I am the Best (내가 제일 잘 나가) by 2NE1 (투애니원): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

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It’s a strange feeling, being disappointed by the release of a 2NE1 music video.

Perhaps the closest analogy would be a few weeks after you first leave home, when the excitement of non-stop partying wears off. Suddenly, you realize that it’s up to you to do the housework, take care of yourself, and somehow pay the bills. Maybe even—heaven forbid—go to bed at 10 like your parents did.

Likewise, Areia’s trance remixes of Follow Me (날 따라 해봐요) and especially Can’t Nobody are how I personally came to love 2NE1, and they’re such epics that I couldn’t help but be taken along for the ride. But, once the magic had worn off a little, I had to admit that their music videos made little sense really, placing the onus on YG Entertainment to produce something more original and coherent this time.

And in the same style as the above image, the teasers did make me hopeful, especially given the constant delays to its release. Like Ashley at Seoulbeats said:

Is it too much to hope for an entirely animated MV with with the girls clearing out a warehouse, Tomb Raider style? They’ve got guns!

But instead we got a veritable smorgasbord of images and props again:

About which Noelle of the (awesome) Always Rational K-Pop Podcast said:

Let’s see… CL the boxer (or wrestler, take your pick) and the mental patient in a straightjacket and later on with a kitten that looks suspiciously like one of my kittens; Bom in skintight leather and studs rocking the dominatrix look with a poodle; Dara in a sports car and later with a hat with two ice creams in metal; Minzi in armor (which reminds me of Joan of Arc) who shows off her nifty dance moves…and all the girls with guns shooting glass. Nice!

What can I say? Well, nothing much but yeah, the world is theirs to conquer.

To which I’d add the—yet again—outrageous expense of their outfits, which surely undermines their maverick and/or bad-girl image?

Much as I’d like to deconstruct Bom’s BDSM side then, or ponder the symbolism of CL stroking her pussy, the incoherence of the video defies such efforts, so I’ll wisely just concentrate on the lyrics here. But don’t get me wrong: disappointment at missed opportunities aside, the video is still very addictive(!), and I love the song itself so much that it’s no less than my second ever MP3 purchase! (600won/US$0.55 from Naver, if you’re curious)

UpdateMy First Love Story puts my love-hate relationship with the video very well:

“I Am The Best” is the title of the new 2NE1 single. Fitting, as 2NE1 may in fact be the best girl group in the world at this very moment. And this is taking into account that the above video is rather typical 2NE1. It’s flashy, sleek, and professional, but it’s not like we haven’t seen this type of look-book video from them time and again. Thankfully, a typical 2NE1 video is still worlds better than an amazing video by approximately 99% of other girl groups in the game right now.

Update 2 – And Subi at Seoulbeats discusses the question of if this music video means that 2NE1 is really as original and unique as they seem.

(Source, all screenshots)

내가 제일 잘 나가 (x4)

Bam Ratatata Tatatatata (x4)

Oh my god

누가 봐도 내가 좀 죽여주잖아

둘째가라면 이 몸이 서럽잖아

넌 뒤를 따라오지만 난 앞만 보고 질주해

네가 앉은 테이블 위를 뛰어다녀 I don’t care

건드리면 감당 못해 I’m hot hot hot hot fire

뒤집어지기 전에 제발 누가 날 좀 말려

I am the best (x4)

Bam Ratatata Tatatatata (x4)

Oh my god

Whoever sees me thinks I’m a little killing hot

To be second to someone would be such a pity

You follow behind me, but I look ahead and race forward

I jump around on the table you sit at, I don’t care

If you touch me you won’t be able to bear it

Someone stop me before I go crazy

I’m surprised to learn that this is actually only the second 2NE1 song I’ve translated on the blog, and so will try to speed up the other 2 or 3 almost-completed ones I have floating around on my hard drive somewhere. Until then, please take my word for it that the brevity of their lyrics tends to belie their vagueness and contradictions, and in particular that subjects and objects are so often omitted in this song that—lest they make the translation unreadable—I decided to forgo all the extra square brackets to indicate my guesses (but I think I’ve got most of them right!).

