What did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation? Part 1


Yes, the Korean title to the article does indeed say “depraved” oppas, with exactly the same sexual connotations in both languages. But if it’s news of some potential K-pop scandal that drew you here though, then I fear you’ll be disappointed!

Instead, it’s actually about the negatives of the girl-group phenomenon. And, rather than by some sleazy tabloid journalist, in fact it’s written by academic Kang In-kyu, who spoke on Korean internet culture at a recent Korea Pop Culture conference at UC Irvine, which also included Stephen Epstein’s and my own presentation on girl-groups. Sure enough, Kang later refers to — and is clearly heavily influenced by — our work, but he also very much builds upon it, and we’re very happy to learn that the issue is beginning to get an airing in the Korean media.

Practically speaking however, unfortunately the article is also a little long, so I’ve split it into five parts to be put up over the next week or so (please consider this one just the introduction). But for the odd addition of my own words here and here though (indicated by square brackets), I’m afraid that also means I don’t really have the time to work on the style of the translation!

Girls' Generation Oh Opening Image음흉한  ‘오빠들’, 소녀시대에 무슨 짓 한 건가 / What did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation?

아이돌, 착취사회의 경쾌한 합리화. 강인규 기자

Idols, the light-hearted rationalization of an exploitative society. By Kang In-kyu.

(‘순진’, ‘애교’, ‘수줍음’, ‘여림’ 등은 걸그룹의 주된 이미지 전략이다. ‘오빠’로 대표되는 수동적 여성성의 회귀는 무기력해진 남성의 욕망을 드러낸다. 사진은 소녀시대의 ‘오!’ 뮤직비디오의 한 장면)

(Opening image caption: Naivety, aegyo, timidity, fragility, and so on are girl-groups’ main image strategy. This representative Oppa phenomenon reveals men’s desire for a passive, regressive, and powerless women’s sexuality. Photo: scene from music video to Oh!, by Girls’ Generation)

참 이상한 일이었다. 한국 성평등 지수가 세계 최하위 수준이라는 사실을 몰라서가 아니다. 2010년 세계성평등도 조사에서 한국은 134개국 가운데 104위를 했다. 20대 여성 자살률은 경제협력개발기구(OECD) 평균의 두 배가 넘고, 50대 여성 행복지수는 세계에서 가장 낮다. 한국에서 여자로 태어나는 순간 차별과 불행을 피할 수 없다.

Something a little strange happened [recently]. [I mean, it’s] not that I didn’t already know that Korea has one of the lowest scores in the world for sexual equality. In 2010 [for instance], a survey found that of 134 countries examined, Korea came in 104th. It also had over twice the OECD average for suicides of 20-something women, and its 50-something women were the unhappiest in the world. Indeed, surely to be born female in Korea means it is impossible to avoid discrimination and bad luck.

그래도 이해할 수 없었다. 별안간 ‘오빠’ 바람이라니. ‘오빠 나 좀 봐’, ‘너무 부끄러워’, ‘몰라몰라’, ‘처음이야’, ‘떨려와요’, ‘동생으로만 생각하진 말아’, ‘난 울지도 몰라’, ‘나는 바본가 봐요’, ‘난 다 믿었어’. 아니, 믿을 사람을 믿어야지, 가정에서는 폭력, 사회에서는 차별을 재생산해 온 오빠를 믿는다니. 이 척박한 야만의 땅에서 한국 여성들은 차별과 고정관념에 맞서 끈질기게 싸워오지 않았던가. 내가 보기에, 이 난데없는 ‘오빠 바람’은 명백한 퇴행이었다.

Still, I didn’t understand. But then suddenly there was this “Oppa craze”. “Oppa, look at me”, “I’m so embarrassed”, “I don’t know, I don’t know”, “This is my first time”, “I’m light-headed”, “Don’t just think of me as a little sister”, “I don’t know if I’ll cry”, “I think I’m so foolish”,”I believe everything”. No, how dare you believe those oppas, who perpetuate sexual discrimination and domestic violence. Haven’t women been struggling tenaciously [for a long time] against prejudice and discrimination in this barren, barbarous land? In my opinion, this sudden Oppa craze is a clear regression.

