Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial “Wide Leg Spread Dance”


Followers of K-pop blogs will already be well aware of this latest storm in a teacup of course, but it’s always interesting to see what ordinary Koreans themselves read about such things. Accordingly, here’s my (very literal) translation of an article from yesterday’s Metro newspaper, which millions would have read on their morning commute:

Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial “Wide Leg Spread Dance”

Three groups with underage members all do suggestive dances as if they’d planned them together

Demands for a review of regulations on suggestive outfits and poses on music programs

While the three girl groups that are showing off their so called “wide leg spread dance” are being regulated by broadcasters, controversy has arisen about suggestive choreography.

Appearing on Music Bank on KBS2 on the 8th, 4Minute (making a comeback that night), RaNia, and the Brave Girls have become very controversial for the suggestiveness of their performances.

While performing their new song Mirror Mirror, 4Minute members get on the floor on their knees, spread their legs, and repeatedly open and close them:

With support from overseas producer Teddy Riley, new 7-member group RaNia debuted with Dr. Feel Good. Sporting a striking lingerie and garter belt look, one mesmerizing dance move involved only moving their legs and pelvises repeatedly. And Brave Brother-produced 5-member group Brave Girls gave off a similar sexual attractiveness with their debut song Do You Know:

(Update, August 2013: Unfortunately the Youtube videos have long since been deleted for copyright violations, but both the “Dr. Feel Good” and “Do You Know” performances can still be seen here and here respectively. In their place, above is RaNia’s original uncensored MV for the former)

Giving the same performances on 2 other broadcasters’ music programs last weekend, the controversy increased. In the end, Music Bank, SBS’s The Music Trend, and MBC’s Show! Music Core all demanded changes to the dances and outfits and imposed restrictions on them. The reason is that programs that a lot of teenagers watch can not have outfits which expose too much of the body, and/or dances that bring to mind sexual acts.

In particular, it is not just the nature of the outfits and the choreography that is the problem, but that many of the performers are underage. In 4Minute, Hyuna (18) and So-hyun (16); in RaNia, Di (19), Joy (20), T-ae (16), and Xia (16); and in Brave Girls, Yu-jin (?) and Hye-ran (?) are all underage.

(James: Most of the ages given in the article are wrong, whether using the Korean or the “international” system: instead, I’ve provided their international ages, with sources given in their links, although I’ve been unable to find any sources for the ages of the Brave Girls members. I remain confused about why some are described as “underage” though, because clearly many aren’t at all, even with the {incorrect} ages given in the original article)

The result of analysis reveals that this is the result of following the dance moves of sexy pop stars. Before there were national girl groups, it was Lady Gaga that garnered a lot of controversy for the wide spread leg dance and sexually suggestive choreography of her Born This Way music video:

About this, an [anonymous] person in the broadcasting industry said, “While people say that Lady Gaga’s dances and dance moves are unique and individual, they say that Korean singers aren’t like that” and that “it’s a pity that in this era of spreading K-pop to the world, we have such anachronistic rules” (end).


Like me, you’re probably aghast at the Metro’s low writing standards and sloppy fact-checking. But that’s quite normal for Korean tabloid newspapers (and, alas, many of their mainstream counterparts too), so much more of interest personally was the author’s point that “before there were national girl groups, it was Lady Gaga that garnered a lot of controversy”, indirectly confirming my own (and many others’) observation that although of course there have always been Korean girl-groups previously, it’s only been in the last 4 years or so that there’s been such a glut of them. And also that, following the model set by The Wondergirls (원더걸스), they’re generally much much racier than their predecessors were.