That caveat aside, in line 4 “killing hot” is my wife’s literal translation, but which I’m sure you can make more natural-sounding in English (“looks to die for”? “looks that kill”?). Likewise, I thought the “a little” (좀) detracted from, maybe even flatly contradicted the point that she was very attractive, but as it’s in the original Korean then there you have it.

Fortunately the rest is just a matter of getting the dictionary out, as is the next verse, so I’ll pass it on without comment. But as always, please feel free to ask any questions about anything I don’t cover (and I’ll add my explanations in the corresponding sections of the post).

옷장을 열어 가장 상큼한 옷을 걸치고

거울에 비친 내 얼굴을 꼼꼼히 살피고

지금은 여덟 시 약속시간은 여덟 시 반

도도한 걸음으로 나선 이 밤

내가 제일 잘 나가 (x4)

I open my wardrobe and throw on my sweetest clothes, then

meticulously inspect my face shining in the mirror

Now it’s 8, my appointment is at half past

I leave this night with a proud, arrogant step

I am the best (x4)

내가 봐도 내가 좀 끝내주잖아

네가 나라도 이 몸이 부럽잖아

남자들은 날 돌아보고 여자들은 따라해

내가 앉은 이 자리를 매일 넘봐 피곤해

선수인척 폼만 잡는 어리버리한 Playa

넌 바람 빠진 타이어처럼 보기 좋게 차여

어떤 비교도 난 거부해 이건 겸손한 얘기

가치를 논하자면 나는 Billion dollar baby

뭘 쫌 아는 사람들은 다 알아서 알아봐

아무나 잡고 물어봐 누가 제일 잘 나가?

내가 제일 잘 나가 (x4)

Whoever sees me thinks my look is the end

Even if you were me, you would be envious of my body

Men turn their heads and look at me, women follow me

I am tired of people trying to take my place [as number one] everyday

A stupid, naive playa who only poses like one

Like a tire that’s had it’s air let out, you look well rejected

I don’t accept some comparison, this is my modest story

If you planned to guess my worth, then I’m a billion dollar baby

People who know about stuff, recognize all this by themselves

Grab anyone and ask: who is the best?

Lulled into a false sense of security by the previous verses, this one frankly had me wanting to rip my hair out. Fortunately, I don’t actually have any, but you get the idea!

  • In line 1, as you can probably guess “my look is the end” is a literal translation, but note that it means exactly the same thing as “I’m a little killing hot” in the corresponding line in Verse 1.
  • If you’re confused by line 2, because you think that if you were one of the 2NE1 members then surely you wouldn’t be jealous of their body because it was now yours, then you’re not alone. So please don’t shoot the messenger!
  • In line 3, don’t misread the “돌아보다” like I originally did: it’s not “돌보다”, which means “to look after”.
  • Line 4 is literally “athlete-pretend-form/pose[only]-grab[that]-stupid/naive-playa”…after reading which I seriously began to despair. But my wife telling me that “선수” (athlete) also means “playa” in many contexts helped, and our final “a stupid, naive playa who only poses like one” does make some sense: the guy referred to is a poser rather than a genuine playa perhaps?
  • Line 7 would be better translated to “Nobody compares to me” in English, but what’s up there is closer to the original Korean. No, I don’t think that that’s a “modest story” either.
  • Line 9 I couldn’t make any head or tail of, and so the translation is entirely my wife’s. I throw myself on the mercy of the court!

In compensation for the difficulty I had with all that though, fortunately the song is already almost over:

누가? 네가 나보다 더 잘 나가?

No no no no!

Na na na na! (x4)

Bam Ratatata Tatatatata (x4)

Oh my god

Who? You are better than me?

No no no no!

