I enjoy watching male idols grab their crotches as much as the next fan girl, but is that really an appropriate marketing tool to use when the performers are teenage boys? The question here isn’t what marketing strategy will be successful, because we all know sex sells, but more a question of how appropriate it is to display teenage boys in an obviously sexual way. This issue is regularly discussed in basically every entertainment industry regarding young ladies but rarely do we stop and wonder about the young men.
When deciding on a concept for a new group, there are multiple directions for a company to go. In the cases of Teen Top, under T.O.P Media, and Nu’est, under Pledis Entertainment, the companies producing them have clearly gone two very different directions despite the fact that the two groups have members similar in age and appeal. Teen Top has released seven music videos and Nu’est has released four and by analyzing the concepts and choreography in each video you can see the path developing in front of the young idols. Teen Top has consistently headed towards a sexy, flirty image, whereas Nu’est has developed a more age appropriate, serious but innocent image. Both Teen Top and Nu’est have catchy music, and I place the responsibility for any production choices I discuss below with their companies.
From the moment Nu’est debuted they have made their focus their music. They take pride in their self-proclaimed unique sound, evidenced by their name New Established Style and Tempo. Their first MV released was “Face,” and although the sound wasn’t completely unique – even with the intense dubstep break – the lyrics addressed the issue of bullying in school, which is a much deeper message than we often see in pop music. They wore school uniforms and were in a school, which fit with the publicized image of them being young idols.
Their second MV, “Action,” went for a stronger electronic feel and continued to go with the theme of having a deeper message in the lyrics. The song talks about being an individual and having people calling them “bad” for wanting to be different. Both of these songs have intricate choreography that uses the electro-dubstep beats to compliment the movements. It feels like the dancing stands on its own two feet instead of relying on the members being sexy to carry it along.
As for their most recent MVs, Nu’est has shown their romantic side in a completely sweet and age-appropriate manner. “Not Over You” and “Sandy” are songs about romance, but they are handled in a way that emphasizes the emotions of a more sincere, innocent guy. Both videos also show Nu’est in a non-staged setting, which lets their young personalities show more naturally.
Teen Top, on the other hand, solidified their status as lady-killers from debut on. If we ignore their unique “Angel” MV, it is easy to generalize the rest of their MVs as overly dramatic love stories. The lyrics of their songs are typical pop fare; you make me crazy, I miss you, I need you, etc. etc.
Along with that, let’s just go ahead and admit that their choreography is largely crotch driven. The dances fit well with the music, but also focus more on being sexy than being technically interesting. Their early MVs do fall into this category, but it was “No More Perfume on You” that definitively pushed Teen Top into a maturity category that doesn’t fit their age. The lyrics of the song about cheating with an older woman combined with the sexy facial expressions and dance moves ended up causing quite the commotion with the international K-pop internet community.
The MVs after that, “Crazy,” “To You,” and “Be Ma Girl,” have had even more pronounced crotch grabbing and thrusting dances than their early songs. The dance move in “Crazy” accompanying the line “stop, stop breaking my heart,” makes one confused as to where exactly the heart is located in the body. “To You” goes straight for the fan girl kill and puts white-shirt wearing Niel in a bathtub. Although “Be Ma Girl” has more age appropriate lyrics and video plot, the choreography refuses to let go of the hip thrusting and crotch grabbing, an interesting contrast to the aegyo of the video.
In the world of K-pop, we have been seeing more regulations coming about that restrict the amount of sexy dancing young idols can do, and when those new rules are put in place it will seriously effect groups like Teen Top, who base a large part of their dancing image on their hips. As a Westerner, I can’t help but feel conflicted about Teen Top, because in my country of residence it isn’t seen as particularly acceptable for young men to be marketed in a way that will appeal to older women so directly. However, noonas and uncle fans are a big part of the Korean K-pop audience.
When it comes down to it, which is better? Young men who are sexy in MVs but innocent in real life, or young men marketed to a younger crowed but who, due to culture upbringing, aren’t actually innocent? Either way, K-pop companies should move towards marketing young groups more for their music and allow them to develop a sexy image later on in their career to avoid the audience having any uncomfortable feelings of exploitation.
So why have Pledis Entertainment and T.O.P Media chosen to market their groups so differently? These groups both contain young men between the ages of 16 and 19, they are all attractive, and they have members with similar skills in dance and rapping. Even if we use the excuse that sex sells, that doesn’t stand up against the fact that Nu’est has been very popular since debut and they don’t sexualize the members to that great of an extent.
It may be impossible for us to truly know what goes into selecting the image a group is going to have, but as far as these two go, it seems that T.O.P Media should learn from Nu’est and realize that a group can be successful without having to be so blatantly sexual.
How about you, Seoulmates? Does the sexualization of young male idols bother you? Or are you a shameless noona? Maybe a little bit of both?
(T.O.P Media, Pledis Entertainment)