At What Cost? Female Idols

I’ve wanted to write a post about this for a while, but this article finally gave me the push to finally do it.

The Korean music scene is extremely over saturated. In a place where groups are constantly debating, promoting on music shows, and competing for prizes, the importance of standing out is even more crucial than in America. In 2012, 33 male groups and 38 female groups debuted. I can’t even list them and honestly, the majority probably disbanded by now. The Kpop scene is ruthless and you need to be worthy of attention, to be frank.

For girl groups, there is one surefire way to get attention, and that is showing some (or, a LOT) of skin.  A prime example is the group AOA who started out with the unique concept of a girl group who played instruments. Their concept was that they were angels and had one angel who was half, because she was the drummer and didn’t participate in the dances. They even had a subgroup, AOA Black, that was a standard rock group with an electric guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums. But this wasn’t enough, even though it was novel. They needed something to really get the eyes of the fans, in particular the male fans.

So they changed courses and released ‘Confused’. Now the girls were dressed in tight clothes and their dance moves were more suggestive. I was disturbed in knowing that some members were my age and doing such things, all for the sake of getting more attention. ‘Confused’ actually didn’t change the mind of the public, but it set the tone for their next bit hit ‘Short Skirt’.

‘Short Skirt’ was the girls’ big breakthrough, and for fair reason. This song took sexy to a whole new level. I didn’t even finish watching the music video. I mean, seriously, the dance incorporates unzipping the side of the skirt. How is that not explicit. And now, everyone was paying attention. Big name celebrities started to drool over the girls, and now everyone knew AOA. So, they kept going. After ‘Short Skirt’ was ‘Short Hair’ featuring more butt shaking, then ‘Like a Cat’, and just recently, ‘Heart Attack’. At least ‘Heart Attack’ had a storyline…

AOA was successful in pulling off the sexy concept without the vicious backlash of the Korean public, but Stellar, the group mentioned in the article above, was not so lucky. To be fair, their venture to the sexy side was a lot more desperate. They seriously pulled out all the stops. I never finished watching any of their vulgar music videos. I never heard of them until all of a sudden, everyone was ripping them apart. Fair enough, good job Stellar now everyone knows your name like you hoped, but not for a good reason.

The girls stated that they did it so people would know their name and also so their circumstances would get better.Kpop groups start out with very little and it takes a while for them to live comfortably in the celebrity life we usually associate with them. The concept didn’t sit comfortably with them, but their drive for success was greater than their conscience. But was this need to get attention worth losing all dignity and slandering your own name? And it’s more than just ruining your own name, it propagates the objectification of women. No wonder girls dress with shorter skirts and spend so much money on looking pretty, be it through makeup or plastic surgery.

It’s honestly so frustrating. Why are all the famous girl groups like this? I mean, even Girls Generation is guilty of this. They didn’t do a sexy concept, but their outfits are also sometimes clearly made for the male audience. I mean, seriously, you want guys to drool after you, after your body or your face? Is that all you want to be watered down to? What about your significant other, how will they feel when they see you dancing suggestively to the crowds? What about yourself?

And even more than this, Korean girl groups are all super sweet off stage, which yes is a relief but at the same time, it doesn’t change what you’re doing on stage. Isn’t it better to just make better music? Why settle for only entertaining people’s eyes? Why not make meaningful music, or at least improve on your singing? What will happen when you can’t dance, or when you get wrinkles on your face? Will you just keep getting plastic surgery until you can’t move your face or your body?

(wow, sorry, I’m seriously ranting haha…)

I don’t even know how to finish this. It’s just…frustrating. I wonder if HyunA, AOA, SISTAR, Girl’s Day, or Stellar even know the effect they’re having on girls and boys. It’s amazing that the super strict Korean society has adapted to let this little bubble of guilty pleasure survive amongst their Puritan values. But of course, it’s seeped past the boundary lines and censorship set around it. After all, this type of concept is more than just entertaining, it’s fuelling lust.

But there is hope. Not everyone has dropped to this level. There are still some artists who focus on their music. They’re not as common in popular music, but they exist. There are still some who make music because their soul compels them too, rather than because they just want to get famous. Music still exists for the sake of music, and I believe it always will, even if it gets drowned out by the louder cacophony of cheap, manufactured music.

~ajc

*UPDATE: Please take a look at the comment section, because Meepers makes a really good point that I didn’t discuss in the post (most likely because I was getting really worked up, whoops…). *

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6 thoughts on “At What Cost? Female Idols

