Watching SPICA’s “Tonight” is an Awesome Teaching Moment About the Male Gaze. Here’s Why. (Part 2 of 3)

strong women intimidate boys and excite men(Source: Unknown)
“The thing is, it’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more—are more than that.”
(Chally Kazelnik, Zero at the Bone; my emphasis)

Or as the phrase goes, “Patriarchy hurts men too.” Let’s continue that conversation started by Chally, focusing on the very narrow visions of female sexuality and body types that patriarchy deems attractive—and for women to aspire to.

But first, a quick recap. In Part 1, I mentioned being very surprised at other reviewers’ and commenters’ reactions to the MV for Spica’s Tonight. Because generally, they described it as sexually liberating, and/or with definite lesbian undertones. Whereas all I took away from it was the breasts.

Lots, and lots, of breasts.

I’m serious. Every other scene seemed to consist of Spica members lying in their tent, lying on some grass, or lying in a pool, the camera lingering on their chests. And that ogling continues in many of the scenes with the women on their feet too, often with no indication of who the breasts actually belong to.

Don’t get me wrong: breasts are awesome. But you do have to wonder why an MV about a girl-power road trip looks like it was filmed by a heterosexual 15 year-old boy. So too, why something so sexually liberating would feature so many languid women on their backs, when it’s so rare to see men posed like that?

Especially when, if pandering to the male gaze is the idea, I concluded in Part 1, there are many more active alternatives that are just as effective. Let’s explore some of those in this post, after which the screenshots of the MV for Tonight in Part 3 should (almost) speak for themselves.

(One NSFW image follows.)

The Male Gaze is NOT Monolithic

If you figured one obvious improvement would be to have women standing on their feet, then you’re in good company:

In Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, a book written by Anthony Joseph Paul Cortese, he quotes [sociologist Erving Goffman] saying “People in charge of their own lives typically stand upright, alert and ready to meet the world. In contrast, the bending of the body conveys unpreparedness, submissiveness and appeasement”.

(Source: Who Sets the Standards?)

I’m thinking “people in charge of their own lives” don’t stand around picking their noses and looking at their watches though, wondering what to do. Probably, they stand much more like this, especially when their busy schedule suddenly includes bedding the person who just came into view:

Body Language Hands on HipsThose images come via Body Language by Allan Pease (1981; link is to a PDF), who explains of Figure 99 that:

The aggressive-readiness [body language combinations] are used by professional models to give the impression that their clothing is for the modem, aggressive, forward-thinking woman. Occasionally the gesture may be done with only one hand on the hip and the other displaying another gesture.

(pp. 79-82.)

It’s this next one on the right though, that instantly came to mind when I read that quote of Goffman’s (#sociologyissexy):

Body Language Sexual AggressionHere’s Pease’s explanation of both:

Thumbs tucked into the belt or the tops of the pockets is the gesture display used to show a sexually aggressive attitude. It is one of the most common gestures used in television Westerns to show viewers the virility of their favourite gunslinger (Figure 103). The arms take the readiness position and the hands serve as central indicators, highlighting the genital region. Men use this gesture to stake their territory or to show other men that they are unafraid. When it is used in the presence of females, the gesture can be interpreted as, ‘I am virile, I can dominate you’.

This gesture, combined with expanded pupils and one foot pointing toward a female, is easily decoded by most women. It is this gesture that non-verbally gives the game away for most men, as they unwittingly tell the woman what is on their mind. This [body language combination] has always been predominantly male, but the fact that women wear jeans and trousers has allowed them to [also use it] (Figure 104), although they usually only do it when wearing pants or trousers. When wearing dresses or the like, the sexually aggressive female displays one thumb tucked into a belt or pocket (Figure 104).

(pp. 83-84.)

But why would “a hands on hip gesture [be] used to make clothing seem more appealing”, and why would a cowboy stance “unwittingly tell the woman what is on their mind”? Good questions:

Body Language Figure 146 Feet signalling what's on the owner's mindNot only do the feet serve as pointers, indicating the direction in which a person would like to go, but they are also used to point at people who are interesting or attractive. Imagine that you are at a social function and you notice a group of three men and one very attractive woman (Figure 146). The conversation seems to be dominated by the men and the woman is just listening. Then you notice something interesting—the men all have one foot pointing towards the woman. With this simple non-verbal cue, the men are all telling the woman that they are interested in her. Subconsciously, the woman sees the foot gestures and is likely to remain with the group for as long as she is receiving this attention. In Figure 146 she is standing with both feet together in the neutral position and she may eventually point one foot toward the man whom she finds the most attractive or interesting. You will also notice that she is giving a sideways glance to the man who is using the thumbs-in-belt gesture.