(James – With thanks to the reader that made it and passed it on to me, above is a collection of segments from various girl-groups’ songs that show just how common the phrase “I don’t know” really is.  Also, he poses the interesting question of if it’s usually the groups’ designated cute and innocent members that actually sing it)

대체 언제부터 오빠가 이렇게 믿음직스런 존재가 됐을까? 한국여성의전화 2009년 조사에 따르면, 데이트를 해 본 젊은 여학생 중 78%가 정서적 폭력을 경험한다. 결혼 후에는 절반이 남편, 즉 ‘옛 오빠’가 휘두르는 폭력과 학대를 겪는다는 게 2011년 여성가족부 ‘가정폭력실태조사’ 결과다(한국 남성이 아내에게 폭력을 행사하는 비율은 영국이나 일본의 다섯 배가 넘는다). 직장에서도 남성에 비해 38%나 적은 보수를 받아, OECD 평균 임금격차의 두 배를 훌쩍 넘는다(‘언니’들이 이런 차별을 지지하는 경우는 많지 않다). 복고가 유행하더니, 젊은 여성세대가 전통적인 ‘의존형’으로 회귀하기라도 한 것일까?

Since when (and how on Earth) did oppas suddenly become so trustworthy? According to a telephone survey of Korean women in 2009, of young [university?] students who had dated 78% had experienced emotional abuse. Also, according to the results of a 2011 “Domestic Violence Status Survey” by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF),  half of husbands had inflicted violence or abuse [on their wives] (this rate is 5 times higher those of Japan or the United Kingdom). And in the workplace too, women receive 38% lower wages then men, a gap more than twice as large as the OECD average (there are not many “Onnis” that support this!).

This trend of going back to the past, isn’t it just a regression, making a whole generation of young women dependent?

착각하지 말자. ‘오빠’ 바람이 보여주는 건 아저씨들의 욕망일 뿐이다. 어린 소녀들을 고용해 ‘오빠’ 노래를 부르게 하는 기획사 대표들 대다수가 남자고, 이 노래를 쓴 사람들 역시 예외 없이 남자다. 원더걸스의 대표곡 ‘텔미’와 ‘노바디’는 박진영이 곡과 가사를 썼고, 소녀시대의 히트곡 ‘소원을 말해봐,’ ‘오!’, ‘지(GEE)’, ‘훗’의 가사를 쓴 것도 유영진, 김정배, 김영후, 안명원/김영득, 이현규 등 모두 남자다.

Let’s not have any illusions here: the oppa craze just shows men’s desire. And [indeed], most of the entertainment company representatives who hire young girls to sing these oppa songs are men, as are – without exception – the writers. For instance, the iconic Wondergirls’ songs Tell Me and Nobody were written by JYP, and Girls’ Genertation’s hits Tell Me Your Wish, Oh!, Gee, and Hoot were written by Yu Yeong-jin, Kim Jeong-bae, Kim Yeong-woo, An Myeong-won, Kim Yeong-duk, and Lee Hyeon-gyu, who are all men.


물론 남자들이 여자 가수의 곡을 쓰는 경우는 흔하다. 여기서 지적하고 싶은 것은, 걸그룹이 외치는 ‘오빠’가 ‘동생’들의 욕망과 아무런 관계가 없다는 것이다. 그들은 중년 남자들이 쓴 남성적 욕망을 립싱크하고 있을 뿐이다. 하긴, 오빠만큼 오빠의 욕망을 잘 아는 사람이 또 있겠는가. 머리만한 리본을 달고 손으로 하트를 그리는, 얼굴은 아이고 몸은 어른인 반인반수 아니, ‘애교 소녀’. 남자들의 욕망은 이렇게 단순하다.

[But] of course, it’s not uncommon for men to write the lyrics to female singers’ songs. What I want to point out is that when girl-group members cry out “Oppa”, it has nothing to do with being a little sister; it is simply lip-synching men’s desire, as written by middle-aged men. [After all], nobody knows oppas’ desire better than oppas. And when girl-group members wear ribbons as big as their head, draw hearts with their hands, and have childlike-faces but the bodies of women, they are not some half girl-half women creature but instead “Aegyo Girl”. Men’s desires are that simple.

