Stellar recently caused quite the uproar with their teaser images for “Marionette,” which featured mosaic pictures of the members dressed rather scantily with the caption “the more you click, the more is revealed!” With “sexy” looking to be the continuing trend for girl groups to follow for the next few months, Stellar is only the latest in a long list of groups to follow the trend and in the process, offend with their (or rather, their company’s) less-than-ideal take on it. The topic of girl group sexiness and female sexuality in K-pop is one that has cropped up repeatedly in the past and has been discussed before. However, Stellar’s latest comeback only reflect that this discussion is far from over, and as long as such incidents occur, there will always be a need to talk about it.
Watching the MV, admittedly my first thought was, “where’s the marionette imagery?” Granted, it is not necessary for the title to be reflected so literally in the MV itself, but given the visual potential of having the members act as marionettes, it seemed like a wasted opportunity. That aside, there were several dance moves that echoed the lyrics rather well, such as in the last iteration of the chorus, where the members had their hands trapped above their heads by their backup dancers to illustrate “I’m still in your hands, I’m that doll.”
Otherwise, the rest of the MV struck me as struggling to find a balance between sexy and artistic. With a significant number of gratuitous close-up shots of the members’ bodies, the MV also had several instances of imagery or transitions that struck me as rather random. For instance, the transition where Yoo-ri drinks from a bottle of milk, only to have some of it drip down her chin and have the camera track it all the way down her cleavage before the scene cuts to Min-hee in a bathtub– what was the point of the transition or the scenes, even? Is Yoo-ri so torn over her break-up that she drowns her sorrows in milk? (Alcohol might work better, truthfully.) Is Min-hee lounging in her bath for some much-needed R&R while she ponders the transient nature of love?
The same goes for the transition between Min-hee stepping out of the bath while drawing on a bathrobe, which then cuts to Hyo-eun taking off her bathrobe. The latter then draws on her mirror angrily with her lipstick, cleverly obscuring her reflection, before the next shot shows the lipstick gone from the mirror as she sings. The scene goes by so quickly that it fails to leave much impact as the MV trundles on, and the same applies to most of the rest of the non-dancing shots in the MV.
The song by itself is far from terrible, by any means. In fact, it is a rather decent song, if only standard Sweetune fare. The group’s image change from cute to sexy is most notable in the song, which features less cavity-inducing sweetness a la “Study” and more post break-up bitterness, both at the ex-object of affections who “[hasn’t] changed at all” and the persona herself, who dislikes how she “[hasn’t] changed either,” still allowing herself to be “dragged around by you.” The chorus is catchy, and each member gets adequate time in the verses to showcase some vocal ability, except perhaps Yoo-ri, whose rap was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. The choreography is neither original nor technically impressive– the main point seems to be the hip-snapping and butt-shaking (complemented with a zoomed-in shot of said body part) in accordance with the “sexy” concept. Again, the marionette concept seems mostly wasted looking at the choreography in its entirety, when it could have added some flair, gimmicky or not, to the performance aspect of the song.
Other than that, the colour palette of the MV was rather standard in the “sexy = dark” colouring K-pop is so fond of, and the sexy leotard outfits offended my sensibilities less in the “inappropriately revealing” sense than in the “ugly” sense. If one looks carefully, with the leotard and tights, the members are actually only really revealing their collarbones and in Yoo-ri’s case, her shoulders– a neck accessory compensates for the shoulder-less neckline of her leotard. I’m sure the stylists were suitably challenged to find ways to customise each leotard to allow viewers to differentiate the members, but was cutting out the front panel of Hyo Eun’s leotard and showing her bra really necessary? Ga-young’s flesh-coloured panels at the sides of her leotard also failed to add any aesthetic value to the outfit.
On to the controversy surrounding Stellar’s comeback– the teaser images. With the mosaics and the promise to reveal more with more clicks, coupled with the scantiness of the members’ outfits, the group received much backlash for being “cheap” and “trashy.” To add oil to the fire, the official Facebook account of the group reads “Oppa! I’ll do whatever you want me to!” with options like “showing a shy expression” or “showing sexy lips.” It seems as though the internet has reached the consensus that Stellar was taking the whole “sexy” concept too far, and much of their “Marionette” comeback has mostly been swallowed up by attention their teaser images have attracted, which carries over to their live performances on music shows with criticisms for their outfits and concept.
However, it appears that the majority of the negative attention may stem from the ham-fisted attempt to tie in their social media promotions with the whole marionette concept — the idea of a puppet controlled by strings held by someone else — with the “Oppa! I’ll do whatever you want me to!” publicity campaign. I doubt the teaser images themselves were the cause of the majority of criticism, especially when the mosaics were cleared and the resulting images were rather standard ones. Rather, it was the combination of the teaser images as well as the in-your-face suggestion that Stellar were entirely subject to the whims of a male, with no autonomy of their own, that made many people uncomfortable.
As for the criticisms that the Stellar members have revealed too much skin — while it is true that some might not feel comfortable with the amount of skin the members are showing, it is not to the extent that it borders on obscene. And if used appropriately and tastefully, nudity might actually add a layer of depth to the visuals of the MV, such as CL in 2NE1’s recent release “Missing You.” Unfortunately, in Stellar’s case, the revealing of their skin and “sexiness” of their outfits has only served as a convenient point for them to be criticised in the overall scheme of things.
Looking at it, Stellar’s comeback this time around seems to be a prime example of “any publicity is good publicity.” A week after its release, the views for “Marionette” on YouTube currently stand at just past 2 million, which is four times as many views as the group received for their previous release, “Study.” The group has received the opportunity to perform on the music broadcasts, even if they are lambasted for their concept, as opposed to the general apathy the public had towards them in the past.
Is “Marionette” a definite step towards empowering women in taking control of their sexuality, or even a work of art? Probably not. Is it even as offensive as some paint it to be? Not really. But as a study in creating publicity and hype, “Marionette” showcases the harsh reality of how an extreme concept does more in the short-term for the attention an obscure group receives than any amount of talent or originality that might be shown in a comeback. If it happens to become the convenient scapegoat for the growing ambivalence the industry and the general public has towards the current “sexy” trend taking girl groups by storm, at least Stellar gained some notoriety out of it. In any case, when it comes down to it, “Marionette” is a decent song paired with an unoriginal MV.
(Images via Top Class Entertainment, YouTube)