Yale sociology professor visits Korea to discuss the impact of K-pop on Asian American identity

Grace Kao, the IBM Professor of Sociology and Professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale, traveled to South Korea to present her research at several leading Korean academic institutions, including Korea University and Yonsei University. Her latest research focuses on the sociology of music, in particular K-pop and the significance its global popularity holds for Asian Americans and minorities in the United States.   

Korea University

In Seoul, Kao delivered her two-part talk titled “The Importance of K-pop to the Sociology of Asian Americans and Music.” In the first portion, she spoke on the transformative possibilities that the popularity of K-pop has on the lived experiences of Asian Americans. She examined the vital role that Asian artists — like the globally recognized K-pop group, BTS — play in uplifting all Asian Americans, especially as voices of solidarity and advocacy against anti-Asian hate. Kao states, “Many of my students who love K-pop are from minority groups. They are Black or Hispanic and sometimes, non-binary. They say they feel like K-pop is a safer space.” 

The second part of the lecture was accompanied by a series of music videos which Kao used to highlight musical and visual similarities between the British New Wave in the 1980s and K-pop in the 2020s. She discussed a paper she co-authored called, “Are Friends Electric? The Influence of 1980s British New Wave on 2020s K-Pop” stating, “As a person growing up in the United States, many of the bands that I loved the most were white or Black, but certainly not Asian.” She continues, “So it was a big deal when BTS performed on Saturday Night Live (SNL) in the United States in 2019, becoming the first Asian of any kind to appear on the program as the musical guests.” 

Kao first developed her interest in K-Pop after having met an ethnomusicology graduate student studying BTS at a conference in March 2020. Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown she had the chance to delve deeper into the history of modern K-pop and began to follow the latest activities of performers associated with the genre. Kao’s research on the impact of K-pop on Asian American identity naturally aligned with her expertise in other research focus areas having to do with race, ethnicity, and migration as well as interracial relationships.

FNC EntertainmentDahae Iris Choi of Hitfire Records

In addition to her academic talks, Kao attended musical performances, watched fan meetings, and visited several entertainment agencies where she was able to meet with managers and production teams to learn more about the K-pop industry. 

At Yale, Kao teaches a popular course called, “Race and Place in British New Wave, K-pop, and Beyond” and had one of her most recent literary works on K-pop published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She looks forward to building her connections in Korea and deepening her understanding while expanding her research on this topic. 

Pictured in the photos above are: (photo 1, left to right, top to bottom) Grace Kao with Korea University staff; (photo 2) Grace Kao and Yonsei University students; (photo 3) Grace Kao with Kim Doohyun and Jungjin Seo from the songwriting team MELODESIGN of Jellyfish Entertainment; (photo 4) Grace Kao and Yale Sociology PhD Student Meera Choi with managers Soyeon Shim and Hyunsoo Seo from Global H Media; (photo 5) Grace Kao and Yale Sociology PhD Student Meera Choi with manager Tina Kim and composer and musician Sooyoon Kim from FNC Entertainment; (photo 6) Grace Kao with Dahae Iris Choi of Hitfire Productions; (photo 7) Grace Kao and Yale Sociology PhD Student Meera Choi with CR Kim and Subin (SB) Kim of Aiming Music. 


To learn more about Yale and Korea, read the April 2023 article Yale President Peter Salovey Visits South Korea to Expand Partnerships.

To learn more about Grace Kao’s work, read the following articles in the media:
• An article published by the Korean Times,
• An interview with Grace Kao published by the Korean Culture and Information Service
• An article in the South China Morning Post How a Yale professor, raised on MTV, saw BTS and fell in love with K-pop.