Challenging Bias

TMI time: Covering a community you exist within is hard, & I'm reevaluating some things

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Before I get any further, I  want to open this newsletter with the disclaimer that this is a very personal edition, and kind of feels like I should have some sort of tag like “feeling cute, may delete later,” or whatever the oversharing equivalent is. “In my feels, may rewrite later”? “This newsletter will self-destruct after I talk to my therapist”? We shall see!!!!


When the KCON LA lineup was announced a few weeks ago, a friend I know from around K-pop spaces said something to me that struck me. This person and I bonded years ago about sharing a love of the boy band INFINITE (more on that later!), but it turns out they had no idea who my current favorite K-pop acts are. I, who had thought it was obvious if you just, you know, chat with me, or see my posts on social media, am apparently so closed off that even someone I speak with regularly totally misread me.

This is not at all a fault of my friend; I tend not to talk generally, publicly, about my current favorites. I’m a journalist, and I have operated in my career that I have an obligation to not represent overt personal bias in my reporting, aside from occasional reviews. In general, I try my best to be fair and representative, especially in the past when I was doing daily reporting versus longform reporting as with the present. But this has proven hard, and maybe damaging, in a field where “bias” not often used as an adjective, but lives as the capital “B” bias.

also this KCON lineup has your name written all over it haha Jun 14, 2023, 7:56 PM why do you say that that's so funny to me Jun 14, 2023, 7:59 PM All the groups I feel are up your alley including Rain and Taemin man lol 😂 Jun 14, 2023, 8:20 PM That’s so funny Jun 14, 2023, 8:20 PM bc it is not the case hahahaha it's a very solid lineup and gonna be a lot of fun, but no biases of mine are attending i'm always intrigued by what people think i like lol
I actually realized I do have some biases going, but no ults. There’s a difference, but I love everyone, let’s be real I’m the ultimate multi.

“Who is your bias?” is essentially a different way of saying “Who/what is your favorite” in English-speaking K-pop spaces, as in “my bias group is ABC and my bias member is DEF.” You might love a lot of different acts and individuals, but have ultimate biases, or you may bias one group and have not a personal fave but OT# (“one true #” of the group members), in that you proclaim to love all members equally.

“Bias” as a noun is a pretty unique usage among K-pop fans. The history of the term “bias” used as a quasi-synonym for “favorite” isn’t really known, but it’s been a term used for ages; at least as long as the 14 years I’ve been a fan. It’s not derived from the Korean fandom lexology: the phrase “최애” (choe-eh) is derived from the first part of the words “best” and “love” in Korean. Know Your Meme alleges it was being used as early as 2009, but I was already a fan by then and that terminology was already being commonly used in fandom spaces. If anyone knows earlier usages, please let me know, I’ll update this piece.

As a journalist, the idea of “bias” is very different: it means that you, to all human possibility, reporting all sides without adding your own interpretation.

To be frank, this is an impossibility. The media industry is increasingly reckoning with this, since the reality is that everyone has their own biases; attempting to be unbiased means there are newspapers out there giving room to extremists and their victims equally. Is that a success? Personally, I don’t think so. Rather, I take bias to mean treating everyone I cover equally, without showing my own bias while working professionally.

This state of operating, and simply existing, in fandom spaces but trying to avoid ostracizing any artists or fans and industry feelings towards bias alike has not necessarily been succesful. It’s why I sometimes jokingly say it’s a success when I’m being attacked on all sides by different fandoms; I succeeded at not showing bias if everyone hates me, and very few people, including friends I talk to regularly, don’t know who I personally love. It’s dark humor, but it’s what I have. And it has resulted in an almost, if not true, paranoia that people will think I love one act or another too much, to the degree that I have tampered down on my own feelings even in private spaces. Throughout my entire career, I’ve only ever told one artist that I was personally a fan, and I don’t know if they quite understood what it meant to me, probably assuming that I was just a random journalist saying I liked them.

But that’s one of the problems covering your own community, and why some newsrooms (in my opinion, wrongly) don’t let people cover their own community: it’s hard to report when you are close to it to the nth degree, but have to remain removed if you care about showing stories in a fully unbiased opinion as you can. I wouldn’t pat myself on the back and claim I’m the proverbial ultimate unbiased reporter ever in existence, and in fact have nightmares and many regrets about personal failings, but I’ve always tried as a reporter to cover the stories that matter, whether I personally love an artist or not. I cover the field, my personal opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to my reporting, the pros and the cons. It’s been a middle ground I’ve tried to operate in my entire career, and I’m starting to think I regret it.

