2013 Media Map – Music (Part 4)

This post was originally posted on LiveJournal.

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It took me a while before I got curious about any of the girl groups or any of the female artists in K-pop. I’ve come to observe that non K-pop fans were usually quicker to become biased toward girl groups rather than the boy bands. My theory is that non K-pop fans find it less embarrassing to admit liking the girl groups over the boy bands. The consensus is typically – “I can’t take the boys seriously.”(Who said you were supposed to?) Would this imply that the level of cuteness, sexiness and exaggeration in fashion styling is something that is expected towards female acts, but when applied to their male counterparts invites suspicion?

Have a think on that non K-pop fans.

Buh-bring the girls out…!

The Solo Acts

The first female artist in the K-pop Universe to grab my attention was Lee Hyori. Considering her status in the pantheon of K-pop, I could not have picked a better female to begin exploring Girl World, K-pop style. Lee Hyori is a goddess, a Queen Bee. She is almost exactly my age, and has been in the music industry since 1998.

I saw her perfs (performances) on “M!Countdown” – she had one special stage (a stage that is not necessarily part of the artist’s main promotions) for a 60’s Mod-influenced track called “Holly Jolly Bus“. Plus, she was also promoting another song called “Bad Girls”. Though I couldn’t understand the lyrics of her song, I sensed that she was tackling themes that not many female K-pop acts were currently exploring, and that the track had a very strong feminist message.

Part of the reason I was reluctant to look into K-pop’s female acts were earlier pre-conceived impressions that K-pop “wasn’t very feminist”, a conclusion I (perhaps unfairly) came to based on the visuals that filled female-fronted MV’s and the cultural norm for female celebrities to undergo cosmetic surgery. (Later I came to realize that *everybody* undergoes cosmetic surgery in the Hallyu Universe, not just the ladies. Men too.) I was dismissing girl groups because I didn’t think they had anything interesting to add to how women were being represented in pop music. While I won’t deny that the representation of females certainly has its problematic areas in K-pop (inasmuch as the representation of females has its problematic areas in all mainstream media) , this didn’t have to mean that I couldn’t enjoy what the ladies of K-pop had to offer.

I was so happy to have come across Lee Hyori, and I was more than glad that she was able to crack open the door for other female K-pop acts to enter my sphere of curiosity. Similar to Lee Hyori, GaIn of the Brown-Eyed Girls blew me away with this track, in all its empowering, sex-positive glory:

I also liked Ailee, who has some serious pipes:

as well as this track by Juniel:

There was also IU, who is somewhat of “Korea’s Sweetheart”, and whose MV’s are almost always given a theatrical, fantastic, fairy tale-like treatment:

And of course, there was no way I could leave this other Queen Bee out because Impossible. BoA is a force of nature in K-pop, earning her performance chops by starting in the music biz at 13 back in 2000. There is something about the way BoA carries herself that sets her apart from any other person working in K-pop today, and her longevity in the biz is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

I like to think of BoA as the elusive Queen B of SM Entertainment whose schedule is always so packed that she barely makes an appearance at the company head quarters. And that every time she does pass through SMe, all the other younger idols plus the trainees have to stop whatever it is they’re doing – be it dance rehearsal or a meeting in order to greet the Queen. And sometimes if they’re lucky, she might pick out one of the idols and pay attention to them and that lucky young gosling will be like “UNNIE NOTICED ME” or “NOONA NOTICED ME”.

The dance break in live performances of “Only One” has become something of a coveted honor among the male idol dancers in SM Entertainment. So far, BoA has had TVXQ‘s Yunho, Super Junior‘s Eunhyuk, SHINee‘s Taemin and more recently EXO’s Luhan and Sehun doing this dance break with her on several stages.

The Girl Groups

Now when it comes to the girl groups, I’ve gotten over my earlier prejudices about how I didn’t find them interesting compared to the guys. Musically, I like them well-enough, but still can’t bring myself to become as emotionally invested with them as I am with their male counterparts. I don’t see them standing in as role models for me at my age, nor can I imagine them as fantasy girlfriends. I find myself becoming more inspired by the guys’ fashion picks than the girls’, though maybe I’d look to some of the female idols for makeup ideas.

I liked the demure Hello Venus who did  “Do You want Some Tea?“, but when it comes to this type of rose-tinted wide-eyed virginal innocence, I preferred A-pink.

I finally got around to SNSD, or Girls’ Generation.

…but preferred 2NE1’s sassiness over their brand of sweetness.

f(x) is probably the first girl group I really liked. I liked how their sound was more electro than everyone else. Weirdly, f(x) was the first K-pop act to perform in Austin’s SXSW, along with other Korean artists when they participated in 2013. If these girls seem a bit familiar, they also appeared in the Funny Or Die video with Anna Kendrick.

I also loved the fact that f(x)’s Amber broke the mold for all female idols in K-pop because of how boyish she is. I’m gay for her, obviously. This is my favorite f(x) song from their 2013 album, “Pink Tape”:

Speaking of mold-breakers, Crayon Pop was unlike any other girl group in K-pop, but their appearance on the scene was polarizing for K-pop fans. You either loved them or hated them. To me their whole concept felt a lot closer to J-pop than K-pop but what I loved about this group (apart from their catchy tunes) was that they were proof that you didn’t have to be sexualized in order to promote good pop music.

Part 5 brings the boybands (who are not EXO) that caught my attention!

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