I’ll admit it: I haven’t been terribly kind to Cube Entertainment‘s leading lady, the inimitable and highly polarizing HyunA, as of late. In using her material as a counterpoint to Brown Eyed Girls’ Ga-in‘s “Bloom” music video — a video that prominently features both a sex scene and strongly implied (and partially pictured) masturbation, I was accused by some readers of slut-shaming her, of criticizing her expressions of sexuality to the point where I had somehow unintentionally branded her a slut. Let me be clear: I was as surprised as anyone to see that my comments were taken as slut-shaming (the very stuff I was attempting to speak out against), but they did get met thinking. Why is it so difficult to speak of the very apparent sexuality in much of HyunA’s content without resorting to implicitly degrading labels? Why do many K-pop fans seem to take issue with the sexual content of her work when much of K-pop is comparably sexual? Why can’t we accept her expressions of sexuality without first making some remark about how she looks like a trollop?

Fortunately for me, I suppose, the new music video for HyunA’s latest promotional single, “Ice Cream,” has provided the perfect opportunity to return to these questions — and while you may not like the answers, I hope you’ll engage me with once more.

Let’s start with the song itself.  “Ice Cream” is (as many of HyunA’s releases seem to be) a combination of rap, pitchy vocals, and impressively non-related English phrases, but indicates something of a move away from the flirty vibe of “Bubble Pop” and a return to the hip-hop roots she embraced when she debuted as a solo artist with “Change.”  It boasts a solid-enough dance beat that could probably work for a club, but musically comes across as rather uninspired and difficult to differentiate from other songs of the same genre.  The song’s verses do actually showcase a bit of vocal growth for HyunA (a huge plus, especially because the girl is often lambasted for being utterly talentless in this department), but the chorus destroys any chance of this improvement leaving a lasting impression with its over-reliance on the high-pitched, breathy, girly rap-chant for which HyunA has become particularly well-known. Overall, “Ice Cream” is probably my least favorite of the three singles HyunA has promoted; I’m just not feeling particularly drawn to anything about it, and even the earworm quality of the hooks don’t do much to keep me listening. I feel like HyunA can (and has done) better work.

But let’s face it — HyunA hasn’t racked up as many YouTube views as she’s gotten because her songs are masterfully composed and flawlessly executed. People tune in to HyunA in large part to see how many MOGEF red lines she can trample over in the span of three and a half minutes — and in this respect, “Ice Cream” does not disappoint. Colorful, kinky, and replete with gratuitous boob shots and a totally unnecessary scene of HyunA getting frisky in a bubble bath, “Ice Cream” might as well just be an exercise in seeing how long HyunA can get away with having this on the airwaves before getting slapped with a 19+ ban instead of an actual musical endeavor.

“Ice Cream” stars HyunA as the sexy proprietor of an ice cream truck. In the first minute or so of the video, she manages to use this ice cream truck to run over a clown who is handing out cotton candy at a protest where students are protesting… well, that’s really anybody’s guess. The signs they are waving are hilariously nonsensical; some of the best ones read, “Do Not Hurry, You Have 4Minute,” “It’s Too Small For Me,” “Santa Please Forget My Crying,” “Batman is Gone,” and “Sale, My Little Brother With Big Shout.” These are all revolutions that I can get behind, naturally. Anyway, no one seems too sad that HyunA committed vehicular manslaughter and took out the clown, because they all continue their protest — and much to the chagrin of the female protesters, the men all go berserk and mob the truck for HyunA’s ice cream. The rest of the music video involves increasingly tangential and sexually-charged imagery that doesn’t really do much to advance one’s understanding of what, exactly, the music video’s takeaway point might be (examples include HyunA rubbing bath bubbles all over herself whilst making sultry faces, HyunA dancing on top of some guy’s ass, and HyunA spraying the aforementioned protesters with liberal amounts of ice cream/whipped cream in slow motion). If nothing else, this video certainly did a good job of slapping viewers liberally with both literal and metaphorical interpretations of ice cream — make no mistake, these would be difficult to miss.