I am a person with my own opinions and literal biases. I have favorite groups; I have favorite acts. Trying to be unbiased in my reporting is admirable, I still feel, and something I try to do, within reason. When I was publishing daily news stories for Billboard, I used to check at the end of each week to see how many male and female acts I covered, how many from bigger companies and how many from smaller ones, how many soloists versus group. It wasn’t a perfect metric, and I never formally kept track, but it was a small way of trying to check myself.

Nowadays, writing far more infrequently for other outlets and more personally for this newsletter, I’ve realized that in trying to be unbiased professionally, I’ve maybe destroyed my ability to have a real bias. A K-pop bias, that is.

I still have favorites, to be clear. But I don’t necessarily in spaces with other fans who love them in the same way as others do. In fact, as I’m typing this, I’m thinking of my particular K-pop bias at the moment, and I can’t think of another person I know aside from stan Twitter accounts dedicated to them. I have some group chats with general K-pop friends, some who share longterm, older biases with me. But I’m racking my brain and I don’t think, aside from a handful of people, most of my friends existing in K-pop spaces have any idea what I really like. That’s not a failing on their part, but mine.

I’ve been thinking about all of this for months, but that conversation about KCON kind of spurred me to do some soul searching because it was really apparent to me that by trying to be the fairest I could covering a scene based around biases, I had only in recent years publicly expressed interest in acts and releases that I felt were pretty innocuous because they’re so well loved.

Somehow, I’ve made it seem even to a person I talk to more or less daily that I Love artists that I only Like. That’s not to say I don’t like them (the KCON lineup is really good!) but anyone in this space knows that there’s a difference between liking and having a bias. By overcompensating, I lost the communal aspect of that. What I love was never supposed to be a secret, but somehow along the way I turned into a one-person island trying to wade an ocean of overwhelming biases and keeping my own safe, seperate from all the drama of my career. Even good friends, I don’t necessarily share my love with, even when we share the same biases (even ones I wrote a whole ass book about!!!). It’s professional mode 100%, even when I’m trying not to be.

I tend to write these newsletters in one shot, but I had to take a few moments and step away from my writing (get up, walk a little bit, and hydrate if you’re reading this after a long period of sitting staring looking at your screen!) Because, honestly, thinking about that makes me feel really sad. How lonely it is, to try and be unbiased in a realm where what we love defines us and our engagement. I’ve removed myself from the emotional engagements of covering this community, to the degree that I’m 99.9% sure that if I reached out with a NYTimes weekend magazine cover story to this artist (my lifetime dream as a New Yorker!) their team would think it’ll be extremely impersonal.

A lot of this came out of learned experience, after early experiences of dealing with PR reps questioning what a (then) 20-something was doing trying to get into the room with idols, and fans claiming things like I’m only doing these interviews to sleep with artists, or because I’m a crazy sasaeng fan. (There’s definitely a gendered aspect to it, but that’s for another newsletter.) In more recent years, I’ve seen people go to the other extreme, saying I’m so removed that I don’t even like what I’m covering, which is as far from the truth as is possible. I always joke it’s because I’m a Libra that I’m able to balance the feelings of my love and my work, but in recent months I’ve done some soul searching and begun to wonder if by trying to hold back my passion for some lofty holier-than-thou standards I had in my mind, it has, ironically, hindered me, professionally. I’m not a hard hitting news reporter covering death and devestation, though that’s where I got my start in newsrooms, so maybe that’s impacted me more than I thought, and kept me out of the more rewarding parts of entertainment journalism.

Nowadays, we’re all influencers, and maybe by trying not to share bias so much, I ruined the shot of becoming an influencer, or at least a tastemaker, of the most important thing one can vouch for: my own opinions and beliefs, which are misconstrued, misunderstood, and misheard. I don’t have as big of a base as other entertainment reporters and music journalists, and I can’t help but wonder if this is why; if nobody knows what I love, how do they know what I value when reporting on a field based solely around love.

We all have thoughts, we all have biases, both the narrative type and the K-pop type. Other music journalists - often men, but not only - out there are often intensely public about their loves; I’m kind of a work in progress as a human being, so not surprised in the early days of covering K-pop I taught myself a toxic behavior, to never publicly love. But there’s nothing wrong with loving, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. Enthusiasm and passion should be applauded, not shut down.