Na na na na! (x4)

Bam Ratatata Tatatatata (x4)

Oh my god

And on that note, apologies for the slight delay with this post. But for my severest critics demanding to get involved however, then it would have been up several hours ago:

Girls on Top (걸스온탑) by BoA (보아): Lyrics, Translation, & Explanation

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Why open a post about music with a mascara ad? Good question, to which the simple answer would be that Girls on Top came out nearly 6 years ago, and high-quality, eye-catching images of BoA from back then are hard to find. But also, serendipitously, it helps focus our minds on just how unconventional the song is.

In particular, ponder how “sexy” she appears in it. With her exposed navel; navel piercing; hand thrust in jeans; tight clothes; confident gaze at the viewer; hole in her clothes deliberately revealing her chest; and long windswept hair, then she’s every inch the sexually-empowered and assertive female, or at least modern advertising’s definition of one.

But still, that slight body cant does look a little awkward. And with her head raised back, accentuated by the BDSM-like clothing that covers her neck, then surely I’m not the only one reminded of poses you usually only see done by porn stars?

And just how sexy do those porn stars themselves feel doing them? Take Alex Arden for instance, a former Penthouse “Pet of the Month” (July 2001, if you’re curious):

When you get yourself into the really contortionist position that you’ve got to hold up and your back hurts and you’ve got to suck in your stomach, you’ve got to stick your hips out, you’ve got to arch your back and you’ve got to stick your butt out all at the same time and suck in and hold your breath, you don’t feel sexy. You feel pain. And you feel like you want to kill [the photographer].

Like Ariel Levy says in Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, from which that was taken (p. 42), “if sexy means passionate or invested in one’s own fantasies and sexual proclivities, then the pictorials [in Penthouse] don’t quite do it.” Nor, I’d wager, that ad.

Now compare the back and front covers of BoA’s Girls on Top album from 2005:

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About which her Wikipedia page says:

BoA reinvented her image on her fourth Korean album, My Name (2004); she left the “cute” and “youthful” style that had characterized previous years and presented herself as “sexy” and “sultry”.[7][19] The album was the beginning of a foray into the Chinese market and contained two songs sung in Mandarin Chinese.[19] The sales of BoA’s Korean albums began to decline: the album sold 191,000 units and became the eleventh-best-selling South Korean album of the year.[20] Her fifth Korean album, Girls on Top, continued her image change. The album portrayed the singer as more “mature and self-confident” and was a “declaration of war on male chauvinism”; the “bohemian” look of the cover photograph represented “freedom and depth”, while music videos and album photographs that portrayed BoA in traditional Korean dress brought the “idea of Korean womanhood” into her music. The album also continued BoA’s foray into the Chinese market and, like the previous album, contained Mandarin Chinese songs.[21] The album sold less than the previous album; it was the fourteenth-best-selling record of the year in South Korea with 113,000 units sold.[22]

Granted, the album covers don’t set out to present a sexy image of BoA per se. But if one considers the subjects themselves feeling sexy to be essential to them looking attractive (and hey, it’s important enough to affect the way women rate men at least), then those covers win by default (my weakness for smouldering stares notwithstanding).

Which leads me to the song itself, which I chose to look at because a reader sent me the following intriguing email:

…I have been following your girl group lyric translations but there’s one song I am really curious about, mostly because I’d like to know if it’s as overtly feminist as I suspect it is…

…It’s not only the gold lamé and skull ring that’s tough but the part at the end where she fake kicks her male dancers into submission in a Take Back the Night inspired bit of of pop choreography. I know you’re focusing mostly on girl groups, but I think this one’s interesting in the context of K-pop because it seems to fall outside the two ever present concepts of “sexy” and “cute.” I have tried to find the lyrics in English but most of them are poorly done. What I’ve gleaned so far is that she may be talking about the myriad conflicting expectations a modern girl must fulfill and might even be bemoaning the constant pressure to embody male views of sexiness (!). Or it could be a girl power-lite anthem conceived by greedy business men; but either way I’d like to hear your views.

