Drawing from last week’s Roundtable on Trouble Maker, part of the reason why the duo is so successful is because it attempts to appeal to both the male and female demographic, a feat that is both difficult and rare in the K-pop world. A large reason why K-pop acts tend to appeal to one gender only is because it subscribes to the paradigm of heteronormativity; that is, girl groups are meant to appeal to males and boy bands are designed to appeal to females. Which is not to say that K-pop shuns or denounces same-sex attractions, be it of a platonic or sexual nature. It simply focuses much more on marketing its acts to the heterosexual majority of the opposite gender because that is where the big bucks are made.
Given such, it’s not necessarily a profound discovery that female fans are mostly into male artists and male fans are more into the ladies, with not too much crossover. However, this may not always be the case. There are certain artists who tend to transcend the heteronormativity paradigm and are better able to appeal to both genders, thus helping bridge the great gender divide we’ve come to witness among K-pop fans. Which artists whose gender is opposite of your default sexual preference do you find appealing? What is it about them that makes them so appealing to both males and females?
Mark: Big Bang is a great example of an artist that appeals to both sexes. As someone who claims to be into K-pop specifically for the music, I’m naturally a fan of any group that releases the kind of music that I like. I enjoy Big Bang’s edgier sound, and though GD‘s productions can be a bit over the top at times, anything YG releases tends to be top notch in terms of musical quality. I have much respect for GD, Teddy, and Kush for having crafted and evolved the musical style and direction of not only Big Bang, but all YG artists over the years.
Another top male group of mine is Beast and that is also because I really like their music. Unlike Big Bang, they rely more on freelance producers, the likes of Shinsadong Tiger and Rado, to establish their musical direction. While I’m not as much a fan of the stuff composed by resident rapper Junhyung, I still look forward to their every release, including many non-promoted gems which I’ve discovered on their b-sides.
As for their image, I’m not a big fan of the Big Bang swag or the Beast suavity, but I’m also not turned off by their marketed image, which is because they’re not overly sexualized ala 2PM or blatantly cute like Boyfriend. The image and style of both groups can be considered cutting edge because they do not conform to the conventional sexy-cute spectrum. Furthermore, I like that they are more defined by their musical style and performance abilities rather than their looks or the intensity of their fandom. Big Bang and Beast have great mass appeal because they both possess a good balance of positive aspects that draw people in without all the unnecessary negatives that turn people away.
Shweta: I apparently once wrote of what was meant to be my platonic love for Younha so convincingly that someone thought I was male. I think that’s all that really needs to be said in that aspect.
Anyway, Younha is such an amazing person, and I really do love her music. She’s a unique figure that straddles the idol/non-idol line, and it makes her all the more grounded of a person. Younha also manages to be empathetic to the nature of K-pop idoldom and its music, and segregates herself and her musical sound from the norm enough to highlight her musicianship. I bow at her altar. Really!
Leslie: While I first got into K-pop through girl groups because I liked their music, I never considered myself a fan of any of them since what really hooked me were the boy bands and their choreography, which tends to be more creative because of the lack of dresses and heels — so unfair. But one day I realized that I was actually listening to girl groups almost, if not equally, as much as I listened to boy bands.
One of my favorites would undoubtedly be Brown Eyed Girls. They are all incredibly talented and have such maturity, evident in their music and concepts. Even though maturity can stem from age, I find it to be simply from their attitudes and the way they carry themselves. They never appear to be trying so hard to maintain an image. It’s as though their concepts match perfectly with who they are on and off stage. It’s also because of their maturity that I can take their sexiness seriously. It’s not just a stage costume or dance move with them. Plus, their honesty about their plastic surgery is refreshing, especially in the face of the exceptionally high and narrow beauty standards of Korea. It makes them seem more like normal people.
Fannie: I’ve tended to follow females in K-pop whose style I really like, people that I would want to be, so to say. I think we all subconsciously do that to some extent, just with varying personal taste.
As for me, I like the girls that are ‘cool’ because they are just so good at what they do, and also the ones that seem super down to earth, and more likely than not pretty terrible at aegyo. I love all the girls of JYP, also groups like CSJH and the 1st generation of After School, Eunji of A Pink, and who can forget the ultimate epitome of cool, Kwon BoA?
