media, this presentation examines how these gay men consume and understand K-pop. In so doing, I destabilise assumptions of K-pop male idol’s inherently “soft” masculinity by critically investigating how gay male consumers of K-pop in Japan position “Korean masculinity” (kankokujin no otokorashisa) as “beastly” (yajū-teki).

Through interviews conducted with young gay Japanese consumers of K-Pop, I investigate how “Korean masculinity” is situated within the socio-semiotic system of “Typing” which structures knowledge of desire within Japan’s gay sub-culture. I demonstrate that, counter to common-sense assumptions of K-Pop idols’ “softness” which circulate transnationally, Japanese gay consumers instead draw upon discourses of “beastliness” to position their desire for male K-Pop idols in opposition to that of heterosexual female consumers. I reveal through my analysis that the emphasis placed on consuming “beastly” K-Pop idols is situated within broader “regimes of desire” which structure the Japanese gay media landscape and which privilege heteronormative masculinity by constructing “masculine cuteness” (otokorashii kawaisa) as undesirable. In consuming, and yearning for, “beastly” Korean masculinity, Japanese gay consumers of K-Pop thus explicitly reject the valorisation of masculine cuteness found throughout Japanese mainstream media. I conclude by examining how Koreanness itself has become commoditised as a marker of “hard” masculinity within the Japanese gay sub-culture.

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