Ever since their debut nearly two years ago, Trouble Maker has made quite the splash in the mindsets of Korean and International audiences. Defined by the duo’s lustful attraction for one another combined with sexually-driven concepts, Trouble Maker has grabbed the attention of many. Whether you love them or hate them, the duet of Hyuna and Hyunseung has brought about much controversy through their willingness to try on concepts which seek to test the visual and behavioral boundaries that we’ve come to expect from K-pop. What are your thoughts on Trouble Maker? Is the duo deserving of the all the attention? Where do they go from here?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmbvqYvpKXo]
Gabrielle: I like them! They’re one of the only coed duos I can think of that really go for it. People always do these kinds of acts with nameless backup dancers, or act like the lustful nature of the performance was a complete accident. While their actions may not always be my cup of tea, I’m glad that they own it and look like they may even be enjoying the performance. Besides, they’re adults. How many shy and bashful couples does K-Pop need?
Though I am a bit worried about what could be next, I’m hoping that the duo, if they continue at all, matures to show different sides of “sexy.” They’ve gotten the lustful side down, but sultry or even a more sophisticated take on it would be nice. Maybe like Miss Kahi?
Laverne: I like Trouble Maker and I support them but I have a few issues with the casting. One, I don’t think they have much chemistry. I love the idea of a coed duo but their chemistry is lacking. The other thing is that I am not a fan of Hyuna’s voice. It just grates my ears. This isn’t anything Hyuna can really change so I brush it off as a difference in taste.
But I support Trouble Maker because I want to see more coed duos in the future. I think it’s great that they’re pushing boundaries in K-pop. I hope, as Gabrielle mentioned, that they start to show a more mature sexy side instead of the lustful sexy image they’re pushing right now.
Fannie: Do I think this comeback is trashy? Yes, absolutely. Do I mind that it’s trashy? Nope, not at all. Trouble Maker is around to make trouble, and I’m just happy this duo and their company isn’t parading the act to be anything that it’s not.
I do think that the chemistry is still a bit off, but I also have to say that they’ve also ramped up the energy in their performances this time around. What was the most off-putting to me about Trouble Maker during their debut era was that Hyuna seemed miserable or just dead tired for the bulk of their performances, while we all know that she can be a great performer when she wants to be. This time around she seems to be actually enjoying herself up on stage (at least from the performances I have seen), and I also have to say that Hyunseung’s stage charisma has improved dramatically — there’s a new maturity and confidence in him now that was missing from previous stages.
It’s also interesting timing that he’s tearing up the charts at the same time young hearts are being broken over the finale of YG‘s latest boy group debut survival show. It goes to show that things really come around full cycle.
Mark: I enjoy the “There Is No Tomorrow” promotion far better than their debut release and I’m beginning to see the huge potential in having a coed duo. First of all, duos are rare and mostly flourish in the area of ballads. Secondly, coed performances of any kind are also rare. I like that they don’t shy away from the fact that they are sexually appealing idols of the opposite gender and really ramp up the one thing that these two have going for them — sexual energy.
I love how much dedication Cube puts into Trouble Maker in terms of concept and production value. The Spy versus Spy concept in “Trouble Maker” and the Bonnie and Clyde concept in “There Is No Tomorrow” both play up the idea of a dangerous and dysfunctional attraction while the MVs attempt to emulate the slick cinematography of a blockbuster film. In a way, “There is No Love” is like a sequel to their debut: pushing the envelope, raising the stakes, and giving us a grander experience of the world they’ve created.
I’m also really buying into Cube’s whole attitude of not caring how much backlash or negative netizen comments that is resonating from this duo. Trouble Maker is truly living up to its namesake. Going forward, I definitely want to see them continue to push the limits by cranking up the risque sexuality and mature content even more.
Patricia: “Dangerous and dysfunctional attraction.” Yeah, I like that. I think that’s the thing that’s keeping Trouble Maker from falling into the trope of being the uber-sexy, uber-trashy couple act — which, honestly, would’ve probably worked anyway given that there really isn’t another K-pop act that can pull off this brand of sexiness apart from Trouble Maker. The dysfunction is what keeps Trouble Maker interesting and adds a higher level of nuance that helps to maintain a general theme to the group, while preventing future concepts from becoming repetitive.
