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Crystal S. Anderson

Crystal S. Anderson (PhD) is Research Scholar of Cultural Studies at Longwood University. Within the context of transnational American studies and global Asias, she has published on Afro-Asian cultural production and K-pop and manages the digital humanities project, KPOPCULTURE. A former associate chief editor for hellokpop, a Korean media outlet, she currently manages KPK: Kpop Kollective, the oldest and only aca-fansite for K-pop and writes about Asian popular culture on her blog, High Yellow.

"Funky Divas: Transnational Femininities and K-pop and R&B Girl Groups"
Girl groups are highly visible in the Korean popular music (K-pop) landscape.  Yet, scholars tend to reduce the meanings of the images they promote. Some suggest that promotional images and music videos showcase women as infantile and excessively cute or feature women solely as objects of the male gaze, while others argue that K-pop girl groups promote negative stereotypes of Asian women, such as the “China doll.” In doing so, scholars overlook the actual music produced by such groups and the impact of other kinds of femininity. I argue that three generations of K-pop girl groups challenge these reductive interpretations and display a wider array of representations of femininities because they draw on 1990s R&B female vocal groups. Historically, R&B has blended visuals and vocal skills of female singers, allowing them to use the genre to craft new vistas for themselves. Following the trend in the 1990s, black female vocal groups like TLC, SWV and En Vogue created music that drew from various modes of R&B, utilized sophisticated production and combined powerful vocals with striking images that emphasized female empowerment and independence that also made room for playfulness and cuteness. A review of music videos, concept images and video reviews reveal that K-pop girl groups like S.E.S, The Wonder Girls, and Mamamoo consistently emulate hairstyles, fashion, dance moves and vocal styles of 1990s black vocal groups. Such emulation shows that black girl groups act as models for more complex modes of femininity for women in a different culture.