…whenever claims of female empowerment or sexual expression are made of girl groups, just a little investigation reveals the conspicuous absence of the voices of the girls themselves. Rather, you find that it’s the entertainment companies speaking for them…
(Korea Herald, July 2011)
I do apologize for quoting myself. But it’s not often that K-pop makes you laugh so hard:
After Girl’s Day held their comeback showcase with the uber-sexy Female President song and choreography, some expressed concerns about the group’s change in image becoming perhaps too sexual.
Their label said,
“They got so much love from ‘Expectation’ that it’s true we were at first burdened about this new song and choreography. Since we worked so hard, the members were confident in the new song, but they’re so happy because the reaction was better than expected. We’re so thankful for the interest.”
Regarding the sexy choreography and concept, the label said, “After the suspenders dance, now it’s the nine-tailed fox dance. It’s the point choreography of the new song, so they worked on it for a long time. They’re not burdened at all by the skin exposure. They’re just happy to have a new image. They’re working hard with the determination to look even sexier when promoting ‘Female President’. As the members are working hard and passionately, please watch over them fondly.”
(Allkpop; original unsourced, but it appears to be a translation of this Newsen article)
Amusement turned to consternation though, when I read the following, harrowing account of what really happened at one of their recent promotions (my emphases; source, right):
…Girl’s Day performed right under the sun and lighting equipment for eight straight songs. By the second song, Sojin practically fainted back stage and Minah could barely stand on her own…
After their stages, the journalists asked questions and one of them asked what they would promise their fans if they won #1. The host asked the girls to do their promise early and do it by jumping into the water ㅋㅋㅋㅋ Ridiculous. The girls obviously looked distressed and Minah kept looking at the staff section, looking like she was asking her CEO what they should do. The girls were drenched in sweat and it was obvious that they just wanted to finish up and go home early but the CEO and the host forced the girls to go ahead with the promise anyway…
….I guess the problem was that once they were done greeting their fans, the girls could not walk at all… They tried to get out of the pool but it was obvious they had no strength left in their bodies. Minah was practically crawling out of the water because her legs had no strength and Sojin had to be supported by her manager… Meanwhile fans and journalists were taking pictures of this, of course [but making them appear erotic and consensual]…
Tellingly, those scenes where they were coerced into jumping into the water have been edited out of videos of the event (out of those I’ve been able to find). But their tiredness is still evident afterwards. For example:
(Update: Billboard Korea disingenuously claims that the Girl’s Day members “surprised viewers at one point when they jumped into the pool… in their hot pink ensembles.”)
For more, read the full article at Netizen Buzz. Technically, their lack of consent to the swimming at that promotion is unrelated to the girl on girl action, the panties fashion, or the stripping in the MV to Female President, and I don’t bemoan anyone for enjoying any of that. But personally, it’s completely overshadowed by what happened above, which just speaks volumes about the coercive relationship between Girl’s Day and their management company, Dream Tea Entertainment. Add that all the skin in the MV is gratuitous anyway, then I have no qualms about also labeling that negative sexual objectification, as defined by the criteria outlined in the previous posts in the series.
The irony though? The lyrics to the chorus at least are relatively empowering.
As Amy at YAM Magazine puts it, the title may be a misnomer, but it’s still a song…
…to empower girls to not sit around waiting for guys to give the first step, but to go for it saying “you love him,” and to go and “kiss him first”…
Commenters to a review at McRoth’s Residence disagree, including Kyungmi, who is “angered” by how “bland” they are. While her opinions necessarily carry more weight than my own, and my knowledge of K-pop is hardly exhaustive, I’m still struggling to think of more examples of girl-groups’ songs promoting such boldness in taking relationships to the next level, compared to a plethora of ones that promote passivity instead. In particular, compare Female President’s:
Come on come on oh oh oh
Come on come on oh oh oh
You go first and say you love him
Now is the time, you can start first
We have a female president
Why so serious? What’s the problem?
If a girl kisses first, she gets arrested or what?