I wasn’t really bothered by the duo’s lack of chemistry when they last promoted two years ago, mostly because I was too excited over their debut to really care. But with “There is No Tomorrow,” I’m paying a little more attention, and I’m beginning to see where the Hyunseung-Hyuna pairing could’ve worked really, really well in theory, which only makes the obvious lack of actual chemistry between the two all the more frustrating.
The fact that Hyunseung is in charge of the singing while Hyuna does most of the rapping is interesting in itself because it flips the usual girl-sings-while-man-does-manly-rapping model on its head. Granted, this role-swap is probably more due to the fact that Hyuna can’t sing and Hyunseung can; but regardless, as the rapper, Hyuna takes on a role that is more masculine than what is expected of a female idol. And while Hyunseung’s singing probably isn’t really “feminine” in the same way that Hyuna’s rapping is “masculine,” Hyunseung’s image and role becomes softened in the wake of Hyuna’s masculine role in the group. Couple that with the fact that Hyuna is still a woman and Hyunseung is still a man and heteronormativity is still heteronormativity, and we’ve got a male-female duo wherein the gender roles are a lot more balanced.
I didn’t really pick up on this in Trouble Maker’s debut piece, but Hyuna’s rapping style in “There is No Tomorrow” made the gender role swap a lot more apparent. Hyuna’s rapping in this song is really coarse; it has this “heavy” sound to it that makes it clear that Hyuna’s trying to be as rough, hard, and unpretty as possible. Hyuna also has an image that is notoriously sexual, but in the same way her image is also unapologetically honest and in-your-face. Her brand of “sexual” isn’t the kind of feminine sensuality that other female K-pop idols like Sistar or Secret have. Hyuna isn’t ladylike in the least, and that makes for a really interesting dynamic when we’re talking about a male-female duo with a concept centered around, well, sex.
I’m willing to bet that Hyuna was chosen first for the Trouble Maker concept — I mean, if we’re talking sexy, there’s no clearer choice. It then boils down to finding a suitable partner for Hyuna. I think Hyunseung was chosen because in theory, he makes for a good yin to Hyuna’s genderswappy yang. He’s a singer; he has that pretty, smooth, flower-boy look; and he carries himself really quietly. On top of that, Hyunseung has the potential to have a lot of sex appeal; he’s never shied away from putting his hands all over Hyuna from day one. I don’t think that 90% of all the male idols out there could do the same with a straight face.
So in theory, Hyuna and Hyunseung as a duo makes a lot of sense. But in practice, watching Trouble Maker is like watching (to quote our fearless leader Amy) “two dead fish flopping dryly together.” The reasons for this are pretty obvious: Hyuna is too used to doing the sexy thing by herself and doesn’t know how to interact meaningfully with a male partner, and Hyunseung doesn’t know how to move his face.
But hey — it’s K-pop’s first real shot at grown-up male-female interaction, and for a first attempt, Trouble Maker isn’t bad. I mean, they even kiss in the music video! The production value is impressive, and their music is really good . The main issue plaguing Trouble Maker now lies solely with Hyuna and Hyunseung’s abilities to interact with each other onstage — and honestly, I’m pretty confident that they’ll be able to figure it out within the next few promotion cycles because that’s why idols “monitor” themselves all the time, right? I have faith in them. I think.
Nicholas: On paper, Trouble Maker should make for a really great concept. In theory, the duo do bring something to each other’s table, and that was what I thought when they debuted previously. He brings some singing chops to the table, which is something Hyuna is not very known for, while she provides the charisma, which is something that Hyunseung desperately lacks.
That performance balance, and the novelty factor of a mature coed act was fun at the time of their debut, and I liked it. But now, as some of the other writers have mentioned, there’s definitely something off now, in terms of the chemistry.