Other than that, I’m a little tired of references to Lady Gaga whenever a girl group comes up with a suggestive dance move, but that’s hardly unique to the Korean media. Also, it’s curious that the anonymous person in the broadcasting industry felt that Korean girl groups must follow her example to “spread K-pop to the world,” because although this does play to Occidentalist stereotypes of hypersexual Western audiences somewhat, it also marks the culmination of a 180-degree turn against what used to make K-pop appealing to East-Asian audiences, and which presumably influenced music producers. As Rowan Pease explains in her chapter “Korean Pop Music in China: Nationalism, Authenticity, and Gender” in Cultural Studies and Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia: What a Difference a Region Makes (2010):

(Source: The Japan Foundation)

In 2003, the Korean National Tourism Office [a major investor in the Korean wave] conducted a Hanliu tourism survey in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong exploring attitudes to Korean culture, publishing the results online…

….It compared the impact of Korean culture with that of four “competitor” countries (the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), and in the process revealed much about Korea’s own political and nationalist concerns, particularly in relation to Japan and America. Six of the eleven options for respondents to the category “reasons I like Korean culture” reflect this preoccupation: “less sexual than Japanese culture,” “less sexual than American culture,” “less violent than Japanese popular culture,” “less violent than American popular culture,” “decreased interest in American culture,” and “decreased interest in Japanese culture.” One other echoes Straubhaar’s notion of cultural proximity: “similar in culture.” Certainly, Korea’s own music media censorship laws (which even in 1997 prohibited the displaying of body piercings, navels, tattoos, “outfits which might harm the sound emotional development of youth,” and banned violent or political lyrics), meant that Chinese TV stations could buy in Korean music videos and music TV shows knowing that they were unlikely to upset local censors. However, these questions also reflected a perception that Korea acts as a defender against excessive Westernization and as a guardian of Confucian values within East Asia. (pp. 155-156)

Which long-term readers may remember from my translation of the lyrics to Bad Girl, Good Girl (배드걸 굿걸) by Miss A (미쓰에이), probably the most erotic Korean girl group music video I’d ever seen until these latest ones came out:

Alternatively, the above view of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong tastes may well be outdated, and “the world” in the newspaper article shouldn’t automatically be taken to mean Western audiences: after all, 2 members of Miss A are Chinese, and the group was originally designed to be overwhelmingly aimed at the Chinese market.  What do you think?

Meanwhile, see here, here, here, and here for the latest developments in this “Wide Leg Spread Dance” controversy (yes, I love saying that too!). And today’s edition of the Metro newspaper also happens to have an interview of RaNia in which they discuss the dance, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to translate it at the moment sorry. Any takers?^^


Update: Here’s an hilarious response to the banning from some netizens!

Update 2: See Mixtapes and Liner Notes for some more in-depth analysis of RaNia’s performance, its subsequent censorship, and the issues it’s raised.

51 thoughts on “Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial “Wide Leg Spread Dance”

  1. Meanwhile, the Rania CEO is angry (most interesting factoid in this article: they considered adding a black member to the group)

    On M!Countdown, the one program not to force restrictions on the groups, 4Minute nevertheless debuted a new version of their dance with no legs spread, opting instead for an ‘ass up, face down’ move which isn’t much less ‘provocative’ (2:20).

    The other two groups kept their choreography intact, but will have to change it for tomorrow’s Music Bank.

    It’s pretty strange, isn’t it, that Music Bank lets them go on one week and then says no the next.


      1. No problem (a blogger can never have too many links thrown at them!).

        I think the “ass up, face down” move was already in the original, albeit done only by Hyuna then. I do find it slightly less provocative myself, but perhaps only because it’s already quite common in music videos, most notoriously in Abracadabra by The Brown Eyed Girls (2:40):

        Finally, yeah, the producers of Music Bank and so on are quite patronizing in acting as if the performances were a surprise to them, and that they didn’t fully expect (let alone deliberately seek) the controversy they created.


      1. If you think you’d have a use for it, I’m happy to do it as I need some practice translating because I haven’t done any in a while. If you’re unlikely to use it, no worries, I might find something else. Just let me know!


        1. It’s up to you. If you think it the interview adds anything to the discussion, then by all means translate it, and I’ll definitely put it up here. If not though, then don’t worry about it.