Come up to him and kiss him first
Now is the time, you can start first
To those to Dal Shabet’s Be Ambitious (but better translated as “Look at my Legs“), also recently released, and also notorious for its “sexy concept”:
You always only hold my hand and let go,
Is that enough for you? You don’t even kiss me,
When are you gonna make a move?
We stay up all night just talking, even when you’re drunk, you just go home.
Are you really a guy? Or are you just shy?
I really can’t wait anymore,
I can’t believe this situation,
I really can’t wait anymore,
I don’t wanna just wait anymore.
(Source, above; source below — unknown)
To which Asian Junkie aptly responds:
SO DON’T WAIT WTF
Get it yourself, goddammit. I’m not a fucking mindreader.
And about the lyrics in general:
So as I said, people are apparently touting this as a sexualized, female empowerment song or whatever. In the music video’s comments, there are those commenting about how this is about women gaining control of their sexuality and shit.
But to me, it’s the exact opposite. It’s either saying, “Men need to be more rapey and force themselves on us because we’re wearing slutty clothes” OR “It’s not socially acceptable for us to make the first move because that would be slutty, so here’s our whining about not being aggressive enough to demand dick, we’re still waiting on you.”
Getting back to Female President, again I acknowledge the irony of empowering lyrics accompanying a song so negatively objectifying, and would be very happy to learn that there’s actually many more out there in K-pop that encourage women to be more assertive in their relationships (not just empowering in general though — I already know of many of those). Also, I fear that again it’s appropriate to quote myself, as I can never stress enough that…
…it’s not the place of this author—a slightly fat, bald, middle-aged man—to tell any young female singer or consumer what they should and shouldn’t consider empowering.
But to argue that the “saddest fact” about this song is that the lyricists Nam Gi-sang (남기상), Gang Jeon-myeong (강전명), and Daniel R. are men though?
(Update: Dana’s “‘Female President’ Has Nothing To Do With A Female President” at Seoulbeats is a must-read.)
- (Part 2) Consent is Sexy: SISTAR, slut-shaming, and sexual objectification in the Korean idol system
- (Part 1) SISTAR19: Begone, Calling Them “Objectified” Any Longer
22 thoughts on “Consent is Sexy, Part 3: Female President by Girl’s Day #FAIL”
I actually don’t think the lyrics of this song are empowering and I don’t actually think they’re even designed to empower women at all.
Looking at the lyrics of the chorus solely it does seem like a ‘female empowerment anthem’ but if you take them in the context of the verse lyrics, it starts to look a lot different. Although the chorus is aimed supposedly at a female audience, all the verses are your standard ‘I like you so much but I’m scared to tell you’ aimed at a male audience:
‘Maybe I’ll confess I like you
Because of you, my head is dizzy,
Dizzy dizzy dizzy dizzy.’ etc. etc. etc. it’s all the same
To me the overall effect of that subverts any empowerment in the rest of lyrics. The overall message given off is that even when women are supposedly empowered everything they do is really for men and all they have is their sexuality. It’s an odd mix to have a song that promotes sexual empowerment in young women while also glorifying their shyness in a video which is objectifying, it almost feels like creating this fantasy woman who is empowered in this one very specific area that would be welcomed by most of their straight male audience but not any other. Not that that’s even remotely surprising given the video and Dream Tea’s past record with Girl’s Day.
Having seen the video of the pool jump (http://video.xin.msn.com/watch/video/girl-s-day-jumped-into-the-pool/2i00rrluw?preview=true&sf=Relevancy) I think that fan account is a little exaggerated, Minah looks maybe a little bit spacey but she’s definitely not ‘practically crawling’. That doesn’t mean they weren’t coerced into it of course, I would completely believe that.
Thanks for the long and perceptive comment Lizzie. Some quick clarifications:
1) I admit it was definitely a mistake to look only at the chorus, and will have to go back and look at the rest more closely. In light of what you write about it though, probably I’m going to come to regret writing this post!
