Diss songs have been rearing their head from time to time in the Korean music scene, both in the hip-hop industry and in mainstream K-pop. Diss songs are used to stir up drama and create hype, with a notable example being the tension between Ravi, Bobby and others last year.
Reincarnations of reality shows like Unpretty Rapstar and Show Me the Money also continue to reinforce the popularity of diss songs, and sly jabs at other individuals in the industry are still a familiar element in Korean songs. Most recently, Jay Park landed himself in an online controversy due to an apparent jibe at Beenzino‘s girlfriend, Stefanie Michova in his song “2nd Thots.”
Amidst all this negativity and often highly contrived drama, a new type of diss song is emerging, one that cleverly comments on the industry by directing the dissing at yourself. As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it can actually be a more powerful way of expressing your opinions than straight up naming and shaming others, and is something that several groups have embraced recently.
One notable example is BTS’s “Baepsae”, which recently caused a stir online with its hard-hitting verses and cryptic lyrics. In it, instead of deflecting accusations that they are weak crow-tits (a reference to the Korean proverb “뱁새가 황새 걸음을 걸으면 가랑이 가 찢어진다” which translates to, if a crow-tit walks like a stork, it will break its legs), the members choose to accept the insult. The members do express their frustrations at being called crow-tits by the supposedly superior storks, but instead of insulting specific people in the industry, choose to speak through metaphors.
Then, rather than defending themselves against these insults, they choose to embrace them, having realised that the ones who are insulting them are in fact the weaker people, and therefore not worth emulating. In fact, after being insulted by the storks in the song, the members call out “As expected of storks!” They reconcile at the end of the song, embracing the fact that they are in fact crow-tits, and will work their way up to success rather than being fed everything on a silver spoon like the storks have.
BTS’s “Baepsae” is a clever and nuanced way of addressing the group’s critics. This could easily have turned into a K-hip hop scandal if BTS had chosen to name and shame specific industry peers, but instead, they spoke through metaphors and adopted personas within the song to play out a conversation. Finally, they chose to accept the dissing that they have received, and instead made the choice to turn this diss into a positive.
Mamamoo have also recently turned their well-known parody of Unpretty Rapstar into a full-fledged song, “1cm (Taller than You)” or “1cm Pride”, depending on which translation you adhere to. Instead of going for the serious social critique that BTS have gone for, the group has instead opted for a playful mockery of each other, drawing light to the childishness of other dissing battles in the industry.
In “1cm Pride”, the girls bicker about the seemingly insignificant difference in height between them, mirroring the trivial points of difference that rappers bring up in their diss battles. Wheein then breaks up the argument, saying “We’re all similar similar, so stop it stop it. If you have time to bicker about this, worry about other things.” The parody of other diss songs becomes abundantly clear when Solar adopts the persona of Unpretty Rapstar’s Jessi, making fun of the triviality of other rap battles and the cringeworthy boasting.
By directing the dissing at themselves or at other members of their own group, these idols are actually saying a lot, even if it is just in jest. Scandals and diss battles that seem to appear out of thin air really just come across as immature and attention-seeking, and recently, it seems like more and more idols are wanting to parody such diss battles, or cleverly critique their surroundings by engaging in or appropriating disses. Directing the roasting at yourself also shows that you’re above all the bickering and fighting, and really just want to focus on the music.