Whereas the concept of “cute” really needs no explanation, it’s the mascara ad that helped me realize what version of “sexy” BoA might have been trying to avoid – and challenge – in Girls on Top (although I beg to differ on that being a “male view of [female] sexiness,” and would argue that it’s more a media one). Certainly the choreography and costumes give that impression:

As do the lyrics in this English version, although unfortunately they don’t at all match the Korean ones (and, call me picky, but that picture of her is actually from 2010!):

Or at least, what I think the Korean ones are. Maybe I’m just rusty, as it’s been 2 months since I last translated any song lyrics, but even my wife and sister-in-law really struggled with understanding some of these ones, let alone with what they might be in English. I apologize in advance for the numerous mistakes then, and would really appreciate any corrections:

모든게 나에게 여자가 여자다운 것을 강요해

날 바라보는 네 야릇한 시선들이 난 싫어

(약한 여자 사랑에 약한 여자)

내게 강요하지마 틀에 갇혀버릴 내가 아닌 걸

(내뜻대로) 전부 나의 뜻대로

Everything forces me to be feminine

I hate your strange stares as you gaze at me

(A woman that goes crazy in love, a woman that goes crazy in love)

Don’t force me, don’t confine me in a cage

(My way) Everything done my way

(Source)

Line 1 is literally “everything-to me-woman-womanly-thing-force”, which hopefully gives you an inkling of how open to interpretation these song lyrics are. Next, in line 2, “야릇하다” means “odd; queer; strange; peculiar; curious; mysterious” according to my electronic dictionary, but I’d be interested in hearing from someone who gets much more everyday speaking practice than me (probably most of you!) if it has connotations of “sleazy” or something like that, which sounds more appropriate for the song. Either way, in line 3 by “crazy in love” I mean someone who gets distracted and/or can’t think straight when in love rather than being deeply in love, and finally in line 4 “틀” is technically a “frame” that she’s confined to, but – after being distracted by the “think outside of the box” idiom for a while – I think “cage” works better in English.

Next is the chorus:

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나는 나인걸 누구도 대신 하지 말아

(그렇게 만만하게 넘어갈 내가 아니야)

내 모습 그대로 당당하고 싶어

(그늘에 갇혀 사는 여자를 기대하진 마)

I am myself, nobody can replace me

(I’m not someone who lets go easily like that)

Myself, I want to be confident

Don’t expect a woman who hides in the shade

(Source)

Two things in this verse, I couldn’t have understood without a native speaker to help. The first in line 1 – “나는 나인걸”, literally “I am myself” – probably because my Korean isn’t remotely as good as I like to think, but “넘어가다” in line 2 has no less than 11 meanings, only the last of which “be swallowed; be choked down; be taken/got down; be drunk in” sounds remotely like the “let go [take/endure it]” that my wife said it means.

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섹시한 차분한 영원히 한 남자만 아는 따분함 그건 바로 착각 모든 남자들의 관심사

난 이 세상을 모두 바꿔버릴 꿈을 다 가진걸

Get it up 난 부족해 Get it up 모든 게 다 말이 되지 않잖아

그들만의 평등 같은 건 그대들이 만든 기준에 맞게

The boring notion [that women] want forever to be with only one sexy, quiet man is a direct illusion that all men are under

A dream I have can change everything in this world

Get it up I am insufficient Get it up Everything doesn’t make sense

Their thing like equality only matches their standards

(Source)

Yeah, I liked the “get it up” too, a barb very appropriate for the tone of this song, but the level of the Konglish in the rest of the song means it’s probably accidental. And any humor I found in it was soon ruined by trying to figure out those god-awful opening couple of lines, which I wish I’d realized much earlier (and have consequently presented as) were actually just the one.

In a nutshell, they say “sexy-quiet/calm-eternally-one-man only-know-boredom/weariness-that-directly-illusion-all-man’s-affair/interest”. After half an hour’s discussion between my wife, sister-in-law, and I (and – for good measure – my daughters trying to get us to talk about farting instead), we think that “The boring notion [that women] want forever to be with only one sexy, quiet man is a direct illusion that all men are under” is what is meant, but accept that – repeated distracting farting sounds aside – it doesn’t really make sense in the context of the song, and so are more than open to alternatives.