If we can take it out of strictly idols for a bit, I also love Song Ji-hyo to death. She’s strong and beautiful at the same time, and I think she serves as a great role model for young girls.
Miyoko: In thinking about this, I’ve realized there are many girl groups and singers I like, even though it might not seem like it at first. It was hard to decide who to talk about. I’m totally seconding the BoA and BEG mentions!
But I’m going to talk about 2NE1, since they were one of the first girl groups I got into. What appealed to me at first was their fierceness in both sound and style, but now I’ve come to appreciate the members individually as well. They’re distinct, each member stands out, and their look/songs don’t usually fall into the same predetermined concepts that we see over and over. That’s not to say those are bad concepts, but a lot of times it’s either sexy or cute, with familiar styling, no matter what the group’s individual style is supposed to be.
2NE1’s more recent releases haven’t had the same bite that their earlier ones did, but I’ve enjoyed them because the girls still retain their fun and individuality, and they’re all charismatic performers. I think their ability to own any song they do is what keeps them as one of my favorite groups.
Lindsay: Anyone who knows me even a little bit personally knows that I am a big boy group fan. You could even go so far as to say that I am a boy group connoisseur, with my tastes ranging from SS501 to every rookie that appears on my radar! With that being said, it may seem obvious why this is a difficult topic for me. Rarely does a girl group find it’s way into my heart, but I do have a couple.
Number one on my list is Crayon Pop. “Bar Bar Bar” is a ridiculously catchy song with a great dance, but that isn’t what cements my love for this group. All of their songs are fun, cheery, and uplifting in a way that I find positively addictive. Not only that, but the members’ personalities don’t feel fake to me. The group has a quirky concept to it, but it allows for the members to be both cute and sexy in their own way. The ladies of Crayon Pop may not be teenagers but they rank at the very top of my cute list. Something about them is so cute that it gives you cavities, but without making me want to gag like a lot of overdone aegyo does. Seeing them perform live only cemented these feelings for me. I guess you could say they are the one female group I really fangirl over.
Number two is T-ara. Now, I have to be honest, I couldn’t care less about the members of the group. They are constantly shifting, they have tons of personal scandals, and in general I find them no more appealing personally than any other group. It’s their music that really reels me in. I don’t think I have ever disliked a single T-ara has put out. Their songs are some of my favorites in the whole K-pop genre and I feel at least a little devoted to them because of that. I love nothing more than a good dance track, and likewise, I love nothing more than T-ara as a group.
Johnelle: Two of my all time favorite females in K-pop are Lee Hyori and HwangBo, although it might be notable that I came to like them both through their work in K-variety more so than their music. I was a fan of Lee Hyori through Family Outing and of HwangBo’s from when she was on We Got Married with Kim Hyun-joong. What I like about both was that they both are strong modern career women. They both also were very natural in their demeanor on the shows and didn’t try to be perfect for the cameras, which I believe is a lot of their charm. I’ve also become a big fan of Song Ji-hyo for the same reasons. Her being a part of the cast for Running Man, I love that she’s a little scatter-brained, but also very fierce and doesn’t let her being a woman stop her from playing with the boys. I’m also a huge Yoo In-na fan–there’s just something so adorable about her.
As for the younger idols, I too like a lot of T-ara songs, but have never really warmed up to any of the members much. I definitely became a fan of A Pink’s Eun-ji after loving her in Reply 1997, but haven’t seen her in much since so I am kind of ambivalent right now. Same goes for Kara’s Goo Hara, who I became of fan of from her role in Invincible Youth, but with Kara in Japan for most of the time since–I’ve kind of lost interest and any kind of affection for her. For the groups I like, Brown Eyed Girls and of course 2NE1. I’ve liked almost all of 2NE1’s group and solo work and was super glad that I got to see them live in LA last year.
