Korean Media Misogyny: Not worth monitoring?

korean-media-misogyny(Source, edited: tiffany terry; CC BY 2.0)

You know the media plays some role in perpetuating misogyny—let’s just take that as a given.

Let’s also take it as a given that the first step in dealing with a problem is determining how big it is. For a government that wants to show it’s serious about misogyny, that means setting up an organization tasked with monitoring it in the media, rather than simply relying on the public and NGOs. It means actually acting on what that organization finds too, challenging instances as they occur.

In Korea, the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education (KIGEPE) is given those responsibilities, under the auspices of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s Mass Media Sexual Equality Monitoring Project. And, judging by social media these days, its hands must be full:

korean-media-violence-misogyny(Source: IZE Magazine)

Unfortunately however, today’s story below is not so much about the heroic KIGEPE doing a sterling job under difficult circumstances, as about it not being given enough resources to do its job whatsoever. In short, the government just seems to be going through the motions, rather than really grappling with some of the underlying causes of misogyny.

Perhaps that same attitude also explains why there has been a rise in sex crimes and gender inequality under the Park Geun-hye administration, as well as its repeated attacks on women’s reproductive rights?

여성가족부, 대중매체 성차별 표현 개선요청 6년 간 단 21건

Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Monitors Sexual Discrimination in Mass Media for 6 Years, But Makes Only 21 Requests to Challenge Cases in That Time

공감신문, 04.11.2016, 김송현 기자 By Kim Song-hyeon, GoKorea.

지난 2일 박주민 국회의원(더불어민주당/서울 은평갑)이 여성가족부로부터 제출받은 자료에 따르면 여가부는 2010년부터 “대중매체 양성평등 모니터링 사업”을 실시한 이후 6년 간 진행한 개선요청이 21건에 불과하다고 밝혔다. 이 가운데 권고 등 시정조치가 이루어진 경우는 4건에 그쳤다.

This November 2, Congressperson Park Ju-min (Seoul Unpyeong District, Democratic Party of Korea), claimed that, according to materials provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, its Mass Media Sexual Equality Monitoring Project has only made 21 requests to remove or adapt offending segments in over 6 years of operation. Out of these requests, only 4 resulted in action actually being taken.

한국양성평등교육진흥원은 여가부로부터 예산 지원을 받아 2010년부터 대중매체를 모니터링해 성차별·편견·비하를 드러낸 내용에 대해 개선을 요청하는 사업을 진행해왔다. 그러나 모니터링 기간은 짧았고 그 대상범위도 협소하였다.

The Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education is responsible for the monitoring, under the auspices of the Ministry. From 2010 onwards, the institute has been monitoring mass media for cases of sexual discrimination, sexual prejudice, and sexual insults. But the actual monitoring period each year is very short.

지난해 대중매체 양성평등 모니터링은 방송의 경우 단 1-2주의 기간 동안 10개 방송사에 대해서 이루어졌으며, 인터넷 포털사이트 내의 언론기사의 경우 35개 매체에 대해 단 1주일만 모니터링이 이루어졌다. 신문의 경우 월마다 신문사를 지정하여 6개월 간 6개의 신문을 모니터링했다.

Last year, the institute’s monitoring period of the 10 main television channels was only 1-2 weeks long, and 1 week for 35 news portal websites. For newspapers, 1 newspaper is chosen to be examined per month, up to a total of 6 newspapers in 6 months.

2016년 9월 기준으로 언론중재법에 따라 등록된 언론사의 수는 지상파 48개, 종합유선(위성)방송 31개, 방송채널 241개, 신문 등 간행물 16,520개에 이르고 있다. 최근 인터넷을 통한 개인방송이 늘어나는 실정까지 감안하면 여성가족부의 사업 규모가 지나치게 작다는 지적이 나오는 이유이다.

However, as of September the number of mass media-related outlets includes 48 main TV channels, 31 satellite channels, 241 cable channels, and 16,520 print publications. Considering the recent rapid growth of personal broadcasting on the internet also, the institute’s monitoring of the media is clearly inadequate.

여가부는 모니터링 사업에 지난 2014년부터 매년 3,600만원의 예산을 지원해왔다. 최근 온라인상 각종 혐오 문제가 대두되면서 이 사업의 확대실시와 내실화를 위해 예산을 늘려야한다는 목소리가 정치권에서 제기되었음에도, 여성가족부는 2017년 예산안으로 전년도와 동일한 3,600만원을 편성하였다.

From 2014, each year the Ministry has provided 36 million won in funds to the institute. [James: To get a sense of how much that is, that’s the annual salary of a completely hypothetical lowly assistant professor.] This amount has continued at this level despite the increasing problems of misogyny in Korea society however, and the growing calls to expand the monitoring project and funds made available.

박주민 의원은 “대중매체에 실린 혐오 표현은 부지불식간에 확산되기 쉽기 때문에 성평등한 문화 조성을 방해하는 심각한 요인으로 작용할 수 있다”고 지적했다. 또한 “갈수록 늘어나는 온라인 매체를 고려하면 예산을 증액하여 사업을 내실화할 필요가 있다”이라고 지적했다.

Congressperson Park Ju-min pointed out that “Expressions of misogyny in the mass media can easily spread and negatively impact on efforts to achieve sexual equality.” Also, “Considering the increasing growth of the online mass media, a reorganization of the project and more funds are urgently needed.” (End.)

kang-yong-suk-international-marriage(Source: MLBPark)

Another article gives a few more details about those 4 cases that were acted upon:

지난해 한 예능 프로그램에서 방송인 강용석 씨가 “외국신부를 데리고 와서 결혼하는 바람에 사회적인 문제로 번질 가능성이 굉장히 높다”는 내용의 발언을 하는 장면에 대해 방통심의위원회가 권고 조치를 내고, 한 음악 프로그램에서는 그룹가수 출신 위너 송민호가 “딸내미 저격 산부인과처럼 다 벌려”라는 가사로 랩을 해 방심위가 과징금을 부과했다.

Last year, on one entertainment program [above], the [controversial] panel-member Gang yong-seok said “The more marriages there are to foreign women, the more social problems Korea will have.” However, The Korea Communications Standards Commission simply let him off with a warning. Next, the singer Song Min-ho was fined for rapping, “I’m targeting your daughters; [they’ll] spread their legs like they’re at a gyno’s'” on a music program.

또 한 신문사는 특정 외국배우의 신체부위를 필요 이상으로 세밀하게 표현하고 선정적인 사진을 게시해 한국신문윤리위원회로부터 ‘주의’ 조치를 받았다.

한 드라마에서는 여성에게 술잔을 던지며 폭력을 행사하는 장면에 대해 방심위가 의견을 제시하는 등 2건의 조치가 이루어졌다.

Also, one newspaper received a warning for posting unnecessarily revealing pictures of a foreign actress. And finally, in one drama, they suggested alternatives to a scene in which a male character attacked a female one by throwing a glass of alcohol at her. (End.)

I’ve been unable to find out which newspaper and which drama sorry; if you do, please let me know thanks, and I’ll consider translating this (frankly) much more interesting related article, which provides some positive examples of combating sexual inequality and stereotypes too.

Update: Korea Bizwire reported back in September that the “The Korea Communications Standards Commission announced…[it] will be revising its regulations on broadcasting deliberation in an effort to promote gender equality on television programs and for online video content.” Given that it already said something similar in April however, as did the Ministry in January, then you can understand Park Ju-min for raising a fuss.