          1. I actually did 90% of the translation at work. Went home to finish it off and found the guy whose wireless I had been stealing was moving out. No internet at home!!! So yeah, I have a translation of it but it’s not hugely informative, I must say. And it’s the most poorly written article I think I’ve ever read. For a start, the article gives a brief introduction of all of the members, only to then quote them as if they opnly have one voice between them – we’re never told who’s being quoted.

            The main jist of what they say, however, is that they don’t really get the controversy, but will humbly bow to public opinion. But they warn us to expect more surprising/striking/shocking stuff in future.

            If you want, I can send you the 90% I did at work at some point, it might be of interest you, but possibly not blog-worthy.


          2. I can relate to that: after my own neighbor moved out a while ago, I discovered I’d been using his wireless for over 2 years, not the one I’d been paying for.

            Sorry for the wasted effort, but I think I’ll pass on the translation sorry. And, judging by that one and the one in the post, that’s the last time I ever use something entertainment-related from one of the free dailies!


  2. I’m a little confused. You talk about the age issue and use the word “underage” while several of the girls are at least 18 years old (unless they were only listed because of wrongly reported ages that you’ve since fixed here). Does this mean you view 21 as adult, or are you just relaying why the people who feel that there is a controversy feel that way? This is weird either way as we know that Koreans view 20 (korean age) as adult despite sexual maturity and laws concerning age to go with it are rather ambiguous (as you’ve gone into several times in the past). Considering that last part, where does the 18+ in your title and first bit come from?


    1. Don’t shoot the messenger! I’m just passing on what the original author wrote, although I admit that I too was confused by some group members being legal adults, but I forgot to mention that in my note sorry. I’ll fix that now.

      The title of the post simply comes from the title of the article itself, with the international age of 18 replacing the Korean age of 19.


      1. Ok, thanks. Still kind of confusing, but at least now I know it’s more because of the Metro’s issues. But like you said, tabloid, so I guess I really shouldn’t expect much from them anyhow. I suppose age is always a bitch unless you explicitly state which system you’re using.


        1. Not that it applies in this case, but for future reference I think it’s standard practice for newspaper articles to give international ages. Or at least it is in the case of reports on crimes and so on, but I’m not sure if it applies for lighter fare like this.


  3. “And also that, following the model set by The Wondergirls (원더걸스), they’re generally much much racier than their predecessors were.”

    Racy in a different way maybe, but racier? I’m not so sure.
    I think you’re right about there being a glut of girl bands but there were a lot of female soloists. Hyori is an obvious one, but also Ivy, Ayumi, Bada, Chae Yeon* and of course BoA. Many came from girl bands and those that did often got racier after going solo, and all of them are at least as racy as WGs. And didn’t boA do cutie/sexy/far-too-young before WGs?

    But the more interesting reason (I think) is that 4 minutes “wide leg spread dance” is for mirror mirror, but the dance for the actual single and video is much tamer. And here’s the thing, the first part of the video…

    …seems to reference to SeeYa’s “Shoes”…

    …which is definitely pre-WG. If you watch the video, the words and themes are a LOT more adult than anything you’ll see post-WG. Seeya, at the time, lacked any of the cute you see now, instead referencing violence, murder, suicide, alcoholism, prostitution and adultery. I remember this kind of narrative style being quite common at the time, and striking too (anyclub is another, less racy example). I think one of the big changes that led to that trend’s demise is a move away from ballads, rather than any push towards controversy/sexiness.


    1. I completely agree with you about solo artists, and I have some journal articles I can send you (or anyone else) about singers the world over sexing up their songs and music videos as they get older and/or leave former groups and want to project a more mature and/or more individual image, whether now or in the ’80s or ’90s.

