On March 15th, Pledis Entertainment’s male rookie quintet, NU’EST, plans to be the newest and hottest guilty pleasure to spring up on the K-pop scene yet. As the date nears closer and closer, the usual has been in effect to anticipate the group’s debut: profiles, concept photos, and of course, teasers for nearly every member. And I’ve got to be honest with you; normally I’m not a fan of rookies. Heck, I’m not normally a fan of Pledis. Ever.
But, from JR to Aron to Baekho (and damn, is Baekho fine), even Minhyun, I have got to admit, Pledis did these boys right. NU’EST’s first official teaser for their debut single “Face” dropped a few days ago, and sure, the song sounds lame already, but the visual is impressive. The boys are pretty good looking, and the concept looks clean, edgy and safe for a rookie group yet to debut. In fact, when Baekho’s teaser was released, I was infatuated with the dark masculinity, dubstep fusion, the samurai style, and Baekho’s face. I thought to myself, huh, boy groups are really stepping their game up this year.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-o0UcgytAnI&w=560&h=315]
Then Pledis throws their wild card.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hNLufsH9DA&w=560&h=315]
This little blonde gem is Ren. Pledis’ golden boy, Ren. Oh Ren, where to begin?
The first thought that struck me was why? Why a small, pouty-lipped, effeminate member? What purpose does he serve? As these questions rolled around in the back of my head the past couple, I couldn’t help but be reminded of f(x)’s Amber. And then it hit me.
Amber is K-pop’s lovable tomboy. She is the image of the female K-pop idol turned on its head: she’s got a short, boyish haircut, she wears long shorts and jeans and varsity jackets, her aegyo is practically nonexistent and she’s got a spunky attitude to boot. But the greatest irony of it all is that so many people know f(x) because of Amber. Not because of the bubblegum princess Sulli or Jessica’s darling sister Krystal or the lovely and limber Victoria or even moon-faced Luna.
Though maybe a bit unconventional, Amber is the attention grabber, she is the visual, she is what makes you look at f(x) that extra second longer and wonder, “wait, was that a….”.
Perhaps NU’EST and Ren are going for the same idea: play up the unconventional stereotype to demand attention. Entertainment companies are always trying to unearth ways to make their groups seem like the best new Asian phenomenon to hit the East or something along those lines. Just think about how rookies this year are trying to keep you focused on them: EXO has 20+ video teasers so far, and they haven’t even debuted, but are you bored yet? The ever delicious boys of B.A.P. all dance under the bright lights with their blinding platinum blonde hair, but have you looked away yet?
If Ren plays the part of a womanly man for this hot debut, isn’t he going to be the most talked about thing? Won’t his gender-bending concept for “Face” make people start talking about him and NU’EST? I’ll admit, it’s a genius marketing gimmick–while people stop and stare, somewhere in the back of their minds, the hook and chorus will linger long after, and NU’EST’s logo will be burned behind their eyes. You are going to remember NU’EST not because the members are handsome or because Baekho looks mad fine swinging that sword, but because Ren has shafted the conventional male-idol image and gone much farther than the pretty boy charm.
And while I say more power to him, (Ren looks prettier than I do even on my good days, so he’s doing something right…) I can’t help but wonder if this tactic will produce the full effect Pledis is looking for. Sure, he’s going to pull all the attention front and center for NU’EST, at least during their debut promotions, but how are fans and music lovers alike receiving this image?
In Amber’s scenario, she doesn’t purposefully impose the “boy” image; in other words, it’s not an image she has to force for us to see, it’s an image we perceive as a result of her consistent style. Plainly put, you don’t see Amber flaunting boyish behavior or exuding male charm in anything she or f(x) does with anything other than her fashion sense.
But in Ren’s case, he’s shown in his teaser embracing feminine qualities like vanity, adorned with a gem-encrusted manicure and long blonde hair. He even plays the role of temptress in some scenes when he pulls the “open mouth, look imma goddess” face. Suddenly the degree of his atypical image seems a little much, as his concept practically forces the idea of him playing the part of a woman. Uncomfortable yet?
Still, it’s hard to gauge they ways in which K-pop fans will receive Ren and NU’EST. Will fans turn away with their noses held high or will they flock to Ren’s feet because of his gorgeous looks? I don’t know, and part of me doesn’t want to know. Why and for how long Pledis will keep Ren gender-bending are also questions I still can’t wrap my head around. But for the most part, NU’EST is turning heads and gaining momentum. Will Ren always look like a woman, will NU’EST live up the hype, will I still be in to Baekho later or will I be defaulting back to my eternal bias Jun.k? Come March 15, I guess we’ll find out.