Sexualization and Objectification of Women in K-Pop
It’s not very difficult to find K-Pop on social media like Facebook or Twitter anymore. Hashtags related to K-Pop stars often come up on popular categories, and a clip of the stars will show up at least once on someone’s feed on Facebook. After Psy’s biggest hit, “Gangnam Style,” K-Pop quickly became a gateway in America. Ever since then, K-Pop music videos became more accessible on YouTube, and many of them easily gained attention from people all over the world. Not only is the music catchy and addicting, the music videos are often praised for their visuals and cinematographies. Another thing that Korean music videos are known for is sexualizing and objectifying women through visuals and lyrics. It’s incredibly difficult to find male figures being sexualized or objectified in music videos nowadays, because they’re often considered to be dominant figures over women and aren’t as weak as women to control. Women wear revealing clothes like lingerie, bikinis and bootie shorts, exposing their body parts to the camera to sexually appeal to the audience. Even in Psy’s “Gangnam Style” M/V, there is a scene where ladies are doing yoga in public and the camera zooms in at Psy observing one of their hips. It is difficult not to see any women in music videos anymore, because that’s one way to attract viewers. It’s like they’re treated as mannequin displays at the mall to attract customers. Because sex continues to sell and attract individuals by fulfilling their sexual desires, the sexualization and objectification of women continues to increase within the K-pop industry. This is well portrayed in Jay Park’s “Mommae” M/V and Stellar’s “Vibrato” M/V in two ways: by showing men as dominant figures over women and by sexually appealing through outfits, and choreographies.
Jay Park – “Mommae” M/V
“Mommae” is a music video for Jay Park, a famous singer in South Korea. The term means “body” in English. The artist was not afraid to reveal what he likes most about a woman’s body, regardless of video being too perverted or shallow. He praised women for their appealing features, while they embraced Jay Park all over his body, making him to look like an authority figure. His main audience were women, because there aren’t many boy fans in South Korea who watch music videos of their idols. However, it was revealed that there were more male viewers than female viewers on this particular video, because of how revealing the girls were. The viewers often said the video was too sexual and controversial, but it was acceptable because it was Jay Park; someone from the States, not South Korea (Kwon). Jay Park is originally from the U.S., and he moved to Korea to share his passion for music. People often referred to him as “American-style artist” because he portrayed his identity as Korean-American through his music. Even though the music video was very revealing and controversial, people accepted it because of how open and free his image was as Korean-American. However, this music video was banned from being broadcasted on televisions because of its sexual contents.
The girls in the M/V were centered around Jay Park, and they all revealed their skin too much. Clothes they wore were sexually appealing; some wore bikinis while others wore bunny costumes or lingerie. Most of their dance moves were focused on their body parts, such as chest and hips.
In most parts, the stars treated women as objects. Ugly Duck, the guy with tattoos on his arms and goatee, used one of the girls as a plate or table to put his sushi on. He also treated two girls as duck toys in the bath tub, treating them like toys he can play with anytime. He mentioned the term “sexy” a lot in his lyrics, while constantly touching the girls’ bodies. I also noticed that there were more girls than guys in the room, and their hand gestures often reminded me of sexual activities, especially towards the end where Jay Park is centered in front of the radios. Also, in his lyrics, he mentioned the girl’s body parts as fruits; he called their chest melons and called their hips watermelons.
It seemed like Jay Park’s “Mommae” M/V portrayed how women are used to fulfill men’s desires very well. From beginning to end, all women did was to be used as objects or “mannequins” to display their body parts to fulfill men’s sexual desires. The most shocking part of this M/V was that, this was openly accepted in popular media. The viewers seemed to be shocked by the presence of women in the video at first, but quickly moved onto how sexy Jay Park looked with his tattoos and dance moves (Yoon). The serious issue of sexualizing and objectifying women in his M/V easily became avoidable as Jay Park took people’s attention away from them with his existence. This shows how people aren’t taking this issue very seriously, because Jay Park was easily able to grab their attention away from half-naked women in the M/V.
