On Tuesday, Jimmy Kimmel—once a gleeful misogynist on The Man Show, now the fully absolved comedian host of the late night television program, Jimmy Kimmel Live—interviewed Blackpink, the biggest girl group on the planet that just so happens to be headquartered in South Korea. Kimmel’s segment is a masterclass in condescension; it might be the most atrociously American conversation that I’ve seen with a K-pop act to date. It is so bad, it is essentially a guide to “what not to do” when interviewing an act from a non-Anglophonic country.
Kimmel begins the conversation by saying, “Do you know I speak Korean?” in clunky Korean as a joke, an icebreaker. Fine, but he repeats the bit throughout the Q&A, placing emphasis on different syllables each time. At first, it reads like a lazy joke on his meager language skills, but with each butchered repetition, the Korean language becomes the joke. After switching to English for foundational questions like, “Are you able to leave your homes, or would you get mobbed by fans?” and “Why did you decide to call the band Blackpink?” Kimmel decides to return again to language, speaking slowly and a little too loudly, as if interrogating a small child. “I was told that Jisoo doesn’t speak as much English as the rest of you,” he says. “Jisoo, what is your favorite word in English?” She is, of course, gracious and hilarious, answering, “My favorite English sentence is ‘That’s a pity!’”
Jisoo speaks Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. She acted in K-dramas prior to her time in Blackpink. She is the only band member born and raised in South Korea. There is a wealth of interesting, primary questions Kimmel could’ve floated her way, instead of relaxing on something for the monolingual viewers at home. It’s pretty gross.
Look, I’m entirely too precious on the topic of Blackpink (though fans seem to agree) but there’s an entire Netflix documentary out now on the girl group—the very reason they were on Jimmy Kimmel Live in the first place—that could’ve inspired some thoughtful and engaging conversation. (No one in the writer’s room thought to watch it?) Instead, all humor is predicated on some weird, psuedo-lack of communication, when all the members of Blackpink are multilingual, not just Jisoo.
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Of course, there is a long history of Western interviewers complimenting or questioning K-pop acts’s English—even when they are American, like in the case of NCT 127’s Johnny, or, as journalist Tamar Herman pointed out, in 2012, when the girl group Girls Generation was asked about their English on American television. That’s nearly a decade of this nonsense.
Maybe the easiest solve is to simply treat K-pop musicians like all other musicians interviewed. Just a thought!