Related Reading:

“Fucking is Fun!”: Sexual Innuendos in Vintage Korean Advertising

Lee Hyori Vita500 따먹는 재미가 있다(Source: Loading… 100%)

Once upon a time, decent, honest Koreans wouldn’t stand for sex and nudity in their media. Gratuitous bikini models sparked outrage. Women had to appear demure and virginal in soju posters. There were no such things as “chocolate abs” to show off, so young male celebrities could make money without ripping their shirts off. The Korean internet wasn’t inundated with ads for male enhancement pills. Only slutty Caucasians were prepared to be lingerie models. And so on.

Instead, advertisers had to rely on sexual innuendo to manufacture outrage. Mirroring Korean entertainment management companies today, who regularly claim shock and surprise that pelvic thrusts could be considered anything but wholesome family entertainment, PR representatives would feign ignorance of double entendres that every high school student already knew full well.

Then along came “sexy concepts,” advertisers relying on cheap, “sex sells” gimmicks during the financial crisis, and the relaxation of censorship in the Korean movie industry. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Eun Ji Won Worries That There Are Too Many Sexy Concept Girl Groups(“Eun Ji-won Worries That There Are Too Many Sexy Concept Girl Groups.” Source: Soompi)

Or is it? That’s certainly a convenient narrative, and probably has a grain of truth too. As I begin to examine the impact of K-pop on Korean advertising over the last eight years or so, I fully expect to confirm what everybody already knows: that there’s more sexual themes over time, and that K-pop stars, especially women, wear a lot less clothes than other celebrity endorsers.

But does that necessarily mean that sexual innuendo used to be much more common in Korean ads, when standards were stricter? It isn’t mutually exclusive with wearing revealing clothing, and you could easily argue that more liberal attitudes would actually lead to using it more often. Indeed, now it could make an otherwise boring and routine “sexy” ad stand out, as could the strategic use of Konglish too (source, below: The PR News).

Just something to bear in mind as you enjoy the following examples from 2006 and earlier, which caused quite a stir as people began to notice more and more ads like them. Some are so obvious that anyone can get the message; others, you’d Feel the Climax Ocean Worldneed to be very familiar with Korean slang to notice them at all…which makes me wonder what examples may be right under my nose today. By all means, please let me know of any, and/or of some more older ones to add to this collection.

First then, the opening one by Lee Hyori for the vitamin C drink, Vita500 (as an aside, one of the few Korean vitamin C drinks which didn’t—doesn’t?—contain carcinogenic benzene; this being Korea, only foreign news outlets would name which ones were safe). As I explained when I first wrote about it, perhaps five years ago:

…notice the “따먹는 재미가 있다” line next to her face. Simply put, the first word (not to be confused with “다먹다,” or “eat all”) is a combination of “따다, ” which has many meanings but in this case “open; uncork” would be the most appropriate, and “먹다,” which is to eat; then the next word is “재미” meaning “fun, interest,” and a “가” which must attach to it because of the final word “있다,” or “to have.” So literally:

“The act of opening and eating [this] fun has”

Eating often means eating and drinking in Korean. Naturally, a better English translation would be:

“Opening and drinking [this] is fun.”

Still a little awkward, yes? But the point is, “따먹다” has another, entirely different meaning. For instance, a Lee Hyori Vita500 2006guy might say to his friends:

“그여자 봐? 난 따먹었어요”

Which means:

” You see that woman? I opened and ate her.”

“Eating” someone doesn’t have the same connotations in Korean, but you’re on the right track:  “I fucked her” would be the most accurate translation, and so apparently Lee Hyori is saying “Fucking is fun” in the ad (End. Source, right: Kwang-Dong Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd).

Back when I first wrote about the ad, I could see nothing but the humor in it. Now though, I have mixed feelings: I appreciate that that phrase is (was?) usually used in a conquest-like, objectifying way, which is why so many women felt insulted:

“Too Lewd!” Lee Hyori’s Subway Advertisement is Surprisingly Suggestive

Kukinews, 15.03.2006

인기가수 이효리가 모델로 등장한 한 식음료 제품 광고의 문구가 지나치게 선정적이라는 지적이 일고 있다.

A food product advertisement with popular singer Lee Hyori has been getting a great deal of attention for the use of a certain phrase in it.

이 광고는 K제약이 지하철 주요노선과 지면에 사용하고 있는 광고다. 네티즌들은 이효리가 등장한 광고 속에 ‘따먹는 재미가 있다’는 문구가 불쾌Lee Hyori Vita500 shop window하다는 지적을 하고 있다. 해당 광고는 K제약이 지난 15일부터 병뚜껑을 따서 속을 확인하는 경품 행사를 홍보하기 위해 제작됐다 (source, left: dongA).

This advertisement by a medicine manufacturer* has been used on a major subway line in Seoul since the the 15th of March. Netizens have been indicating their displeasure with the phrase used by Lee Hyori in it to promote a competition that gives prizes to those who find marked bottletops.

(*Because of Korea’s draconian libel laws, the real name isn’t given, even though it’s blatantly obvious. This is standard practice for the Korean media.)

네 티즌 ‘구구콘’은 “난감한 지하철 광고”라는 제목으로 문제의 광고 사진을 한 인터넷 커뮤니티에 올렸다. 이에 네티즌 ‘sevenstarcider’는 “여자로서 정말 화가 나는 광고”라며 “광고 목적을 모르는 것은 아니지만 도가 지나쳤다”고 지적했다. 네티즌 ‘피부미인’도 “건강음료라는 생각보다 음란한 음료라는 생각이 먼저 든다”고 꼬집었다.

A netizen by the name of ‘Cuckoo-corn’ uploaded the above photo under the title “Strange, puzzling subway ad” to a community site about problem advertisements, and there ‘Sevenstarcider’ under the post title “An Ad That Really Makes Women Angry” wrote “it’s not that I don’t know the purpose of this ad, but that is just too much.” Also, netizen ‘Skinbeauty’ cynically wrote “my first thought is not that this is a health drink, but some kind of aphrodisiac instead.”

K 제약측은 이에 대해 “섹스 어필할 의도는 전혀 없었다”고 해명했다. 홍보팀의 한 관계자는 “광고대행사가 경품행사의 성격을 반영해 제안한 문구였다”며 “(성적으로) 이상하게 유추하는 사람들이 있지만 이효리씨의 건강미에 초점을 맞춘 것 뿐”이라고 설명했다.

About this advertisement, a representative of the PR company behind it explained that “there was absolutely no intention to use sex appeal in it,” that “the text is a simple reflection of advice about the promotion being advertised,” and finally that “while there are people who infer something sexual to it, Lee Hyori’s focus is only on the health and beauty benefits of the product.”

그동안 성적 연상효과를 노린 광고 문구들이 적지 않았던 탓에 ‘야한’ 광고가 다시 도마에 올랐다.

As there have been lot of advertisements with sexual innuendos in their text so far, this subject is again becoming controversial.

지 난해 배두나와 신하균이 모델로 나선 한 무선인터넷 광고는 “어,끈이 없네”, “밖에서 하니까 흥분되지” 등과 같은 대사로 시청자들의 비난을 샀다. 1990년대 모 아이스크림 광고에서는 여성 교관이 남성 훈련병에게 “줘도 못먹나”라고 말해 세간의 입방아에 오르내렸다. 90년대 후반에는 영화 ‘원초적 본능’의 여배우 샤론 스톤이 등장한 국내 정유회사 광고가 논란에 휩싸였다. 빨간 스포츠카에 올라탄 샤론 스톤이 “강한 걸로 넣어주세요”라고 말했기 때문.