(걸그룹 기획사는 어린 멤버들의 신체를 거리낌 없이 사물화한다. ‘지(GEE)’ 뮤직비디오에서 소녀시대 멤버들은 쇼윈도의 마네킹으로 등장한다. 남자 출연자는 이 ‘인형들’을 보고, 만지고, 원하는 방식으로 재배치한다)

(Image caption above: Girl-group entertainment companies have no scruples about objectifying members’ bodies. Here in the music video to Gee, the members appear as mannequins in a shop window, while a male performer looks at them as if they were dolls, and moves them around and touches them however he wishes)

James – And on that note, Part 2 on An ‘Oppa Industry’ Founded on Powerless, Frustrated Men’s Desire / 무기력한 남자의 욕망에 기초한 ‘오빠 산업’  can be found here.

59 thoughts on “What did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation? Part 1

  1. He’s wrong about Oh!, it’s written by SM’s female songwriter Kenzie. He also fails to mention that female songwriters were part of the team writing Genie and Hoot. But then writing critically about pop rarely seems to motivate authors to actually care about facts.


    1. Oh! Really?

      Sorry, I couldn’t help myself! But seriously, thanks for passing that correction on, and you’ve certainly persuaded me to start paying more attention to the who’s who of the songwriters from now on.


      1. Kenzie was the composer for Oh, and likewise, the composing teams for Genie and Hoot had females in them. It’s the lyrics for all of those songs that were written by male writers.


        1. There are women “present” in many forms of product but that doesn’t stop exploitation. I’m excited for this article :D


        2. Are these even in house SM producers. SM buys the rights to a lot of these songs from oversees (including Genie and I think Hoot as well) and just have their songwriters (male as far as I know) and composers tweak, so I’m not sure how composer (unless in house) are relevant to this discussion.


          1. The plot thickens! But thanks everyone for the extra info, and although female involvement in the composition and/or song-writing of girl-group songs would certainly detract from Kang’s argument above (if in fact that is the case), like people have said(?) by no means does female involvement automatically mean feminist lyrics and so on, the corollary of which is that surely male songwriters can also produce things that women and girls can identity with.

            On that last, it would be interesting to find out who’s behind 2NE1’s lyrics. Anyone know?


          2. Well Fire, Pretty Boy, Can’t Nobody, Go Away were all written by Teddy Park and I Don’t Care was written by Teddy Park and Kush together…just to name a few….Basically Teddy is behind the majority of their lyrics :)


          3. I must say I was drawn to this article based on “Papa Oppa” (or similar), the fictionary fast food/ religous group depicted in novel & movie Cloud Atlas, placed preciesly in an imagined New Seoul 23rd century, if I recall properly. It is certainly a strong version of the exploitation you mention in your text, with young girls genetically engineered to be gorgeous and dumb clones, serve tables and prepare meals throughout her teenage/ 20’s years and “transported to a higher level” when reaching a certain age. I thought at the time it was an exaggeration of the author, but reading your article I understand how real it could become.


          4. Actually, the wikipedia page for Alex James from Blur is different from that for Alexander James, composer of Hoot.


  2. To be fair some of the “don’t know” in the video are “you don’t know” and not “I don’t know”. But yes 몰라 is a common thing to say in girlgroups’ lyrics. Rookie group A Pink does that a lot, I think both songs they promoted so far feature the word.


    1. Indeed – it’s more a sense of naivety, inexperience, innocence, and/or the fact that it’s the first time the girls that have felt this way that is commonly expressed, not the phrase per se.

      On the other hand, it’s telling that even just by themselves, lyrics about not knowing are so common that people notice!


  3. I think he’s hit on a number of important points, but most importantly how much of the production of these girl groups is dominated by men, specifically creating a gendered product to appeal to men like themselves.
    I’d also extend his premise that this emphasis on aegyo, immaturity and vulnerability is a major part of cultural production outside of K-pop, especially in the portrayal of women in film and tv dramas.


    1. The song “Oppa” was a complete knock off of Cindy Lauper’s song 1984 “Bee Bop” just listen to one after the other. Shame… Korea has to copy from others and pretend it’s original


      1. What has that got to do with anything Jeff?

        Besides which, it’s not “Bee-Bop” but “She-bop”, and singer Wax fully acknowledges that she made a cover version of the song (even going so far as to highlight it in the CD sleeve), even though that was unnecessary as the copyright on She-bop had expired.