Kelsey: I may be speaking more so towards the previous incarnations of this group, but After School appeals to me as a girl group that males and females can appreciate. They had catchy songs and a boatload of gimmicks, but the standouts of the group, both Kahi and Bekah, gave the group a mature vibe that could be seen as sexy by some and inspiring by others. Their dancing also seemed to appeal to both the male and female gaze at the same time. While that’s changed significantly with sexier promotions like “Flashback” and “First Love,” I didn’t feel disconnected from them, especially since “First Love” required so much training and preparation on the girls’ part. I guess there’s an empathy there too, since the comeback sadly caused a few injuries, but they’re one of the girl groups I pay more attention to, despite their awful graduation system that I loathe so much.
Stemming off from that is Kahi herself who always seems like she’s focused primarily on showcasing her skills than attempting to appeal to any specific audience. I think she has a powerful presence onstage that has a universal appeal that isn’t tethered to gender. She balances a masculine swagger with feminine sexiness in her dancing too, and I think that’s really appealing in an artist.
Ambika: Seconding Song Ji-hyo and Brown Eyed Girls mentions! Music-wise, I tend to like the groups with stronger concepts and routines, not so much the cute. For that reason, miss A, BEG, and f(x) are usually near the top. Member-wise, I prefer the more down-to-earth girls, the ones that seem really enthusiastic about what they’re doing or just ones who are straightforward. To choose for this, I’m limited to those I’ve seen in some type of variety show because that’s generally where I form attachment to individuals. Examples would be f(x)’s Luna and Kara‘s Gyuri. The former is generally with a smile, and I didn’t realize how energetic she tends to be until I saw a couple of episodes of Amazing f(x). The latter seems to have a sense of humor and no qualms about speaking honestly. I guess I could sum up their appeal in appearing realistic or sincere and not being controlled in what they say or how they behave.
Nicholas: I think my ultimate test for any idol is determining who is the one I would really not mind or enjoy hanging out with. Since I am not vaguely interested in guys on any romantic or sexual level, I would just state the ones I would love to hang out with over a few nice drinks and some entertaining conversation.
Since I am rather slim by nature, I find that overly buff guys are not my type, preferring the toned and lean physique. This rules out the aggressive beefcakes. I would also enjoy serious conversation with a hint of self deprecation, so that rules out perpetual jokesters.
With that in mind, I would really love to hang out with the balanced types. That means guys like 2PM’s Junho, Beast’s Yoseob and Big Bang’s Daesung. They’re good at their day jobs, but have a grounded nature that makes them appealing for me. An honourable mention would go to DBSK‘s Yunho, for while I find him too “perfect and neutral” as a person, his experiences as an idol would make for great conversation. Plus, he’s good looking enough to have the girls join me at the table!
Pat: Like Lindsay, I definitely gravitate towards male groups, so much so that if someone were to ask me who my favorite group is, I would ask “What year?” since I choose to stan one from each year, just to lessen the headache.
That being said, my ears seem to have no real distillation. If I just hear one song that captures my attention for more than a day, its a guaranteed that by the end of the week I would already have listened to the group’s full discography. This is somewhat the same for girl groups, a recent example being Spica. I was enthralled by a performance of “Tonight,” fell in love with Park Narae, aka Lee Hyori’s mini-me, and just had to hear more. Lee Hyori is also another female artist that I always take the time for. Like others, Brown Eyed Girls and BoA are staples in my iPhone — I suspect their songs will never be deleted. But the ultimate female group that I love above all others is CSJH The Grace. My love for these four women know no bounds and I fully believe that the reason I like miss A is because Fei is the second coming of Stephanie.
Looking back, I just want my females to step away from the diabetes inducing aegyo and make music that resonates (Spica), is timeless in a way (BEG, BoA and CSJH), and ultimate pick-me-uppers (Hyori’s “U-Go-Girl” anyone?). I could care less if it’s them being all hippitty hoppitty swag or whatnot, I just need to know that they are doing music that they want to do and have some measure of control and contribution. That is enough for me to jump on board with a girl group.
(Images via YG Entertainment, Epic Records, Cube Entertainment, Nega Network, Chrome Entertainment, Cosmopolitan, SM Entertainment, SuiteChic)