Has it really been two years? Is Leeteuk really back already? I can’t believe two years passed so fast. It helped that Super Junior hasn’t done much. Actually they really haven’t done anything aside from some short Super Junior-M promotions for “Swing” earlier this year and their world tour Super Show 5, which again sadly didn’t make it to the US as they had promised they would again (yes, the redundancy was intentional — side-eyeing SM real hard right now).
I often forget the members’ ages since it often feels like K-pop doesn’t exist in reality, but they’ve already begun the quick succession of members entering military service, most recently Yesung and soon Shindong. SM‘s decision to transition away from their typical appearances into the more senior-like roles of working more behind the scenes, like Eunhyuk‘s recent collaboration with choreographing duo BeatBurger, is thus a logical one.
Strangely, their music has not been transitioning with them. Super Junior-M’s “Swing,” while incredibly catchy, was quite juvenile in concept for them, and it just seemed awkward to me because they’re no longer at the age where they can do cute-funny without seeming a bit, well, foolish. After all, SJ-M maknae Henry is twenty-four — I know, hard to believe.
Now, I’m not saying that Super Junior is getting old or washed up. As an older group though, they have the potential to pull off some different, more mature concepts that use their age to their advantage rather than seeming like they’re fighting against it. With “Mamacita,” I sort of get my wish granted.
The song is catchy and different but also has a youthful concept, though this seems more troll-ish a la Block B rather than cute-funny a la B1A4. I could easily handle the trolling concept (let’s face it: Super Junior is full of nothing but trolls) if it wasn’t for the offense I take with the song and MV concept.
Let’s start with the good, first: I enjoyed the song itself. The brass throughout “Mamacita,” particularly the opening section, is fun and different from the typical electro-pop that Super Junior does and is just the great mature sound that I’ve been wanting for them. Plus, Kyuhyun and Ryeowook fill the song with fantastic ad libs that add a nice contrast to the almost harsh sound of the music.
When I get to the lyrics though, I get uneasy. “Mamacita” is about Super Junior trying to end what seems to have been a very aggressive dispute with a girl, the “Mamacita” of the song.
Were you expecting us to be Superman?
This world is good enough to play in, right?
If you do as you always did, go as you always went
There’s no way you’ll stick out and be hit by a hammer
The aggression wouldn’t be more than just surprising if it weren’t for the fact that this song is called “Mamacita” and obviously alludes to its Latin influences. As a Latina myself, I can’t deny that I was excited to hear that Super Junior would be doing something with a Latin influence, but I was also wary, considering how other K-pop groups have done before. And unfortunately, Super Junior follows their footsteps in using ethnic stereotypes.
The media often misrepresents Latina women as always being fiery and hot-tempered in some attempt to make them sexual; the portrayal of them as passionate and spicy is not to give them agency but rather to fetishize them. Their attempt at “independence” with their loud voices and heated fighting is there so that men can get off on it. They remain objects.
The song plays into that stereotype with the lyrics by attributing these qualities to the girl with whom they’ve been arguing to make her sexy or “exotic.” Throw in the “ayaya” of the chorus (also the Korean title), and things get increasingly murky. Referring to the expression that Latinos occasionally use — “ay ay ay” — the track again uses ethnic stereotypes because, contrary to popular belief, not all Latino people say this all the time. These may seem like trivial things to those who aren’t Latino, but in the music video things continue to be problematic.
The storyline is relatively straightforward and undoubtedly silly. The music video lets us know from the start that this is going to be a western — though it’s unclear if it’s in Mexico, Texas, etc. Siwon is a big-shot sheriff with multiple closed cases under his belt, but when thief Leeteuk escapes from prison (or as the wanted poster puts it: “Sheriff failed to catch thief”), he’s of course shocked.
Meanwhile, our escaped thief watches as Sungmin prances around the town with his bejeweled crown. With the help of a distraction from blacksmith Shindong, Leeteuk steals the case containing it. Bounty hunter Donghae is on the search for Leeteuk and needs guidance so he asks Eunhyuk and even, comically, Leeteuk. Realizing that Donghae is looking for him, Leeteuk runs off before Donghae can put two and two together. With the jig about to be up, Kyuhyun turns the ladies on Eunhyuk and gives Leeteuk a distraction as the crowd deters Donghae.