For example, last year [2005], Bae Doo-na and Shin Ha-kyun appeared in an advertisement for a wireless Sharon Stone Korean Ad 1995internet company which included the line “Because [we] do [it] outside, [it’s] much more exciting!,” which generated a lot of complaints. Also, in the early 1990s, an advertisement for an ice cream company featured a female drill instructor saying to a new male recruit “I gave [it] to you to eat, but you can’t eat it [well]!,” and finally in the late-1990s a gasoline advertisement featuring Sharon Stone climbing into a red sports car had her saying  “only put strong [things] inside.” (James: See below for the latter two).

광고주들은 섹스어필 의도성을 강하게 부인해왔다. 그러나 한 광고업계 종사자는 “광고 문구를 지을 때 섹스어필한 표현을 찾기 마련”이라고 귀띔했다 (source, right: *cough* Ilbe).

While in public advertising companies strongly deny that they use sexual innuendos in advertisements, an industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that of course they do in reality.

K제약 측은 올해 이효리가 출연하는 3편의 광고를 더 제작할 계획이다. 이효리는 지난 1월 K제약과 1년동안 계약금 8억원에 광고모델 출연계약을 맺었다.

In January, the medicine manufacturer signed a contract with Lee Hyori to appear in three more advertisements for the company over the next year, for the fee of 800 million won (End).

Now for some more examples, found via a list compiled by this blogger. Predating Youtube though, and with very little information given, sorry that I was only able to find half of them. Also, sorry that I’m struggling to see anything even remotely sexual in some of them, let alone funny; again, they defy shoehorning into some narrative about Korean media liberalization, which is why I haven’t placed this post into my “Korean Sociological Image” series. Hopefully though, the tuna fish commercial alone will more than compensate…

“벗겨도 벗겨도 변함없고, 먹어도 먹어도 깊은 그 맛…”

“Even if you take it off, it’s the same. Even you eat and eat, that deep taste…”

“줘도 못 먹나?”

“I’m offering it. How come you can’t eat it?”

Via The Paris Match, a related eclair ad that had my wife ROTFL at the repeated references to how long and sweet it was, with all its creamy goodness.

“따 먹고 합시다!!!”

Just in case you miss the symbolism of the shellfish for the women’s tuna, and the peppers for the men’s, at the end they all say “Let’s open [it] and eat [it] and do it!”.

“난, 샤론 스톤, 본능적으로 강한 게 좋아요. 강한 걸로 넣어주세요”

“I’m Sharon Stone, I instinctively like something strong. Please put something strong in.”

“오늘도 촉촉하게 젖었습니다.”

“Today too I am wet”

“사람들이 저보고 너구리래요.  너구리가 뭐가 어때? 통통하고 맛만 좋은데…”

“People call me ‘Raccoon.’ What’s wrong with being a raccoon? It’s chubby and tasty…”

No innuendo here: the blogger just notes that Song Yun-ah has her legs open as the car approaches. Even I thought that this was reading a bit much into it though (she’s hardly spread-eagled, and the car is approaching from the wrong direction!), even if it does have an exploding fire-hydrant straight after the shot of her.

(남자 엉덩이를 때리면서) “줄 때 받자….”

(While hitting men’s bottoms): “Receive it when I give it to you…”.

Not to detract from the very real sexual harassment which women face every day, or that its victims are overwhelmingly women. But still: it’s difficult to see anyone accepting this commercial if the sexes were reversed.

Finally, see here and here for some more examples from 2009, and probably many readers will find this list inadequate without the following, supposedly banned ads. I’m not sure that either actually went to air though:

Thoughts?

Do “Sexy Concepts” Actually Work?

Korean Girl-Groups Sexy Concepts(Source)

What? There’s been a spate of sexy concepts by girl-groups recently? Really?

Yawn. It’s been three years since I first noted that the financial imperatives of the K-pop industry meant that attention was everything, in which case “courting controversy with ever more provocative performances is a no-brainer” for management companies. And really, how are these latest examples any different to those of last summer, or those of late-2012? How is Stellar’s recent comeback with Marionette, say, any more shocking than RaNia’s debut with Dr Feel Good in 2011? How has the logic of manufactured outrage changed since 4Minute’s comeback with Mirror Mirror, if at all?

Beats me. So, not to imply anyone else hasn’t made any original observations, but I’ve had nothing to add to this latest storm in a K-pop teacup. Blogging, after all, is all about the delicate art of knowing when to shut up.

(“Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial ‘Wide Leg Spread Dance'”, April 2011. Source)

Still, there’s always Korean commentaries that deserve much more exposure among English readers. One of which is this article by a team at News Jelly, who not only took the time to analyze the stats surrounding sexy concepts, but provided a handy interactive graphic too, with accompanying download links that just beg for the data to be spread much more widely. After all their hard work, passing it on here is the least I could do.

Here’s the first graph, of the numbers of girl-groups with sexy concepts (pink) vs. those without (orange):

Girl-groups with sexy concepts vs. those without -- numbersThe numbers of fan club members:

Numbers of Girl-group fanclub membersThe cumulative number of Youtube visitors after MVs’ releases, up to February 2014:

Numbers of Youtube Visitors until Feb. 2014The number of number 1 rankings on music shows:

Number of No. 1 Rankings on Music ShowsThe numbers of news reports about groups, up to one month after releasing a sexy concept:

The numbers of news reports about groups, up to one month after releasing a sexy conceptFinally, digital download numbers, within 2 weeks after being released:

Digital Download numbersOf course, much more information about the statistics would still be useful though, such as how sexy concepts were defined (although which songs have them and which don’t is provided in some Excel files). And it would be good to have additional graphs of girl-groups’ commercial endorsements signed, television show invites received, and concert tickets sold, which I’d argue are much more useful barometers of their success than absurdly cheap (legal) downloads.

That said, the verdict is in: sexy concepts produce little more than hype, and management companies would be well advised to avoid them for the remainder of 2014.*

But we all know they won’t. Until the next controversy then, here’s my translation of the accompanying article:

(*Update: In hindsight, I was little too enthused about finding actual data — and tired from all the translating — to realize that its flaws meant there wasn’t enough to support that conclusion. For more discussion of those, see Asian Junkie or Reddit.)

여자가수의 꼬리표? 어디까지 벗을 것인가 This is Female Singers’ Label? How Much More Will They Take off?

News Jelly, 3 March 2014, by Jo Gwang-hyeon (조광현)

2014년도 역시 걸그룹 선정성 논란은 잠잠해질 기미가 보이지 않는다. 속옷 같은 의상을 입고 엉덩이를 흔들거나 가슴을 쓸어 내리는 안무, 바닥에 엎드려 옷을 젖히고 노골적으로 처다 보는 눈빛을 보고 있으면 더 이상 그들의 음악은 들리지 않는다. 걸그룹 선정성 논란은 여전히 뉴스의 중심에 있다. 과연 그들은 무엇을 얻기 위해 그토록 선정적일까?

In 2014, the sexual controversies surrounding girl-groups show no signs of abating. With costumes that resemble underwear, dance moves involving shaking buttocks, stroking breasts, and flinging open clothes while staring into viewers’ eyes, it’s difficult to notice the music anymore.

