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Met Gala Photographers’ Stray Kids Ridicule Exposes Need for Greater Cultural Inclusivity in Western Entertainment

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The 2024 Met Gala should have been a strictly star-powered triumph for Stray Kids, when the current faces of Tommy Hilfiger set a historic first at fashion‘s biggest night out. Yet amid the glamour, Stray Kids fans — and, possibly, some of the members themselves — were left with the experience marred by their disrespectful treatment by red-carpet photographers, highlighting the systemic barriers still faced by non-Western artists in Hollywood.

The eight-member Billboard 200 chart-toppers attending the Met Gala marked the first time an entire group has hit the glitzy gala together. Making their Met Gala debut in custom-designed suits alongside Tommy Hilfiger himself, members Bang Chan, Changbin, Lee Know, Hyunjin, Felix, Han, Seungmin and I.N arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art collectively in navy jackets that would soon reveal the custom ‘fits in various shades of the clothing brand’s signature red, white and blues underneath.

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But a few feet away, amid the flurry of camera flashes that surrounded all sides of the Gala entrance, derogatory comments from on-site photographers groaning about the group’s “robot” demeanor, annoyed that the reveal took place with their backs to one group of photogs, and thinking the band would only understand Korean reveal the thinly veiled prejudices that still plague the industry.

(Note: The video below includes subtitles that don’t always match what can be heard.)

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As The Daily Mail noted, some paps said people would get “confused” because the group took photos with their coats on and off — a racist stereotype that people of Asian descent are challenging to differentiate visually. One photographer can be heard making his peers laugh after joking that viewers would think “two K-pop bands” attended the 2024 Met Gala. (From this reporter’s findings from the last 48 hours, no one has made that mistake.)

The incident shed light on the unfair challenges international celebrities like Stray Kids face navigating less familiar territory in pursuit of global success.

Despite instances where SKZ easily and comfortably adapted to the American media landscape via live interviews like BUILD Series or People TVlast year’s MTV VMAs, or various Fashion Weeks, the singers still face barriers and a dismissive attitude toward their presence. It reflects a lack of understanding while underscoring the need for greater cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in entertainment.

Most of the Kids’ media experience is with Korean and Japanese events, which have systems and red carpets structured differently than in the States. At a typical K-pop event, press conference or awards show, there is a platform for artists to pose for photographers who are all collectively shooting together during a dedicated photo time. Guided by an MC, host or team leader like Bang Chan, the artists almost always coordinate their pose to their left, center and right for everyone to get a range of angles and shots. After that dedicated time, photogs are left to their own devices to get the best pics.

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With this context, Stray Kids did attempt to show love to all sides of the photographers on the Met Gala carpet by staggering themselves so four members were more forward toward one side of the cameras and then turning around so the other four were more forward for the second group of photogs. Also of note: While the photographers knew Stray Kids were a K-pop act, members Bang Chan and Felix grew up in Australia and Seungmin spent some time living in Los Angeles; assuming that an English comment would slide past them (including “What’s Korean for ‘right’?,” which elicited laughs from the paps) is incredibly close-minded.

While it is important to understand that photographers need usable and workable photos to fulfill their livelihoods, the diversity that Stray Kids bring to a function like the Met Gala should be celebrated rather than marginalized. Perhaps the prospect of shooting an eight-member boy band could be a new professional challenge instead of something to bemoan.

Korean artists have been attending the Met Gala for over a decade, with guests like PSY and Siwon of Super Junior attending more than 10 years ago and, more recently, seeing the likes of BLACKPINK‘s Jennie coming for her second Met Gala this year. Considering fashion’s consistent and growing affinity for K-pop partnerships, even more K-pop groups are likely to attend in the future.

Whether the comments were heard or not, Stray Kids moved with grace and poise on the carpet, and their presence alone reminds us of the importance of inviting and embracing different cultures, people and perspectives.

From the reality show that created their group in 2017, Stray Kids have had an unwavering determination to defy expectations and rise above adversity. Despite obstacles, the band’s overarching talent, humility, and tireless spirit to continue forward are not only recognized by one of the world’s most prestigious events but increasingly felt across the different Billboard charts. As they continue to break boundaries and challenge norms, Stray Kids can show how they won’t just make waves in the music industry, but help reshape long-held perceptions and inspire greater change. 

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