        (Edit: Alternatively, the copyright was for 20 years not 15, and so the cover version was in fact done with permission of Cyndi Lauper – will have to go home and get my CD box to check. But either way, you couldn’t have chosen a worse example to make your point!)

        And as someone who grew up listening to 1980s bands, I should also point out that in fact oh-so-original modern Western bands likewise copy 15-year old hits all the time.


  4. Lyrics and writers aside, what truly stood out to me were the statistics of domestic violence– 50% of men abuse their wives? I’m dumbfounded, really.


  5. Frankly, at this point I’m just interested in how this essay is going to go. If women are made to act powerless in accordance with men’s desires and in conformity with a society that doesn’t seem to know how to deal with strong, independant women, and men are actually powerless, who exactly is in charge? Unless the title of part two is intentionally misleading, I’m anxious for the next installment.

    Further more, what does the increasingly international appeal of K-Pop say about other societies and how they perceive/receive these kind of messages?


  6. Nice work James. Thanks to Kang In-kyu, and fine comments by some others. Marilyn what’s wrong, don’t you like groups who promote “love” if/when “do” someone else?


  7. Hi, dunno if you will reply to this message or if this is even the right place to post this but SM Ent just brought back one of their older K-pop groups, originally a 4 piece harmony group called The Grace as a duo.

    I’m showing you this because the lyrics were written by SM Ent’s inhouse songwriter, Kenzie. Unlike her lyrics for Oh!’, though, the lyrics in this song seem pretty different and a bit strange compared to your average K-Pop single. I think they would be pretty interesting to dissect because at the moment I kind of feel like it could be a female-empowerment song, but the lyrics just don’t make any sense to me, even when translated! (Could be a bad translation? I don’t know..)

    Anyways, here it is if you are interested:


    1. It’s not perfect in the translation department (“give me one more chance, my strength’s coming out” is pretty loosely translated, ha!), but the lyrics are pretty explicitly meant to be empowering. They complain about the emphasis on being pretty and acting feminine. I thought the bit about how she didn’t like to drink soju because it made her face look big (for those of you not in Korea, having a “small face” is a mark of beauty) and she’d prefer the (ungentrified, rural, masculine) unfiltered rice wine – which comes in a bigger cup. The lyrics also reject certain standards of masculine beauty, saying that they’re fine with guys with big heads (in this case, it’s NOT figurative and saying he’s full of himself but literally that his head is big and therefore unattractive) – albeit partially because it makes her look smaller by comparison! So yeah, it’s pretty straight up critique of Korea’s beauty culture and cult of femininity.
      That said, what’s really problematic for me is that the video images don’t do anything to reinforce the girl power message. I mean, it’s a pretty lame video – there’s absolutely nothing to it beyond having them dressed up and dancing – but it also plays right into the mainstream image of women in Kpop. You could put in totally different lyrics about how they’re waiting for their 오빠 to come and rescue them and it’d work fine.


      1. Indeed! It’s a shame. These are probably the only lyrics I’ve seen from a girl group outside of 2NE1 and (perhaps) 4Minute that are empowering, it’s just a shame that the music video is so conflicting. I think they should’ve atleast dressed them differently. I feel that this song would’ve been betetr suited to labelmate, f(x). I’d hardly say that the group is empowering, but you have unconventional (well, by typical Korean standards, I guess) beauties like Amber that could atleast give the lyrics *some* sort of meaning.

        I’m more interested in the songwriters views over Dana and Sunday’s, though, who I’m guessing had no input with regards to the lyrics in this song. I have to wonder what Kenzie’s views really are; it seems she’s trying to raise the issues women have to deal with in Korean society, and yet she seems to have no problem writing songs such as Oh! for SNSD. If only I could have a discussion with this woman. haha

        I’d still say it’s a step forward though, and it feels less like a contrived marketing ploy to me than say BoA’s ‘Girls On Top’, and I do commend Kenzie for not going down the typical lyrical route as seen in most ‘female empowerment’ pop songs and making some sort of statement, even if the words are lost on the poor video.


