Quick Hit: T-Ara’s Stereotyping of Native-Americans in YaYaYa


Shocked and confused by the video for YaYaYa (야야야)? If so, I give a very quick introduction to K-pop and media representations of other races in Korea over at Sociological Images, to help readers unfamiliar with either place it in some context.

If you’re one of those, I hope it does, and I especially recommend one of the links I give in the post – Who is Korean? Migration, Immigration, and the Challenge of Multiculturalism in Homogeneous Societies, by Timothy Lim – for anyone further interested in race-relations in Korea.

Meanwhile, I was tempted to translate the lyrics too, but they’re too inane already adequately covered at Allkpop. Instead, this Friday I’ll be covering Pray (기도) by Sunny Hill (써니힐) .

Until then, Happy Chinese New Year’s everybody!

22 thoughts on “Quick Hit: T-Ara’s Stereotyping of Native-Americans in YaYaYa

  1. Why shocked and confused, is it some N.American thing?
    Srsly, I’ve watched this video twice and I do not get why is it shocking, is is cos I am missing the lyrics?


    1. Welp, it might help if you followed the link he posted in the second sentence ;).

      Speaking as someone of First Nations descent, it was mildly offensive (it was lame, stereotypical and just plain dumb). I mean, if they’re going to engage in cultural appropriation they could at least do a better job of it!

      Yes, I’m being facetious. How would you feel if your cultural heritage was boiled down to what people remembered seeing in bad 50’s westerns? Forever? Or worse, what if people are focused on the bad 90’s westerns with their noble savages loving mother earth? Either way it shows a shallow and warped glimpse of what some white guy scavenged from a few different tribes and cultures just to sell movies. Seeing it in a lame music video from another country/continent/hemisphere in the 21st century…

      That’s just mind-blowing and deliberate ignorance. That’s shocking. What’s confusing is WTH the imagery has to do with that inane song??
      Really though, the link he gave does a much better job of explaining it than I ever could.


      1. Thanks for adding that, and yeah: everything is covered in the link, or at least in the numerous comments the video provoked among (I’m assuming) mostly North American readers.

        I have to admit, I wasn’t at all shocked, confused, or offended myself, but that’s an unfortunate side-effect of living in such a non-PC society so long, so thanks again for reminding me how problematic the video was.


        1. So far as actually being offensive goes, it only really rates an eye roll and a facepalm (for me anyways). To put it in perspective though, while I’m of First Nations descent I’m Metis and never grew up on a reservation. I am also incredibly pale, enough so that at pow wows I have gotten “The Look” a few times. I must be a throwback to someone or other, because neither of my parents have this complexion! lol. Point being I’ve never had to deal with people thinking I’m a drunken-loser-welfare-illiterate Indian or asking me if I’ll do a rain dance or any of that nonsense.


      2. Yap I’ve read this article before. But I still do not get it at all (the rant, not the article), it’s pop video, what did you guys expect? It is stylised according to pop culture view of North American Indians. It is colourful, distinct and shallow as any portrait of any other nation/country/idea that appears in pop culture. How is that offensive? What shall I expect (or what do you expect) from pop video. Have you seen Rammstein – ‘America’? That is about contemporary North American culture, and it is properly offensive. Could Koreans do video like that one, or on that occasion would be too offensive? OK, it sounds like I am trying to be sarcastic here, but not, Indians are part of this culture too, why do you not choose to be offended on this occasion?

        I am so badly confused about this comments, but please do not accuse me of lack of free will. I want to understand the issue, but as for no I am totally unable to do it. I am not sure if that will help to understand my lack of understanding, but I am wondering, for example, how would you fix it (the video)? How you would make it not (or less) offensive?


          1. I was a little confused by the free will comment at first ;).
            Any song like ‘Amerika’ (which I actually like ;) ) is kind of designed to offend, so if a korean artist chose to do a song like that it would be equally as offensive. Has nothing to do with geographic location in that case (in fact, I can think of a bunch of North American artists who have done worse). I find yayaya to be only mildly offensive, and part of that is just a facepalm reaction to the costumes. I mean, there’s stereotypes and there’s “okay…I thought I knew what you were doing, but where did *that* come from?”. A North American artist doing the same thing would probably get waaaaay more fallout. This is only shocking and confusing (to me) because it’s a very poorly done stereotype for no purpose. I mean, there’s no *reason* for them to dress like that for the purpose of the song.
            As for fixing the video…Either do an entirely different song (even mildly offensive lyrics that connected with the costumes would be less confusing!), or costume it the way the song sounds-a club environment.
            I’m not sure if I’ve answered this question “Indians are part of this culture too, why do you not choose to be offended on this occasion?” because I don’t know if I understood it correctly.


  2. Interesting little discussion here! I commented on the video immediately on youtube, but I will repeat what I said here. I’m a Native woman, and this IS an offensive video. Much of that is due to the issue that James touched on in the post about the harmful portrayals of various ethnic groups in Korean media. This is an especially important issue to address in relation to American Indian female portrayals when one considers the legacy of maltreatment and violence projected upon Native women in physical, social, and psychological ways. It also employs a very infantile, dare-I-say ‘savage’ perspective on Native females’ sexual prowess.