(p. 120)

By all means, decoding body language like this may seem very subjective, and more amusing than hard science. But things I learnt from Pease’s book helped me overcome difficulties I was having with my Taiwanese classmates at high school. Then a few years later, it was really unnerving at a meeting once when I suddenly realized I was making obvious lying gestures as I was, well, lying. Anyone with a basic knowledge of body language could have seen right through me—but my audience were none the wiser.

I’ve been a true believer ever since.

And, having read my mother’s copy at about the same time as I was discovering girls, have always been at the utter mercy of confident, sassy women with their hands on their hips. This woman in particular, because she’s been stalking me on the Busan subway for the last two years:

Busan Women's College Advertisement 25.08.2015Informing the viewer of the confident, dignified, awe-inspiring beauty you can dream about by enrolling at Busan Women’s College (which sounds much more inspiring in the original Korean), it’s no less appealing to my male gaze for only being aimed at women.

And, if I’ve finally been given a legitimate excuse to post that, then I should get on a roll and also post Leena McCall’s magnificent “Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing” (2014) too. In which the model is so sure of herself, and her gaze so mesmerizing, that you almost don’t notice her brazen nakedness:

Ms. Ruby May, standing by Leena McCall(Source: Leena McCall)

But as always, really I’m being quite serious. I include it because it was in fact removed from the Society of Women Artists’ 153rd annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in the UK. (Ironic, I know.) As Rowan Pelling at The Guardian explains, this reaction was quite telling:

When I tracked down the painting online I was so flummoxed as to the likely cause of disgust that I thought it must be the fact Ms May was depicted smoking a pipe. Few things cause more umbrage now than someone wantonly enjoying tobacco. But further investigation revealed it was the way the sitter’s short waistcoat and undone breeches framed a luxuriant dark V of pubic hair – not to mention, the “Come hither, if you dare!” expression on May’s face, as she coolly scrutinises the viewer – that seemed to be the problem. The painting smacks of Isherwood’s Berlin with its cabaret noir sensibility: Ruby May is a demi-clad femme fatale in pantomime boy’s clothing, channelling Liza Minnelli and EF Benson’s Quaint Irene – as alluring to women as she is to men. You can just about see how it might épater la bourgeoisie, without feeling for a second any outrage is justified.

Supposedly, it was removed for being unsuitable for children. Yet:

You can’t help wondering if the affronted viewers frequenting Mall Galleries have ever sauntered over to the National Gallery, where Bronzino’s erotically charged Allegory with Cupid and Venus (showing the boy archer fondling the naked goddess’s breast) is on display to visiting school parties; or whether they feel the Tate should dispose of Sir Stanley Spencer’s Double Nude Portrait, with its unsparing depiction of the artist’s flaccid penis and his wife’s hirsute mons pubis.

Mind you, the Society of Women Artists was permitted to replace McCall’s work with another less provocative nude: one where the model wasn’t tattooed and standing hand-on-hip, all unbuttoned. It seems the Mall Galleries’ clientele can cope with nudes, so long as the model is a more passive and unthreatening recipient of the wandering viewer’s gaze.

In light of that, the contrast between these recent pictures of the girl-group Sistar is interesting. On left, via Imgur, (much, much leggier in the unedited originals) is one of the teaser photos for their summer comeback; on the right, via soooo_you on Instagram, who’s on far right and left of the pictures respectively:

Sistar Passive vs. Assertive Female SexualityAlso, with these two advertisements of So-hee’s:

Body Display So-heeMy fetish aside however, of course I’m not saying the solution to overthrowing the patriarchy is simply for women to stand up at point at their vaginas. Nor, that it’s a betrayal of that struggle to also like or even prefer examples where “the model is a more passive and unthreatening recipient of the wandering viewer’s gaze”, whether that liking is based on a sexual attraction, admiring their hair (à la Suzy’s contact lens ad in Part 1), or for whatever reason. But I do know which ones have more sass, and that they appeal to my male gaze just as much as those with women contorting themselves to sexual positions at my feet.

