• Guest

    Sorry but just because a girl has a ”sexy” ”fierce” imagine that does not suddenly make them better or stronger than women who have a ”cute” and ”innocent” image

    • shannie4888

      It doesn’t, but no one ever calls a cute, innocent image “slutty” or “whorish”, while being too sexy is considered a bit taboo in S. Korea. It’s not about being better. It’s about being empowered to express whatever you want to as a woman.

      • cileft

        it’s not like girls don’t receive hate for acting overly cute and having too much aegyo. and it’s not like the concept of being sexy didn’t exist in south korea before girl groups started it. kpop is only a small facet of korean society and seeing as it mostly targets a preteen audience, censorship of sexual concepts is unsurprising. i don’t think this shift in girl groups’ concepts is about empowerment at all. i think it’s more about a shift in audience, from a mainly 12-15 year old demographic to older high school and college-aged males. in the end, aegyo concepts and sexy concepts are flip sides of the same coin. entertainment companies can market the cute submissive girlfriend who can be sexy when the situation calls for it (see: secret). and at this point, i think the increasing sexiness of girl groups’ concepts is more a result of entertainment companies competing with each other for the horniest fanboys than anything else.

        • Sylarah

          Yes, some groups get flack for doing aegyo concepts and songs, but I have yet to find an example of a group having their morality and character questioned or trashed for doing an aegyo concept. People hate on aegyo concepts, but that hate usually translates into accusations of being overly commercial, a sellout, or too “old” to be doing such a concept.

  • Guest

    I just like kpop i’m not looking for a feminist role model

  • Jon

    This article is great. Thanks for sharing your view. It’s fresh and compelling, yet still humble. Being critical doesn’t necessarily mean being negative; we so often react to things by pointing out what’s WRONG, when we could be using that energy to talk about what’s RIGHT!

  • shannie4888

    I do think baby steps are being made to empower women to feel sexy. It’s not much, but progress usually happen in small steps, instead of giant leaps. S. Korea is still conservative and women are still idealized as docile, submissive, and wide-eyed innocence, but I think the more women try to challenge that view, the more barriers will start to break.

    I don’t think being sexy should be seen as negative.The portrayal is important and girl groups do mostly get flack for how they choose to portray sexy. It would be wonderful if every girl group had BEG’s strength, charisma, class, and maturity, but being sexy doesn’t have to be polished. The thing about progress is that it’s slow and largely experimental, so everyone is not going to walk a smooth, well refined line. Some women are going to be more daring, controversial, and stirring (Hyuna) and others can be thought-provoking and tasteful (BEG).

    I still think that feminism is Kpop is more about how a woman carries herself with words. Actions do speak louder, but they usually come with a company attached to what idols can and can’t do. I think BEG’s lyrics, CL’s character, and Hyori’s charisma do more for Kpop feminism than girl groups being sexy. Most women can be sexy, but what Kpop feminism needs is women who has a way with words; a woman unafraid to speak up and be heard. Maybe more of that will be in the future when female idols feel more empowered to speak up, but for now I guess a sexy concept is what we’ll have to work with. A small step, but one nonetheless that is a powerful starting point.

  • kpopfan6

    Umm, I don’t think most of the stuff you mentioned are actual signs of feminism. The reason why girl groups are pushing the envelope more is because the people running these companies (nearly all men) are making them sell sex/sexuality to hopefully get more attention and money. For example, AS said that they didn’t even want the pole dance but they had no choice because they’re suppose to just agree with what their boss says. Plus I highly doubt Yura chose that risque outfit for herself or that Dal Shabet enjoy wearing they’re Be Ambitious promotional outfits. Kpop is a business and these companies will tell these groups (regardless of gender) what to do and what to wear.

    As for why people are being more “accepting” of sexy stuff, idk but it could be because some girl groups simply fit the sexy image better and it works for them (e.g. BEG and Sistar) or the public don’t really care enough to react in the first place. The top girl groups like SNSD, 2ne1, Kara, Wonder Girls, etc. aren’t the ones doing this stuff– it’s mostly the lower tier girl groups struggling to get known. In those cases the reaction seems more dismissive or critical than accepting because netizens easily call out these girl groups for using sexiness to get attention.

    Anyway to me it seems like many of these signs of feminism in Kpop are false and they are actually a reflection of something more negative.

