There aren’t many things on this earth that can prompt me to stand up and clap enthusiastically with tears falling from my eyes. But earlier this month, when Secret‘s Hyosung tweeted about the oddity of grown women acting overly cute in K-pop, I almost gave a standing ovation. “It feels awkward to act cute in my pictures now that I’m old,” she wrote. “I really want to continue singing ‘Shy Boy’ even after ten years…but I don’t think I can.”
It wasn’t until after a second read that I realized Hyosung was not criticizing the idea of K-pop stars acting so much younger than they actually are, but lamenting the fact that she would not be able to keep up the cute act for much longer. And just to be sure her Twitter followers remembered how cute she can be even at the ripe old age of 23, she offered up some cutesy photos.
As can be expected, I traded in my standing ovation for a firm seat in a hard cold chair. The question of excessive aegyo in K-pop, especially in regards to women, is one that we’ve covered extensively before. But Hyosung’s comments helpfully narrow down the perspective of the conversation. Her selcas are a reminder that the idea of a K-pop world where grown adults actually act like grown adults is unimaginable. But it’s no surprise that for Hyosung, the importance of being cute is particularly emphasized. For one, for the past year Secret has leaned more on the aegyo concept than it has on anything out of the norm. In last year’s “Starlight Moonlight” MV, the group donned cute sundresses, danced to ridiculously child-like choreography, and sang more “shoobi doo pa pa pa’s” than should be legally permitted.
But when an artist reaches a certain age and level of maturity, it conflicts with his or her young and cute K-pop image. At 23 years old, Hyosung has long reached adulthood. She’s at the age where women have typically come into their own and are still exploring themselves and their sexuality. People should not expect her to act like a child anymore. And she shouldn’t expect that of herself either. What’s even more revealing is Hyosung’s concern that in ten years, she won’t be able to perform the group’s single, “Shy Boy.” And not because she’ll be a terribly ancient 33 year-old and, of course, riddled with chronic arthritis and bad knees, but because the image of the song won’t fit her anymore. The video shows the four group members attending a sleepover, jumping on beds, doing each others’ hair, and dancing in a room decorated with college banners. The music video screams youth, an attribute upon which K-pop seems to place a high value. Just look to Suzy and Taemin as examples.
But what K-pop (and popular music across all spectrums regardless of culture) values more than youth, is young-ness. It values the illusion of being young even if those artists do not exactly fit that description. Instead, artists that are too old and mature to behave in excessively cute manners act out the role of young-ness. And obviously they are aware of how ludicrous this behavior is. Otherwise Hyosung would not have called it “awkward.”
Despite wishing Hyosung had further explained her concerns (and without the unnecessary selcas), her point about becoming too old to perform “Shy Boy” is spot on. When music videos and their lyrics are too cute, they suffer from a short shelf life. Because honestly, how much longer can SNSD perform “Gee” without raising some eyebrows? I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to witness them perform it well into their 40s, no matter how awkward.
Hyosung’s tweet is indicative of an interesting observation–one that can be attributed to a lot of women in K-pop: she’s too old to be acting like a cute child, and too young to be worried about getting old. Unfortunately, in the framework of K-pop, neither of these hold true.