Girl Groups, VNT, and THAT Maxim Korea Cover

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Ever heard of VNT (브이엔티) before?

No, me neither, and frankly I find most new girl groups virtually indistinguishable from each other these days. But it turns out that VNT may actually be quite different, its 3 members explicitly wanting to “focus more on their music rather than their visuals.” Like rapper of the group Lil’J (릴제이) said in a recent interview:

“One thing that I’m confident about is, like our CEO stated, our music. We’ll become a team that wins because of our talents, not our looks. Tina and I dropped out of high school for this, and we will be sure to show everyone our passion for music.”

And later:

“We may be a girl group, but we dream of changing the Korean music industry with our music. Our first and foremost goal is to have our fans listen to high quality music. We want to become the top in every aspect, and later become seniors that lure others to dream of becoming like us. Of course, we also dream of an award at the year-end awards this year.”

Of course, that may well just be hype. And I’m not sure how a photoshoot in December’s Maxim Korea fits in with that sentiment exactly, with subsequent “news” reports on it overwhelmingly focusing on their hitherto hidden S-lines. But they do still need some publicity of course, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

As for their music, judge for yourself with their first single Sound (소리):

Personally it’s a little slow for my tastes, and despite their similar look to 2NE1 (투애니원), there’s definitely nothing about grrrl power in the lyrics. Indeed, quite the opposite really, as they’re all about passively waiting for a man…and which is precisely what Yumi (유미) appears to be doing on the magazine cover come to think of it.

Or is she?

If so, then I hope *cough* he comes soon, as she looks pretty uncomfortable really. But is that really just a sex position she’s in?

Granted, Maxim Korea isn’t exactly averse to placing women in ostensibly sexually attractive poses, but which just a few seconds’ thought demonstrates would be quite impractical and awkward in reality (especially for the woman). Take 18 year-old model Om Sang-mi (엄상미) in the same edition for instance, spreadeagled in a shopping trolley.

But with the top half of Yumi’s body sticking out unnaturally like that, and with those red pants, that hairstyle, and puffed-up frilly shirt to boot? In line with the Christmas theme, then I think the main point is actually to make her look like a turkey.

Prove me wrong!^^

(For a similar example of women’s bodies being compared to meat in the Korean media, see here)

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24 thoughts on “Girl Groups, VNT, and THAT Maxim Korea Cover

  1. I’m completely on the VNT bandwagon after watching that video. (I have such a love hate relationship with KPop.) And yeah, I can kind of see the turkey thing, I just don’t want to.

    • Sorry about the lack of a comment previewer, but that’s what I get (or rather, you get) for not self-hosting unfortunately!

      I’ve often wanted to leave WordPress.com because of little things like that, but with my 2 kids etc. etc. then unfortunately I barely have time for writing, let alone technical issues.

  2. Personally, I think the song is okay, not bad. Yet I think this group is 2NE1 v.2. I would rather listen to them then candy-pop stars Girls Generation or the Wonder Girls. Yet the problem I see with this group is it still delves into the K-Pop music formula that they claim they are trying to avoid, and be “based on their talents, and not looks.” BTW, mad ups to my former student 최민호 making an appearance on the MV. :-)

    Its not the coordinating dance routine that is K-Poppy, but the use of images and various costumes that resembles other groups (school girl outfits, then the tight leotards, and the skimpy shorts). Then there is the sound. You can hear auto-tune all over it, which has been done before. The beat and melody, with its synth keys and electronic beat, doesn’t really impress me and sounds like K-Pop music generator all over again.

    I’m a huge music fan; I love critiquing the sounds of how artists shape their music and what they represent. If VNT wants fans to view them based on talent, then that means their musical style reflects that.

    Just some personal criteria (debatable, as always, simply because there’s too many genres of music) that separates a regular pop group with one that has true musical talent and aspirations:

    1. Use of instrumentation: original instruments? Electronic beats and sounds? Great artists can use both, its a matter of creativity while not focusing on a particular, played out sound. Good examples is Kanye West, who has a fantastic talent for using all sorts of musical instruments in his beats and melodies. Another is Janelle Monae, a new artist in the States who fuses older musical styles with modern music. Its original and good.

    2. Musical style: do they sound like everyone else? Or are they trying to carve out their own, distinct sound? All you have to do is play their music next to another comparable group, like 2NE1.

    3. Lyrical content: my biggest issue with K-Pop is who writes the lyrics? Talented artists write their own stuff. I’m curious if VNT does.

    4. Originality: do they stick out from other pop groups? By first glance and listen, do they have a sound that is fresh and focuses on that sound rather than image? Doesn’t look like it to me.

    Being a K-Pop group is hard because alot of the music is recycled. VNT’s true colors will be revealed if they gain their fan base based on “talent” or based on image. So, far they sound okay, but they don’t impress me.

    To be honest, I believe that if a K-Pop group wants to be original, they probably wouldn’t be popular. People like sticking to what works in the musical industry, and that includes image.