Pros? Well, there is a pretty sweet Psy cameo in the beginning (although this is most definitely ruined by the utterly absurd sound effects — particularly the perverse sucking that accompanies Psy’s consumption of the ice cream cone — that overpower the entire segment), and HyunA’s dancing is on the mark and more demonstrative of her ability than was the choreography used in “Bubble Pop.” The wardrobe choices and set design are a bit schizophrenic and overloaded with imagery and props, but the eye-popping color and frequent changes in set and clothing add a fresh dynamism. The overall effect can be a bit dizzying, but it is quintessentially HyunA and works well with the feel of the song.

Cons? It probably comes as no surprise, that my issues with this video again stem from what I perceive to be HyunA’s completely distasteful portrayal of sexuality, which (in my opinion) colors the entire video in a bad way. As a female consumer, the only scene that actually didn’t completely alienate me was the scene in which HyunA is wrapped up in a steamy embrace with her faceless male lover — and this is precisely because this scene baits female consumers just as much as it baits male consumers. Nearly every other aspect of this video was a gross turn-off, and I’m not sorry to say that the whole endeavor comes across as completely degrading. Comparing “Ice Cream” with almost any other K-pop video was alomst akin to comparing a sex scene in a movie and an outright pornography; one uses sex to advance a story, while the other uses sex as the story. HyunA’s “Ice Cream” is sex with a trumped-up plot line — I don’t really know any other way to describe it.

Consider the aforementioned scene in which all of the male protestors sprint to HyunA’s ice cream truck while the female protesters stand off to the side looking irritated. This scene might as well be a metaphor not only for the entire music video, but for HyunA’s entire career. HyunA comes across as the girl whose shameless behavior is enticing to men on a purely physical level, but embarrassing to women. She feeds off of shallow male approval in the face of females who aren’t as sexually “with it” as is she. Her displays of sexuality are over-the-top, in-your-face, and leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. The HyunA we see in “Ice Cream” is the girl wearing a see-through tank top and hot pants at the mall: on the one hand, she likely sparks a lot of envy, but her seeming confidence and “swagga” only seem to mask a total lack of confidence in anything except the physical. Let me say very clearly that these things do not make HyunA a slut– but they do make her out to be a disappointing and discouraging image of how females are socialized into believing that male approval is the be-all-end-all. This is certainly not unique in K-pop, but HyunA is perhaps a little less coy than are some of her fellow female artists.

Slut-shaming, in my opinion, complicates how viewers can or should respond to “Ice Cream.” On the one hand, it isn’t right to project the image that HyunA plays on-camera onto the person that she really is — and even if HyunA actually were the person she portrays, it still isn’t right to use her expressed sexuality as  justification for attacking her or calling her a slut. On the other hand, however, there isn’t really anything wrong with expressing disapproval over what I feel is the portrayal of an unhealthy attitude towards sexuality. I would like to defend HyunA, but not if defending HyunA means lending tacit approval to what I think is a depiction of a woman using her sex appeal in a way that is ultimately detrimental to the woman herself. HyunA is not a role model that I’d be happy with my fellow women (especially young women and girls) looking up to and emulating, and I think that this sentiment is where my desire to criticize her stems from. I do not wish to take from her the right to express sexuality, but I do not have to be happy with the way she chooses to do it — and I think dissatisfaction in this case is multiplied by the fact that HyunA is a public figure with strong male and female fan bases.

In short, allowing HyunA to be sexy and approving of the way she is sexy are two different (though obviously very, very closely related) things, and it is undeniably true that there is a fine line between personal attacks and justified criticism. I don’t have to defend her as being some sort of positive and sexually liberated female role model — needless to say, I don’t think she is one, and if this is K-pop’s idea of a sexually liberated female, then I’m even further bummed. But taking issue with her use of sexuality and calling her a slut are not the same, and I would encourage readers to be mindful of the distinction in viewing both HyunA’s music video and any other music video in K-pop. For my part, I choose to speak out against what I think is a poor portrayal of female empowerment, believing that this is more important than is defending HyunA’s right to act in pursuit of this portrayal. In a perfect world, the former would not alienate the latter, but alas.

All in all, “Ice Cream” wound up being pretty much exactly what I expected — though having these expectations going in did not exactly make the outcome less disappointing. My dissatisfaction with the video is only made worse by the fact that I don’t even like the song very much, and that could have at least been something of a redeeming factor. I’d give “Ice Cream a rating of 2.5/5.

Seoulmates, have your say. What do you think of “Ice Cream”?

(Cube Entertainment)