First African-American K-pop Singer Alex Reid on Trump and Racism: 'Nothing Good to Say'

Alexandra Reid of Rania in their music video, "Start A Fire"
Courtesy Photo

Alexandra Reid of Rania in their music video, "Start A Fire"

Being the face of change isn’t easy for Alexandra “Alex” Reid, but it is swathed in bright colors and catchy music. Reid joined the Korean girl group BP Rania (previously known as Rania) in 2015 and became the first-ever African-American K-pop girl group member. While there are many K-pop stars who aren’t Korean, and several notable half-Korean singers like Yoonmirae and Michelle Lee, Reid represents the genre’s increasingly international outlook. 

But ever since becoming a K-pop star, Reid has faced numerous difficulties: miscommunication and cultural differences have given her a hard time, while every move she makes is scrutinized by both the supporters and naysayers of furthering K-pop’s diversity.

Keeping quiet isn’t in Reid’s nature, and social media has been her primary way to address the issues that affect and matter to her, both related to her career and to the wider world. After Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, Reid became one of the only American K-pop stars to address the shift in US policy -- despite Asian-Americans playing a major role in the Korean music industry.

“There’s a thing out here where you’re just not [supposed to] get yourself in trouble,” Reid told Billboard over the phone from Seoul. “For me, nothing is worth it unless I feel that I’m doing something positive. There’s no point in being in the public eye or having people look up to you unless you’re giving them something to learn about, to understand, by standing by what you believe is right.”

In a variety of tweets since Inauguration Day, Reid cheered on the Woman’s March and came out against Trump’s immigration ban and his anti-abortion executive order regarding the international gag rule. Following the immigration ban, she declared her support of Muslims. Women’s health and the administration’s overall stance towards science has Reid concerned, considering her father’s a scientist and she’s an ardent lover of physics.

“For me, there’s nothing good to say about Donald Trump, that’s the problem,” she said. “Hoping for the best isn’t an option at this point. He’s so aggressive. He’s so aggressively heinous. To me there’s nothing more important than protecting people. The people that are going to be affected are the vulnerable people and that’s really the problem here. It’s the people without a voice who are ultimately going to feel the effects of what he’s doing. There’s nothing more important than speaking out on the behalf of people who don’t have a voice."

Despite K-pop’s general reluctance towards politics, Reid’s very presence in the racially uniform industry is controversial. As an African-American woman in Korea, she’s been held to a higher standard than the typical stringent lifestyle that K-pop stars abide by so as to maintain their place in the industry. She’s been been accused of everything from bleaching her skin to appear more white to appropriating Korean culture. After a recent Lunar New Year photo shoot featuring Rania wearing traditional Korean clothing, Reid alone faced major criticism for daring to wear the outfit; nobody questioned whether BP Rania’s Chinese member should be wearing Korean clothing.    

“If I don’t speak enough Korean, ‘Alex doesn’t know any Korean she shouldn’t be there,’” recalled Reid. “When I speak Korean, ‘Oh, Alex has an accent. She sounds American. No, no she shouldn’t be there.’ If I do well with my Korean, it’s like, ‘Okay, she probably just memorized that phrase. Can she know something better?’ There’s just been a lot from every end. I’ve had my crying moments but at this moment I’m happy, I’m good.”

While she’s had her hardships, Reid has seen an outpouring of support from fans around the world who see her as a representative for fans of all ethnicities to break into K-pop; many fans have sent her message of thanks for being the one to break the race barrier in K-pop.

But with the praise comes scorn, particularly about anything related to her appearance that may appear like Reid is trying to Koreanize herself. She’s faced whitewashing accusations and, most recently, virulent hatred for not appearing with her natural, curly hair while promoting the group’s most recent release, “Start a Fire.”

“I want natural hair,” Reid declared. “My hair is straight because no one can do my hair. They take us to the same salon and nobody there can do my hair. All my hair fell out [during the] last comeback. I was waking up two hours early during ‘Demonstrate’ to wash, dry, and style my hair. I already do my own makeup because they can’t do my makeup. With my hair on top of it… I was so worn down and exhausted during ‘Demonstrate’ that this time I just decided [that] I’m going to take some work off of myself and wear my hair straight. I like my hair better curly. It’s just with this schedule I can’t. It’s too much. I need that couple hours of sleep.”  

But, despite the lack of rest and the ongoing criticism, Reid has seen an outpouring of support and she still is motivated by K-pop as much as she was when she first discovered it on YouTube several years ago. Citing Ivy, T-Ara, Baby Vox, BIGBANG and 2NE1 as her first K-pop loves, Reid is determined to pave her way in the genre as a history-making singer--even if she doesn’t always conform to the industry’s norms.