Having said that, although it certainly helps — a lot! — if lyrics are specifically designed to be empowering, Japanese women’s embrace of Girls’ Generation, explicitly aimed at 20-30 something men, is a reminder that fans (of any sex) can still find, well, whatever they damn well like to be empowering, and be very selective if necessary. So, I was very happy to see the chorus, especially coming from a company with a reputation like Dream Tea’s, and I guess that’s why I focused on it to the exclusion of all else.
2) Probably while you were typing, I added a (longer) video of the pool jump myself, noting that the crucial scenes before the jump were omitted. Until I can find a video with those included, then i think the jury’s still out on how truthful the fan account is, but I admit that I too was expecting Girl’s Day to be much more tired than they looked. Again, another reason why I may come to regret writing this post! :)
This is true but, at the same time, have you ever done a side by side comparison of SNSD’s Korean and Japanese releases? They are subtly but markedly and consistently different from each other. A good one to look at is Oh!, even though on paper it’s pretty much a scene for scene remake, the execution is a lot different. In the Korean version they seem stupid, young and naive whereas in the Japanese version they are stylish, intelligent (they read books and play instruments, seriously, this is revolutionary for SNSD!) and they have a lot more control over the direction of their lives (pretty much the definition of empowerment).
Even though they are still extremely stereotypically feminine, in their Japanese releases they seem to have ownership over their femininity which they don’t in Korea which is why I think so many Japanese females like them. Their last single ‘LOVE & GIRLS’ is pretty much a cheer song for girls which you would never them do in Korea! (although there are plenty of songs like ‘The Boys’) So I completely understand why young Japanese women like SNSD or actually SJJD so much. (I’ve been thinking about that one for a while if you couldn’t tell)
The problem I have with Female President is that I don’t actually think it’s even trying to be empowering so it would be better if it didn’t pretend and give this distorted representation of what empowerment looks like while trivialising what it actually means to have a woman in the position of President (regardless of Park’s politics or the circumstances behind her election)
Hi, got me thinking so thanks for that! Ended up writing about why SNSD has so many female fans in Japan. I also wrote about why they have so many fangirls outside of Korea in general (did some informal research via Facebook but it was very interesting!)
From talking to lots of SNSD fans it seems like a lot of girls feel empowered not by the music or the videos themselves but by the hard work and success of the group and by their strong sisterhood type of relationships.
Sorry I didn’t get back to you yesterday, and thanks very much also. I was going to say that I hadn’t done that comparison (just keeping up with Korean releases is difficult enough!), so I was very pleasantly surprised to learn about the difference in lyrics etc., but you’ve already covered everything I was going to raise (and a great deal more) in your post. I’m printing it out as I type this! :)
Great follow up to the previous article!
Only tangentially related to this specific matter, but you might be interested in watching the interview Girl’s Day did with Billboard Korea back in March during their first round of promotions for their album. Sojin (I think it was her, I can’t really remember off the top of my head) talks about how awkward the sexy concept was for them at first and Hyeri talks about having to learn how to be sexy.
The interview can be found here:
A belated thanks for that. I guess it reinforces how inorganic and forced those sexy concepts are for them, and when Billboard asks “Hyeri, you are 20 years old. How were you able to pull of the sexy image?” it’s a reminder of the forced infantilization off-stage that goes with that.*
(By a great coincidence, just 30 minutes ago I was reading about precisely that in the chapter on female artists in Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the paths of cultural globalization by Ian Condry (2006), which I’m wondering if you’ve read, and highly recommend to you especially if not, based on the sorts of things you reference on your blog. Either way, I’ll be writing a brief review of it sometime next week)
Anyway, another interesting thing later in the interview was that they said they wrote the lyrics to some of the songs on their latest album, and it would interesting to compare those to the ones written by their usual, male lyricists. One more thing to add to the list this summer!
*Edit: Frankly though, asking a 20 year-old(!) if she knew what sexiness was and/or how to be sexy was also a nice only-in-Korea moment!
