K-pop knockoff problem resurfaces with questions about aespa

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K-pop knockoff problem resurfaces with questions about aespa

An image for "Savage," aespa's first EP, featuring member Karina [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

An image for "Savage," aespa's first EP, featuring member Karina [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

 
aespa, the four-member girl group that rolled onto the K-pop scene last year complete with doppelganger avatars, is having a bit of an intellectual property problem.
 
Social media mobs have taken to their keyboards claiming that images used to promote the band were copied from existing works.
 
Last week, an online post pointed out that a marketing image of Karina for “Savage,” aespa's new EP, resembles "Untitled" (2020) by Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama. Sorayama is best known for his hyper-realistic paintings of feminine robots. "Untitled" portrays a steampunk crustacean creature holding a woman, and the image in question shows Karina in a similar position in the grasp of a creature with similar attributes. 
 
"Untitled" (2020) by Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama [HAJIME SORAYAMA]

"Untitled" (2020) by Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama [HAJIME SORAYAMA]

 
The mood, color scheme and poses in the promo photo and the painting seem for some too alike to be a coincidence, though defenders of the group argue that the two images simply use themes and motifs common today in certain categories of artwork.  
 
"Since they're not the exact same design, this does not constitute plagiarism in the legal sense," said pop culture critic Kim Heon-sik. "However, considering the similar poses and other factors, most people will think that aespa's teaser image was at least influenced by the painting. They should have specified that this is an homage to Sorayama's work."
 
A post on social media pointed out that decorative metallic masks worn by aespa members in teasers for "Savage" look similar to works by British visual artist James Merry. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

A post on social media pointed out that decorative metallic masks worn by aespa members in teasers for "Savage" look similar to works by British visual artist James Merry. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
Another allegation of plagiarism also emerged regarding other images released ahead of "Savage.” In these images, members are shown wearing decorative masks made of metallic wire-like material. Pop music critic Kim Do-heon on Twitter pointed out that the masks are similar to works by British visual artist James Merry. Those who disagree argue that wire headpieces are in fact a common design.
 
Netizens are debating whether these similarities are merely coincidental or indicative of plagiarism. SM Entertainment, which manages aespa, has not responded to any of the claims, and neither Sorayama nor Merry have voiced objections themselves as of now.
 
Nowadays, Korean fans of K-pop have a heightened sensitivity regarding intellectual property rights and voice their suspicions about plagiarism more actively, according to Kim.
 
Image for aespa's "Savage" [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

Image for aespa's "Savage" [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

 
"They are aware that fans around the world are watching," he said. "Everything on the internet is available for everyone to see, not just for SM's production team; especially since K-pop has gained international popularity. As a result, plagiarism is called out more easily and people have awareness, as they should."
  
Kim believes that plagiarism scandals will continue to plague K-pop as the Korean bands and groups continue to gain popularity globally.
 
“The K-pop industry has rapidly grown in size, which means it is expected to produce material that matches the growth," Kim said. "However, creation does not happen overnight. It requires a lot of resources and time, which the industry cannot always provide enough of. In that case, imitating high-quality works that already exist can be tempting.
 
“The long-term solution is to recruit a more diverse range of talent, Korean and foreign, for originality in content creation. But first, the industry needs to establish a culture that is open about and familiar with paying homage to existing works. Taking inspiration is natural in art, but just be honest about the source.”

BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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