by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
Columbia University student Bora Kim riled up the K-pop world about a month ago when word of her MFA thesis project–a non-Korean boy group named “EXP”–spread across the web. Titled “I’m Making a Boy Band,” or IMMABB, Kim’s project has been underway since October of last year.
It’s hard to believe, but the minds behind IMMABB aren’t part of a huge talent agency in South Korea. Instead, the band’s producers primarily consist of three people: Kim, an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist from Seoul; Karin Kuroda (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2013); and Samantha Shao (Maastricht University, Netherlands, 2013).
They each have their individual duties, from overseeing editorial content, social media, research, budgeting and marketing–all while looking forward to EXP’s first mini-album in November and finishing up the “I’m Making a Boy Band” documentary next year.
To help cover the costs of the mini-album, IMMABB is asking for $30,000 in funds from Kickstarter by June 7. Backers can expect plenty of incentives, from EXP T-shirts, signed copies of their mini-album, tote bag, tickets to a VIP screening of their documentary and even private karaoke sessions with the guys.
KoreAm caught up with the IMMABB team for a quick conversation regarding their initial reaction to the controversy surrounding EXP, as well as a glimpse into their future plans.
There must be a lot going on with the band’s training, documenting the project, producing the music and other responsibilities. How big is the team working on the project?
IMMABB: It must be hard to believe because people keep asking us that question! But it is really just the three of us! Bora, Karin and Sam. [As] for the music, dance, video, photo, we bring in artists who really believe in the project and become collaborators. This is why we started the Kickstarter campaign. We want to give our collaborators what they deserve for their amazing work and hard efforts.
You’ve mentioned your surprise at the reactions and controversy in the media once the Internet heard about EXP. What were some of your immediate observations you had in how many of these outlets presented EXP?
IMMABB: When the controversy first occurred, there was a K-pop forum website that asked “Who’s more handsome? EXO or EXP?” After you answered that question, it asked “Why?” and it gave two options: “I like Asian men” OR “I like white/black men.”
This has been one of the most striking products of the controversy; to this day, we still contemplate what that dichotomy really does, in addition to having “white/black men” as one category. It isn’t clear if the person who posted the question was “Korean” or “Western” or both or neither. It doesn’t matter to us because it generated really interesting dialogues about K-pop and identity politics, amongst [K-pop] fans and our peers (who are also fans).
Though we knew the topic of sexualities would come up, I think we were also quite surprised (and saddened) at the amount of homophobia generated by commenters. Many of these hate comments are from actual K-pop fans (judging by their social media profiles), and it’s interesting because K-pop stars are often called “gay” or “too girly” or “weak” by people who are not familiar with K-pop. These comments imply to us that K-pop boys can do things while our boys cannot do those same things.
What are some of the different approaches in how you will be promoting EXP to Korean audiences?
IMMABB: We haven’t started promoting EXP to our Korean audience yet but the Korean audience who have seen our English content have given us great feedback! We are getting scouting offers from different Asian companies, including ones in Korea, so we think we’ll be in Korea soon.
All images courtesy of IMMABB