      But I think it’s very important to keep a distinction between girl groups and solo female artists, because regardless of how much earlier than the WG that the latter might have made risque videos and so on, the sexualization of girl group songs and music videos is incomparable to what they were like even just 5 years ago (let alone 10). And in particular, it’s largely the current glut of them that is driving this, management companies needing to find ever more outrageous things for them to do to stand out from each other (these latest songs being the latest examples of that), compounded by Korea’s notoriously high rates of illegal downloading ensuring that profits are obtained much more from performances, talkshow appearances, and brand endorsements etc. etc. than from music sales.

      While these latter pressures do also apply to solo artists of course, they’re not competing with each other to even remotely the same extent as girl groups are.


    2. @Paul actually, Mirror Mirror is 4minute’s real lead single. It’s the only one they’re performing on music shows, which is how you can tell. Their MO is basically having suggestive dances and having everyone scream “but they’re underage!”, so you can consider “Heart 2 Heart” a marketing ploy (or as Korean industry people call it, “showing another side of themselves”) that takes advantage of Korea’s penchant for the cute.


      1. Oh, OK. I stand corrected.
        I have seen Heart to Heart performed on music shows, though. I couldn’t see a video for Mirror Mirror, but I can now. I remember them trying to take on 2NE1 in the beginning, with the sagaji-opsneun/funky style concept, but I suppose lack of ability saw them lose that one.


  4. * the asterisk was to add that although Chae Yeon is only really known as a soloist, she was in a girl band called Brand New Biscuits, which is a fantastic name.


  5. And after Brand New Biscuits (whose CD I just purchased a few weeks ago from Japan), she was also in another Japanese group called the Ultracats. Then came to Korea and went solo (yep, I’m a big fan…)


      1. “…when I watch myself on television that was broadcast years ago, I can see myself trying too hard. I thought sexy was about squinting your eyes and staring hard at the crowd, but now it’s more about being natural. I think the more I relax, the sexier I become,” she said.

        Reminds me of a discussion I had with another expat last year about 이효리. We agreed that we didn’t really care much for her early on in her career. But when she “let her hair down” appearing on the (reality?) show 패밀리가떴다, then in our eyes she suddenly became very attractive.

        Ok, I’ll stop hijacking this most excellent Wide Leg Spread Dance thread…


        1. Oh, feel free to hijack away. Was 패밀리가떴다 before or after her hosting Happy Together though? For me and many many Koreans also, it was actually that program that suddenly made her look all the more attractive (but for the same reasons).


  6. i can only shake my head and laugh at the whole situation. it really makes no sense to approve a dance for broadcast then ban it once the public decides it doesn’t like it. but then again, it’s as if this is how Korean entertainment works these days – cater to the audience as much as possible, usually at the expense of the artists involved.

    i tend to dislike groups that solely use sex and controversy to sell records, but RaNia can actually sing! I’m kind of impressed. however, the way things seem to be going, if they keep pushing boundaries they’re going to meet a lot of resistance. then again, maybe they can be the ones to change things – who knows?


  7. I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your posts, I’m a frequent visitor but seldom comment – yet, this post really intrigued me as recently I’ve been studying language and authenticity appropriation by industries and the tensions it cause with minority groups. How does this relate to your post exactly? I am sure you are very aware of the new upcoming show K-town here in the states, I am not sure if that is within the realm of what you discuss, but I was curious on your take on it.


    1. Sorry for the late reply, and I’m not sure what you mean by “language and authenticity appropriation by industries and the tensions it cause with minority groups” I’m afraid, or how it relates to this post, Could you please elaborate?

      Didn’t know about the K-town thing in the US either sorry. I’m sure I read about it, but I don’t have much time to keep track of what groups are doing abroad unfortunately.


  8. Am I alone in thinking that there’s an inherent difference between a sexy display by a (female) solo artist versus a tightly choreographed, matching-outfit group, along the lines that the former tends to send the (IMHO healthy and progressive) message “I’m passionate and want to enjoy sex with a man (woman?) who can handle me”, while the latter message is much closer to “Here’s your harem”?