Extremes are not great, and not typically professional; I’m haunted by stories I’ve heard about people in the industry acting unprofessional when meeting their K-pop biases. To make it clear… if you’re only trying to break into reporting on music or any art scene to meet your faves maybe you’re missing the point. It’s kinder to yourself, and the people you work with, to be honest about what you want out of things, professionally. But there’s a limit, and maybe I’ve gone too far in the other direction, attempting to be unbiased in a field where bias is a special thing, not necessarily a negative one.

I’m not about to shout it from my social media accounts who I love, but personally going to try and be a little bit more open with friends and general acquaintances, and reassess how I present myself professionally. But I’m also going to try and be a bit more honest with myself, about limitations and loves. I have a lot of friends who I’ve known for years and celebrated K-pop with over its many iterations, but I’m going to spend the near future spreading my passion and love and maybe I’ll find some happiness while moderating these bias extremes I’ve found myself operating in.

Screenshot of two women drinking, from Kdrama Her Private Life. a: Deok Mi. The person you absolutely need to meet in your life is not your seoulmate. b: then? a: it's your fangirl mate.
Will my fangirl-mate circa 2023 please stand up? (Will also accept applicants for soulmates, don’t worry!

What I’m listening to

Speaking of biases… There was no way I wasn’t going to talk about INFINITE’s long-awaited 13th anniversary comeback. The 13egin EP is the group’s first release since 2019, their first since everyone finished their military service, and the first under their own management. It’s exhilarating to see them back together, because honestly it always kind of seemed like maybe they wouldn’t be able or willing, with their careers going in their own directions. But I guess the winds of the second gen K-pop revival won out and INFINITE is back; hopefully they’ll do some interviews chatting about this all (call me, INFINITE Company). For a group who has the running theme being “back” in their songs - Back, Come Back Again, and She’s Back, to name a few - I should have never doubted.

The album is fronted by New Emotions, which is honestly pretty par for the course musically INFINITE fare during the latter years of their discography, with a hint of nostalgia, synths, funk, and bombast. But it’s all just pretty typical. Nothing about it really truly excites me, which is pretty sad because INFINITE’s discography is one of my favorites. I like the song, but it’s short - about a minute shorter than their average track! And it doesn’t really ever climax, leaving it to be not all that memorable.

A screenshot from my Apple Music library, showing New Emotions clocks in at 2 minutes and 45 seconds.
A screenshot of eight of INFINITE’s top songs on Apple Music; the shortest, Man in Love, is 3 minutes and 17 seconds long, while The Eye topped out at 4 minutes.

It’s not a terrible song, and I do enjoy New Emotions because it a) shows that they’re back and b) INFINITE finally have a line distribution that feels a bit more fair, versus prior singles where certain members getting a single verse or two, or none. Everyone sounds so great on this album in general. I just wish their grand return and renewal of their brand, now with them in charge of it all, was a bit bigger in the choice of single.  It's a fine song if not amazing, and I’m sure if I ever have the chance to see them perform live ever again (pray for me please!) it’ll be a great experience live.

That said, the b-side Time Difference IS exactly what I was hoping for, and it seems like at least the YouTube commenters and r/K-pop readers agree with me.

@goldensly_ on YouTube commenting "It's not an INFINITe album if we don't have a b-side that we tend to prefer way more than the title track….. :”)
Same, goldensly_, same.

I’m not exactly sure why they decided to go with New Emotions over Time Difference, but assume it’s because the former feels a little safer as it’s a pretty sexy dance track of the moment. But in an industry currently witnessing a lot of the most popular acts seeing success with truly refreshing singles taking off rather than tried-and-true dance ones, the sleeker production (the synth riffing!) and vocal prowess Time Difference kind of feels like it could be an ideal single to reintroduce the group. It’s not reinventing INFINITE in any way, but it feels more like coming home to them than New Emotions does, in that it’s just far less generic of what 2023 K-pop boy bands are doing.

I’m also listening to Shownu and Hyungwon of Monsta X are now a duo, literally just called Shownu X Hyungwon. I think the name is kind of a lost opportunity for a really fun rebranding of some sorts, but I’m not getting too caught up on it. Their debut EP The Unseen is pretty much what I expected from this pair, with sultry and smooth dance tracks. B-side Love Therapy jumped out at me with its Y2K groove and really fun, subtle vocal layering, plus, of course, a catchy tune.

