In the three years since I got into Kpop, I must admit that as a genre, it has steadily but surely become more sexualised. At times I would have shrugged it off, because as a Westerner, an overtly sexual theme in music is something I’ve grown up with. But, if I’m honest, I think one of the main reasons that Kpop appealed to me so much is because the lack of aggressively sexual overtones provided a much more comfortable listening environment for me. The age-old adage of ‘sex sells’ never seemed to work for to me, and as such, I found the more innocent nature of Kpop to be one of its greatest charms.
So, as I start to try and look more objectively into this issue, I barely scratch the surface of it and I already feel like I’m wading into the murky world of double-standards and borderline misogyny.
Let’s take a look at how kpop is becoming increasingly sexualised, and whether it’s really necessary.
I guess we’ll just dive straight in.
I will never forget a comic I saw from AllKpop, and some of you have have seen it, as it really struck a chord with me; it was about the ridiculousness of the double standards when it comes to how idols can dress on stage. It shows girl groups being told by programme producers that their clothes are too revealing if they wear shorts and a cropped t-shirt, when they will practically fawn over male idols who wear even less. Obviously this is all exaggerated, but it holds so much truth to it; it’s perfectly acceptable for male idols to take their tops off on stage, in fact, it’s practically encouraged by their fans and even by their companies to an extent. There are so many examples of where male idols strip half-naked or lift their clothes as part of a performance, such as; Rain, 2PM’s Taecyeon during Heartbeat promotions, MBLAQ’s Lee Joon has done it during various promotions, Taeyang has been topless in MV’s and performances, and even during DMTN’s Emergency MV where they all dance topless for a portion of the video. This is just naming a few…the list goes on.
If you go into a kpop Tumblr tag, chances are you’ll see endless gifs of ‘ab flashes’ or crotch shots of male idols which is something to drool over, thus pushing these idols into being little more than sexual beings to be ogled. Not only does this add to the increasing sexuality of kpop, but at the same time this puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on male idols to look a certain way – I’ve seen MCs and the like make fun of idols who don’t have defined abs. These are human beings, they are entertainers. They are not strippers and they shouldn’t feel obligated to wow you with their bodies. I’m not sure how many other kpop fans are like me, but it makes me quite uncomfortable when I hear other fans complaining about how their bias has never taken their shirt off, or even when kpop bands promise to take off some clothes if they win a particular award. There are idols like TOP who I actually really respect for never taking their clothes off for fans; he’s a person with insecurities and if he’s uncomfortable bearing skin, then who are fans to demand it?
Comparatively, female idols and girl groups come under fire much more often when it comes to stage outfits. When 4Minute made a comeback with What’s Your Name, some people seemed outraged by part of one of Hyuna’s outfits which looked like old school PE knickers with tights underneath. For the life of me I couldn’t see the problem with this outfit. They were mad about a revealing outfit, when it showed no skin at all? Yeah, that makes sense. (Insert eye roll)
But I guess, when considering over-sexualisation in kpop, it’s not just outfits that come under fire, but also choreography. Female artists and bands like Hyuna, Secret, and Rania have either been banned from performing certain routines on stage or been asked to revise choreography points so that their dancing is less sexual. Also, you’ll have to forgive my dodgy memory, but wasn’t there a girl band fairly recently that got called out for wearing skirts on stage, but part of the dance had them rip them off to reveal their shorts underneath? People even complain about 2NE1’s Minzy, as they claim that she dances ‘too sexily’, but no one says a thing when male idols grab their crotches and thrust on stage. When it comes to men in kpop, they seem to have free reign and nothing is too much; Rain has some pretty raunchy dance moves, even TVXQ’s Before U Go has some sexy choreography points that no one has ever had a problem with. People seem to be of the opinion that sexy boy band dances are charismatic and sexy, while sexy girl group dances are too sexy and inappropriate. Someone, please explain the logic behind this.
Moving to a slightly different train of thought; is sex really necessary to sell music? For example, Ga In’s Bloom MV and the trailer for Seungri’s new single, ‘Let’s Talk About Love’…is the sex necessary? The obvious sexuality is a real talking point, but is it supposed to be progressive or edgy? To me it just feels a little unnecessary and voyeuristic. I know people will talk about the artistic intent and whatnot, but all I can say is that these very sexual concepts do not appeal to me personally, and I doubt I’m the only one. You can’t please everyone all of the time, I understand that, but I think it’s a shame when a controversial concept or the like is what gets a song attention; the music should be able to speak for itself, and not rely on overtly sexual themes to get people interested.
I think the main questions this all boils down to are; how do you stop concepts, dances and outfits from becoming too sexual? Does anyone even have the right to do that? When does trying to prevent over-sexualisation become censorship? Where do we cross the line into ‘too much’, and who even gets to decide where the distinction between ‘sexy’ and ‘overly-sexy’ is?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t have the answers here.
I just wish that people would come to realise that really, male idols are much more sexualised than female idols, but people don’t have a problem with men stripping down and dancing sexily, so nobody will say a thing about the sexualisation of kpop until a female idol does something similar. A boy band can thrust on stage and flash their abs all day long, but the second a girl group does some squats or a body roll, suddenly kpop is getting too sexual. People need to stop making out like girl bands and female artists are at fault here, when male sexualisation is far more commonplace.
When it comes down to it, I don’t really see the problem with any idol embracing their sensual side because if I don’t like it I don’t have to watch it, but what do you guys think?
Do we really need the sexy side of kpop?