We discussed last week androgyny in K-pop; this week, we’ll talk about its awkward second cousin: cross-dressing. Vixx’s cover of Wonder Girls’ “So Hot” officially brought cross-dressing back into the spotlight after a long absence. As mentioned in Pat’s recent article, cross-dressing has always been an element of K-pop, be it during special stages, year-end shows, or skits and concert stages — there has always been occasions where cross-dressing is expected and even anticipated. What are some of your favorite cross-dressing moments? Why is cross-dressing in K-pop so appealing and showstopping? How does it compare to cross-dressing in your neck of the woods?
Pat: I already said all I could in my article. In the interest of not becoming redundant, cross-dressing is so interesting to me because the way we focus on the peculiarity of males dressing as females just further underlines the way society has told us that it is normal for females to copy males.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeR2DYTOOEQ]
As for cross-dressing performance, prior to Wonder Vixx, I would have definitely said Milk Caramel. But now, even if I were to take away all my bias as a Starlight, it would still be Wonder Vixx because N-mi brings all the boys to the yard (quite literally with him receiving proposals from Hanhae and Jo Kwon on twitter). Another favorite is Sung-jong‘s cover of “Adult Ceremony” during Infinite’s Second Invasion Evolution tour.
To cross-dress in my country is only done for two reasons: you’re already an outted gay or queer, or you are a comedian doing it for laughs. In fact, the second happens so much that the number one noontime variety show, Eat Bulaga, actually has an annual beauty pageant called Ms. EB Universe where the male hosts dress as female celebrities in a living caricature for laughs. An example would be one of the hosts dressing as Britney Spears during her VMA performance of “I’m a Slave for You” — stuffed boa constrictor and all. These “contestants” sometimes return to be a judge for other contests such as the recently concluded contest for actual gays, Super Sireyna — a play on words I possibly couldn’t explain except that “sireyna” means mermaid in Tagalog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd0SJBNSFlc]
Laverne: Pat, you make a really good point about males dressing as females and vice-versa. And because of that, I enjoy when males cross-dress as females without making fun of women. What I mean by this is, yes, cross-dressing in mainstream media is meant to be seen as funny, but there’s a difference between it just being funny versus the female persona being the brunt of the joke.
That’s why I really liked VIXX’s performance. The guys enjoyed themselves and were able to both be serious and funny without resorting to “Look, I’m a woman! Women are so [insert stereotype].”
I think cross-dressing is appealing because it subverts the norm of gender identities. However, in my area it’s only really acceptable when it’s done for fun. If people legitimately enjoy cross-dressing, they’re usually seen as abnormal.
Nicholas: I admit to having very simple taste in cross dressing (if such a term could be used). I particularly like it when a female dresses like a guy to bring out some vaguely masculine features, but upon closer inspection still has that air of woman about it.
With that, here’s my favourite cross dress dance battle. Females in suits? Count me in.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7I11gXLy0I]
And that was me giving in to all those blatant displays of fan-service.
Lindsay: You know what cross-dressing moment I really loved? Lee Hyori in her MV for “Going Crazy.” That is the best example of female to male cross-dressing in K-pop that I can think of. She really embodied her character and took the make-up and costuming to the next level. I agree that this isn’t what we normally see from girl groups cross-dressing, and that’s why I found it so refreshing. More female idols should go all out for cross-dressing stages now and again.
As for male to female cross-dressing, I’ll never forget when Taemin and Key did “My First Kiss.” I wasn’t as familiar with K-pop as I am now and, likewise, I was completely amazed by how gorgeous Taemin looked. Seriously, that boy’s butt and legs are beautiful.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTFgEokMJC4]
I know cross-dressing in K-pop is normally just fan-service, but I can’t help but enjoy it.
Miyoko: I also love Hyori’s “Going Crazy.” There are so few examples of female idols cross-dressing all out. I love Hyori’s full look and attitude. This is actually why I also liked Wonder VIXX. They seemed to really commit to it and it was a fun, energetic performance.
However, I see the cross-dressing special stages in K-pop as being for fan service, as others have pointed out. In MVs, it comes off a bit differently to me. Whether it’s Hyori, or GD, or Junsu, I see it more for artistic reasons and as subverting gender roles, which draws me more. Of course, all of these are also mired in a commercial, entertainment basis.