Girl-groups are still at the center of the news. But what do they hope to achieve with such hyper-sexualized performances?

걸그룹 선정성 논란, 살 길은 섹시뿐? Girl-groups’ Sexuality Controversy: Is sexiness the only way for them to survive?

지난 2월, 걸그룹 스텔라는 사상 초유의 섹시 컨셉을 들고 컴백했다. 2011년 데뷔 이후 깜찍하고 발랄한 이미지였던 이들은 작정이나 한 듯 섹시를 들고 나왔다. 이후 스텔라는 각종 포털사이트의 실시간 검색어 1위를 차지했고 관련 기사는 쏟아졌다. 자극적인 안무와 뮤직비디오뿐만 아니라 음란물을 연상케 하는 사진과 영상은 폭발적인 관심을 불러일으킨 동시에 비난도 받고 있다.

실제 무명의 걸그룹이 단숨에 화제에 올라 가요차트 상위권에 오르는 모습을 자주 볼 수 있다. 섹시 컨셉은 음악성이나 뛰어난 외모가 아니면 주목받기 힘든 요즘 연예계에서 일약 스타덤에 오르기 위해 공공연한 전략으로 자리잡았다.

In February, Stellar made a comeback with a [for them] unprecedented sexy concept. But when they debuted in 2011, they had a cute and fresh one, so this change seems like a deliberate decision to sex up. Afterwards, they dominated the searches in portal sites, with a host of related articles spewing out. This wasn’t just due to the stimulating choreography and music video, but more to the pictures and videos that resembled pornography, which brought both great interest and a lot of criticism.

In reality though, you can frequently see middling girl-groups rise up the music charts almost overnight. Using a sexy concept is a well-known strategy for doing so in the entertainment world if your music’s quality isn’t high, and/or if you’re not exceptionally attractive.

뉴스젤리 소셜키워드 분석 결과 걸그룹과 관련 있는 소셜 키워드로 “티저, 섹시, 자극적, 노출, 공개하다” ‘와 같은 자극적이고 노출, 선정성과 관련된 단어들과 관련 있다. 여자가수이 음악으로 어필하는 것이 아닌 섹슈얼 이미지로 승부하는 모습이 기정사실화 되어 가고 있다.

News Jelly did an analysis of girl-groups and related keywords such as “teaser”, “sexy”, “stimulating/arousing”, “exposure”, “opening”, and others related to arousing exposure and sexuality. The results demonstrated beyond a doubt that the appeal of female singers is due to their sexual image rather than their music.

Sexy Concepts(Source)

그렇다면 과연 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉은 정말 효과가 있는 것일까? So, sexy concepts are really effective for female singers?

2011년부터 2014년 2월 현재까지 음원을 발표한 2~5년차 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉 여부에 따른 음반 판매량과 언론 노출 정도를 측정해보았다*.

(*가온차트 디지털 음원지수, 유튜브 공식영상 조회수, 뉴스 노출수 자체조사)

에이핑크, 2NE1, f(x)와 같이 독특한 컨셉으로 이미지 메이킹에 성공한 걸그룹을 제외하고 음원을 발표한 모든 걸그룹이 섹시컨셉을 내세우고 있었다.

Our analysis looked at female singers who had been in the industry between 2-5 years, and examined downloadable music releases from [January?] 2011 to February 2014 to determine if there was a relationship between sales figures and sexy concepts or not.*

(*For data, The Gaon Digital Downloads Chart, official Youtube visitor numbers, and numbers of news stories about the respective groups were used.)

With the exceptions of Apink, 2NE1, and f(x), which have their own unique concepts, all [the] girl-groups [examined?] used sexy concepts.

2012 Girl-groups Sexy ConceptsCaption: This chart compares girl-groups with and without sexy concepts in 2012, examining [James — In order: Numbers of fan club members; Youtube visitors; Number of #1 rankings on TV music shows; Numbers of online news reports about the group, within one month after a song’s release; and number of downloads, within 2 weeks after a song’s release]. It shows that songs by girl-groups with sexy concepts were downloaded 7 million more times than songs by girl-groups without.

2013 Girl-groups Sexy ConceptsCaption: Looking at the results for 2013 though, only exceptionally revealing works have gotten the public’s attention; indeed, as time goes on the public seems tired of the excessive exposure war of the girl-groups. Whereas once it seemed a necessity or mission, now it seems to have overshadowed their music, and had a negative reaction.

Compared to the year before, there were close to twice as many girl-groups with sexy concepts. However, the results were different. Compared to girl-groups without them, [the differences are not that great], and in fact the number of downloads was less!

걸그룹이 섹시 컨셉을 내세워야만 살아남을 수 있는 것인가에 대해 일각에서는 가요 소비문화와 걸그룹 제작 환경에 비판의 목소리를 제기하고 있다.

기 획사 대표 A씨는 지난 2월 14일 CBS라디오 ‘김현정의 뉴스쇼’와의 전화 인터뷰에서 “요즘 가수의 주 수입원은 음원 판매와 방송을 통해 얻은 유명세로 이뤄지는 행사인데, 유명세를 타게 되면 행사 섭외도 많아지고 몸값이 올라가다 보니까 노출 경쟁이 더 치열해질 수밖에 없다”고 지적했다.

대중문화의 전반적인 흐름이 다양성을 즐기는 것이 아니라 더 강하고 자극적인 소비로 가고 있으며 가요 제작자나 가수들은 눈길을 끌기 위해 경쟁적으로 더 강한 섹시 컨셉을 카드로 제시한 것이다. 게다가 아이돌 그룹 한 팀을 데뷔시키려면 적게는 2~3억 원, 많게는 5~7억 원 정도가 들며 그렇게 만들어진 수백 팀 중에 한두 팀만 살아남는 ‘전쟁터’에서 두각을 나타내기 위해서는 “‘남들보다 더 특별한 것을 보여줘야 한다’는 강박증이 생길 수 밖에 없는 현실이다*. (2월 14일 CBS 김현정의 뉴스쇼 인터뷰 요약)

There are many critics of girl-groups that can only survive in the music industry through using sexy concepts.

On February 14th, “Mr. A,” an anonymous management company representative on the Kim Hyeon-jeong’s News Show on CBS Radio, stated in a phone interview that “These days, singers’ main source of income is through downloads of songs and appearances at events, but invites to those events only come once a group is already famous. This can’t but help increase the ferocity of the exposure wars between girl-groups.” [James — A translation of the interview is available on Reddit here.]

The mass media these days is not about providing variety but getting consumers’ attention through products’ shock value. In this ever more competitive environment, using sexy concepts is a card girl-groups must play. In addition, as each idol group costs in a range between 200 to 700 million won to bring to debut, and so few of them ultimately survive, Mr. A continued, “To survive groups must show ever more unique or shocking things.”

섹시 컨셉을 바라보는 대중의 이중적 태도에도 문제가 있다. 수많은 미디어가 섹시코드를 질타하면서도 반면 걸그룹의 선정성 논란을 더 부추기는 자극적인 기사내용과 사진, 제목으로 경쟁을 과열시키고 있다. 즉, 소속사와 걸그룹은 자신의 인지도를 높이기 위해 ‘섹시 경쟁’에 뛰어들고, 인터넷 언론은 그 ‘섹시 코드’로 방문자 숫자를 늘리고, 방송은 그 ‘섹시 코드’로 시청률을 높이며, 대중은 언론과 방송을 통해 섹시 컨셉을 비난하면서 소비하고 있다. .