Meanwhile, it’s my significant other that says that “말이 되지 않잖아” means “doesn’t make sense”. And on that note – lest we’ve made mistakes with those also – that from “Get it up” to the final “맞게” was originally 3 lines, but I’ve rearranged them so that they make sense for you at least!

Next is the chorus again, then the next verse. But I don’t think there’s really anything to explain in it, although I’m quite happy to if anyone wants me to:

(Source)

모든게 나에게 여자가 여자다운 것을 강요해

더 이상은 참지 말아

Shake it Everything I like that

마음을 더 열어봐 우린 같은 곳을 향해가잖아

모두 함께 영원할텐데

서로 다른 성일뿐 존재하기 위한 인간인걸

Why 이젠 부정하지마

Everything forces me to be feminine

Don’t endure it any more

Shake it Everything I like that

Try opening my heart more, we both want the same thing

With everything eternally

Each other, we are humans that only exist to be different sexes

Why Now don’t deny it

(Source)

남자들 모두가 세상의 진리는 절대로 불변의 법칙이라고

이 칼을 잡은 난 세상의 지배자

힘의 논리 남자만의 법칙들

아주 웃기시네 Blurr Blurr Blurr Blurr

(Do you need money? I pay you)

돈에 눈이 멀어 자존심을 사는 남자

그대 이젠 맞이해라 Dooms and a Dooms

자 이제 보아 얘길 담아 듣자

새 시대 Story Girls on Top

All men [say/think] the world’s truth is an absolute, unchangeable law

I [am] the world’s leader grabbing this knife

Strength’s logic is only men’s rule

Yeah, right Blurr Blurr Blurr Blurr

(Do you need money? I pay you)

Men that only have eyes for money buy pride

Now you greet/welcome Dooms and a Dooms

Well, now listen carefully to BoA’s story

New age, Story Girls on Top

(Source)

Spoken with the confidence of someone with 2 bilingual speakers helping him, but that was refreshingly easy!

First, in line 1 I wrote “say/think” because which one it is isn’t actually mentioned in the indirect speech (there’s nothing after “법칙이라고”). Then in line 3, “웃기시네” is slang for “Yeah, right” (with or without the “아주”), and finally in line 5 “눈이 멀어” literally means “eyes far”, but combined with “[something]에” then it means “only have eyes for [something]”.

And now we’re in the home straight:

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이 세상의 반 그건 여자들이 만들거야

(Go baby Girl Rise up Throw your hands up Do you like that)

당당하게 난 멀리 앞을 향해 걸어갈래

(Go baby Go baby)

Women will make half of this world

(Go baby Girl Rise up Throw your hands up Do you like that)

I will walk further forward confidently

(Go baby Go baby)

(Source)

Again I got a little distracted by the first line, originally thinking it was an allusion to Mao-Zedong’s quote that “women hold up half the sky”, but apart from that then there’s not much of note language-wise there. And with just the chorus after that, then now it’s time to ponder the original question of whether BoA is “talking about the myriad conflicting expectations a modern girl must fulfill, [maybe even] bemoaning the constant pressure to embody male views of sexiness”, or if the song is merely “a girl power-lite anthem conceived by greedy business men”?

What do you think?

The cynic in me says the latter, as it’s just too incoherent to justify the former, no matter how much I’d like to. But some things may well be be lost in translation, and as this is in fact the very first song of BoA’s I’ve ever really listened to — let alone translated — then I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, although frankly I don’t particularly like it, it’s definitely piqued my interest in both the development of her image over the last 10 years, especially in her American debut with Eat You Up in 2008 (covered extensively in “Playing the Race and Sexuality Cards in the Transnational Pop Game: Korean Music Videos for the US Market” by Eun-Young Jung in Journal of Popular Music Studies Volume 22, Issue 2, pages 219–236, June 2010; email me for a copy), and also in how female singers and girl groups use sexuality to rebrand themselves (and for more on that, see ‘What’s Your Definition of Dirty, Baby?’: Sex in Music Video” by Andsager, J.  & Roe, K. in Sexuality and Culture, 2003, Vol 7; PART 3, pages 79-97; again, email me for a copy).