Our co-conspirators Leeteuk, Shindong and gambler Kyuhyun are excited to finally have the chance to admire the stolen goods, but struggle. As Shindong uses his hammer, a pair of pliers and even a flame torch in his attempts to open it up, Kyuhyun literally just preens for the camera and holds cards against his face. Finally, he stops and pulls the key out that could have unlocked it this whole time.
They sneak back into town, but Donghae confronts them. Shindong distracts and fights him so that Leeteuk can run off, and barber Ryeowook jumps in to help Donghae subdue Shindong. Finally, Siwon runs in, waving his gun and shooting in the air all professional-like. Leeteuk appears and confronts Siwon, shooting him. Victorious, he walks away, but Siwon isn’t dead. No, his trusty sheriff’s badge saved him from the bullet.
Unaware of his failure, Leeteuk goes into the bar and sells the crown to bartender Heechul. Exiting gleefully with his prize, he is surprised to find himself surrounded. Shindong is under Donghae’s custody, and Siwon marches Heechul out at gunpoint. Behind him comes Kyuhyun, who — gasp — is not actually a gambler, but a double-agent working with Siwon. The trio of Shindong, Heechul and Leeteuk are arrested, and the crown returns to its rightful owner. All is well in this tiny town.
Following a more shortened version of the same plot, the highlight of the non-drama version is the clarification of some of the members’ roles. Several of them seem rather random and simply there to give each member a part — Sungmin as the oddly specific deputy director of the bank, Ryeowook as the barber, Kangin as the fruit shop owner.
The video is undeniably hilarious. Everything from the ridiculous sound effects to the great random cuts such as Kangin biting into a whole, unpeeled banana comes together to make a funny, troll-ish music video that continues Super Junior’s penchant for doing silly videos. Nevertheless, I can’t help but be uncomfortable with the concept.
The problem in both versions though is the use of stereotypical Mexican dress, particularly the fake mustaches. Many people like to “dress like a Mexican” for Halloween and Cinco de Mayo (in the United States), and that includes a fake mustache. While the mustache is an intrinsic part of Latin culture — it was a signifier to the Aztecs of the power of the Spaniards and thus became a symbol of “machismo” — pop culture has reduced it to an accessory in the joke that Latino people are to other people, and Super Junior joins in on the mockery with their dressing up as “Mexicans” or “Latinos” — since they’re apparently interchangeable to many people — with their fake mustaches to tie into their concept.
The hardest part of this whole music video is the concept, because it’s unclear. Are they trying to be Mexican cowboys (vaqueros)? Are they trying to be Spaniards? Are they just cowboys in the Old West who happen to have Spanish wanted signs but English newspapers? What Latin culture are they supposed to be “appreciating”? The mish-mash and confusion makes it seem like they were just going for a stereotypical representation of the monolith that people believe Latin culture to be.
On a positive note, the choreography is probably my favorite part of the music video. It’s the small details that make this great as they go well with the Latin influence. They sway their hips, swing their hands around their waists, and do a lot of quick footwork. I particularly enjoy the part where they hold their hands up to clap, mimicking the “palmas” of Spanish (specifically Andalusian) dance flamenco, as it’s a nice touch aesthetically, though once again problematic because it adds more confusion to this concept.
The styling is also spot-on, from an aesthetic view. I’m loving Donghae’s hair and Eunhyuk’s silver hair, and as a Kyuhyun fan, I can’t deny that I kind of want to squeal every time I see him with dark hair. Also, suits are classic and always appreciated; the red and black color scheme makes it different and goes with their concept — whatever it is exactly.
One might think that I’m reading too much into some of this. “But it was funny!” or “But you liked the song!” may be going through your head right now. From a strictly aesthetic, aural and comical sense, I like everything, and it’s okay to enjoy something problematic. But you can’t deny that it’s problematic just because you like it. So whether I enjoy something or not does not affect the nature of the material, and unfortunately, despite the fact that the fangirl in me is in love with Super Junior’s “Mamacita,” it’s still hard for me to swallow.
(SM Entertainment, Pop!gasa, The Stripes, The Stranger, Social Justice League)