  8. I’ve been directed to your site here and there via other outlets, blogs etc. Since you appear to be interested in verging into the academic, I wonder if you’ve ever read Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak”? If not, I’d suggest taking a gander as I’d say your take on contemporary gender politics in South Korea is, on certain levels, rather problematic. I make this comment as a suggestion to someone who seems eager to learn and grow, and as part of that process to understand his own position from a critical perspective.


    1. Hey, I always appreciate constructive criticism, and I’m printing off Gayatri Spivak’s work as I type this. But still, however well intentioned the advice, implying that I need to read it because “[my] take on contemporary gender politics in South Korea is, on certain levels, rather problematic” is vague and patently unhelpful, and really ultimately little different from a troll simply saying “your blog sucks”. It’s also rather ironic being written in the comments to a translation too, with none of my “problematic” commentary on contemporary Korean gender politics to speak of.

      If you genuinely want to help lowly non-academics like myself, then please be aware of how patronizing your advice can sound from our perspective.


  9. My favorite part of this bog is reading how James responds to any sort of criticism that goes beyond bubble gum text like, “Oh, I love that song.”

    Keep up the good work.


    1. I’m a bit annoyed that my moderation filter didn’t catch your comment, as I had no hesitation in banning you for your last contribution. Rest assured though, that any additional ones will be instantly deleted.

      As for how I respond to criticism, I suppose you’re sarcastically implying that I can’t handle it? If so, then a) actually read the comments sections sometime, and b) if “L” had provided specific criticisms of specific posts then I could and would have responded to them appropriately; maybe even conceding his or her points, as indeed I’ve done with hundreds of other commenters. But as for how to respond to the extremely vague “your take on [things] is problematic” and so you should read blah-blah, because (implied) you’re doing the bad things mentioned therein, then I think what I said was appropriate.


  10. I, personally, am a big fan of this blog. Seeing my students participating in this “oppa” craze is disheartening. It seems to me that they (my students) believe that there is a formula to everything; they must act such and such way, they must say such and such things, the extents they go to at an attempt to look like a K-pop star, and the pain the feel when they look nothing like a k-pop star… I had an eleventh grade student (male) tell me a little bit about his girlfriend once; she was in a high school that focused on acting. I told him that was very cool, and he must be proud, and his response to me was a shoulder-shrug and said it wasn’t a big deal. I asked him in what way it wasn’t, and he said that it would be better if she were studying to be a singer, because singers are much more attractive than actresses.
    I love Korea, and I am thankful to be able to live here and work here, and I know that America (my home) has an incredibly long list of problems itself, but…as a sociologist and person who cares deeply for people in general…the emphasis on image here is dangerous. I hope to see a wave come through that can lift these young people up and not tear them down.

    Thank you for your commentary. It is nice to have a resource such as yours.


  11. I just think, as with much feminist criticism of pop music, a lot of k-pop criticism totally misses the point, and I’m sad to see how uncritically people follow when presented with a negative critique of anything related to pop culture. That’s Korean or otherwise. I say this as a feminist myself, but everytime otherwise respectable Jezebel writers upload a piece on a pop artist I shudder at the thought of what the text may contain, and often my fears are well founded.

    I think my stance has been made clear before, but to repeat: Pop culture, and I’m talking about the product, the art, the artists, not whatever business and scheming goes on behind the scenes, and there are obviously ugly stories aplenty through history — no, the things the audience are presented with, the things the creative forces of the industry have produced — may reflect problems with Korean society, but are not the cause, and on the contrary constantly push against the norms, motivates to action and critical reflection instead of conformity.

    One of the main problems with people writing critically about k-pop is that they often are not that knowledgable of the history of pop music in general, in America and England and the world. They see and hear things in k-pop and assume it can be connected to local societal issues when it’s just part of the international language of pop. They notice cliches in lyrics but don’t know these are cliches equally or more present in European pop, for instance.

    We all read texts with bias. When Jezebel deride Taylor Swift for anti-feminism and mis-quote her lyrics, assign values and beliefs to her that are not present in her art, it’s bias gone wrong. They want their beliefs confirmed no matter how many ‘truths’ they have to invent.