Which brings me to my “neck of the woods.” For mainstream entertainment where I live, as long as cross-dressing is done for this commercial reason, it’s okay. People who cross-dress in real life have a harder time.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFNQI_Ya4xM]
Mark: As much as there are good examples of subverting gender roles via cross-dressing, and you guys certainly hit the needle on the head with Hyori, there are also times when its simply done as an attention-grabbing ploy. Hyeri of Girl’s Day comes to mind in her commander-in-chief outfit for “Female President.” Her male demeanor brought about a commanding image which fit well with the supposed “female empowerment” concept of the song, but her ultimate purpose in dressing male-like was mostly so fellow group member Minah could lay a kiss on her at the end.
Females dressing in male garb which traditionally signify an aura of power (eg. suits) can be very exciting and powerful because the image in itself is a symbol of non-compliance against the traditional roles of women. However, when it is downplayed as a mere aesthetic, or even sexualized, it signifies that the girls are only playing dress-up, nothing to worry about here. The men may breathe a collective sigh of relief.
However, when women dawn suits and put on a powerful dance performance that rivals that of their male counterparts, ala SNSD, After School, and especially that girl group mosaic led by Kahi to the tune of 2PM’s “Heartbeat,” it’s not only exciting, but it also infers that the girls have what it takes to hang with the boys.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvMNKWLu3Nk]
Shweta: I disagree, Mark. I really don’t think that having girl group members wear suits and dance to boy band songs are good examples of female empowerment or equalizing the playing field. More importantly, their attire does not convey a sense of cross dressing in the first place. The suits are there to give an edgy look, not to imply masculinity. If K-pop females really wanted to cross-dress, they would either go the Amber route, with baggy shirts, basketball shorts, etc., or do what Hyori did in “Going Crazy,” taking on stereotypical male features and mannerisms.
Honestly, Hyori is the only female in K-pop I’ve seen legitimately cross-dress for the sake of entertainment, and do so convincingly. As to why female idols don’t cross dress (convincingly) more, I have no idea.
Erika: I don’t know that women in K-pop cross-dressing ever truly subverts gender norms or empowers them. If anything, it reinforces the idea that power, aggression, sexual desire/agency, mastery and skill, etc. are strictly the domain of men, and that K-pop women are appropriating masculinity to get in on that sweet action that is otherwise unavailable to them because of their femininity. That’s not shifting the paradigm. And for SNSD, After School, and the like to have to take on male personae and do male dances to “prove” they can hang with the guys, despite having gone through the same rigorous training and having as much experience as idols, implies that their skill is called into question because of their womanhood. Plus, in the end, if the men watching these women on their televisions didn’t say, “That’s some hotness right there,” then idols’ companies would never let women wear suits again. It would be the Great Pant Suit Burning of 2013 right about now.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okQ1_qN7Wmo]
On another note, I think that male idols taking on female K-pop personae is so much more attention-grabbing than vice versa for a few reasons, but one is that women are hyper-feminized in K-pop. So, for male idols to perform as women in K-pop is for them to take on not just femininity, but exaggerated femininity. That is a huge juxtaposition against their male personae, which aren’t generally hyper-masculine and may even be a bit feminine, but are still considered masculine. In contrast, female idols taking on male idol personae are performing an already downplayed masculinity. Or, as is the case with 2PM and those “I wanna be your sexy man” idol groups, a masculinity meant for sexual objectification, a phenomenon with which they are more than familiar.
Neither male nor female idols are doing a 180 by performing as the opposite gender, but whereas women are doing like a 90, men are doing something more along the lines of a 150. Math.
Ambika: I’d love to see a female group go all out with male mannerisms to cover a male group’s performance.
I think part of the appeal of cross-dressing is that it either looks really realistic or just so bad that it’s funny. And it gets better when it’s done to embody an image, whether it’s Heechul pulling out the stops for Lady Gaga or Wonder VIXX being “So Hot.” When it’s just so bad it’s funny, it’s the jarring nature, like not being able to comprehend Siwon as Son Dam-bi or seeing the less movement-inclined and considerably more muscular 2AM as miss A that makes the act entertaining.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8MSFJzBILs]
Like for most of the others, where I am, cross-dressing is seen as usually for skits, stage performances, cosplay, or to be funny.