Bad news for young Korean fans of Lady Gaga: the American superstar’s planned April 27th showcase, to be held at the Seoul Olympic Stadium, was slapped with an age restriction by the Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB).
The concert, which was previously open to the public, is now closed to all fans under the age of 18. It is believed that the KMRB succumbed to pressure to enact the age limit from the Korean Association of Church Communication, a religious group that strongly feels Lady Gaga’s material and performances to be too racy and scandalous for an underage audience.
To which I say: you have just got to be kidding me.
First of all, this concert is not a public event. It is a ticketed event that people have to voluntarily pay for in order to attend. It is not a television broadcast on a public channel that any unsuspecting citizen might come across whilst channel-surfing; it is completely inaccessible (exempting the potential fancams that could belatedly surface) to anyone who has not, with full knowledge of what he or she was getting into, taken the steps necessary to purchase a ticket. It therefore should fall to the private citizenry to decide whether or not they wish to attend the concert. Additionally, as University of South Carolina sociology professor Mathieu Defelm has pointed out, if anyone should or can exert the power to prevent minors from seeing the concert, it is their parents — not the state of South Korea, not the KMRB, and certainly not a Christian group who really should have better things to attend to than preventing a bunch of eager teenagers from seeing an internationally well-known and renowned pop act.
But more to the point, the hypocrisy in this age limit and a good deal of the nonsense that goes on in the world of K-pop is alarming and actually just ridiculous. The Korean entertainment industry is almost laughably rife with contradictions. Female pop groups whose outfits are deemed too revealing are hit with the MOGEF banhammer, but if Taecyeon rips his shirt off during a concert, it’s completely fine because he has chocolate abs. HyunA‘s “Bubble Pop” choreography is declared too racy for public broadcast, but SISTAR‘s Hyorin and Bora are permitted and even encouraged to do a “sexy chair dance” on a variety show for the express delight of their “uncle fans” (oh, and by the way, during the same broadcast, Soyou revealed that she once received a luxury handbag and a large sum of cash from one of her uncle patrons — of course, he was just doing it because he thinks of her fondly as a niece, right?). Only kids 15 and up are allowed to watch Music Bank, Music Core, and Inkigayo, but it has become commonplace for idol groups (especially female idol groups) to debut members who are dangerously close to this age limit — which is, by the way, firmly underage no matter what country you’re in. Demure womanhood is encouraged, but very few people complain about underage f(x) members Krystal and Sulli gyrating on stage. Overt sexuality is employed, but
Orange Caramel exists at the same time, aegyo, cutesy behavior, and acting/dressing/waving around a lollipop like a child are seen as totally fine no matter how old you are (indicating that Korean men want…someone with the body of a full-grown woman, but with the face and personality of a child?). And also, somehow, this video (and its accompanying choreography) from Chocolat managed to not get banned. Are you for real? At the 2:18-2:19 mark, the camera zooms in and focuses exclusively on 14-year-old Tia‘s breasts. And there are plenty of ass-shaking shots in there, too. Did I mention that she’s 14?
I could go on, but you probably get the idea at this point. The takeaway here is that MOGEF and Korean society at large seem intent on banning the influence of poisonous sexuality in Korean pop music, but the industry more than encourages it to a sometimes harmful degree. And though action has been selectively taken in the past, it has been by no means consistent. So no, I don’t think that making Lady Gaga’s concert inaccessible to minors is in any way, shape, or form consistent with how South Korea usually deals with female pop artists whose music or performance is sexual in nature. In fact, it just serves to highlight the industry’s almost hilarious inconsistency.
Here’s the thing: I absolutely encourage and support the expression of sexuality in K-pop, but do you think that Tia is out there shaking what her mama gave her because she wants to make a statement? Of course she isn’t; her management (which is likely exclusively or at least majority male) gave her the song and the choreography and she was probably like, “Okay, can I be famous now?” Can we say the same for Lady Gaga? Even though I’m not a huge fan of her work, I respect the image she has constructed for herself as a powerful female icon who, especially of late, has been using her music to advance messages of love and acceptance to people marginalized in society. Is it true that she uses her right to express her own sexuality in the making of her music? Absolutely, but I’m going to go ahead and state that although her use of sexuality is calculated, it is also autonomous. K-pop encourages its female performers to act sexy, but it’s calculated by the management that decides the choreography, the lyrics, the wardrobe, and the concept for their female idols. And you know what, I’m just going to say it: when it comes to female idol groups, nearly everything is almost entirely done for the male gaze. And don’t think people don’t know it.
To be fair, I’ll admit that Lady Gaga determinedly pushes the envelope when it comes to making music and producing (sometimes graphic) videos, and I can understand (even if I don’t necessarily agree) why parents might not want their young children to be exposed to it — but given the way K-pop treats its female idols, who are practically omnipresent in Korean society and serve as role models for women far younger than the age of 18, I have to wonder exactly what elements of the concert itself would be any more concerning than the obvious and contradictory hypersexualization of women and teens in K-pop.
You know what, KMRB? Go ahead and hit Lady Gaga with your banhammer. Since the concert is on a Friday night, kids who won’t be able to attend the show can just watch “Music Bank” instead. I’ll let you guys decide whether that’s less harmful or not.
What do you make of the age limit, Seoulmates?