Surely I’m not the only guy? Surely many female readers prefer them too?

But wait, I hear you cry: there’s plenty of ads like that out there. Or is there? Maybe it’s “midriff advertising” that you’re thinking of, which has indeed become quite a trend worldwide. Especially in Korea, where there’s still taboos about breast exposure but not of legs, as is the case in most of the Asian markets that the K-pop industry is reliant on:

Midriff Advertising K-pop KoreaHyo-seong Beyonce Midriff AdvertisingYou are beautiful, stop hating your body(Source: 숭실 총여학생회 다락 Facebook Page. The fan reads “You’re different because you’re beautiful. Don’t feel bad or uncomfortable about your precious body based on other people’s stereotypes. Because you are you, you are beautiful. The 23rd Soongsil University Female Students’ Association: we are different, and we respect you.”)

Hani EXID California Beach Summer 2016 Midriff AdvertisingSexy Hani JeansKorea Midriff Advertising TwiceKorea Midriff AdvertisingAs discussed by Rosalind Gill in “Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in Contemporary Advertising” in Feminism Psychology, February 2008, vol. 18, no. 1, 35-60 (email me for a copy), midriff advertising specifically can be problematic because, briefly:

  • It tends to exclude non-white, LGBTQ, and “non-attractive” individuals.
  • The considerable difficulties of obtaining and maintaining those flat midriffs are rendered invisible.
  • It frames women’s agency as something that is tied to their appearance, and exercised through consumerism.
  • It frames liberation feminism as the fulfillment of a male fantasy.
  • It morphs an external, male-judging gaze into a self-policing, narcissistic one.

Also, as the first image in that series above and this next one shows, I’d add that it’s disproportionately required of female models and K-pop stars. (Without disputing for a moment that young male celebrities—both Western and Korean—are also increasingly required to have six-packs.) See Seoulbeats for a wider discussion of those points in relation to K-pop specifically.

Korean Midriff Advertising(Ironically, the main appeal of the rash guard swimwear being sold is that beachgoers don’t have to be so self-conscious of their bodies. Surely cropped versions defeat that purpose?)

But confidence doesn’t require any one specific body part or type. Nor even body exposure at all:

Bang Bang Ha Ji-won 2004 sexitive or sensitive(Of examples like this though, Erving Goffman notes that to an extent the women’s sass is—sigh–only possible because she is “shielded” by her much warier male companion. See “Gender Advertisements” in the Korean Context: Part 1” for more discussion of this surprisingly common motif.)
vivian geeyang kim 66100 Ha Ji-won(Sources: Plus Size Model Vivian Geeyang Kim, edited; ask K-POP.)
66100 Big and Beautiful Self Makeover(Source: 66100 Facebook Page)

I’ll also add that of course there’s much, much more to these wonderful things called sexuality and sexual attraction than whats been seen in the examples given so far in this post. For instance, consider:

Mise En Scène: The Sexiest Korean Commercial Ever?” (and here’s me thinking all the images of Ha Ji-won I’ve used here were just a coincidence):

No Skin Required: Healthy Images of Couples in the Korean Media“:

Sex, Self-Confidence, and Social Activism: When Women Made Soju Ads“:

And see the round-up of links at the end of Part 1 for many more. And all that’s where I’m coming from when I watch Tonight. Ta-da!

Spica Tonight 3.29Please let me know your thoughts, and Part 3 on the MV proper will be up on Friday Monday :)

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Watching SPICA’s “Tonight” is an Awesome Teaching Moment About the Male Gaze. Here’s Why. (Part 1 of 3)

Tonight has been interpreted as an uplifting, carefree song about female friendship, maybe even about a lesbian awakening. So why is the MV soo male-gazey?
Spica Tonight 1.26(All screenshot sources: Youtube)

Introduction: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Spica

Released in August 2013, Tonight by Spica is the perfect short summer song. It’s fun, breezy, and simple to understand for a Korean learner too. Just take a listen for yourself:

Though most K-pop songs don’t age well for me, I do still soo love the music and vocals of this one. But its sales were poor, and it won no prizes on music shows. It received few substantive reviews. Then the same happened again with You Don’t Love Me, which came out in January 2014. Crestfallen, I lost track of Spica after that, but I remember being further disappointed by their misguided US debut that summer, then the news in November 2015 that a manager of their former entertainment company was being sued for embezzlement, which derailed their planned comeback. Add that they haven’t uploaded a video to Youtube in over a year, then I started this post half-expecting they’d disband before I finished it.