  1. Everyone is entitled their own opinion, but I’ll just leave my two cents. Kpop like any other industry or money making business is out to cater to the ones who will pay for it: and guess what, sex sells. And it’s much easier to sell girls in tight fitting clothes or have suggestive dances, but it’s not always successful. The Korean music scene is so fast paced that you can’t really just win them over with just that. Look at the recent hits that have dominated the kpop charts, (ref: http://www.melon.com/chart/index.htm) they’re not all by girls, nor do they feature a heavily sexualized music video/dance/outfits. If any group saw any “success” by using their bodies, it is mostly temporary. I took a quick look at the winners of music shows this year, and the girl groups that do win them, weren’t necessarily scantily clad. Apink’s LUV and Remember, 4minute’s Crazy, Red Velvet’s Ice Cream Cake, SISTAR’s Shake It, EXID’s Ah Yeah, and Girls’ Generation’s Party, these groups did not have concepts that overemphasized their bodies. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not a fan of all these group but I just felt like you were blaming the groups themselves for having an oversexualized concepts, as if they have absolute control over what they do. Older groups might have more creative freedom and perhaps a say in outfits that they’d want to wear, but the concepts of their comebacks are entirely decided by the agency to which they belong. I only know this to be true of Girls’ Generation, as a recent interview revealed that fact. Like Sooyoung had a lot of say in the outfits the girls wore for the Check performance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekEiaaounSE), and I know Tiffany helped with the KCON 2015 in NY outfits [which I don’t really like, btw] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7VeSLvsMLQ). But that too, are only two examples, I’m pretty sure their stylist and company decides on most of their outfits. Anyway, TLDR; I agree that music should never be about the outfits, and the image that is being put forth, but at the same time, the artists themselves don’t have much say in what they have to do, especially earlier on in their career.

    • I understand your comment and it is my error that I forgot to include your point in my post. There definitely is a clash between the onstage persona and conscience for some idols like you listed. But still, what puzzles me is that regardless, these artists do so. Yes definitely the entertainment companies are the iron fist behind it all but still, in the end, it clashes with the artist’s beliefs and has negative effects. So then must an artist compromise for fame? Definitely, yes, APink, IU, and other cleaner, more pure musicians are still topping charts; I also check the music charts myself. But I’m not speaking about this; I acknowledge them but right now I’m raising the issue of the groups and companies who use the sexy image as a means.
      It’s definitely hard to simplify an idol because there’s only so much we as outsiders can understand. It definitely is better seeing Sooyoung and Kevin express their honest opinions on the more risqué concepts. And I didn’t know that SM gave some artists more say in their activities. Ideally, they’d start off with that power, but it’s rarely so. It’s encouraging though; hopefully groups will last long enough to use music more intentionally. But the thing is, in the end they still end up doing it. They should have known, or found out quickly that it would happen. The effects are still set into motion, regardless how the artists feel themselves. Is the is then an issue of too much power for the company or that the artists are too hungry for success? Perhaps both.
      Obviously the act of using sex appeal is seen outside kpop as well, applied to both genders. In general, it irks me and is why I wrote a post about the topic to voice my frustrations and explore my thoughts until they run dry. But either way, the hard fact is that the sex appeal sells, because it plays off everyone’s weakness, lust. Ah, humanity…
      Thank you, though, Meepers for your comment. I was my fault that I didn’t stop to consider the flip side of the discussion, I was getting too heated haha. You bring up excellent points and its encouraging that there’s other critically thinking fans of Kpop. I appreciate that you took the time to read and comment on my post 🙂

  2. Hmm, I actually like Stellar a lot, and don’t see the reason for the huge controversy for Vibrato, especially since it was artistic and more symbolic (all those yonic symbols) than flat out erotic. (If anything, EXID’s Up&Down also had a load of phallic symbols and no one said anything about it). I don’t see why the public jump in for all the shaming for sexy concepts if, in the end, sex does get attention and can shine light to something great. Unless the girl members performing are not comfortable with the extend of their skin showing (in this case I agree with above point and think girls should have more say in their outfits/concepts), this is slut-shaming to me :/ .

    • I guess what frustrates me about using sex appeal as a means is that often people use sex appeal to get attention rather than just improving the quality of the music. You make a good point, though, that people can use it as a means to point to something that deserves a bit more attention. I listened to Vibrato and Marionette and they’re okay, but yes definitely if they didn’t milk the sex concept, they would have been brushed off. I wish they did something more with Marionette because it’s a really interesting concept, but fair enough.
      In general, I’m not a fan of the sex appeal but I do have to acknowledge that it works.
      As for slut shaming…I’m not for it. I mean, I’ve definitely been guilty of simplifying girls and boys to a label but I want to avoid it and try to because it’s not fair to the soul and character of the person to shove all a person is into a box. I guess what makes me uneasy is when it seems like some people are against the sexy concept and have spoken out about it before but are forced in a way to do it. I think there is a difference between some people who really own the sexy concept and are confident, which in that case okay. I still won’t watch it, but you do you in my opinion. But when some companies throw down the sex appeal concept to get attention and swerve off the original plan and make girls and boys do things they aren’t comfortable with, then I don’t like it.

  3. You brought up some good points. It is disappointing to see hypersexualized music groups with the aim of attention. I’ve found that a lot of the songs (as far as lyrics) are not really focused on sex so what gives with the image? Anyways, I do agree that it is what gets attention and sells. Also, that those in higher power have more control. Wouldn’t the media want to cater to the audience though? I doubt most of the population is looking for the hypersexualized groups, but again, I guess it does draw attention, whether it’s good or bad.

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