    • GeekGrrl

      Yes. Sex is being used to sell music. Also, the earth is round. This is not a new concept. The main diffrence is now, girl groups aren’t being aegyo while dressed in microscopic shorts, pouting for oppa to explain these new feelings of love to them becuase they’re to innocent to figure it out, they’re saying “We’re sexy, we know what we want, why pretend otherwise?” It reminds me of 2pm at debut, where their bodies were a main selling point, but I don’t remember people complaining about that.

      Sexy is not bad. In fact, most people find sex to be a fun, positive activity, that inspires and sells music. It sells music in all markets. I love Rihanna. My favorite song of hers is Shut Up And Drive. It’s a thinly veiled sex metaphor sung in her gloriously sexy voice, and that’s why I like it. There is nothing wrong with that.

      Also, I’m curious of your definition of feminism. To me, feminism doesn’t mean that I’m free of sexuality. Feminism means that I can do what I want with my life, with my gender playing no role. I can be aggressive or shy, I can wear ratty black Chuck Taylors or designer shoes in pastel pink, I can be a player or an old fashioned romantic, and none of these options are wrong because I’m female.

      Equality won’t come all at once, and there’s a long way to go, but girls being allowed to be knowingly sexy is a good first step.

      • kpopfan6

        Where did I say sexy was bad?

        Anyway I don’t think “We’re sexy, we know what we want, why pretend otherwise?” is truly messaged by any Kpop girl group except BEG. The rest of the girls are just doing what they are told (which is not what feminism is about) and their companies are using sexiness as a marketing tactic– essentially they’re being allowed to be sexy because their companies gave them the concept and it’s supposed to work to their advantage. As for 2pm they are pretty much the only male group consistently bashed for selling with their bodies, so if you haven’t noticed that then idk where you’ve been all this time.

      • rochelle.bernard96

        I agree with your points, but I don’t think acting cute is a bad thing, I don’t know why western fans hate it.

    • jaefuma

      I didn’t mean to say that these were signs of feminism in action, but more so steps towards it. The girls being objectified are not examples of feminism, nor girls with the right “body type” beig forced into that niche.

      The loosening of restraints on girl groups is a very small sign of change. The fact that they’re portraying a sexual image shouldn’t make any steps they’re making any less meaningful. As hard as it is to watch sometimes, these stunts are allowing breathing room for other artists that may or may not haveade an appearance just yet.

      • ok

        Women expressing their own sexuality their own way is totally different than being objectified and commodified by a CEO and their audience. This almost makes it sound like these girl groups are being sacrificed for the “greater good”. After School was forced to learn pole-dancing by their CEO and that’s helping whom? The only people who will benefit from looser codes are women with agency like Hyori and BEG and CEOs who will now be able to get away with further objectifying their employees. That’s almost like saying Marilyn Monroe (on the surface) furthered feminism, while, in reality, she was constantly battling with her company to get roles that were more diverse and they just wanted her to pout and be sexy. The way that she viewed herself and made personal strides by having a production company, etc could be seen as feminist and the way a lot of these idols think could be too but being used as a toy by their company isn’t furthering feminism in any way until they have actual power over their bodies.

        • jaefuma

          I understand where that comes from, and that’s certainly not what I’m promoting (which makes the situation so touchy).

          I suppose what I wanted to say was, looking back, that the girls should not be belittled or shamed because of their videos or actions(if we’re to believe that these girls do not want these concepts). It could be very naive of me to look at the bright side of the issue by looking at what’s happening as a result of the girls’ objectification, but I did not mean to come off as if girls should be “sacrificed” at the alter of feminism to help people move forward or that any embarrassment or objectification they receive should be celebrated because “someone had to do it.”

          I think what bothered me about the previous article was that all “idols” were not to be looked at for any signs of progress, and that if the progress takes on a sexual visage, it should be ignored. (I apologize if this is coming off as repetitive on my part :( )

    • rochelle.bernard96

      Yes, some I-fans see cuteness as regressing and embarrassing women, and sexy concepts as being right or liberating, that they often forget that it might be orchestrated by a male higher up.

