This week we’re talking about the ladies in K-pop, and how they make people tick…or rather, how they make international fans and domestic fans tick in different ways. This week we asked our writers: While Korea tends to prefer the likes of f(x)’s Sulli, SNSD’s Yoona, and miss A’s Suzy, everyone beyond the Korean shores seems to prefer the likes of f(x)’s Amber, SNSD’s Hyoyeon, and miss A’s Suzy. What are these differences in the preferences between domestic fans and international fans? Why do you think that they exist? 

Chloe W: I think the difference between international fans and Korean fans is how we look at beauty and the way we view women in general. I think international fans tend to favor Hyoyeon and Amber because they are perhaps more unique than Yoona and Sulli. They may not be the prettiest ones, but they have something that stands out — Amber with her tomboyish thing and Hyoyeon with her dancing and awesome personality. There is more to them than just beauty. Also, international fans — moreso Americans, I think — tend to not put women of this pedestal of ultimate femininity and innocence anymore. We want more than someone who can just sit pretty and smile and we tend not to go all crazy over aegyo. Americans generally dont experience aegyo to the level koreans do. On the other hand, Korean fans in my opinion tend to favor Yoona and Sulli because they are seen meeting the traditional standards of beauty. The represent of innocence and femininity. It’s not exactly necessary for them to have a personality or something unique about them.

Ree: But look at the Miss Seoulbeats poll. Hyoyeon was cut out earl y– and look who’s still here: YoonA, Dara, Suzy, and Sohee. In the end, I think it’s just the international fans who condemn them are just very vocal, and those fans don’t necessarily speak for the majority. I actually think popularity is ultimately similar in Korea and internationally. We do value different things. But in the end — in fandom — it’s all very similar.

As for f(x), aren’t Victoria and Krystal the most popular whilst Sulli is just there to be pretty? But I definitely think Amber’s appeal comes from her tomboyish style and ability to speak English, over all else. I think the English thing is something that really gets international fans going. Like they can relate. Like the relative popularity of Nicole over Hara internationally.

Megan: I think that international fans may not necessarily like these people much more, but they do like to root for the underdog. I can’t speak for other countries, but in America at least, it’s always this tale of wanting to root for the underdog, the underacknowledged, the down-on-their-luck. Everyone loves the story where the less famous but more talented ones finally get what they deserve. It’s in sports movies, in courtroom movies, everywhere. That being said…I think Amber might be the one out of the bunch that was mentioned that is genuinely more popular. I think her gender-bending charms have already been thoroughly discussed.

Also, Hyoyeon is my bias. But I think I can justify this by saying I scoped her out as my favorite before reading the news and the blogs and stuff and figuring out that nobody really liked her, and everybody liked Yoona. I mean, come on! She was gorgeous in the video for “Gee.”

 Uhh, I’m probably one of the few who does think she’s really really pretty. Nothing on Sooyoung– but I still find her really pretty and charming. And I think it’s ridiculous how some people make her out as being ‘ugly’. That being said– I think her popularity with non-SONEs in Korea just stems from her being exposed to the public more. Kinda like they’re the ONLY one they know.

And I agree about the underdog thing– and to be honest sometimes I feel like it leans towards pity partying. I love Hyoyeon but…sometimes it gets pitiful. Honestly, ultimately I think popularity does cross over the seas and it’s consistent. Like Taeyeon is crazy popular in fandom and out of fandom. Internationally and domestically. But amongst casual fans– I feel like they just off-handedly choose their biases. Mostly via whoever they see on variety shows. Which is why I’ve seen lots of international fans tend to find Sunny and Sooyoung the ‘coolest’ in SNSD. Or they like Seohyun because she’s endearing on WGM. (Ironically, those three are my top 3 for SNSD). Or they find Jia and Min ‘cooler’ than Suzy and whatnot.

Nabeela: Yeah, more often than not, safe beauty is going to trump non traditional beauty. Hyoyeon is probably the only memorable member SNSD for her talent as well as her looks, but I think its easier to say Yoona is pretty for most people just because she fits into a general criteria for beauty. Conversely, Hyoyeon is like a piece of art — so few understand just how valuable she is.

Ree: That probably leads to why they have the likes of Seohyun, Sooyoung, Yuri, and Yoona lead the choreography instead of Hyoyeon. That and the fact Hyobaby is the shortest in the dance line.

Thinking about it now — there are other factors to Hyoyeon being shafted. Before she debuted, she was really anticipated as a trainee and people were waiting for her debut. She and Min were like the child prodigies and they had a niche group of followers before their respective group’s debuts. Another thing; am I the only one who thinks Hyoyeon has regressed dance wise whilst Min has improved?

Amy: A weird thing about Hyoyeon to me is that she is BOMB but she overexaggerates her moves all the time when she has to show off, or when she’s being called to show off. I feel like she gets so little chance to shine because SM shafts her all the time that she feels the need to overcompensate when she does get the spotlight on her. She does this a LOT on variety shows when she’s asked to dance. I wish she would tone it down a little and have more faith in her innate swagging abilities and not feel the need to go an extra mile to prove her worth.

Johnelle: Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I tend to base my faves in K-pop not solely on looks, but also personality.  Of course you have your classic beauties who are popular, but in a lot of cases they might not be the most popular because I think personality (or what we perceive of their personality based on shows, etc.) plays a huge role in popularity.  I often always wondered about Yoona’s popularity because she isn’t the most beautiful idol in K-pop or even in SNSD, but after seeing her on some shows, I think she has a great personality (barring recent events).  If you think about it rationally — which is hard in K-pop, I know — if someone is just good looking and has no personality at all, they become boring. But if someone isn’t as good looking but has a great personality they become more attractive.

I think it also has a lot to do with why international fans’ tastes can often differ a lot from Korean tastes- because the things that we find attractive in looks and personalities are often similar to our own which can be vastly different from someone living in South Korea.  Which is why I think international fans often like the K-pop underdogs or stan hard for acts like 2NE1 which are a bit more ‘fierce’ than other K-pop acts because it’s more how the fans are themselves.

Fannie: I think Yoona is very pretty – but in a sort of safe and blank-canvas kind of way. Korea tends to go for conformity (towards that one perfect ideal), while American fans tend to be more interested in features that stand out. Part of the Hyoyeon appeal is the fact that she’s the underdog, but the other part of it is that she’s very different and distinctive looking compared to the other girls.

I think we also tend to like girls that are more down-to-earth, cool, and keeping it real. The aegyo (“Look at me! I’m so cute!”) and angel/princess (“Look at me! I’m so pretty and perfect!”) acts come across as exactly that: acts. While it seems that the Korean audience is more apt to be attracted to those perfect and unattainable images, the girls that come across as more genuine (real people with real talents and down-to-earth personalities) are generally more relatable to Westerners.

Ree: I agree. I think personality plays a huge part in biases. With almost all my biases I really like their personalities and if I’m not too big on their personalities, then it’s because I find them really relatable to me. Plus, I don’t think it’s that easy to put your finger on what makes someone your bias or not. I think there’s always that somewhat irrational X-factor that draws people in. Something that you can’t explain, but it appeals to you nonetheless.