물론 ‘퍼포먼스도 음악에 중요한 요소다. 하지만 그렇다고 맹목적인 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉은 성공을 100% 보장하는 마법의 열쇠가 아니다. 연예인은 자신이 갖고 있는 이미지와 콘텐츠로 소비되는 만큼 무조건적인 섹시 컨셉과 자극적인 노이즈 마케팅은 자신의 정체성을 만들어 가고 롱런 하는데 큰 걸림돌이 되지않을까?

There is also a problem of the media’s double-standards. Many media sources criticize girl-groups’ sexy concepts on the one hand, but on the other stir-up sexual controversy with suggestive photos and article titles. Management companies take part in the “sexy wars” to increase girl-groups’ popularity; internet media use the “sexy code” to increase visitor numbers and hits, television broadcaster also use the code to increase viewer ratings; and and he public consumes the sexy concept at the same time as it criticizes them.

Of course, music and performances are still important factors. But adopting a sexy concept is not a magical key to a 100% success rate. Entertainers are consumed for their image and contents, so in the long run unconditionally using a sexy concept, noise-making strategy for their identity will surely be detrimental. (End)

Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

Spending the weekend looking for 8 year-old contraceptive pill commercials, as one does, I ended up finding some adorable 38 year-old ones instead:

Take the title dates with a grain of salt: this brief post says that they actually come from 1982, 1976, and 1976 respectively, and the second at least is corroborated by very similar print advertisements appearing in 1976 newspapers. The writer gains further credibility by noting the names of the actors in the first (An So-yeong/안소영) and third ones (Yeon Gyu-jin/연규진 and Yeom Bok-soon/염복순), and by pointing out that the 1970s ones would have appeared in cinemas rather than on television—although as TV bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t actually lifted until 2006, then presumably the same goes for the 1982 one too.

Here’s what Yeon Gyu-jin (love his expression!) and Yeom Bok-soon ‘say’ in the last one, although I confess I’m a little confused by the end caption that says it’s a “contraceptive pill that you don’t take” (먹지않는 피임야):

M: 이봐, 이봐, 첫 아기는 아들이야. / The first one has to be a son.

W: 어휴, 어휴 아들 좋아하네. 누구맘대로. 딸이 좋단 말이예요. / Tsk. You like boys, but it won’t happen. I like girls.

M: 글쎄 아들이라니까. / Well, I said I like boys.

W: 어휴, 어휴 딸이란 말이예요. / Well, I said I like girls.

M: 당신같은 딸 낳아 누굴 또 속 썩일려구. 어휴…. / If we get a girl like you, she’ll be a handful…

W: 그럼 자기 나 닮은 아들, 딸 어때요? Then, how about a boy and a girl that look like me?

M: 에이,,에이.. 그게 당신맘대로 할 수 있어? Is that something you can happen just because you want it to?

W: 그건 저한테 맡겨 주세요. 제가 자신있으니까요.  You leave that up to me. I’m confident!

Korea Contraceptive PillCelebrating 50 years of the pill in — where else? — a nightclub :) Source.

However charming the commercials may appear now though, any nostalgia for simpler times would be misplaced, as in reality Korea’s population polices were every bit as systematic and draconian as China’s back then. What’s more, the state tended to view the pill as a temporary or supplemental contraceptive at best, much preferring one-shot and permanent methods. In the 1960s, that would be the “patriotic” and “ideal” IUD; by the 1980s, sterilization.

In light of that, these pill commercials become all the more exceptional(?) and intriguing. I’d appreciate any additional information readers can provide about them.

Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see what contraceptive commercials appear — or rather don’t appear — on Korean screens in the future as the Park Geun-hye administration grapples with Korea’s ironic world-low birthrate. Because on the one hand, it is regrettable that the former Lee Myung-bak administration saw no need to defend women’s access to the pill, and it is preposterous that his (re)criminalization of abortion — which simply puts women’s lives at risk — is likewise viewed by his successor as a viable method of baby-making. But on the other, because of course Korea is now a democracy, and finally aired its first condom commercials on television in July last year, and with a firm sex-is-fun message at that (in contrast to the PSAs that were briefly allowed in October 2004). Here’s hoping there’ll be a lot more coming this year too! ;D

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

The Pornification of K-pop?

K-pop Porn

Pornography is art, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant. Its glut and glitter are a Babylonian excess. Modern middle-class women cannot bear the thought that their hard-won professional achievements can be outweighed in an instant by a young hussy flashing a little tits and ass. But the gods have given her power, and we must welcome it. Pornography forces a radical reassessment of sexual value, nature’s bequest of our tarnished treasure.

Camille Paglia, Vamps & Tramps, 1994.

For reasons of space and propriety, an opening quote that didn’t make it to my latest article for Busan Haps. But, without denying for a moment that there’s been a lot of gratuitous T&A in K-pop this summer, with many more examples in just the few weeks since this article was written, I think Paglia’s quote brings a healthy dose of realism to the discussion, and frames the one on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show in the conclusion nicely. Please click on the image to see what I mean.

For much more on the concept of sexual objectification, why it can sometimes be positive, and why consent is so important for determining that, please see here. Also, a must-read is Peter Robinson’s “Naked women in pop videos: art, misogyny or downright cynical?” in The Guardian from last week, which raises many of the same issues (and is a reminder that the “pornification” of K-pop still has quite a long way to go).

The Korea Herald: Should pornography be censored?

Pornography Censorship(Source)

I make a brief appearance in the Korea Herald today, in an article by John Power on the recent government crackdown on pornography. With his permission, here are all of his original questions and my replies, with some links for further reading:

1. Do you foresee the Korean public becoming increasingly unhappy with the heavy censorship of pornography and other sexual content in the short term? Or do you think a largely conservative Korean public will remain happy with the status quo?

In all my 12 years in Korea, ordinary Koreans have loudly and consistently complained of being treated like children by censors. But the censorship of movies has been considerably relaxed in recent years (recall that the Korean Supreme Court overturned a ban on Shortbus for instance), and even the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has begun to acknowledge its own excesses with music videos. So this latest crackdown actually goes against recent trends, and I expect it to face a lot of opposition.

2. Often, censorship is justified to protect young people. Do you think there is a feasible way of protecting youth, while not controlling what adults wish to see?

Frankly I don’t, but this is a dilemma faced by every democracy. Most, however, don’t resort to the draconian restrictions imposed by the Korean government, yet somehow have equal or lower rates of sex crimes by and/or against minors nonetheless.

(“Because I’m a man / 남자기 때문에.” For English subtitles, click on “captions”)

3. A local site pornography site called Soranet had 600,000 subscribers before it was shut down in 2004, showing the widespread nature of its consumption. Do you think the government is fighting a losing battle in trying to ban such material?

If nothing else, banned sites will remain available via proxy servers, but I’m sure young, tech-savy Koreans won’t need to resort to using those. With the proviso that of course the government should continue to monitor the pornography industry as a whole, to prevent exploitation and the use of minors, you have to question the government’s zeal in attacking an otherwise victimless activity, and which there is clearly a huge demand for. Surely the time and resources could be better spent? Perhaps on more up-to-date and effective sex-education, so people could better judge the supposed harmful effects of pornography for themselves?

