In the past week, several netizens have expressed outrage over perceived sexism in the lyrics of a newly released Shinee song. The track “If You Love Her” off of the group’s recent repackage release of the album 1 of 1 contains the offending lyric, a line that approximately translates to, “If you love her, cherish her more than a flower.” Some argue that these words speak to discrimination against women while others are having a difficult time locating the issue. Perhaps the problem lies in the sentiment that women are objects to be guarded or locked away for safe keeping. It is also possible that some find offense in equating women to flowers, which are very often associated with female genitalia, a comparison which could point to women’s worth as being nothing more than sexual.
Despite this latest case being somewhat unclear, the lyricist responsible, Kim Eana, has been the source of bold and controversial material released by many idol groups over the years. Though many accuse her lyrics of lacking substance and originality, others would cite her as a progressive force in the music world. While certainly responsible for her fair share of cheesy love ballads, she has also penned powerful lyrics criticizing society’s image obsession and exposing the harsh nature of the entertainment industry. However, where Kim Eana seems to truly find her voice is in her portrayals of sexuality. She has never been one to shy away from rather explicit conversations on the subject of sex, tackling an issue that can still be seen as rather taboo. In this sense, her work can be seen as empowering, but the issue comes when the desire to encourage healthy views of sexuality takes her into stories involving aggressive relations and broken consent.
While girl group Sunny Hill has served as the voice of Kim Eana’s social commentary over the years, Brown Eyed Girls (BEG) has been her ultimate outlet for uninhibited sexual expression. Whether the group’s sexy image was pre-existing or has been crafted by the lyricist’s influence over the years, the blunt and unapologetic sensuality of BEG’s lyrics has become somewhat of a trademark. Female sexuality is a topic that many consider vulgar, as the majority of people are more comfortable viewing women as neutral receivers of sexual acts rather than assertive sexual beings capable of seeking their own pleasure. Kim Eana’s works confront listeners with stark portrayals of female sexuality where women are clear about what they desire from their partners and are assertive in obtaining it.
BEG’s “Sixth Sense” is a perfect example, telling the story of a woman who wants to share a feeling that’s “more than emotion,” one that will make both parties “hit that high” and leave them “out of breath.” Perhaps an even more explicit example is one of the group’s latest singes, “Warm Hole,” in which vivid descriptions of how it feels “down there” leave almost nothing to the imagination. While some found this song’s lyrics far too cringe-worthy, Kim Eana’s words make an undeniable impression and fight stereotypical perceptions of women’s roles in sexual scenarios.
However, even the lyricist’s attempts at sexual liberation can go awry, stepping out of empowerment and crossing into the realm of non-consensual relations. In the song “Apple” off of Ga-in’s 2015 solo release, the singer states that “When you say ‘stop it,’ [she wants to] do it more,” a sentiment that while only expressing inner thoughts and not outer actions, implies a disregard for the permission of the other party. Luckily, the male character, voiced by featuring artist Jay Park, goes from asserting that they are “moving too fast” to admitting that he “really want[s] it too,” which provides at least some implication of consent, but the initial statement remains unsettling.
If Ga-in’s lyrics hinted at a disregard for consent, Kim Eana’s boy group lyrics go a step beyond, crossing into dangerous and sometimes frightening territory. Sure, Kim Eana has written her fair share of perfectly sweet love stories in which men express their sheer amazement at the beauty of their lovers or mourn the loss of great romances. When it comes to tales of lust, however, Kim Eana seems to take a much different stance, depicting men who take no qualms with violating personal boundaries and ultimately inspiring fear in their partners.
One of her more recent efforts, Monsta X’s “Trespass,” includes disturbing questions such as “Can you call this a crime?” and “Can you really tell us to stop?” This type of content does not inspire the feeling that whatever advances are being made are welcomed, an instinct enforced by lyrics such as “I don’t need a key to open you, I’ll just break down the door.”
History’s “Psycho” includes similar inquiries that conjure images of an obsessed and dangerous stalker, particularly “Did you think it would be over if you ended it?” and “If I scream my lungs out, will you accept me?” Even VIXX, who have sung some very wholesome love songs in their time, many of which have been written by Kim Eana herself, released “Hyde,” a song all about a man who places the blame for his unsavory actions towards his partner on a “different person that’s not [him] inside of [him].” In all these cases, the partner is portrayed as fearful, looking at the speaker with “scared eyes,” a response that would be only natural considering the lyrics’ aggressive implications.
Of course, the contents of lyrics do not always reflect the personal opinions of the writers. Sometimes, they are objective narratives that tell the stories of invented characters, such as when Rihanna sings about killing a man in Central Station or when Eminem raps about an obsessed man driving himself off of a cliff with his pregnant girlfriend. By no means are the lyricists behind such works all deranged individuals who harbor villainous intentions, but there is certainly a fine line between simply telling a disturbing narrative and romanticizing it. It’s very possible that Kim Eana could be telling stories of broken consent in order to present a commentary on the issue, but how can audiences be sure? Such nuance can be hard to distinguish and perhaps can never truly be defined without knowing the lyricist’s thoughts, but when songs can convey such strong messages, listeners maintain the right to remain critical.
Whether or not Kim Eana agreed with the criticism of her recent work with Shinee, she nonetheless reacted in an appropriate manner, apologizing for any offense caused and promising constant improvement of her lyrical ethics, particularly in regards to gender stereotypes. Certainly, she is an artist who seems concerned about presenting important issues and raising awareness with her words, so perhaps this is a promise on which listeners can actually count on. Whether she takes this opportunity to readjust her lyrical themes or continues to promote problematic views, there is no doubt that Kim Eana will continue to be an influential force in the music industry for years to come.