    **If anyone needs more info on this, I recommend Devon Abbot Mihesuah ‘Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism’ and Andrea Smith ‘Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.’ Both Native female scholars.


    1. I’m wondering…I was reading an article that was citing numbers/percentages on violence against First Nations women in the US and apparently didn’t bookmark it or write it down. Does this sound at all familiar? Even if I can’t find the exact article again, I’d kind of like to find the numbers again.


  3. Even setting aside the question of whether or how offensive it is… what is going on here music-wise? There’s a clear attempt to integrate Native Indian soundscapes (or, what the composers think that means) into the typical K-pop dance formula, and in fact, first impression is that it’s quite different from what’s happening visually / plot-wise. Plot-wise the Native Indian doesn’t exist at all, just a substitutable and meaningless figure of the primitive; visually it’s typical kitsch/culture-terror where again, it’s really about the pretty face wearing ‘cutesy’ facepaint (exemplified by the most blatantly kitsch tent prop imaginable). Musically, though, they do seem to be trying to integrate the ‘Indian’ more comprehensively – at least, they didn’t go for a “drumbeat + hollering chant” intro => typical K-pop solution. In other words, a genuine attempt to mix together K-pop’s twin staples of dance and electronic sounds with a new sound. Not genuine in the sense that it does justice to the Native Indian soundscape, but genuine in the sense that they’re trying to create a variation within K-pop’s musicscape.

    I’m certainly not committed to this, and it’s not intended to justify or in any way effect the whole cultural representation question. But it is interesting, musically, and I think it’s different from, say, MC Mong’s Indian Boy, which is Same Song As All Other MC Mong Songs + 5 seconds of elephant sounds, pretty much.


  4. it just makes me laugh when when I see a buncha hypocrites whos done nothing for the natives in their land all jumping on some music video..


  5. I am a 3/4 Athabaskan American Indian living near a sea of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Kazakhs, Uzbeks in New York City. I truly look North East Asian. My wife is Japanese. When I go to the big Korean Supermarket (H-Mart) they speak to me in Korean, when I have dim-sum for lunch in Flushing, Queens, the Chinese staff all speak to me in Mandarin, when I go Japanese grocery shopping for my family, the Japanese staff speak to me in Japanese, when I went to this amazing Uzbek Restaurant in Brooklyn (1001 nights), the Uzbek/Kazakh staff spoke to me in their language.

    So…I look like my Central Asian Forbearers from the Greater Mongolian region because that is where my DNA has been genetically traced to (have you read that interesting National Geographic study linking us to the Altai Mountain region).

    So, when I saw this T-ARA Ya-Ya-Ya video, I wasn’t offended at all, I was amused, I thought it was cute. They are a pretty bunch. But, after reading some of the negative reaction from some of my supposed Native American colleagues here. I was taken aback. I hope those purported First Nation-Native American critics here are truly Native American in appearance physically. Because I am sick of reading the rants of those who are half or quarter Native American that look White and have no idea how tough it was growing up for me. I went threw many racists taunts hurled at me from elementary school to college. I also went threw many fights and altercations in defending my pride from those offending, racist bullies whether they be Black or White.

    With the increasing sea of East Asians moving to New York City, life has gotten so comfortable for me. No longer present are those stares (e.g., what is that Asian/Chinese/Korean Guy doing here). No, now I am just another Mongolian descendant amongst a sea of other Mongolian descended children.

    So…I don’t take offense to seeing this cute group of Korean Chicks trying to replicate Indigenous Americans or even Indigenous Siberians (you do know that Tipis and like structures like Yurts also existed among the various indigenous tribes, ethnicities of Central Asia and Siberia). I, on the other hand, saw it as an honor for a distant Korean cousin trying to pay homage to my culture, my ancestors. And here is my reply to them, Kansamnida (간삼니다: Thank You).


    1. Considering there is a large variety of phenotypes amongst the tribes of North and South America, how do we decide who looks “truly” Native American/First Nations? There’s a big difference between the Inupiat and the Cherokee, for example. I’m glad you’ve had great experiences where you are, but how does that have anything to do with a rather large *cultural* difference? I used to have a coworker from Brazil who constantly had Russian and Ukrainian people talk to her in Russian. Because she resembled a Russian woman, does this mean that all of those in that local community can appropriate and mock Carnivale if they so wish? And how does the Ya Ya Ya video pay homage?


    2. Just to clarify- You are perfectly within your rights NOT to be offended. That’s fine. But from my reading it sounded kind of like you were saying “Because I have had these experiences and am not offended, you have no right to be offended.” That may not have been what you intended, and I fully accept that I might be the only one who reads it that way.
      Also, the other First Nations woman who was offended was talking about the fetishization of Native women. As a man, I don’t think you can really speak to their experience.
      Also also, I’m the other commenter who mentioned her heritage and I made it quite clear that I had NOT dealt with the rain dance shit. I’m not claiming your experience as my own. I’ve witnessed a lot of it, due to my father’s activities in the community when I was a kid, but I know seeing and experiencing are two ENTIRELY different things. Just because I have friends who DO live on the rez, doesn’t mean that I get to talk like *I* do.


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