  • The Grand Narrative

    Thanks for the link to my Busan Haps piece Gabrielle. But, as I mentioned in the article, I was actually quoting Dana here at Seoulbeats! :) http://seoulbeats.com/2012/10/why-ga-in-gets-a-pass-but-hyuna-doesnt/

    • jaefuma

      My apologies for the misquote!

      • The Grand Narrative

        No problem.

  • Alison

    Great article. I’m incredibly impressed with the way you parsed such a touchy topic. It’s so easy to be negative about feminism in K-pop — I thought the article you were responding to was a bit extreme — but you rightly point out that examples of sexuality and femininity in Korea are quite different than in North America. I don’t think it makes sense to view feminism in K-pop wholly through a Western lens — but at the same time, I don’t understand why girl groups can’t be simultaneously empowered AND sexy, a la Beyonce or Lady Gaga. Why does sexy always have to automatically indicate objectification? That tells half the story, but not all of it. If we’re going to talk about objectification in K-pop, then it makes no sense to restrict it to female groups only — it’s a phenomenon that pervades the entire industry.

  • poplarks

    Thank you for this article! I wish people would see that women being sexy is not always so bad, not always them being exploited. I never know whether to chalk up the female sexuality debate to the difference between 2nd and 3rd wave feminism, or to people looking for a better sounding way to slut-shame women, or to people not being that informed on feminism (but could just be 2nd wave) or what….

  • danahz

    Female empowerment doesn’t mean wearing “sexy” outfits or doing “sexy” choreo. The problem with female empowerment in South Korea is that in the end, it is and only is a marketing stunt. And it doesn’t help. All this be ambitious and female president concepts are made for the public and army bases and not for the idea itself.

    • jaefuma

      I totally agree with what youre saying (sorry for the different screen name, but this is the author). Sexy does not equal empowered, nor should the current state of girl groups be the end result. What I wanted to say was that sexy can be empowering and that the current steps being made shouldn’t be ignored because they’re not the end result. Steps, albeit small ones, are taking place.

      • danahz

        I am just worried about the image of sexy being tied with the image of empowering because female empowerment is not limited to the clothes women could where or what a women can do in public. Female empowerment in Korea (I believe) should be focused on the double standards between men and women. The problem with sexy being tied with female empowerment in Korea is that if that is only the case (as it seems in kpop), then a lot of problems with gender in Korea will be ignored, like the prostitution issue in Korea. Small steps are being taken but I just wish for different routes (like Sunny Hill’s Darling of all Hearts).

        • jaefuma

          I get that. I don’t think feminism should be the idea of women being sexy 24/7 either. But for K-POP, it’s highly (for better or worse) highly visual. I suppose I wanted to defend the sexual steps being made forward as well as the non-sexual ones, because a lot of people attach the idea of being sexual with being for the male gaze without a second thought (which is true for most of k-pop. Many videos are made with men in mind). A lot of people feel that, if it’s a sexy image, it’s made for men, and therefore doesn’t count.

          Every “kind” of woman should be seen and heard within K-Pop. Cute and “ageyo” should be just as acceptable (and “powerful”) as any sexy concept. And I don’t think anyone want sexy to be the forefront of k-pop’s feminism, because we’ll end up with a scene much like what we have now. Where women are made to believe that they’re right to be sexy is their only form of power.

          I’m hoping that this looser arena will give artists a bit more freedom to do different routes entirely, but not be so nervous about backlash and banishment.

          ( I wish I mentioned Sunny Hill!!!)

    • Nate Broadus

      THAT ^^^^^.

  • KingTeshub

    Today, feminism = whatever angry white women say because they know best.

    • jaefuma

      *black women.
      The author is black.

    • Nate Broadus

      You know how the Westboro nut jobs do not represent Christianity as a whole? And how suicide bombers do not represent Muslim beliefs as a whole?

      Angry man-hating feminists do not represent feminism as a whole.

      They are an ASPECT, not the entire picture.

  • Chelsea

    I doubt that things will change for women in Korea; at least for now because there are also many women in Korea who doesn’t want that something change. But I do think that K-pop groups can do something for women in Korea – for the one who want a change. But as long as they are not allowed to speak for themselves I don’t think that something can change; even nowadays there are still the CEO’s who are deciding everything (their songs, style, even the answers for interviews). I’m sure there are also actually CEO’s who speak with their groups and decide with them together but they are the minority.