Spica, it seems, have always been plagued with bad luck.

But there’s hope on the horizon. I soon learned that they’d switched entertainment companies in December, and that they’d quickly followed that with the announcement that a mini-album would be released in April, later cancelled in favor of the release of a full album in June. Also, while their Twitter, Facebook page, various Instagram accounts, and (Korean) fan cafe were only being updated every few days, they were still being updated. An hiatus on those updates since April was cause for alarm, but it was likely only because the group is very busy working on the album. Sure enough, soon after I wrote that they’ve since resumed posting, and have just reconfirmed their comeback and released new member photos.

So, I’m optimistic that they’ll announce a firm release date any day now. Which makes them a perfect choice for my own return to writing about K-pop.

Who could write a simple review after watching that MV though?

I think I'm addicted to feminist media criticism(Source: Guerrilla Feminism)

There’s only so much that can be said about the generic lyrics of the song, or added to what other reviewers have already written about the dreamy, memory-like atmosphere. Who has time for such banalities, when the MV is so sensual, but also soo blatantly aimed at heterosexual men? When the first half mostly consists of the Spica members lying on their backs in bikinis or tight clothes, the camera lingering on (especially) their breasts? And much of the rest, just that lingering gaze, with only occasional shots of the actual faces of the various body parts’ owners?

I’m serious. For teaching the concept of the male gaze, and the rights and wrongs of objectification, this MV is the perfect K-pop example.

Spica Tonight 0.31(0:31)
Spica Tonight 0.53(0:53)

No, I’m not a prude, I don’t think those are negatives (necessarily), and I’m not complaining. No way in hell, did I plan to spend six weeks on researching the male gaze before I got a post out either.

But I felt I had an obligation to discuss what no-one else was. Because when I first saw the MV three years ago, it was on my phone while I was on the subway; I had to stop watching, lest other commuters think of me as just another typical, sweaty uncle fan. When I showed the MV to a coworker to get a second opinion, he burst out laughing at how shameless it was. When I showed it to my wife, she just rolled her eyes. When I went online for fourth and fifth opinions though…?

Of scenes like the above, almost every other reviewer and commenter only mentions the ice cream one, if at all; instead, they talk about the strong vibe of sexual freedom they get from the MV, and/or the lesbian undertones. For instance, Alexandra Swords at Music Matters:

[The MV is] just plain fun to watch. It’s also incredibly sexy, the sensual movements, the outfits, the skinship . . . all of it contributes to a great idea of personal liberation, including sexual freedom and comfort with that sexual freedom. It’s great because very few music videos period, let alone the ones in Korea, express that not only is it okay to be a sexual creature, but that being so is not strange or special, it just is and we can just accept it with ease and comfort as an aspect of the world in which we live.

And commenters at Seoulbeats, after reviewer Laverne originally mentioned she found the sexual undertones of the ice cream scene unnecessary and distracting:

Seoulbeats Spica Tonight commentsAll of which is still cool of course: we’re all free to interpret the MV however we like, and a male gaze isn’t mutually exclusive with their reading of it. I should have made more of an effort to look for Korean reviews too.

But…sexual freedom? Tasteful lesbian undertones?

I’m just not seeing them. If a lesbian coming-of-age story was the intention, then it seems poorly executed at best, as I can identify only two scenes that hint at potential romantic interest between the members, and just barely at that. (Frankly, I think it’s just wishful thinking really. And, just off the top of my head, think Because of You by After School is a much, much better K-pop example.) In the absence of that narrative though, what I’m seeing in its place is the presentation of a very passive, come-hither version of female sexuality, much like that which already overwhelmingly dominates the media.

Again, that’s not necessarily bad, in the right context. Nor, as Womantic’s and ChencingMachine’s comments demonstrate, are the resulting scenes necessarily for the exclusive pleasure of heterosexual men. Yet while a lesbian appreciation of this MV is no less valid than a male heterosexual one, I still think it’s only incidental.

