Not to get too heavy on a Wednesday, but I’d been wanting to talk about this for a while. There’s a lot of speculation and analysis from fans, both Korean and international, about the treatment of female K-Pop idols and how their behavior and their image impacts their success and fanbase. I have a lot of really strong opinions on the topic, but I’m always open to hear what others have to say.
The Dichotomy–A.K.A. the Virgin vs. the Wh*re
I don’t particularly care for terms that degrade women, but it’s necessary in this instance. In a lot of popular culture, as well as academic research, there’s quite a bit to be said about the virgin and the wh*re. Those two titles are used to describe the stereotypes that are often given to women when they behave a certain way both generally and to men. The virgin is both praised for being modest and chaste but chastised for being a prude while the wh*re is villainized for being sexual but also lauded for her openness. In short: women don’t win either way.
This extends to K-Pop. Girl groups often define themselves by two very opposing roles: super sweet or super sexy. Either way, it follows them for the remainder of their career and it is always news when a girl group decides to alter their image for something sexier or something sweeter.
So What Happens?
You see it all the time, sometimes in the subtlest ways. Think of the last girl group stage you watched. Say, for instance, Twice. Listen to the audience. Who do you hear?
Probably a chorus of deep, resounding voices because a good chunk of Twice’s fanbase is grown men. Never mind that Twice is a group made up of barely-legal girls masquerading in clothing and concepts that celebrate youth and young love because apparently grown men with jobs (presumably) eat it up. And that’s the thing: girl groups that embrace femininity in its most innocent and cutesy form are often the most successful.
But it’s a fine line to toe. Groups that are too cutesy often fall just outside the scope of appeal, verging from playful to outright childish. Again–chaste but a prude.
Then there are the groups that sexy. The ones with the skimpy clothes who get down low and wear tons of makeup and sing about more than kissing. You know, the EXIDs and SISTARs of the world. What do you hear when you listen to their live stages?
Probably a chorus of rabid fangirls. Because girls respond to that image. They respond to the freedom to be themselves and to enjoy their sexuality and to wear whatever they want and be whoever they want. Yes, it’s still a prescribed form of femininity but it’s one that is arguably less restrictive than the other and girls respond to it like rain after a drought.
Of course, the issue with those groups is that when they get too sexual, they are the first to take the heat both in the media and by the fans. People want them to be sexy but not aggressive. Groups that go too far in this direction are often punished and except for grand–and rare–exceptions like Hyuna, many of these groups fall into eventual disbandment.
So What’s the Solution?
I mean, aside from the complete dismantling of the K-Pop industry and a total international societal re-education, all that you can do is just support your faves and understand that this is a thing that exists and that sometimes the expectations for girls is crazy unreasonable. And sometimes men will be creepy.
What do you think about girl groups in the K-Pop industry? Leave me a comment and let me know!