So, needless to say, I’ll be covering some more BoA songs this summer!^^

Pin-up Girls as Role Models?

(Sources: left, right)

The first fruits of my lecture last weekend!

Of the two, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005) is by far the easier to read, taking just the trip home to finish. Feeling much more like a expanded version of the New Yorker article it was based on than a real in-depth examination of the subject though, unfortunately it has little that wasn’t much more thoroughly covered later in The Lolita Effect (2008) and Guyland (2008), and is not readily applicable to Korea. However, it will still be – ahem – a goldmine for pithy quotes, and for 16,500 won (US$15.19) a good choice for those who’ve never read a feminist text before.

In contrast, Maria Buszek’s Pin-Up Grrrls (2006) is a daunting 444 page tome, which in hindsight I am not surprised to have found second-hand for a mere 15,500 won (US$14.27): the cover and frequent photographs belie its rigorous academic approach. Moreover, as Korea lacks a tradition of pin-up girls (although perhaps it does still have a “pin-up culture” nonetheless?), then you’d think that it would be even less helpful than Levy’s book for gaining insights into Korean gender issues and popular culture.

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But, reading the introduction in the bookstore,  I was already intrigued as soon as page 4:

Contrary to the popular belief – held by many within, outside of, and even against the movement – that a “feminist pin-up” is an oxymoron, it is no more so than “feminist painting” of “feminist sculpture,” or “feminist porn” for that matter” these are all media and genres historically used and appreciated primarily by men, about which nothing is inherently sexist, but which have all been both kept from women and used to create images that inscribe, normalize, or bolster notion of women as inferior to men. While this fact has been recognized by many feminist thinkers – indeed, many such media and genres have been avoided by certain feminist artists for these very reasons – few would deny that the same have been and may be strategically used by women to subvert the sexism with which they have historically been associated. Yet the pin-up – because of its simultaneous ubiquity and invisibility, prurient appeal and prudery, artistry and commercialism – has not been so readily granted a feminist interpretation. The genre is a slippery one: it doesn’t represent sex so much as suggest it, and these politely suggestive qualities have as a result always lent it to a commercial culture of which feminists have justifiably been wary for its need to cultivate the kind of desire and dissatisfaction that leads to consumption.

And on my way to the checkout by page 6:

Freuh has articulated this desire succinctly in her writing on the relevance of sexuality to the feminist movement: “As long as I am an erotic subject, I am not averse to being an erotic object.” The problem with this conflation of subject/object is in constructing and representing a feminist identity that is both subversive and alluring….As Bell Hooks puts this conundrum: “It is has been a simply task for women to describe and criticize negative aspects of sexuality as it has been socially constructed in sexist society; to expose male objectification and dehumanization of women; to denounce rape, pornography, sexualized violence, incest etc. It has been a far more difficult task for women to envision new sexual paradigms to change the norms of sexuality.”

(Source)

While acknowledging that it may indeed be a false dichotomy, nevertheless I too have long maintained that women being sexual objects in the media doesn’t necessarily preclude the models concerned from also being sexual subjects. But still, I simply had no idea how subversive pin-ups could be, or how, often used by the models for their own ends, they could indeed include flaunting their own sexuality.

In that vein, as Korean society continues to grapple with the issue of the increasing sexualization of young women and especially teenage girls in the media, it’s going to be very helpful to have examples of genuinely sexually-empowering images of women to inform critiques of that trend, or at least the intellectual tools to help better understand what constitutes such. Because frankly, for me personally it’s high time to move beyond simply repeatedly pointing out that what is often touted as female empowerment is in fact frequently forced upon unwilling participants, but without ever actually elaborating on what would be a positive alternative.

Meanwhile, has anybody already read either book, or any others by the same authors? Or do you already have some of your own ideas for images of women you’d like to see more of in the Korean media? For a quick introduction to my own thoughts, please see from slide #97 onwards in the lecture!