However, instead of blaming them, I would rather look at the state of K-pop, and its unique brand of “chaste sexuality,” where we expect them to radiate sparks of guy-girl chemistry, yet stay single and not very attached for the fans. So what we have now is a brand of “Synthesex,” where we see a coed duo do really sexy moves on stages, and yet there could be more fun had out of watching a standard all guy or all girl group performance.
Ambika: I actually really like Trouble Maker. I’m not 100% sold still on Hyunseung, but the duo has convinced me that Hyuna can rock the stage with anything, something I wasn’t completely sold on before. They do deserve the attention they gather considering they’ve brought a shock factor with both of their title songs, and Cube seems to be fairly unreserved with their material. It also helps that their debut song did so well, giving them a little more leeway on what they could do with their latest. Personally, I’m hoping that their direction stays sexy but maybe takes a turn on the flirty side, bringing something more like “Attention.”
When the duo first debuted, I was honestly hoping for more of these male-female duos to pop up, which unfortunately didn’t happen as far as I can recall. It’s a shame because there are probably several combinations from other companies that could do well given the right material and enough companies that have both male and female idol groups to make it happen.
Shweta: I agree, the Trouble Maker concept is an interesting one, Patricia, but I believe it’s a poorly executed one from the performance standpoint. First of all, like Laverne said, Troublemaker has no palpable chemistry. If your whole existence revolves around having sexual chemistry, lacking it poses a serious problem. You can say all you want about the success of the concept and idea that drives the Hyunseung and HyunA pairing, but no matter what you do, you can’t get over the fact that their stage presence feels, well, staged at best. At worst, it’s just awkward.
However, I’m going to go ahead and contradict myself, because I’d argue that this awkward existence, in fact, makes brain trust at Cube Entertainment genius.
Troublemaker having zero chemistry may actually be a good thing from the audience-performer interactive standpoint. To understand what I mean, let’s hypothetically assume Troublemaker was “perfect.” They have chemistry out the wazoo and their performance skills are top notch. Would this be a great thing?
No. Not at all.
Trouble Maker would subsequently launch itself into uncomfortable ground. The Korean audience (to my understanding) doesn’t like the idea of real sexual chemistry on stage. Entertainment companies don’t want to have to deal with the repercussions of such a thing. Hyunseung and Hyun dating? Oh god. Dating involving sexual relationships? Don’t even talk about it. Indeed, it’s a moment of marketing brilliance for Cube, because Trouble Maker was never supposed to be about Hyunseung and HyunA in the first place.
Trouble Maker, as it stands, projects an air of fantasy; it’s the interface between sexuality as the physical and emotional attribute of ourselves and the taboo of public conversation. It straddles the line without ruffling feathers, appealing to both the male and female gaze and bringing out the risqué without actually doing so. Trouble Maker fundamentally exists as a projection, the creation of an empty shell to put yourself into. It’s a man and woman interacting on stage together, being nothing more to us than a man and woman on stage, where the interpretation of the extent of that relationship is yours, and yours alone, to ascertain.
Mark: I agree with Shweta that Trouble Maker, from a marketing standpoint, is brilliant. It seems that everything about them is meant to get people talking. And with all this talk about “chemistry,” we’re playing right into their hands. Cube knows that “no chemistry” was the knock on the duo from their debut, and what do they do? They go ahead and title their next album Chemistry! That’s like releasing a Hyuna solo album and calling it Talent.
I wholly agree with Patricia’s point about the balanced gender roles, though I thought they allowed Hyunseung to redeem more of the traditional masculine role in the extended version of “There Is No Tomorrow.” He is clearly the active agent which the story revolves around while Hyuna is at home waiting for her man to return. I wish they had given her more of an active role and made her a more intricate part of the story, as they did with their debut.
As for the duo lacking chemistry, I’m going to leave that up for debate. Trouble Maker seems to be the only group that gets ragged on for not passing Organic Chemistry, and I believe that says more about how the group tends to get us out of our K-pop comfort zone and less about their actual stage charisma. Readers, what are your thoughts?
(YouTube, Images via Cube Entertainment)