I just wrote a whole piece about bias, so don’t worry, I got the ladies too!

TWICE’s Misamo Japanese subunit (Mina, Sana, Momo) became art in the music video for Do not touch, and it’s one of my favorite K-pop videos in years. The song, the styling, the dancing, the intentions behind the song, they're all great, and equating these modern day pop stars with iconic artworks is just the true definition of art. I recently saw TWICE perform at Metlife Stadium here on the East Coast, and I really think they’re some of the best performers around. Getting to see individual members come into their own through units and solo projects has been really engaging, because it’s fascinating to see how each one, or team, is representing themselves.

It’s generally just a big summer for JYP Entertainment girl groups, and I’m listening to ITZY’s new Kill My Doubt EP while writing this. No deep thoughts yet, but enjoying things so far. Excited to see them and NMIXX perform these newer songs at KCON!

Another woman I am enjoying listening to is SoYou, of SISTAR. Her Summer Recipe is fittingly seasonal for one-fourth of the group celebrated for years as K-pop’s summer queens, and she reunited with fellow SISTAR member Bora on the single Aloha. The song took me straight back to the peak of SISTAR’s reign, in that it feels like it really could have come straight off one of that group’s albums from around a decade (!) ago.

I feel like I rec this podcast every week, but a recent episode of Name 3 Songs was about what happens when heartthrobs change things up, discussing among other things Jungkook’s explicit version of Seven.

What I’m reading

Before I got stuck in my feels and decided to overshare about some personal and professional difficulties of mine, I was going to write about how aggregator accounts are increasingly looking to engage with K-pop fans as Twitter, or X or whatever it’s called tonight, is increasingly a hellscape where finding engagement is getting worse. K-pop fans are still very engaged on Twitter, so it makes sense to engage with them a lot more now. (Except me, I’m taking a few weeks off Twitter for a variety of reasons, leave a comment if you wanna chat about something.)

It would have been pretty timely, I guess, because others are thinking about it, with Jael Goldfine publishing “Clickbait is Dead. Long Live Pop Crave” at Study Hall today, that’s a pretty damning indictment of the current state of PR for celebrities, making me wonder if there’s really any future for anyone foolish enough to try operating like entertainment journalism’s current state is anything but a death knell to some new path, which may or may not be journalism.

“Pop Crave has gained legitimacy as a Gen Z outlet of choice,” wrote Goldfine. “Hannah Schwartz, a music publicist at Shore Fire Media, told me that the account is ranked as a level two outlet in their press database and some of her clients prefer a mention from the account over an interview. Reps send tips, press releases, and early streams of songs and music videos to the account.

…Essentially, Pop Crave has eliminated the need to click on clickbait, and its rise suggests people want to read this type of news directly on social media. Why would someone read a clunky article with a try-hard headline, when they could simply scroll past a tweet?”

Goldfine also reports that they do sponsored content, unmarked, which I thought was illegal, but at the very least was breaking the Old Twitter policies.

I was catching up on my open tabs on Friday, and got to some pieces I was looking forward to reading, including Taylor Glasby’s overview of fan theorizing about K-pop MVs for The Face.

On the academic side of things, a paper by Crystal Abidin and Jin Lee looked at how TikTok moved into South Korea via K-pop from.

A bit more on the business slant, Tássia Assis coordinated an engaging round table with industry insiders and artists for

Over here on Substack, Samantha Lui of  wrote about the way misinformation is increasing in K-pop Twitter spaces. It’s been something I’ve been spending a lot of time ruminating on, so glad to see other people are also thinking about it.

What I’m working on

Not a whole lot that’s shareable at the moment, to be honest… Last week I was mostly working on upcoming interviews that I’m excited to share, so stay tuned! But, like most people freelancing at the moment, I honestly could use more work. If you are reading this and an editor or friends with editors, or looking to discuss my industry and media consulting, please hit me up, I’d appreciate it! Or if you just wanna grab coffee, or something, let’s also connect.

In general, say hi! Leave a comment. I want to say hi back, and maybe if you ask nicely I’ll tell you who my not so secretive K-pop bias is, though I honestly don’t think anyone who doesn’t already know would ever guess it if you just looked at me from the Internet side of things. I’m a mystery, I tell you.