Born in New York, made in Seoul

Born in New York, made in Seoul

As K-pop takes the US market by storm, American musicians opt to launch their own K-pop careers. When actor Will Smith's son, Jaden Smith, announced his plan to become a K-pop star, some people criticized his him. "He knows the K-in K-pop stands for Korean, right?"

When the all-American boy band EXP Edition released their first Korean music video, they were also accused of trying to take the "K" out of "K-pop" by angry fans. "Retweet if you think four white boys should stick to American pop. It's really not that hard," said one fan on social, accusing them of cultural appropriation.

"K-pop is supposed to be a safe space for Asians to have a platform for entertainment that they often times aren't given in the West," said another.

Although none of their members are Korean, K-pop idol group EXP Edition sing in Korean and dance K-pop style. With the tagline "Born in New York, made in Seoul," this international K-pop band - with ethnic backgrounds that go from Portuguese to Croatian - made their debut in the K-pop scene with their electronic pop single Feel Like this in South Korea.

"Music is a universal language that brings people together," said the band's leader Frankie. "We think there shouldn't be any boundaries when it comes to music, including K-pop."

"We didn't think twice before leaving the US. We had little idea of what we were getting ourselves into, but making a debut in Seoul and sharing our music with Korean audience have always been our dream."

Despite the band's relation to Seoul to learn the language, K-pop fans criticized their lack of training up against South Korean artists who attend "K-pop academics" for over a decade before their official debut.

Whether EXP Edition represents cultural appropriation or not, what is certain is that the band is "evidence of the fact that K-pop is expanding its horizon and becoming more global," said the band's creators Bora Kim and Karin Kuroda, who also claimed that criticism had "drastically subsided and their reception had been "very successful."

A Korean culture expert and professor at Seoul's Hangkuk University, Michael Hurt, pointed out the irony of cultural appropriation accusations.

"K-pop became a genre that's really a fusion of appropriated other, mostly American and actually African American art, especially singing and dancing," he said. "I think it speaks to the success of K-pop in general to see that the very culture from which they appropriated this from is now trying to enter the fray."

EXP Edition's journey began back in 2014 when Kim Bo-ra, the founder and head of the group's agency IMMABB Entertainment, had the idea of turning American men into K-pop performers for her masters degree thesis project at Columbia University.

After labeling her project "I'm Making a Boy Band," she held an audition to recruit non-Koreans for EXP Edition. The group's final four members, Frankie, Sime, Hunter and Koki debuted in New York with their English-Korean single Luv/Wrong in 2015 and shortly after released their second single Nolja Let's Party. Once they gained popularity in their homeland, they embarked on a journey and a new challenge: they debuted in the home of K-pop.

"The casting idea of EXP Edition was so unique and different from other countless auditions we had back in New York. Personally, I found K-pop to be an opportunity to challenge myself as a performer," said Sime.

Although debuting in South Korea was a dream come true for the band, it presented a challenge of a new kind. "My biggest fear is that people might think we are disrespecting or mocking K-pop. But K-pop became our life, what we do," Hunter said.

"We expected such pushback because we tried something new, even surprising. But with many comments we have been receiving from non-Korean K-pop fans, we would like to inspired them and show that they can also work in K-pop, like us," Koki said.

The band members said that what they like about K-pop and they found missing the American pop scene are the genre's versatile stage performances and the visually impressive dance routines.