By Charlene Behal
For me, the identity of being Asian-Australian is still relatively new to me.
I already had a script prepared for when people I met asked me ‘Where are you from?’
The expectation for us, Asian-Australians, was never simply ‘Australia’.
I knew that the world’s perception of Australians was simple and a bit bizarre – white blonde surfers, who occasionally boxed kangaroos. Of course, this stereotype is far from the truth. But what is true, is that the world’s perception was white. Which I am not.
Being Asian-Australian was part of my identity, but it wasn’t something that I acknowledged or had conversations about growing up. One of the key things that caused a shift in my self-perception was – as weird as it may sound, K-pop.
I remember my sister trying to get me into K-pop for the billionth time. I didn’t show any interest. At the time I was happy with the artists I was listening to, and I didn’t want to be introduced to anything else.
‘Look at this cute guy, he’s Australian.’
Hold on. What?
This captivated my interest. I’d never seen an Asian-Australian guy in a boyband before, let alone two. One music video led to another and it wasn’t too long until I ‘fell in love’ with Felix from Stray Kids, and fell into the wonderful rabbit hole that is the Hallyu Wave.
I thought it was so cool that I could relate to an idol on that level of being both Asian and Australian. I was 17 years old, and I discovered a whole new view of what it can mean to be Australian. It was the representation I never knew I needed.
There are so many Asian-Australians in old and new generations of K-pop who have represented our nation on a global scale. There are a few current idols that are wildly popular in the biggest K-pop companies; including Felix and Chan from Stray Kids, Rosé from Blackpink, Jake from ENHYPEN and Hanni and Danielle from NewJeans; often referred to as the ‘Aussie Line’ of K-pop. Their popularity has put Australia on the map, as we’re often a forgotten country in the music industry. Their Australian identity even makes global fans interested in our country (who would have thought?) The fact that Asian-Australians are piquing the world’s interest with our unique accents and easy-going nature makes me proud to be Asian-Australian.
I love to see that so many of the younger generation of Aussies love K-pop. It especially warms my heart to see Asian-Australians looking amazing in K-fashion outfits and Sanrio attire, inspired by K-pop idols. Contrasting to when I was young, I never experienced a sense of community about being Asian-Australian. I was made fun of by white kids in primary school for simply owning Hello Kitty merchandise and I didn’t even acknowledge that I was Asian, let alone love my identity like I do now. I remember the few people that did like K-pop in primary school were made fun of for liking music that wasn’t English. There was so much internalised racism that I even joined them poking fun, and consequently didn’t listen to the genre for years. I’m thankful that seeing people like me in a white-dominated industry, growing up in the West, opened me up to a world of great music, culture, and fun.
A story that KOZZIECOM, a Korean-Australian media startup, did with Kristina Bilandzic really resonated with me: as she also began to embrace her Asian identity after becoming a K-pop fan. ‘Being comfortable with being mixed, rather than ‘Am I Korean or am I Australian?’, finding the tie in between was the hard part.’ The journey of accepting being both Asian and Australian was difficult for me too, but K-pop was one of the first steps that also helped me love who I am and accept that I don’t have to choose one; I can be both in harmony.
It makes me excited that K-pop has grown so popular in Australia over the past few years. Now that the world is opening up again, one of the main locations that was chosen for the K-pop music festival Hallyu Pop Fest is none other than our capital city, Sydney. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a K-pop festival in Australia, namely the K-pop Music Fest in 2011 which was held in Sydney to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Korea and Australia.
When I was in the line at Hallyu Pop Fest, I made friends with Asian-Australians from all walks of life and had an incredible time watching the idols’ performances. Even after over a decade, K-pop continues to be popular in our nation, and K-pop artists feel welcome to our shores. The fact that Australians, no matter their background, can come together and enjoy K-pop together, despite the language barrier, is what music is all about: bringing people together.
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