Dance fads are nothing new in pop culture and with the rise of social media, they’ve been spreading all over the world. K-pop is no stranger to these dance fads and there have been many instances of idols attempting them. One of the most recent trends was the Harlem Shake and K-pop idols created some videos of their own. The latest dance craze to find fame is Twerking and it has also found its way to K-pop. From Miss A’s Min twerking to rookie girl group Wassup using twerking as their gimmick, it seems to beg the question, what is twerking?
Twerking doesn’t have a single definition. Some describe it as “shaking one’s hips in an up and down motion” while others say it is “vigorously shaking one’s butt” and even more define it as “working your hips and behind into a butt-jiggling frenzy.” While definitions differ in their exact language, all agree that twerking deals with shaking your butt fast. But twerking isn’t just some random dance invented recently; it has a long cultural background originating from West Africa.
Twerking is similar to dances from Africa such as the Ventilateur from Senegal, the Niiko from Somalia and the Mapouka from Cote d’Ivoire. In the U.S., Twerking has been around since the early 90’s. “Twerk” was coined in New Orleans by artist DJ Jubilee who first used the term in his song “Do The Jubilee All” as a combination of the words “twist” and “jerk.” Since then, twerking has been featured in numerous lyrics and videos but it seemed to be confined to the US South until recently.
So why the controversy?
Although the origins of twerking were non-sexual, the dance has become sexualized. Much of this is due to the hyper-sexualization of black women in the US and the male gaze through which society tends to judge things. However, those issues are the result of the intersection of race, gender, and other factors that this article does not have time to discuss. Instead, I point this out to highlight that while some think that twerking is a disgusting, sexual dance, others see it as fun and harmless.
Now that we know what twerking is, we can examine it in relation to K-pop. Wassup is a 7 member girl group set to debut soon and they garnered a lot of attention a few days ago after posting videos of themselves twerking.
Looking at some of the comments on Tumblr, some responses from self identified African-American fans were negative:
My problem was that they were basically using twerking like it was their main ticket into stardom without knowing shit about it.
And others ambivalent:
I feel bad for saying this but at the same time, I really don’t. That girl group “Wassup” cannot twerk what-so-ever, and if they are going to be doing all of that while perfoming, I sure hope they can actually dance and/or sing because if not they are embarrassing themselves.
I’m dying of laughter after watching these girls “twerk” (We can’t even call it twerking) I’m just waiting for this ridiculousness to end up on worldstarhiphop.
Criticisms about their twerking aside, what led to this group to use twerking as part of their concept?
Wassup was created by Mafia Records and Sony Music Korea with the “aim to spread hip-hop music.” It seems as if Wassup believes that twerking helps authenticate themselves as hip-hop group. Seoulbeats has discussed this disconnect before and, once again, a K-pop group is conveying what they think hip-hop culture is without fully understanding it.
Additionally, it seems as if Wassup has not thought out this concept. If they decide to twerk in their debut, their music video will no doubt be slapped with age restrictions from the MOGEF. Plus, they will have to change their choreography if they wish to promote on music shows. Perhaps their intent is to stir up controversy but we will have to wait and see.
If Wassup truly wanted to demonstrate their hip-hop style, they could have done so in a plethora of ways; Wassup could have displayed their rap skills, music style, or what made their image hip-hop. Instead, they chose to twerk. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with twerking, but Wassup acting as if twerking somehow solidifies them as hip-hop idols is strange. Ultimately, it is their choice and it will be interesting to see how their debut goes and how K-pop fans react.
What do you think about Wassup’s “concept?”