We all know what is meant by the title of this editorial; in short, K-pop is getting sexier. Supposedly – trying too hard isn’t sexy, it’s just embarrassing. But for the most part, it seems that things are becoming a little more liberal in K-pop, with sexy concepts being more and more accepted as the norm and audiences being less shocked by them. But where does that leave the genre? What will happen if this trend continues? And how will public opinion influence the genre?
K-pop is undoubtedly one of South Korea’s biggest exports, and not only financially, but an incredible amount of global interest has been drawn to the country because of it. K-pop fans often become interested in the language, the landscape, the food, the fashion – and the list doesn’t end there. In simple terms, this ultimately means a wider interest in the Korean culture and a will to travel to the country, resulting in more income in various industries, namely the tourism industry. K-pop acts as a driving force for this, so there’s a lot of pressure on the industry to keep appealing to foreign audiences, as well as domestically. K-pop has established itself globally as a serious business over the past decade and has a responsibility to keep rallying interest and representing the country.
The genre at first glance is very innocent and available to the young audience at which it is marketed. Only after noticing that the fanchants for one particular group on a music show seem to be coming from a largely adult, male audience, do things get a little more perverse. Arguably, the genre becomes available to more people, but one can’t help thinking that these young girl groups didn’t quite have in mind the attention of leering men during their hard work in training. The audience aren’t at fault, and neither are the group. If anyone is to blame, it’s the companies for utilising the groups in this way, whether they are simply a product or not. But the problem stretches even further; as K-pop does garner more worldwide attention, is this the image that the country wants to promote? When concepts become overly sexy in an attempt to win attention in a saturated market, the basic principles become lost along the way. Sure, maybe pop music always comes back to sex. But, for instance, the typical western K-pop fan has turned to K-pop in part because of it’s youth and innocence in comparison to pop portrayal in the west. Given the average age of K-pop’s target audience, they’re mostly not there for the suggestive choreography and skimpy outfits. They are already spoon-fed such ideas as attributes of the US pop industry and they don’t need to look to the other side of the globe to get it. The neat package that K-pop provides is what brings the fans in and empties their purses. Sex in K-pop can be seen as a sell out.
If the industry is observed over the last few years, it is obvious to see that the clear popularity and growing global interest of K-pop has encouraged a great many business people to spot the market. Given the success of the super groups, who wouldn’t want to manufacture their own K-pop group for their own profit? Unfortunately, this has led to an increasingly over-saturated market and the sacrifice of quality. The world has seen this trend in many other industries, some specific examples including the American slasher movies of the 70’s and 80’s (‘Slumber Party Massacre’ is arguably not the most defining movie of the era), fast food chains (serving dubious ‘chicken’) and popular genre teenage novels (take the stream of vampire novels after ‘Twilight”s success). As mentioned before, groups need a way to stand out in this market to become successful. The solution is to try and find a concept that is unique or will grab attention, and sadly, many revert to sexy concepts. When done tastefully, there’s no problem. However, it is often the case that groups will go too far, merely in their attempts to push boundaries further than everyone else to get the attention of the public that they’re so hungry for – after all, it is their livelihood. And we end up with an industry that is not only saturated with the sheer number of groups, but saturated with tasteless sexy concepts.
The objectification of women and men is a big part of K-pop, though interestingly it is less so with the men in western music. However pure your intentions as a fan may be, the sexy concepts force you into an unconscious (yet ultimately the biggest) act of voyeurism against the groups. Maybe that is just pop culture. But given the young age of many idols and many fans, plus the millions of eyes watching this play out worldwide, the situation becomes increasingly more dangerous.
What’s your take on sexy concepts in K-pop? How far is too far? Let us know what you think in the comments below.