    • Talent can lie in other places than writing the music. A great song is a great song is a great song, no matter how it was made, and it certainly is never made isolated, but in a synergy between performer, writer and producer. Look at the classics that came out of Gold Star, Motown, Brill Building. Thoroughly commercialised, thoroughly brilliant. In Japan and Korea this kind of “all in one house” strategy is still going very strong. There are a lot of problems with it, but most of them have to do with the human aspects: Working conditions, the young age the artists are trained from, various other aspects recently revisited in new regulations from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

      For the most part the people who compose make it out of their love for music. People have this cartoon image of big company bosses pressing a button to print their new ‘hit single X’. It’s not the case here, it’s not the case in Korea. Musicians think music, the bosses on top think business. There are a lot of talented musicians writing and producing for these big labels in Korea, songwriters who have proven themselves both on and off the charts. There’s a whole lot of shitty k-pop, and sometimes I go insane browsing through the top 40 and hearing 20 identical ballads made for drama soundtracks, but the same goes for the underground scene — there’s no inherent unoriginality in commercial music, there’s no inherent innovation in non-mainstream music.

      As for this particular tune, I’m not over the moon with it, but it’s not bad for a debut. Like James I’m disappointed in the lyrics — since they namedrop 2NE1 I’d have liked to see them come out as another angry and fiery group lyricallly. Although girl power, as in ‘screw you, mister’- lyrics, has become somewhat of a norm lately (I’d like to note that Girls’ Generations last two singles have both had a ‘fuck off’ theme).

      “Bad Girl, Good Girl” by Miss A features a very interesting variation on this theme with nuances that have made different translations differ in meaning, and I do hope James does that song in one of his translation posts some day! Here’s one of those subbed videos:

  3. As a dedicated non-fan of k-pop I’m going to give that an 85 in a world of 70s. No really mangled English, ok beat and singing, rapper above average (and also has a kind of tough-cute look).

    Still wouldn’t buy the CD. ;-)

  4. I hope Maxim had a physiotherapist on set to fix up the damage that posing like that caused! That looks very awkward and definitely not natural.

  5. I’m not entirely sure that it is “unnatural” for a female primate to emphasise her buttocks in a mating display, or to assume similar positions during the act of coitus itself. Is not primatology a worthy addition to any analysis of gender roles among naked apes?

    • Oh, I’m a big fan of primatology, evolutionary-psychology, evolutionary-biology, and so on, and have frequently incorporated insights from them on the blog, or even just had posts just on them alone; I would link to them here, but I’m on an old work computer at the moment sorry.

      In the meantime though, note that I said that it was “the top half of Yumi’s body sticking out” that I said was unnatural, and indeed while it’s natural for a female primate to emphasize her buttocks in a mating display on the one hand, on the other hand there’s adopting a pose she’d be unable to sustain for more than a few seconds without severe discomfort, emphasis of the buttocks or otherwise. And if it’s supposed to be a sexual position instead? Then from experience, her hands wouldn’t be on her hips, but would be on a wall or chair in front of her to prevent herself being propelled forward too much.

      So yeah, I maintain that her stance is completely unnatural, and I’d wager that if she didn’t have something unseen in front of her to rest on or grasp in between shots, then in fact the whole top half of her body may have been dragged forward by photoshop.

      Will try to respond to the rest of the comments when I get home, but otherwise that will have to wait until Friday sorry!

      Update: I’ve edited the text of the post a little after writing this comment, although of course the original arguments are the same.

  6. by stating that they’re “more about the music” or whatever it is that they claim, they’re implicitly criticizing the vapid artistic content of k-pop girl groups (which is not to say that individual artists within the k-pop groups are vapid, because there are a lot of talented singers out there – i’m sure most serious singers would rather not spend time squeezing into butthuggers and practicing cute poses).

    well, if they’re going to do that they should set a new pattern. the maxim cover and the music video seem to say that they’re just “another girl group.”

  7. My impression is that the J-pop and K-pop industries are similar enough that the following J-pop video (AKB48’s River) can provide an example of what these female dance troupes are capable of with good script and direction:

    http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/b5P3AbGvje8/

    Here the music is good, the lyrics aren’t bad (assuming on-line translations are accurate), the dance movements are vigorous and precise, the visuals are reasonably consistent with the lyrics, and the dancers don’t spend the whole video looking cute. But neither AKB48 nor any of the other J- or K- girl bands whose work I have heard come near this level very often.

      • My sentiments exactly. True, I do like the song a lot less than when I wrote the post (see above), but after 10 years here I’ve come to be very forgiving of Korean songs’ English lyrics in general, especially as its virtually de rigueurfor K-pop songs to have them, and which the vast majority of their target audiences would think are cool etc. and have no idea of how nonsensical they are.

      • But when other songs use Nana or La la it us usually to emphasize an interesting melody. The way they say “Oh yea yea yea” sounds like something kinds in middle school would do in a music class school project, in my opinion.

  8. Their statement that they are going to be “about the music” makes me think Kpop is overdue for a “Spinal Tap”-like parody documentary.

  9. Well like most people on here are stating I think that it is kind of funny that this group is stating that they are only focusing on their music capability rather than their image. I find it even more ironic to say such a thing after posing in Maxim o.O I mean they can toot that horn all they want but at the end of the day people WILL be focusing on their image especially if they dance around in high heels and tight clothes (not that there is anything wrong with that). Its practically all about image.

    I really don’t think this song is good. It’s okay and it’s bearable but its nothing new. The rapper seems like your typical k-pop girl group rapper, I’ve watched a few lives and can already tell that Yomi is the weakest one in the group and the last girl seems like a good singer with great stage presence.

    I’m suppose I’m just a bitter kpop listener but I’m so tired of every group being labeled as talented when maybe only half of the members in these groups can actually sing….
    Maybe the next single will be better.

    And one last thing: Why must every hip-hop girl group be compared to 2NE1? WHY?

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