The Dark & Wild Past of BTS: Identity Building Through Binary Formations in American Hustle Life


  • Ciarra O'Reggio


This essay is an analysis of Mnet's reality show, American Hustle Life, which stars the famous Korean Pop group, BTS. Early in their career, BigHit Entertainment intentionally modelled BTS's image after stereotypes of the supposedly Black, gangster, hardcore male popularized in American hip-hop. These stereotypes are especially at play in the Mnet reality show, American Hustle Life. The showrunners utilize Oriental, masculine-feminine, and Black-White binaries to communicate a narrative arc in which the members of BTS absorb the qualities of their Black mentors and transform into macho, "authentic" hip-hop artists, thereby reaching success in America. This essay explores how narratives with racialized and gendered binaries have historically been used to consolidate a favorable identity for White, male, Western powers. American Hustle Life is an unexpected, yet potent, example of how these binary narratives work, and how such narratives continue to shape the racial imaginary of today's popular culture.