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“Juvis Professional Diet” Does it Again…

(Source: Busan Focus, 15 June 2011, page 17)

With apologies to the guinea pigs that were the first to receive it, I’m constantly updating my public lecture on gender and Korean advertising as I get more practice with it, and indeed I’ve just realized I’ve been making a big oversight by not mentioning Koreans’ exceptionally tolerant attitudes towards photoshopping in it previously. Deciding to remedy that in the latest version then, naturally I decided to include one of the most notorious recent examples: singer G.Na‘s ubiquitous advertisements for “Juvis Professional Diet“, which I discussed here. Surely, I thought, there was no greater demonstration than making such an attractive woman look like a virtual alien (or at least her legs).

Then I opened today’s paper…

Rough Weekend…

Once again, I’m very impressed with my daughter’s attention to detail!

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Korean Gender Reader

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1) Because one can never talk too much about Playboy…

Admittedly it’s only tangentially related to Korea, but then Playboy bunny ears were very popular with Korean women last summer, and then in January you also had American film critic Roger Ebert criticizing Korean groups for not really understanding all the Playboy references they were using. So, it was really interesting to hear just this podcast from the British sociology program Thinking Allowed (previously mentioned here), which in its own words says:

Carrie Pitzulo, the author of a new history of Playboy claims it has “a surprisingly strong record of support for women’s rights and the modernisation of sexual and gender roles”. Are Bunny Girls and Playmates of the Month really allies of the feminist cause? [Host] Laurie is joined by the author Carrie Pitzulo and the sociologist Angela McRobbie to discuss the secret and surprises of the bunny brand.

Continuing with the tangents, I’ve ironically become much more interested in Western pop-culture since presenting at the Korean Pop Culture Conference 2011 in LA last month, and so on Gord Sellar’s recommendation have just ordered Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia by Francis Wheen, on “general culture across the Anglophone world in the 1970s”. To any 30-somethings like myself especially, who were too young to really know anything about that decade, it sounds like riveting reading (and it would be good to hear our parents’ takes on it too).

2) The pitfalls of being pregnant in Korea

Any other “Western” women with Korean husbands get stared at by old men? More so than before they were pregnant that is? Shotgun Korea is about to explode, in more ways than one!^^

Update: Shotgun Korea also has a post on a strange virus that seems to be killing pregnant women in Korea.

(Source: Sinfest, one of my favorite comics. Hope that was okay!)

3) Funny or offensive? Sports show asks why Korean women are good at golf

Judge for yourself at CNNgo. Not being a golf fan, then normally I wouldn’t pay much attention to this sort of thing, but Rachael Miyung Joo of Middlebury College piqued my interest in them with her presentation Traveling Ladies: Korean Female Athletes and Global Korea at the Korean Popular Culture conference. A quick excerpt from the abstract:

…Within the context of U.S. nationalist discourses, Korean female athletes exist as a “yellow peril” threat to the elite white traditions of professional golf. The extraordinary growth of Korean and Korean Americans within the Ladies Professional Golf Association have produced racist responses to Korean golfers including an attempt to institute an English Only policy in the league. Nevertheless, the LPGA has grown due to the celebrity of Korean golfers, and their impact on the growth of the LPGA has translated into policies that work to get all female golfers to emphasize female charm for the pleasure of male fans. Furthermore, hypersexualized Korean female golfers work to assuage anxieties around lesbianism in professional women’s sport…

Read the rest here. Unfortunately there’s not much information about it, but I’m also looking forward to her book Transnational Sport: Gender, Athletes, and the Making of Global Korea that’s coming out sometime this year.

4) Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 5

Or rather, the news that Girl’s Day (걸스데이) recently performed in costumes so high that their panties were exposed could easily have been the next post in that series (one member only turns 17 tomorrow). But I don’t really have anything to add to what Michael Hurt says at Yahae! about it except to say that, unfortunately, I feel somewhat vindicated by it(!):

…this is a bridge too far. The skirts have now come up above the panties. I mean, I know that competition from the many girl groups that now exist must force some serious marketing decisions such as the one to make underage girls truss around in skirts that don’t cover their jibblies, but you gotta draw a line somewhere!