But I’m not a lesbian. As you’ll see, I still have lots to learn about the (heterosexual) female and lesbian gaze too. And, whatever your sex or sexuality, I can’t and won’t presume to lecture you that any feelings of sexual empowerment to be gained from the MV are simply a form of false consciousness either. Instead, let me just present my own biases and intellectual baggage first then, before the scenes from the MV, to show you why I interpret them the way I do.

That makes for a very, very long post, almost a presentation really, which readability dictates that I split into three. Also, for an uneasy segue into a discussion of men and women in advertising next, to be continued in Part 2, and ironically not returning to the MV again until Part 3. But if that’s what it takes to demonstrate the very narrow vision of female sexuality being presented by the MV, and of male tastes in turn, then so be it.

Hopefully, you’ll be too intrigued by the hundred or so images to notice the length anyway. And, ultimately agree or disagree with my interpretations, hopefully we’ll still have a fun discussion about the male gaze and/or Tonight too, and both learn a lot in the process.

Here goes…

(One NSFW image follows.)

The Male Gaze: A Gender Advertisements Perspective

Gender Advertisements South Korea(Source, right.)

Whatever your experience with analyzing advertisements, you can appreciate that the sizing and placing of people in them is a fundamental part of photographers’ and designers’ jobs. With that in mind, consider these images of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana:

charles higherMost people wouldn’t think twice about them. Unless, they already knew that Diana was actually the same height as Charles, or even slightly taller:

Diana TallerWhy make Charles appear taller? Lisa Wade at Sociological Images explains:

This effort to make Charles appear taller is a social commitment to the idea that men are taller and women shorter. When our own bodies, and our chosen mates, don’t follow this rule, sometimes we’ll go to great lengths to preserve the illusion.

Is that social commitment also operating in these Korean advertisements? You be the judge:

Gender Advertisements Womem Taller than MenNow, those examples were pretty obvious. However, that social commitment to men’s greater height can be said to be part of a wider commitment to presenting conventional, in many ways unequal gender roles by the media. Which may sound like hyperbole, but literally just about any survey looking at how the sexes are portrayed can confirm.

In advertisements, that commitment is usually achieved in much more subtle ways than simply giving high stools to short men though. Fortunately for us, the late Erving Goffman outlined many of those ways in Gender Advertisements (1979), and his framework has been considerably expanded upon and modified by scholars since.

Concentrating on the two ways most relevant to the Tonight MV here, the first is by positioning men and women (and races) differently, which comes under the “Relative Size” category in Goffman’s framework. (Note that in addition to being positioned differently, they are frequently doing different things and/or have different jobs too, which comes under “Function Ranking”). For example:

Gender Advertisements Men at Front, Women at BackGender Advertisements Relative Size and Position(Source, left: Korea Times, 25/06/2009; see Korean Sociological Image #8 for a discussion.)

Gender Advertisements Relative Size South KoreaNone of those examples are particularly objectionable in themselves, nor is there a real case to be made that the teams behind them were deliberately or even subconsciously sexist: there could have been any number of legitimate aesthetic reasons and other considerations which came into play when they placed the men and women (and Koreans and Caucasians) the way they did. It’s also true that I deliberately selected all the advertisements in this post to make certain points, which in turn are necessary generalizations; of course you see men standing in the back sometimes, and so on. That said, do surveys of multiple advertisements, and, for whatever reasons, men tend to be front and center more often than women, and tend to have better jobs and/or take more active roles than the women behind them.

In that vein, take a look at these two:

Gender Advertisements Ritualized Subordination Mother Child Man WomanIn the left (technically half of an advertisement), of course the mother is taller and of a higher social status than her young daughter. Also of course, there’s no implication that the teenage boy on the right is of a higher social status or in any other way superior to the teenage girls in any way simply because he’s standing while they’re sitting.