Stellar’s “Vibrato” Official M/V
The music video for Stellar’s “Vibrato” was released on July 19th, 2015. They were aiming for men as their targeted audience, which is why they were in such revealing clothes. This video was also banned from being broadcasted on television because of its sexual contents, especially their choreography. The group changed their concept from cute to sexy, and “Vibrato” was their second transformation. Jody, a writer at Kpopstarz, stated that girl groups were forced to change their concepts to sexiness to appeal to male audience, which created competitions among girl groups and caused them to expose more of their skin as the number of competitors grew (Jody). Stellar was also a victim of this trend, because their company forced them into this concept to gain attention from the audience.
It was interesting to see the camera lenses throughout the music video, as well as how all of them are trapped in containers. It seemed like they were forced to be inside those containers to shoot something sexual, because the girls looked confused and frustrated in some scenes. I felt like that was showing the real side of this industry, because I heard a lot about how girl groups are often forced to wear sexual outfits to appeal to the guys. Saeji, the author of “Juvenile Protection and Sexual Objectification” stated that music broadcasting shows like Inkigayo or Music Core often turn female idol singers into sex dolls by drawing attention to their body parts with their camera techniques and framing their performances in a certain way that the girls would expose their body parts to the audience (Saeji). I feel like the scenes where the girls were trapped inside the cubes were indirectly portraying how female idol singers are forced to act the certain way, because their facial expressions changed from frustrated to excitement as the camera started rolling.
Another interesting thing about the music video was how they used props to metaphorically tell the story. The barbie dolls in the television screen clearly represented the four girls of the group, but it got disturbing when they poured red paint on one of them. It was as if the girl’s innocence was being taken away as the red paint poured down on her body. Most of the images created by props seemed pretty sexual, especially because human portrayals of sexual images appeared shortly after. They were visually attractive because of the color combinations, and also sexually appealing because of the messages they were trying to convey. The choreography was a bit disturbing as the music video went on, especially when they changed into red outfits. It seemed like they were treated like objects, just like in Jay Park’s music video, because of the cameras that surrounded them.
Stellar’s “Vibrato” M/V revealed and confirmed how sex will continue to sell well in K-Pop industry. Not only they gained much popularity after their release, they became one of the top girl groups in South Korea after 5 years since their debut. Through this music video they were able to fulfill males’ sexual desires with exposed outfits and appealing choreographies. People didn’t care about the group when they promoted their cute concepts, but when they transformed they immediately grabbed people’s attention and became successful. This proves that sex will always sell as a marketing/advertising tool and attract more people if not less.
What about men?
Are men sexualized in the industry as well? The answer is yes; but with a different approach than women. When male idol singers appear shirtless on music videos, they rarely become an issue to be featured on the news unlike female singers. It seems like the viewers are more lenient on men since it’s widely accepted for them to go shirtless and reveal their skin in public. Hyun Min Park, a writer at CJ E&M stated, “…the public’s positive reaction of male idol groups who tear off their shirts onstage and the negative response faced by girl groups who dare to wear revealing costumes” (Park). When male singers take off their shirts onstage it’s considered manly, aggressive, sexy… you name it. When female singers expose their skin too much it’s considered dirty, filthy, prostitutes and more. The different reactions from the audience show that gender bias exists in South Korea. It’s very interesting to see how the same action can easily become a controversial issue based on their genders. Like:
This is highly unlikely to be banned on television or any other type of media. Not only that, the audience will praise this specific idol group for wearing such “sexy” outfit for their performance.
But this group? Not so much. This will easily be banned from televisions unless they fix their choreographies, and often always, they will be referred to as filthy or dirty by the audience.
Both genders are using the same concept to gain popularity in the industry. However, the male groups are being viewed as inspirational male figures while the female groups have to go through negative comments and reactions from the audience. It’s true that they both attract people with the sexy concept, but how people view and react are completely different, which is very interesting and yet disgusting to see.
How about the innocent side of K-Pop?
