Do you need to be Korean to be a K-pop artist?
That’s the question Bora Kim wanted to answer when she created EXP Edition.
What started as an academic assignment soon developed into the world’s first non-Korean K-pop band.
They’ve faced criticism, accusations of cultural appropriation and even death threats, but three years on, the band is still going strong.
How have they done it? And… why?
Making a band
Growing up in South Korea, Bora Kim spent her high school days listening to K-pop – the pop/hip-hop, Korean/English blend that has become a cultural juggernaut and spawned a thousand “idols”.
But it was only when she went to the US in 2014 to study for a masters at the prestigious Columbia University in New York that she started to question the real meaning of K-pop.
“When I was young I never imagined that people outside of Korea would consume Korean culture,” she said.
“[When I got to the US] K-pop was really gaining momentum and I started seeing it in a different light. I started thinking… Is it only K-pop if Korean people do it? How can we push K-pop? What limits are there?”
She decided the best way to answer her question was to make a K-pop band of her own – consisting of solely non-Koreans.
This would be her thesis project over her next two years at Columbia.
The only question left was: “How am I going to materialise this?”