Look at multiple advertisements however, and it turns there’s a lot more ads like the one on the right than vice-versa. Or, of ones that elevate the men above the women in some other way:

Gender Advertisements Ritualization of Subordination Man Standing Woman SittingGender Advertisements Ritualization of Subordination Men Standing Women SittingKim Su-hyeon and Shin Sae-kyeong Man StandingAlternatively, if the men themselves are sitting, then the women end up on lower furniture (remember the stools earlier?), in beds, or even on the floor or ground:

Giordano Wallpaper Shin Min-a So Ji-sub(Source: Giordano. See also: Shin Min-a Shows Us How to Pose Like a Woman)
Goffman Gender Advertisements Rituatlization of Subordination Kate Moss Chris Kremer(Source, above and below: The Fashion Spot)

Goffman Gender Advertisements Rituatlization of Subordination GucciThis is the part of second category of Goffman’s to bear in mind for the MV, which he termed the “Ritualization of Subordination” (but with obvious overlaps with “Relative Size”). He explained it thus:

Although less so than in some, elevation seems to be employed indicatively in our society, high physical place symbolizing high social place. (Courtrooms provide an example.) In contrived scenes in advertisements, men tend to be located higher than women, this allowing elevation to be exploited as a delineative resources. A certain amount of contortion may be required. Note, this arrangement is supported by the understanding in our society that courtesy obliges men to favor women with first claim on whatever is available by way of a seat. (p. 43)

And in particular:

Beds and floors provide places in social situations where incumbent persons will be lower than anyone sitting on a chair or standing. Floors are also associated with the less clean, less pure, less exalted parts of the room – for example, the place to keep dogs, baskets of soiled clothes, street footwear, and the like. And a recumbent position is one from which physical defense of oneself can least well be initiated and therefore one which renders very dependent on the benignness of the surround. (Of course, lying on the floor or on a sofa or bed seems also to be a conventionalized expression of sexual availability) The point here is that it appears that children and women are pictured on floors and beds more than men. (p. 41)

A note of caution. In lectures in the past, I’ve explained that Korea provides an interesting counterpoint to such interpretations. As in this part of the world, age and status trumps everything:

Korea Status Trumps Relative Size and Ritualiztion of SubordinationGender Adverisements Status Trumps Ritualization of SubordinationVictorian Husband and Wife ungyo looking away(Source, left: Etsy)

And indeed maybe it does. But after rereading the original book, I found that Goffman had already indirectly addressed this:

An interesting contrast is to be found in turn-of-the-century portrait poses of couple [example above], wherein the effect was often achieved of displaying the man as the central figure and the woman as backup support, somewhat in the manner of a chief lieutenant. (p. 40)

Which is to say, it’s important to bear advertisements’ contexts in mind, and not interpret them dogmatically. But whether they’re Korean or from Goffman’s native Canada, examples like these seem to be the exceptions that prove the general rule.

Another thing to bear in mind is one of the biggest changes since Goffman’s day: that fewer and fewer couples and mixed groups are depicted in advertisements. Despite that, women are still less likely to be standing in them than men:

Ha Ji-won and IU lying downsnsd baby g 2015(Source: S♡NE | INDESTRUCTIBLE)
Seol-hyun subway advertisement gmarket(Source: 퍼펙트 월드)

The sides of buses, I’ve noticed, are frequently used for full-length shots of people on their sides. It’s just that those people rarely seem to be men:

Swagger Hyo-seong on Bus(Sources, edited: Swagger)

And finally, some examples of women on the floor, in beds, and/or lying down. Which, like Goffman said, are considered to be expressions of sexual availability:

Park Min-young jeans floor(Source: Tcafe.net)
Honey Lee Venus lingerie lying on bedKang So-ra Ad Objectification through reduction to sexual availabilityGa-in EgoistJunghwa - Mizuno Summer 2015(Source: IsM, K-pop in Greek)
Seol-hyun SK Telecom GMarket(Sources: FM Korea; Imgur. Ironically, there was some controversy about the one on the left. But only because of its supposed resemblance to a BDSM scene.)

This example with Bae Su-ji for Clalens contact lenses is particularly interesting. When I showed it to a female friend, who’s very au fait with overthrowing the patriarchy, I pointed out that it looked like I was hovering over her as we lay together in some sunny, secluded glade. (Su-ji that is, not my female friend; let’s not go there.) That didn’t occur to her at all though, and instead she admired what the advertisers had done with her hair, the black lines serving to highlight the clarity of vision brought about by the contact lenses (although in hindsight, I think the intention was to highlight that they’re color lenses):

Ritualization of Subordination Male Gaze Suzy ClalenI include it then, partially as an example of where my background is possibly clouding my judgement. Also, as a reminder that I’m not the target audience of most of the advertisements I critique.