K-Pop artists don’t always dress in bootie shorts or crop tops, especially if they’re underaged. Hyo-Won Lee, a reporter on Hollywood Reporter stated that South Korean government set out a new law forbidding underage singers and actors from participating in overnight performances and productions, as well as being in productions and performances where they will be sexualized (Lee). The law also prohibits younger singers to wear revealing costumes and outfits, as well as sexual choreographies. Since a lot of girls often debut as minors in the industry, they’re slowly bringing in innocent concepts back to K-Pop. However, the popularity results aren’t looking good. Underaged girl groups often stop promoting before their contract end, because all the attention goes to older female groups with sexy concepts. It’s good that the government is protecting underaged girls from being sexualized on popular media, but the sad news is, once they become adults they’re highly likely to follow the same paths as older female idols because of popularity competitions.
This group, April, is a good example of how underaged girls aren’t supposed to wear revealing costumes and keep the innocent reputation. Once they fail to maintain their image as innocent girls, they can easily vanish from the industry because there’s no other way to attract fans with over 500 idol groups in the industry.
By examining these two music videos, it was interesting to see how women are sexualized and objectified to gain popularity in the most exposed industry of the world. People at any age can view these contents without permissions, and may influence younger ones to join the industry with same exact images. It’s shocking to know that this issue will get worse in the industry since it’s the only concept people are demanding right now to see on stage. Girl groups with cute concepts often fail to gain attention because of girl groups with sexy concepts, unless they’re underaged, and they end up switching to the same thing. Even boy groups include at least one female figure to appeal to variety of audience, and it’s difficult to to find music videos without female figures now. It is very upsetting to see how women are portrayed in popular media, especially knowing that this won’t change anytime soon.
A learning moment I definitely can’t forget is from Week 4: The Influence of Advertising. The lecture inspired me to discover more about gender stereotypes and norms for this project, because it was mentioned that different ideas and reactions arise according to which gender the advertisements focus on. I feel like it’s acceptable to consider music videos as advertisements, since the artists are “advertising” their newly released songs with visuals to appeal to the audience. It’s a good marketing strategy, because if they successfully attract audience with visuals, they will be attracted to the music as well. It’s a good way to gain fans for popularity results, and perfect for appealing to people all over the world.
Another valuable learning moment would be working on Annotated Bibliography and Research Analysis Worksheet. They helped me to organize my thoughts and differentiate between what I can or can’t use for the paper. They were used as good guidelines for me to see if I was missing any important information.
“스텔라 (Stellar) – 떨려요 (Vibrato) MV.” YouTube, 19 July 2015, 12:00 a.m., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOmTdFpIDX8.
C, Jody. “Sex Appeal in Kpop: Tasteful or Indecent?” Kpopstarz, 23 Mar. 2014, http://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/84066/20140323/sex-appeal-in-k-pop-tasteful-or-indecent.htm.
Kwon, SooBin. “박재범 ‘몸매’ 후끈한 반응 “선정적이지만 끌려”” News One. N.p., 22 May 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016, http://news1.kr/articles/?2245260.
Lee, Hyo-Won. “South Korean Law to Protect Young K-Pop Stars From Sexualization, Overwork.” Hollywood Reporter, 8 July 2014, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/south-korean-law-protect-young-717098.
Park, HyunMin. “Gender Bias Alive and Well in Entertainment Industry.” MWAVE. CJ E&M EnewsWorld, 10 Apr. 2002. Web. 18 Nov. 2016, http://mwave.interest.me/en/kpop-news/article/5354/gender-bias-alive-and-well-in-entertainment-industry.
Park, Jay. “박재범 Jay Park – 몸매 (MOMMAE) Feat.Ugly Duck Official Music Video.” YouTube, 21 May 2015, 12:00 a.m., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx_mg-1WhWw.
Saeji, Cedar T. “JUVENILE PROTECTION AND SEXUAL OBJECTIFICATION.” Acta Korana, vol. 16, no. 2, Dec. 2013.
Yoon, SoYoung. “박재범, 화끈한 신곡 ‘몸매’ 국내외 반응 HOT.” Sports Korea. N.p., 22 May 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016, http://sports.hankooki.com/lpage/entv/201505/sp20150522165943136690.htm.