  • arinsen

    I hate that most girl groups are submissive and they only sing about how much they love oppa. I’m a BLACKJACK mostly because 2ne1 represent strong, independent women. Also, Lee Hyori with her new album totally blew me away!

    But the rest, the usual sexy/cute concept. It’s been around since 2010 and is still not showing signs of dying out. It’s getting boring for me…

  • arinsen

    I hate that most girl groups are submissive and they only sing about how much they love oppa. I’m a BLACKJACK mostly because 2ne1 represent strong, independent women. Also, Lee Hyori with her new album totally blew me away!

    But the rest, the usual sexy/cute concept. It’s been around since 2010 and is still not showing signs of dying out. It’s getting boring for me…

  • VPython

    f(x) are the best for representing all kind of images women can have.

  • Nate Broadus

    All of these are examples of Korean audiences becoming more comfortable with displays of sexuality, not that they are lessening the archaic gender profiling and biases. If anything, it just shifts the angle of objectification from innocence to sexual — it is the same fetishization, only from a different perspective.

    Of the examples in the article, Brown Eyed Girls is the only one that I would say takes steps in the right direction toward female empowerment — and that is mostly because their displays are not always sexual for the sake of being sexual. Often they will take on the subject of sexuality from a point of view of innocence, liberation, even self-deprecation (which is almost unheard of in female-driven Kpop — actually making fun of yourself? Everything is supposed to be so G*ddamn serious and reinforce the “perfection” tag. Really only Hyori and BEG have the stones to poke fun at their own image with such abandon).

    For almost any other female Kpop artist and group, they aren’t messages — they are concepts.

    Concepts to be pushed aside when the promotional cycle ends and the next concept comes up to the plate.

    Because they are concepts, they are not a step toward female empowerment, per se — they are a step toward successful marketability of sex.

    One day, freedom of sexual expression may give way to a successful Korean female artist that writes her material, puts together her performances and has the fortitude to say whatever she wants to say on important gender topics and still be heard. Right now, I see very few acts in Kpop that deserve to be seen as pioneers.

    Give credit where it is due; don’t blanket it over an entire genre when only a fraction of it truly deserves the praise.

  • jeremyrain98

    You know who is doing the real “K-pop’s feminism” right now? Lee Hyori. That woman, from her music to her performance and even the way she talked on public television, she’s oozing natural confidence and independence of mature person. Of course to get into her level takes a lot of time in showbiz. But I truly admire her bravery to step her foot down and shut down every gossip, rumors or malice against her.

  • foreign duck

    “but feminism isn’t a woman’s job, it’s everyone’s job.” YES. Such a great article. :)

  • 내가 제일 잘나가

    I know for a fact if Kpop was still all aeygo and “oh no Oppa I don’t want to feel this way eotteohke?” I would have not gotten into it at all.

  • haiitsvi

    I don’t see why people should expect feminist heroes in Kpop when feminist heroes are barely found in American pop culture. I read an article earlier this week that said not even Lady Gaga or Beyonce would call themselves “feminists” by name.

    Not trying to be negative, but the thing is that there will always a double standard when talking about female empowerment and being sexy. On one hand it is playing to the male gaze. On the other hand, it can be a way to empower a woman, by giving her the upper hand, in a way.

    However, I think the best way to empower women in Kpop is to give them creative power. They should not just be a money making tool. I want to know what’s on their minds. This is hard enough for both sexes in Kpop as many idols are fed lines to say and opinions to have.

    • haiitsvi

      Oh and I think we could expand this discussion to K-DRAMAS. I’ve only watched a few but there’s always this typical lead female who is stubborn, independent, etc. a really good place to start with a feminist theme, but ends up being completely infatuated with a guy (who is rich, probably). As much as I am a sucker for these types of shows, I would like to see a Kdrama that is not centered around this stereotypical storyline. Anyone have any recommendations?

  • KingTeshub

    Easy targets for feminism are white males and asian culture. Black culture, islamic or aboriginal? Not even a passing thought except your typical blanket statement. Everyone else just sees kpop as bubble gum flavored distraction/entertainment business.

  • sweetsweetmocha

    The author clearly means that the fact that girl groups CAN BE portrayed as sexy in the media is in itself a step forward. She has not equated feminism with being able to show skin.