See Part 2 for more on the issues raised by performers dancing and/or dressing in sexual ways when the age of consent is as low as 13.

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5) Discussing cosmetic surgery With Koreans

Is it also your experience that you just can’t win? See On Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife for a long and thoughtful post on the subject.

Related, see Sociological Images for the self-explanatory recent post “Race and the Problems of Measuring Beauty Objectively“, and you may also like the “Ethnic Comparisons” section of the Feminine Beauty site (NSFW).

6) Foreign children sexually and physically abused at Haeundae Beach

See Koreabridge for the details. Also, while I’m always prepared to give the police the benefit of the doubt considering how the Korean media will simply make up stories about their incompetence, they do indeed seem to have acted extremely unprofessionally in their handling of this case.

7) Corporate life in Korea

…is no picnic for women, who tend to be lower on the totem-pole, but it’s important to remember that it can be pretty bad for men too.  See these posts by I’m No Picasso and New Yorker in Seoul for some first-hand experiences.

8) I like big butts and I can not lie…

Usually I’m loathe to quote entire posts, but then everyone on Tumblr is doing it so I can too. Here then, are some very wise words from American actress Tina Fey (found via Hot Yellow Fellows):

But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when J.Lo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyonce and J.Lo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.

Much the same can be said of Korean women of course, but with an important possible exception:  the doll-tits. Not because Korean women tend to be less busty than their Western counterparts though, but rather because there seems to be a genuine taboo against breast exposure which even the Korean media is wary of. Lest that sound simply absurd however, then consider the case of G.Na (지나), whose – to put it bluntly – most marketable assets seem strangely underplayed by the otherwise extremely exploitative and objectifying Korean music industry.

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9) “Secret (시크릿) will show off their innocent and cute selves with a sexy and powerful dance in Japan through Madonna

As it turns out, that was a mistranslation of the original Korean – “청순과 귀여움은 물론 섹시미와 파워풀한 댄스를 모두 겸비한 시크릿은 일본 시장에서도 충분히 통할 수 있다는 전망이다” – by Koreaboo, and something like “They’lll show off an innocent and cute image of course, but combine it with sexiness and powerful dancing” would be much more accurate. But the Korean media does indeed say such things all the time, which speaks volumes about how female sexuality is presented by Korean girl-groups, and of course the sentance still remains a bit of an oxymoron (but kudos to Koreaboo for at least providing a link to the original article to check, unlike – grrr – allkpop).

For more on that, see, well, just about all of this blog(!), but if you’re after something more specific then this and this recent post at SeoulBeats are good introductions (and for some background to the latter, see here).

10) Essential reading on Korean Feminism

Even if I’m No Picasso hadn’t *cough* praised this blog in it, I’d still describe this as one of the best posts I’ve ever read on the subject (or technically speaking, English discussions of the subject). And it behooves me to say that I have certainly been (and probably still occasionally am) guilty of discussing Korean women, feminism, and/or gender issues through an overly generalizing, patronizing, and – for want of a better word – Orientalist lens, and so this post of hers will seriously provide a checklist for me for maybe years to come! (And Roboseyo’s post on “Mansplaining” is very helpful too).

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Cinderella Ate My Daughter (신데렐라가 내 딸을 먹었다)^^

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Apologies for the slow posting everyone: it’s been a very busy end to the semester, and then I caught a bad cold over the long weekend. Hopefully I should be writing again by tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought readers might be interested in a book I’ve just ordered: Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein.

Like Reading the Lolita Effect by M. Gigi Durham, intellectually-speaking it’s going to very interesting applying it to the Korean context. But with my 5 year-old daughter expressing a desire to be a princess literally every day though, and having constant fights because she always wants to wear her most “princessy” clothes, then this time round I have much more practical and immediate concerns that I hope the book can help me with!

Anybody else read it, and/or have similar problems with their aspiring little princesses? So far, my wife and I have had the most success with persuading her to become a strong confident queen instead!

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