4. What do you think is the true motivation for censorship of adult content in Korea? Or, put another way, do you think there are sometimes hidden agendas at play?

As someone who notoriously devoted Seoul to God as mayor, and who believes that (re)criminalizing abortion is an effective method of raising the birth rate, clearly Lee Myung-bak’s conservative and religious beliefs are playing a big role here. That aside, blaming pornography for sex crimes, and censoring it on that basis, is also an easy way for the ruling party to appear to be doing something to address public concerns during its candidate’s presidential election campaign, yet without doing anything about their real causes whatsoever.

Ga-in's BEG Concert Teaser(Source)

5. Do you think there are double standards at play in the how and what content is restricted?

If we’re talking specifically about pornography, then no. As for K-pop however, both fans’ widespread perceptions and the empirical evidence suggests that female entertainers are disproportionately censored, often for things that make entertainers are allowed to do scotfree. In particular, whenever female entertainers present themselves as sexual subjects rather than just objects for the male gaze, then the ironically-named Ministry of Gender Equality and Family can be expected to come down hard on them. A good recent case of this is the ban placed on Ga-in’s Bloom, a rare song about sexual awakening from a woman’s perspective, whereas the Ministry had no problem with the gratuitous skin shots in Hyuna’s Ice Cream.

What do you think?

Pin-up Grrrl #2: Ga-in, Bloom, and why we’ll still be talking about both 30 years from now

Ga-in Bloom(Source)

Ga-in shared, “Our previous MVs had received R-ratings and we didn’t understand the reason why. So for my recent MV, I decided to give them one.”

(Daily K-Pop News)

And to help, she watched adult videos from many different countries, finding “that the porn from third world countries fit the most with [her] personal tastes.” Accordingly, Bloom (피어나) has many bed scenes, and—yes really—features her masturbating on her kitchen floor.

In contrast, Miss A‘s (미쓰에이) I Don’t Need a Man (남자 없이 잘 살아) speaks for itself, and the video is so family-friendly that my daughters (demand to) dance to it several times a day.* So to many, it might seem like a much more appropriate, softly-softly feminist anthem for “sexually conservative” Korea. Not least, by those who think the pornification of the media has already gone far enough, and/or that imitating porn stars isn’t something that should be celebrated.

To the latter, I would suggest that they actually take a look at the music video. Because while it is certainly erotic, it is by no means mere sexual titillation masquerading as art, nor is it provided exclusively for the male gaze. On the contrary, as Dana D’Amelio explains in a must-read at Seoulbeats (see this follow-up also):

Essentially, what Ga-in does is take female sexual desire, wrest it from the men who have manipulated it to their own device, and put it back in female hands. Ga-in’s sexuality is something that women can get behind, and that’s something you can’t much say for the rest of K-pop; that she herself is portrayed as taking pleasure as much as she is giving it is unique, fresh, and deeply relatable to female viewers.

Ga-in Bloom(Source)

Dana and fellow Seoulbeats writer Mark both compare Bloom to Kim Hyuna’s (김현아) Ice Cream (아이스크림), which is just as sexually-explicit as Bloom, but wasn’t banned by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Arguably, precisely because it did conform to the male gaze and pervasive double-standards of K-pop.

In light of those, the sooner songs like Bloom rock the K-pop boat, the better. And for that reason, I’m going to wager that Bloom will have much more longevity than not just (frankly) vacuous songs like Ice Cream, but also, as explained below, those ostensibly empowering ones like I Don’t Need a Man that actually seem to be about nothing but men. Yet which, unfortunately, now seem to be the dominant from in pop music worldwide:

Lucy O’Brien, author of She-Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, thinks the continuing importance of image and presentation is to blame. The key thing that ossified gender roles, she suggests, was MTV, which changed popular culture, leaving feminist punk bands such as the Slits and the Raincoats behind. “Image became the big thing, and angry women who didn’t care about it didn’t really fit that picture,” O’Brien says. There was a brief window of opportunity for women who didn’t fit the MTV template in the early 1990s, she suggests, a time when bestselling artists such as Sinead O’Connor ripped up pictures of the Pope on TV, and Tori Amos sang about her experiences of rape (though, equally, O’Connor’s greatest success came with her most MTV-friendly moment, Nothing Compares 2 U). But then came the Spice Girls, appropriating the vocabulary of riot grrrl, and proclaiming “Girl Power”, but within the conventional model of the pop group manufactured by men for young girls. “Everything became sophisticated and sanitised after that, and the industry has never got over it,” O’Brien says.

(The Guardian, March 25 2010; my emphasis. See Mark’s post “Manufactured Girl Power: Female Empowerment in a Male-Powered Industry” for more on K-pop specifically)
She-Bop 2(Source)

Which brings me to today’s translation, found via Lost in Traffic Lights. Here’s her summary of it (emphasis in original):

…the main difference is…while Bloom talks about how a woman views herself, free from social constructs and how people view her. However, while Miss A’s “I don’t need a man” looks like it’s gunning for female empowerment, at the end it’s still feeding into a discourse that men made for a “good girl” or a “sensible woman” in Korea.

I see this a lot actually. On the internet, there’s always a guy-or a male figure-who argues that “all women do is buy luxury bags and leech off men blah blah blah” and the women are like “but we don’t. A lot of us don’t. I am special because I’m not like those other girls. I don’t buy luxury bags, I pay for my own stuff” and so on. But at the end of the day though, isn’t that gunning for another gold star from the men who criticize us?

For much more on that theme, see Nabeela’s review of the song (and especially the comments), and — for starters! — here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for more information about the “beanpaste girl” (된장녀/dwenjang nyeo) and “ladygate” discourses being referred to.

As for the translation, frankly I and my long-suffering wife found it exhausting, and there were many parts we found difficult, so we apologize in advance for any mistakes. Also, there’s much to query in both the author’s generalizations and his details, starting with the confusion in the first part as to whether he’s talking about the music video (far above) or a stage performance (e.g. below, on SBS a few days before the article was published), and indeed although he mentions a part where she supposedly pretends to look into a mirror, I can’t find that in either video. But these don’t detract from the author’s main points, and I hope you’ll all agree that comparing Bloom with I Don’t Need a Man is very valuable and worthwhile.

가인이 피워낸 100%짜리 여자의 욕망 / 100% Women’s Desire Blooms With Ga-in

Naver News, October 17 2012; 강명석 칼럼 / Column by Gang Myeong-seog (two@10asia.co.kr; Twitter).

붉은빛 스웨터를 입는다. 다리에는 가터벨트를 착용한다. 혀 끝으로 입술을 핥는다. 가슴을 내민다. 의자에 앉은 채 허리를 뒤로 젖힌다. 손이 온 몸을 훑는다. 가인의 신곡 ‘피어나’의 무대는 남성들에게 온갖 야한 상상을 불러일으킨다. 그러나, 정작 무대 위의 남성 댄서들은 무표정하다. 그들은 로봇처럼 동작을 소화할 뿐 가인의 춤에 반응하지 않는다. 가인은 그들과 한 번도 정면으로 눈을 맞추지 않는다.

She wears a red sweater. On her legs she has a garter belt. She licks her lips with the tip of her tongue. She sticks her breasts out. She arches her back while sitting in a chair. She touches her whole body with her hands.

