What’s in a kiss? It can mean everything, or nothing. In some cultures, kisses are as casual as handshakes, while in others, they’re only utilized in the most serious circumstances. If we judged South Korea’s kissing culture by its appearances in K-pop and K-drama, we’d be led to believe that this particular show of physical affection carries serious implications in relationships.
However, despite these implications, there is also a disturbing lack of sincerity in K-pop kisses. Kissing seems to only happen under the most specific circumstances – whether fictional or otherwise – and what should be a naturally occurring action, out of mutual attraction, appears to be something sterile and scripted.
When it comes to K-pop, any physical interaction between the sexes is met with gasps, and often, disapproval. Despite this, kissing is incorporated into games and MVs and photo shoots in order to create that feeling of romance. As often as not, the kissing that occurs between members of the same sex is also heavily dosed with humor, disgust, or obvious showmanship. So when do members – that are being presented as romantically involved – get to kiss?
One of the most common places to spot K-pop kissing is on variety shows, where interactive activities like paper-passing games are played. This is a perfect example of why same-sex kissing is the norm. When groups go on shows where kissing games are played, they quite often play among their own groups – and we all know how many co-ed K-pop groups there are. An exception to the rule is the show All The K-pop. They paired boy group members with girl group members, in games where they are forced into close, physical proximity.
While the above formula has made for many amusing episodes, seeing all but perfect strangers smash their faces together, hasn’t been very real. There has been a lack of solidarity — as in the friendliness among members of the same group — between participants. Due to the distance and little understanding between these boy groups and girl groups, awkwardness results from the games, making intimate sequences unexemplary of sincere affection.
Another setting for K-pop kissing can be found in reality shows like We Got Married and Romantic & Idol. These shows are equally, if not more, at fault for supplying insincere kisses. With WGM, for instance, the entire show is based around idols being part of a “couple.” What do affectionate couples do if they’ve just gotten married? They kiss. Despite this, I can count the number of kisses I’ve seen on WGM on just one hand.
One of the most memorable of kisses is Adam couple, Gain and Jo-kwon‘s peck on the lips. While it was a cute on screen, it was challenging to feel like it was anything other than a gimmick. At least they got to kiss, though, which was far from what audiences got with Kwanghee and Sunhwa — they had asked their agencies for permission, but their requests were denied. In a show where the viewer is supposed to believe in the chemistry of its “couples,” it can be off-putting and mood-breaking to find that a kiss is turned into a sterile act of business. It’s no wonder that MBC hasn’t been able to hold onto its viewer ratings.
WGM: Global Edition, a branch off from the original, has however been making waves with its recent displays of affection. Maybe it’s because Heechul has always done whatever the hell he wants, or maybe it’s because he and Puff aren’t spring chickens as far as pop stars go, but their recent kissing has certainly been more intense than the usual K-pop fare. But no matter, their lip action has still be confined to the context of a photo-shoot, which has undeniably diminished its effects. In the couple’s viewpoints, Heechul did seem to enjoy himself, but I’m not sure I can say the same of Puff. On that, I don’t think it’s difficult to conclude that forcing this type of contact is going to be counter-productive to creating authentic affections.
Finally, there are kisses in K-dramas. We’ve talked about how horrible these can be, but words cannot do justice to the ludicrous nature of kiss scenes in popular Korean media. Often, the participants look like they’d rather be anywhere else but smashing faces together, or they kiss so awkwardly that the emotions get completely lost. The weird directions these scenes take, have probably even left us wondering, why they are doing “that thing with their mouths?” In the end, even the most fictional kisses can’t pull off convincing romances.
This begs the question: are there any real kisses for the idols of Korea? Actors and idols wax poetic about how difficult their kissing scenes are to film but rarely mention enjoying their co-star’s company. Perhaps it is too dangerous to show any real emotion because of the need to uphold a reputation. While that may be valid, it doesn’t explain why actors kissing in obviously fictional situations is also painfully fake. If kissing is meant to be private and between lovers in Korean culture, that’s perfectly fine – in fact that is admirable in its own way – but if that really is the case, they should stop trying to fit kissing into pop culture, because it really isn’t working.
Readers, what are your stances on this?