    We can all confirm our belief that Korean pop fullfils Asian stereotypes of submissive females and repressed sexuality if we only listen to Oh! Here’s a stone cold fact: The dominant themes in k-pop girl group lyrics of the past few years are ones of confidence, self-belief, taking actions, being aggressive, towards men or to get men or to shut up haters. Are these over-communicated ideas in society? Hardly. In a Confucian society? Less so.

    But when these ideas are acknowledged in critical writing, it’s with clauses, such as that 2NE1s expensive gear “surely undermines their maverick and/or bad-girl image”. What? The maverick icons of pop culture, the Tony Montanas, this is how they frame taking over the world, through money and guns. (No personal offense at all, I mostly love reading your blog and am impressed by your analysis of media and advertising and public society otherwise. Nothing as fruitful for critical discourse as some disagreement, right?)

    And as I noted in our discussion of 4Minute, what you read as narcissism and self-centered egotism that ultimately only creates distance between female idols and girls, is what I would say, with relatively little doubt, are the idols acting as positive role models, representatives for the fans – the “I” is the girl uploading UCC covers, singing along, not only Hyuna; “I Am The Best” is a motto for the fans, not the stars, Secret’s “Madonna” who does whatever she wants is an inspiration to fans.

    My point is clearly absolutely not that everything is peachy in K-pop and that lyrics and ideas communicated should not be scrutinized for what values they actually preach – and I think Oh!’s lyrics are daft as hell – but I feel that the vast majority of those who try to do that have no empathy with fans, fan communities, with how pop works and inspires. I also feel that too many have trouble separating the creative forces from the capitalist forces when they’re clearly not the same (read the many interviews with K-pop songwriters saddened by the stereotypes about their line of work, the questions about their passion for music).

    Would anyone say Korean dramas are particularly edgy or risky? No. But like K-pop they’re able to lean towards the edge, pushing towards alternative paths that don’t quite fit with the norm, and suggesting possibilities. Hong Seok-cheon credited “Life is Beautiful” with helping boys he’d talked to come out.

    We all know there are dark undersides to the Korean entertainment industry. It’s possible to still see Korean pop culture as generally communicating positive ideas, especially to girls: The Korean woman, as understood through girl group lyrics, is what Ne-Yo would call Miss Independent – someone who’s got her own thing.


    1. Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment abcfsk. Naturally I have a lot to say in reply (although I think we’re actually agreed on more things than not!), but I’ll have to focus on getting Part 2 up tomorrow and only then get to work on responding. If I don’t manage to do so after the post is up tomorrow night though, I definitely will on Wednesday, and in the meantime fortunately Part 2 itself will also raise some of the issues I want to mention.

      Until then!


      1. I should know better by now than to say “definitely” sorry – getting my wifi receiver fixed this afternoon then dealing with bawling kids that won’t go to sleep have more than eaten up all my free time today.

        I’ll try to catch up tomorrow when I can!


    2. A few comments – first, what the hell does Jezebel’s articles on American pop have to do with anything? While they’re an ostensibly feminist site and do lots to highlight major issues, they’re still feminist “light” and certainly nobody looking for good commentary on pop music from a feminist perspective or otherwise would pay that much attention to them. Using Jezebel here is a red herring.

      And I would strongly dissagree that the standard messages in K-pop girl group music is particularly empowering. Yeah, there’s a lot of “I’m the best” – but it’s mostly because they’re presumably the hottest. And 2NE1 has also explicitly created an image meant to be more “badass” than their competition. Guess what that means? It means we have a large number of girl groups going “오빠! look at me!” and a smaller group of girl bands going “Ha! I’m the best because I’m the prettiest!” Yes, there are some songs that are exceptions to this, but they’re just that – exceptions.

      That’s not empowering. That’s not confident. That’s just the same old bs with a veneer of grrrl power.