Ga-in’s new song “Bloom” provokes all sorts of bawdy male fantasies. But those men actually on the stage with her are expressionless, behaving like robots that don’t even notice her dance. She, in turn, never looks any of them in the eye.

대신 가인의 시선은 무대 정면을 향한다. 정면을 바라본 채, 가인은 다양한 포즈들을 취한다. ‘피어나’의 안무는 동작과 동작을 하나의 흐름으로 연결하지 않는다. 대신 섹시한 느낌을 주는 각각의 포즈들을 취할 수 있도록 구성됐다. 댄서들이 사라지고, 가인 혼자 정면을 바라보며 여러 포즈를 취하는 무대 후반의 구성은 가인의 시선이 누굴 향한 것인지 짐작케 한다. 남자들이 사라져도, 가인은 자신의 섹시함을 표현하는 것을 멈추지 않는다. 마치 거울 앞에 선 자신을 보는 것처럼.

Rather, Ga-in looks directly at us, while adopting various poses. In “Bloom,” the choreography isn’t seamless. Instead, each scene is defined by and constructed around a different pose, each providing a very sexy, sensual feeling.

Later in the performance, in which Ga-on looks ahead while continuing to do various poses, making people wonder who she is actually looking at. Then, the dancers disappear again, but Ga-in doesn’t stop expressing her sexiness. She continues as if she’s looking at herself in the mirror.

Bloom vs. I Don't Need a Man Caption 1(Source: Unknown)

Caption: 가인은 남자들의 판타지를 자극하는 방식의 ‘피어나’를 통해 오히려 가장 주체적인 여성상을 그려낸다 / Rather than stimulate male fantasies, Ga-in provides a very independent symbol for women in “Bloom.”

가인, 타인이 아닌 나를 위한 섹시 / Ga-in: The Sexiness is For Me, Not For Others

거의 모든 여성 가수에게 섹시한 댄스는 타인의 시선을 끌기 위한 장치다. 걸그룹이 곡에서 악센트를 줘야할 부분마다 다리를 벌리는 춤을 추곤 하는 것이 그 예다. 섹시함이 콘셉트 그 자체라 해도 좋을 ‘피어나’도 당연히 시선을 끈다. 그러나, ‘피어나’는 특정 동작을 강조하며 시선을 끄는 포인트 춤이 없다. 대신 모델이 계속 포즈를 취하는 듯한 동작들이 이어진다.

Almost all female use a sex dance as a means to attract people’s attention. For example, girl-groups will often emphasize spreading their legs apart in their dance routines. Naturally, “Bloom” could also be seen in this vein. However, “Bloom” doesn’t have ‘point dances’ which are only used for the specific purpose of getting people’s attention; instead, the poses adopted are more similar to the ones real models use.

가인의 소속사 로엔엔터테인먼트 관계자에 따르면 ‘피어나’의 안무에도 원래 포인트 춤이 포함돼 있었지만, 그 포인트를 빼고 지금처럼 다양한 포즈 중심의 안무를 요구한 사람이 바로 가인이었다. 그 결과 ‘피어나’의 안무는 타인에게 어필하는 것이기도 하지만, 그 이전에 여성이 섹시한 표정과 포즈를 마음껏 해보는 구성이 됐다. 또한 ‘피어나’의 뮤직비디오는 황수아 감독이, 가사는 작사가 김이나가 맡았다. 두 여성은 그들의 시선에서 섹시함을 표현한다. 뮤직비디오에 가인의 베드신이 등장하지만, 가인과 관계를 갖는 남자의 얼굴도 제대로 안 나온다. 대신 카메라는 희열을 느끼는 가인의 표정을 잡는다. <김이나의 가사로 표현한다면, 남자는 ‘내가 선택한’ 존재고, 그가 사랑스러운 것은 나를 ‘high’하고 ‘fly’하도록 만들었기 때문이다. 남자가 어떤 매력을 가졌는지는 묘사하지 않는다. 중요한 것은 남성이든 섹시함이든 여성 자신의 욕망이 선택한 결과라는 점이다.

According to a representative of Loen Entertainment, originally the choreography did have point dances, but these were removed and replaced at Ga-in’s insistence. As a result, the choreography appeals not just to other people [men?], but has as many sexual poses and expressions as it could have too [James – That sentence sounds strange in Korean also]. Also, the director of the music video, Hwang Su-ah, and lyricist, Kim Ee-na [both women], express sexiness from their own perspectives. In the music there is Ga-in’s bed scene, but we can’t really see the face of the guy she’s with [James – The screenshot below would be the closest you get]. Instead the camera focuses on her expression of joy and ecstasy. According to Kim Ee-na’s lyrics, “This is the guy I chose,” and the reason is because he makes Ga-in “fly high.” Crucially, why she finds the man attractive is not described; rather, the important thing is that it’s her sexual desire that is paramount here.

Ga-in Bloom Man(Source)

전체적인 윤곽은 남성의 판타지를 충족시키지만, 그 디테일은 섹시함이 ‘(타인의)시선 따윈 알게 뭐니’라고 노래하는 여성의 욕망을 드러낸다. 이 절묘한 공존은 이 곡의 구성원들의 독특한 조합 때문일 것이다. 안무, 가사, 뮤직비디오는 여성이 주축이지만, 프로듀싱과 작곡은 각각 남성인 프로듀서 조영철과 작곡가 이민수가 맡았다. 이들 중 가인을 제외한 네 명의 남녀는 아이유와 브라운 아이드 걸스를 제작한 바 있다. 아이유는 귀여운 여성에 대한 남성 판타지의 극단이었고, 브라운 아이드 걸스는 섹시함에 터프함을 가미한 강한 여자들이었다.

While the whole character of this song fulfills men’s fantasies, contained in the details is a depiction of sexiness and women’s desire that poses the question, “Who cares about the gaze of others?”. This exquisite coexistence is the result of the unique combination of the people involved in its production: the choreographer and lyricist are women, but the producer, Jo Yeong-cheol, and the composer, Lee Min-su, are men [James – What happened to the director Hwang Sun-ah?]. Moreover, in addition to Ga-in’s songs, these men and women have produced songs for the IU and the Brown Eyed Girls. IU projects a cute image that is an extreme men’s fantasy [James – Actually, this cute image is exaggerated and/or very outdated], while the Brown Eyed Girls’ image is a mixture of tough and strong women.

Brown Eyed Girls Sixth Sense(Source)

가인은 이 네 남녀의 정확한 한가운데다. 남성들에게 확실히 어필할 수 있는 섹시한 콘셉트는 남성 스태프가 짠 틀일 것이다. 그러나 여성 스태프는 그들의 시선으로 섹시함을 표현했다. 여성도 성관계에서 오는 육체적, 정신적 쾌감에 대한 욕망이 있고, 그 욕망을 드러내자 가인은 가련한 소녀도, 남성의 시각적 만족만을 위한 쇼걸도 아닌 무대를 지배하는 주인공이 된다. ‘피어나’는 주체적인 여성에 대한 시각을 무엇을 보여주느냐가 아니라 어떻게 보여주느냐로, 바깥의 시선에서 내면의 욕망의 문제로 옮긴다.

Ga-in is positioned firmly in the center of these 4 men and women. Her sex appeal, which definitely appeals to men, would have come from the male staff; the women’s perspective on sexiness, from the female staff. Women too, find sexual relationships physically and mentally pleasurable, and here Ga-in owns the stage with that desire, rather than being turned into a miserable girl or a showgirl for the male gaze for it.