I agree with LIzzy in that it’s very hard to consider this song to be empowering in any way since the lyrics simply reinforce the larger patriarchal structure. Looking at the recent trend of girl group lyrics which may be considered “different” or even “bold,” they all seem to reflect a frustration on the female narrator’s part due to the male partner’s “lack of initiative.” In turn, the female narrator takes a little bit of initiative and basically tries to drop a hint to the oblivious guy that they’re ready to take the relationship forward.
Hello Venus invites the guy in for tea. http://www.kpoplyrics.net/hello-venus-do-you-want-some-tea-lyrics-english-romanized.html
Dal Shabet shows off their legs. http://kkromanized.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/rom-eng-lyrics-dal-shabet-be-ambitious-look-at-my-legs-%EB%82%B4-%EB%8B%A4%EB%A6%AC%EB%A5%BC-%EB%B4%90/
4Minute asks the guy his name. http://www.kpoplyrics.net/4minute-whats-your-name-lyrics-english-romanized.html
None of these acts are particularly revolutionary. They’re as common as flicking one’s hair or jingling the keys (I’m just waiting for these two concepts to come out next), and they’re still asking for the approval of the male and for him to ultimately take charge of the situation so that the female protagonist will no longer have to repress her sexual urges. And yes, the subtext here is that these girls are sexually frustrated — that they’re just desperately waiting for oppa to make a move. These lyrics are always directed at the male character in the story (who is basically a stand-in for their male fans), except for the chorus of “Female President” which are clearly for a female audience. But as Lizzy mentioned, the subversive verses combined with the logical fallacy of the chorus (so what if you have a female president?) clearly downplays any sort of female empowerment that anybody can deduce from this song and MV.
As for truly empowering lyrics in K-pop this year, look no farther than the usual suspects. Note that these lyrics are clearly intended to be taken in by a female audience.
Sunny Hill. http://seoulbeats.com/2013/06/sunny-hills-new-mv-makes-them-the-darling-of-all-hearts/
I really enjoy reading this series of posts, James. Hope to read more soon!
Thanks very much for the examples, and interesting commentary. I was thinking about doing a follow-up post looking at the entirety of the lyrics to Female President, to compensate for my only considering the chorus — and getting the wrong overall impression of the song — here, but like you say it’s probably much wiser to look no further than the usual suspects (Update — have added a couple of words to the post to make it clearer that I only looked at the chorus). I’ll hurry up and start getting to grips with Lee Hyori’s and CL’s new songs and analyzing the dozens of posts and articles on them I’ve been collecting then, and will aim to look at Sunny Hill and Glam after that.
Am looking forward to it, now that I finally have the time. Fortunately, but for handing in some paperwork on Monday, I don’t go back to work for another 2 months!
While you’re at it, maybe you can look into the recent trend of “bad girl” definitions that’s been going on. Hyori, CL, Ladies Code, and Bumkey all have similarly titled songs. It be interesting to compare how each defines what a “bad girl” is, and maybe compare it to Led Apple’s definition of “Bad Boys” and see what’s behind the sudden trend of labeling genders as “bad.” Hyori’s gender bending in “Crazy” also seems like something worth looking into.
I’m glad to hear you have the time to write now. That’s a luxury that not all bloggers have. I look forward to reading what you have in stored!
A woman tired after a day at work? Stop the presses we have a real human rights crisis on our hands!
You really know how to reach for it.
Yes, you’ve really got my number.
Don’t call me the next time though — I’ll call you.
I’m bit surprised that you don’t think this (the female president) is a pretty interesting song. I don’t know if you interact frequently with Korean women in their 20s and 30s – but as a Korean women in mid 20s, I think this song is pretty empowering. Still many girls think that men should take the first move and this song literally says the opposite. I do agree that the song on the other hand at the same time reflects the extent to which Korean girls are passive about sexuality and all that, but I don’t think there was any other song than this which actually pushes girls to make the first move.
The lyrics are hilarious too!