    1. J. Goard,

      My first impression was to say another dead-on and perceptive post from you and I think for the Korean situation it fits, but I’m wondering now how much of this has to do with the usual difference in ages between solo artists and girl groups there. It’s probably age more than solo vs. ensemble if you expand the playing field. I think of Hinoi Asuka’s “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” (she was only 12 when it was filmed) and, I dunno, The Saturday’s cover of “Just Can’t Get Enough” The former starts to get creepy (it’s very mild by today’s standards, but she is undeniably intended to be desireable) whereas the latter is…well, I’ll let the male in me speak and say it’s pretty damn hot, and they don’t come across as disempowered at all to me; whether posed or not they appear to be genuinely enjoying themselves and the retro pin-up style within it (could be too that they are mostly in successive solo shots rather than ensemble though? hmm)…..

      Links to save people trouble:



      (and, btw, not to take anything away from Asuka’s talent as the below is a very fine pop-rock song and she sings it with power and the band sounds great):


    2. I’ve had replying to your comment on a list of things to do for a few days sorry, but fortunately Dogdyedblack has already done so much better than I could. I certainly agree with him that the usually young ages of girl group members and older ages of solo artists is probably the critical factor.

      Another though, would be how much the artists or girl groups members are doing the sexy dance moves and/or showing as much skin as they do because they genuinely want to as a symbol of their sexual empowerment, or rather because they’re forced to by managers and so on (and indeed, 60% of Korean female teenager entertainers have claimed the latter). I admit that it’s often difficult to tell which is which, and I’m not for a moment claiming that teenage women can’t be sexually empowered simply by virtue of their youth, but with young girl groups members’ innocent, cutesy off-stage personas almost invariably being at odds with what they wear and do on stage, and/or changing every few months according to the whims of their entertainment companies’ marketing strategies, then I don’t tend to find them particularly sexy.

      Sure, I’ll still look of course, but that’s not quite the same thing!


  9. Frequent visitor, first time commenter here! What you wrote is true, though. This post and this podcast this podcast give a lot of insight about RaNia and girl groups in particular. In an industry dominated by males, everything is about sex.


  10. If you want some really erm… erotic music videos, look no farther than Koda Kumi’s stuff. They make Miss A and the new Korean girl groups look tame. It was during her ero-kakkoii (erotic-cool) transformation. Showing that girls can be powerful and dominant.

    Case in point, her Shake It and Juicy videos:


    1. Not my thing music-wise sorry, but you’re certainly got a point about their eroticism, and it’s difficult to imagine any Korean singer having such a provocative image. Having said that, even just 5 years ago it would have been difficult to imagine music videos like the ones featured in this post ever making it to Korean screens, so it wouldn’t surprise me if things like those become the new norm in the next 5-10 years, and ones as risque as Koda Kumi’s the new extreme.


  11. I’m Korean and I hate Korean Pop music these days so much O.O Nowadays its all about how K pop is spreading across Europe, but frankly i hope it never will. I might be little extreme, but those music is plain garbage. They can’t freakin sing, they can only sing with as a group. Its all about the LOOK(fake) and Suggestive DANCE(nuf said). I hate to see my little brother being a big fan of those girls, having a settled image of girls like that. He already once described his ideal wife to be IU some trendy chick i have no idea about, but apparently have that same doll face. Hearing him saying “She is perfect” makes me sad. I might be over reacting, since he is only 12, and i did have a celebrity crush like that when i was young. But still….im a bit concerned. Especially when Korean education lacking proper sex education and tends to look down upon teenage relationships, this whole K-pop barbie girls r setting an ideal women’s image, and more and more girls will go through plastic surgeries. I have always wondered when im watching Korean News how woman announcers r incredibly attractive and young while male announcers r just average looking with slightly older age. mmhm. Also It’s not just K pop, its actually happening all across the world. I miss 60s, 70s, and 80s so much, those are my favorite. Although.. i was born in 90s….uh huh. born in wrong damn decade right?


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