It’s no secret that sexy is the new black. However, what has managed to remain a secret is that the style of sexy we’re seeing now isn’t standard fare. Sexy in K-pop has always been one of two flavors– classy like vanilla, or seductive like chocolate. This year, though we’ve seen the emergence of the metaphorical twist cone: sensual sexiness.
Sensuality and seduction are hard things to define. They’re like porn: you can’t really define ’em, but you always know when you see ’em. That being said, sometimes fixed definitions are needed to ensure everyone’s on the same page. For this article, sensuality is defined as the pursuit and enjoyment of sexual pleasure, with a significant emotional component. Seduction is the pursuit of sexual pleasure only.
Unlike most K-pop concepts, what really sets sensual songs apart is the music. The songs sound fragile and delicate. They’re not saying “Look at me, I’m sexy.” These are songs of hearts laid bare, with the vulnerability that action implies made audible. This also gives them an undeniable sense of class. By making sure to bring the emotional side of sex into the music and the lyrics, sensual sexiness has become the hot new trend.
This trend has paid off for a lot of girl groups. AOA‘s “Miniskirt” snagged them their first win, and Rainbow Blaxx‘s “Cha Cha” has sold decently as well. Both songs are about confessing to a boy that they like him. The “like” they’re experiencing, though, is something new for K-pop: love mixed with sexual desire. “Miniskirt” may be about attracting attention via sexiness, but they’re clearly not interested in a one-night stand. As for Rainbow Blaxx, well, there aren’t exactly a lot of ways to interpret “I wanna feel you, I wanna love you.”
Girl’s Day‘s “Something” is the most successful and the most poignant of these songs. Much has been made over their provocative dance, which unfortunately distracted from the lyrics. “Something” is about getting cheated on. Not only that, the implication is that the cheater is the first guy they’ve slept with. There are few things that would cut a girl as deep as that. All these songs have a desire for emotional and sexual intimacy– what good’s one if you don’t have the other?
These songs share one other major thing in common: they’ve all been met with some shocking slut-shaming. They’ve all been lumped together as “trashy” or “slutty”, with varying degrees of legitimacy. What makes these reactions shocking is that they’re the complete opposite of the response to sensual sexiness’ first big hit– Sunmi‘s “24 Hours”. When “24 Hours” came out, it was greeted with enthusiasm as a sexy, yet vulnerable song. Musically and lyrically, it fits with the trend of sensuality. It’s desperate, it’s raw, it’s fragile. Yet, Sunmi got a pass that no one else did, and she kept it. Despite “Full Moon” being much more sexual then anything else here, no one’s said boo.
Just what gives artists like Sunmi an exemption from slut-shaming? Idols who get passed over tend to be older. This could be in terms of literal age, like the Brown Eyed Girls, or in the length of their career, such as when BoA changed her image with My Name. With age, it implies that the women in question are exploring their sexuality on their own terms. From this we can infer that groups who get slut-shamed are younger and their sexual exploration is incited by men. This theory makes sense; after all, our societies are conditioned to try to protect young women.
Girls everywhere are always told “Don’t let a boy pressure you.” “It’s okay to say no.” You know what they don’t hear? “It’s okay to say yes to sex”. Girls are never told by anyone that a time will come where they meet someone and want to have sex. They are taught to push their sexuality to the back of their minds, that good girls don’t have sex before they’re ready. Rarely are they given a hint of what ‘”ready” means. Teenage girls are taught to fear their sexual desires, not to understand them. This leads to sad circumstances where young women cannot tell the difference between seduction and sensuality. The idea that something as “dirty” as sex is an expression of love is just not considered.
Slut-shaming sensual songs is nothing but a symptom of a larger issue. The idea of mixing sexual desire and emotional closeness is alien to teenage girls all over the world. We’re taught to separate them, that love and lust have nothing to do with each other. The usual thought process imparted is “If sexy, then skanky.” When young women hear a sensual song, the presence of sex trumps everything else. The only ways around this are if the singer is old enough for sexual activity to be expected, or if there are no men involved, because then it becomes female empowerment.
Sunmi, Girl’s Day, AOA, and Rainbow Blaxx and many others are all breaking down barriers for women’s sensuality, but it seems it’s only approved of if they do it “right.” What do you think? Did Girl’s Day, AOA, and Rainbow Blaxx deserve the responses they’ve gotten, or did the fact that they were sexy blind people to other possibilities?
(Images via Dream Team Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, FNC Entertainment, DSP Media)