“Bloom” moves the question of what are independent women from not what they show, but how they show it. Or in other words, from outside appearances to inner perspectives.

미스에이, 타인이 만들어놓은 좋은 여자의 기준 / Miss A Conform to the Standards of Good Women Defined by Others

그래서, 미스에이의 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’가 ‘피어나’와 완벽한 대비를 이루는 것은 흥미롭다. 박진영이 작사한 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’의 여성은 ‘내 돈으로 방세 다 내’고, ‘내 차 내 옷 내가 벌어서 산’다. ‘남자 믿고 놀다 남자 떠나면 어떡할’거냐는 걱정을 하기 때문이다. 가사만 보면 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’는 주체적이고 독립적인 여성을 칭송하는 것처럼 보인다. 그러나 남에게 폐 끼치지 않는 인생은 남자 역시 필요하다.

So, “Bloom” and “I Don’t Need a Man” provide a perfect, very interesting contrast. The lyrics to “I Don’t Need a Man”, written by JYP, say “I pay the rent with my own money,” “I bought this car and these clothes with my my own money,” and that “If you trust and fool around with a man and then he leaves, what will you do?”, which is a constant worry of women.

If you only look at the lyrics to the song, they do praise self-reliant and independent women. [Although] men, too, need a way of life that isn’t dependent on others.

Miss A Jia and Suzy I Don't Need a Man(Sources: top, bottom)

Caption: 반면 ‘남자 없이 못 살아’를 발표한 미스에이는 타인의 시선에 의해 결정되는 여성의 단면을 보여준다 / On the other hand, with “I Don’t Need a Man,” released by Miss A, they show a side of women defined by others

그리고, 이런 경제생활이 당당한 여성의 기준은 타인의 시선이다. ‘남자없이 잘 살아’의 뮤직비디오에서 멤버들이 콧수염을 붙여보거나, 이두박근을 강조하는 것은 우연이 아니다. 미스에이가 노래하는 독립적인 여성은 사실상 남성들이 요즘 ‘개념녀’라고 말하는 이상적인 여성이다. ‘피어나’가 남성들에게 어필하는 코드로 여성의 욕망을 말한다면, ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’는 당당한 여성을 어필하면서 ‘된장녀’와는 정반대인 ‘개념녀’라는 남성의 욕망을 말한다.

Also, these financially confident women are conforming to the standards of others. In “I Don’t Need a Man,” it is no accident that the members of Miss A stick on a fake mustache or emphasize their biceps. The independent women that they are singing about are actually the gaenyeomnyeo, or “good girls,” that men say are their perfect women these days.

While “Bloom” appeals to men while also articulating female desire, “I Don’t Need a Man” provides an image of confident women and also the good girl image that males desire, an opposite of the dwenjang-nyeo, or “bean-paste girl” one.

miss_a_i_don__t_need_a_man_chibi_by_jinsuke04-d5il0nc(“miss A I Don’t Need A Man Chibiby,” by jinsuke04)

‘피어나’는 타인의 시선 대신 내면의 욕망을 더 적극적으로 드러내는 여성의 목소리를 반영하고, ‘남자 없이 못 살아’는 남자, 또는 사회가 원하는 좋은 여성의 기준을 더욱 더 강화한다. 출산과 결혼을 선택하지 않는 여성에 대한 논의가 사회적 화두로 떠오르고, 인터넷에서는 남녀가 수많은 문제들로 논쟁을 하는 이 시점에서 두 곡의 등장은 어떤 징후처럼 보인다. 많은 남자들은 명품 백을 사느냐 마느냐에 따라, 결혼할 생각이 있느냐 없느냐에 따라 ‘개념녀’와 그렇지 않은 여성을 가른다.

Rather than emphasizing the male gaze, “Bloom” reflects more the inner desires and voices of women, whereas “I Don’t Need a Man” does more men and/or society’s standards for women. These two songs are a reflection of how many women choosing not to get married and/or have children has become a hot topic of debate in Korean society, and of the discussion, arguments, and problems as many men and women discuss that on the internet. In which many men are dividing women into good girls or beanpaste girls, or who want to get married or not, [simply] according to whether they buy brand-name bags or not.

반면 많은 여성들은 타인에게 폐 끼치지 않는 한 돈을 쓰고 싶은 곳에 욕먹지 않고 쓸 권리와 결혼과 출산을 하지 않을 자유에 대해 말한다. 주체적인 욕망과 타인의 시선이 정한 기준 안에 들어오는 것 사이의 대립. 남녀 모두 주체적인 여자에 대해 말하는 것 같지만, 그 층위는 전혀 다르다. ‘피어나’가 예상치 못했던 카운터펀치인 이유다. 인터넷에서 끝없이 반복되던 남녀의 가장 중요한 논쟁점이 흥미로운 방식으로 수면 위로 떠올랐다. 그것도 모두가 답 없는 논쟁을 할 때, 여성의 욕망을 놀라울 만큼 잘 드러내면서 남성도 즐길 수 있는 판타지의 접점을 만들면서 말이다.

Ga-in Bloom Doll(Source)

But as long as women do not trouble others with their spending choices, then they have a right not to be sworn at and criticized by others, and the freedom not to choose marriage or children. [However], there is a contradiction between the desire for self-reliance and the standards set by the male gaze. Men are women are talking about the same self-reliant women, but the amount of what they say about them are totally different.

This is the reason why “Bloom” has a surprising counter-punch. The most important thing men and women are unceasingly arguing about on the internet [James – What is that?? Sex?] arose in an interesting and amusing way. That is, in an argument which has no answers, this song provides a rare point of contact in which women can enjoy their desires just as much as men have their fantasies fulfilled.

강하거나, 세거나, 독특한 여성 걸그룹들의 노래들이 하나의 흐름을 형성한 지금, ‘피어나’가 대중음악 시장에서 얻는 반응은 지금 이런 목소리에 대한 수요를 알 수 있는 척도가 될 수도 있을 것이다. 그것은 반대로 ‘남자없이 잘 살아’에 대한 반응도 마찬가지일 것이다. 지금 우리는 주류 대중음악, 또는 걸그룹으로 대표되는 아이돌 시장에서 여성을 표현하는 방식이 아주 조금은 달라진 순간을 보고 있다. 그게 결과적으로 누구의 목소리가 더 크게 멤돌지는 알 수 없지만 말이다.

Now, bold, strong, and unique girl-groups are forming a new trend, and how well “Bloom” does commercially will demonstrate how much of a demand there is for this new voice. The same goes for “I Don’t Need a Man.” Now, in popular music, we are seeing the beginning of a new phase in the way women express themselves. Ultimately, whose voice will be loudest? (end)

Ga-in Bloom Female Empowerment(Source)

*Truth be told, I let my daughters watch Bloom as well, which isn’t that explicit at all really; they love the song and pastel colors, and at 4 and 6, they’re much too young to understand what’s really going on anyway. And I hope that their happy childhood memories of it spur a renewed interest in it much later, just like mine of She-Bop (1984) did for me!

Update: While I’m at it, see here for 10 more songs about female masturbation.

Update 2, November 2013: With the benefit of a year’s hindsight, Gang Myeong-seog and I were much too harsh in our critique of I Don’t Need a Man, which definitely has its merits. See here to learn more.

Update 3, March 2014: Here’s another article about more recent songs about female masturbation (or that mention it in passing).

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