      Even when the lyrics make passes at self-confidence and independence for women, they’re often coupled with imagery that completely undermines the ostensible message (which is in fact why the haute couture clothing for 2NE1 in this video is problematic – we’re back to “I’m the best because I’m pretty and wear exclusive clothing. Even their punk clothing at the end isn’t “authentic” but rather calculated to evoke the image of rebellion without actually espousing the philosophy or the real aestetic of the movement. Not saying they have to be punks or that they can’t wear it in their videos if they like it, just that they have no claim to the meaning of the clothing in which they’re dressed and it becomes mere dress-up – which frankly is one of the reasons why I hate this video. It’s seriously nothing but a series of silly dress up games. There’s no thrill or frission of power in the S&M costume. The only one who projects any sense of actually inhabiting the clothes instead of wearing them for me is the girl in the train scene. . . but I digress.)


  12. Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this before, and it’s a small thing, but:

    “Here in the music video to Gee, the members appear as mannequins in a shop window, while a male performer looks at them as if they were dolls, and moves them around and touches them however he wishes.” The way this caption portrays the music video is pretty skewed, I think. In the music video, the girls ARE mannequins in the beginning, and so there is really nothing wrong with the male character looking at them as dolls or moving them around. In the beginning of the video, there is only one scene of the male character touching one of the girls, and he is doing so only for the purpose of moving her to the shop window. As the shop owner, it’s natural that he is moving around the mannequins. However, he does not ‘touch them however he wishes’.

    I appreciate the article and definitely see a lot of points to criticize the Korean music industry on, but only if the article has pristine, objective evidence can it be 100% effective.


  13. For this week’s episode of The Always Rational Kpop Podcast (http://www.arkpop.com/2011/09/04/episode-26-its-not-over/), we tackled the ever so difficult concept of aegyo and its sexual implications (perceived or otherwise); thanks in part to this article and one of your older articles https://thegrandnarrative.com/2010/02/15/girls-generation-korean-sexuality/ that in turn inspired a seoulbeats article. And believe me, we had a hard time with this topic, because it carries a lot of cultural sensitivities that are kind of hard to explain to someone who is not familiar to Korean culture. We just hope we did your post justice =)


  14. i like this part ” of course, it’s not uncommon for men to write the lyrics to female singers’ songs. What I want to point out is that when girl-group members cry out “Oppa”, it has nothing to do with being a little sister; it is simply lip-synching men’s desire, as written by middle-aged men. [After all], nobody knows oppas’ desire better than oppas. And when girl-group members wear ribbons as big as their head, draw hearts with their hands, and have childlike-faces but the bodies of women, they are not some half girl-half women creature but instead “Aegyo Girl”. Men’s desires are that simple.

    (걸그룹 기획사는 어린 멤버들의 신체를 거리낌 없이 사물화한다. ‘지(GEE)’ 뮤직비디오에서 소녀시대 멤버들은 쇼윈도의 마네킹으로 등장한다. 남자 출연자는 이 ‘인형들’을 보고, 만지고, 원하는 방식으로 재배치한다)

    (Image caption above: Girl-group entertainment companies have no scruples about objectifying members’ bodies. Here in the music video to Gee, the members appear as mannequins in a shop window, while a male performer looks at them as if they were dolls, and moves them around and touches them however he wishes)”

    so i can see those girl groups are worked by the entertainment….:)


  15. Though in all honesty it’s not a very good book, Richard Bernstein “The East, The West and Sex” at least has some important points to make about so-called “harem culture” and sexuality in Asia. I’m surprised more hasn’t been said about this with the girl group phenomena. They are the quintessential modern harem.


  16. I’m writing from the Netherlands. Lived in South Korea for 3 months (internal transfer with a large Korean company).
    I’m not Dutch though and especially I don’t look Northern European at all. Even though I’m not Asian I look a bit like the girls in those k-pop videos: small, skinny, cute and I look younger than my age (everytime I enter a club or I want to buy cigarettes they ask for my ID card).
    I am also “too quiet” and I really have to force myself to express a strong opinion on every subject, even if I don’t know anything about it just to fit the cultural standard and not look stupid. I hate having to act arrogant, aggressive and creepy just to be listened. I hate having to act like a truck driver during business meetings with Northern European people just to be listened. I hate a cultural standard that considers cool only the arrogant sorority type. And that considers “inferior race” all the girls that don’t fit the tall, blond, fat, viking type standard.
    So long life to k-pop, aeygo, cuteness and allochtonen (Dutch people of foreign origin).
    Long life to female models alternative to the aggressive, tall, blond viking woman.


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