But still: with this ad, I think my friend wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

Because consider the similar one in the middle below too. At that more usual scale, only a blogger with a bone to pick would notice the black lines at all. Add the slightly scared expression on her face, which seems out of place for a contact lens ad, and I’m right back to my original interpretation. Neither exactly scream “Now that I can see properly, I can finally do shit and get on with my life!” either, which is why I much prefer the one on the left. (Even Seol-hyun’s on the right is an improvement.)

Korean Contact Lens Advertisements(Apologies for the reflection of some ugly bald guy in the picture on the right.)

But okay, so what? So we see many more women than men in beds and on floors in advertisements, frequently in sexualized poses. Is that problematic?

Well, if we put aside for a moment that not every ad needs to be sexualized, and that when it is, it’s usually the sexualization of women by and for heterosexual men? Then not so long ago, I would have said no. Not necessarily.

Yes, I know I say that word a lot. But hear me out.

In my lectures, I used to point out that basic biology meant that heterosexual men found women in beds more sexually attractive than vice-versa. Whereas you have lots of time, energy, and most importantly no kids, I would wistfully explain to my 20-something audience members, so you make it a point of personal pride to try new and exciting sex positions everyday, the reality is that the missionary position is overwhelmingly the most popular male-female one. (And besides which, if we’re talking about penis-in-vagina, all those new and exciting sex positions are all just variations of the same six basic positions anyway.) Ergo, if sex sells, and, rightly or wrongly, sex is always going to be used to sell, then that sexual difference is always going to be reflected in advertising.

To reinforce that point, and get some laughs, I would show some photos of men parodying women’s typical poses:

Men in Women's Poses(Source: English Russia)
Men in Women's Poses Men-Ups(Source: kyliedpeterson)

But sometimes after the lectures, women would point out that the men above weren’t as (conventionally) attractive as the women they’re mimicking. And they had a point. So too, if they’d asked how come I’d just enthralled them with numerous images of scantily-clad women in beds or lying down, for which they were eternally grateful, yet failed to provide any examples with men to prove my original point? Like some from two Instagram collections recently featured at Bored Panda say, which have a much wider range of guys than normal too?

Instagram @brosbeingbasic(Ewww, men on their backs. How unmanly and unattractive. Source: @brosbeingbasic; left, right)

What they really should have done though, is told me to just shut the hell up. Because what the fuck would I know about what poses turn women on?

I like to think I know a little. This blog is about sexuality after all. I do have lots of books about sexuality in my bookshelves to impress guests at my cocktail parties with, and have even read some of them too. Obviously, I have no qualms about talking explicitly about sex. Obviously, I do so with my wife and did with my former partners. Probably, you can guess, that lack of inhibitions extends to conversations with my friends too. (Consider that a heads-up, if any readers want to hang out.)

But had I really talked to my female friends about what turns them on? Exactly what turns them on? Had I really talked to enough heterosexual women, or read enough about female sexual desire written by them? Could I really stand there as a cisgender, heterosexual guy and tell heterosexual women that I know they aren’t as attracted to men in beds as men are to women, which is why we don’t see men in beds so much in ads?

No.

Instead, it took the following image to make me finally realize my utter foolishness. Seen back while I was still naively expecting this post to just be a normal review, this image is a big reason for the way it developed the way it did. Because just between you and me, I can see the attraction…

Sleeping Beauty Bare Men Paper(Source: Paper)

I’m sure it would have been more to the point to post a picture of a eager, expectant-looking guy in bed, with a much prouder erection; alas, it’s that picture that really, really does it for me. I mean did it for me. Enlightened me I mean.

Anyyyway…

If it doesn’t enlighten you personally though, then here’s some eye-opening links I was also reading at the time, which provided the thousands of words of background that picture told me:

  • Explainer: what does the ‘male gaze’ mean, and what about a female gaze? (The Conversation; make sure to read the comments also)
  • Gaze Upon Me, and Despair!: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, S2E2 (The Learned Fangirl)
  • How music videos challenged the male gaze in 2015 (Dazed)
  • How is this painting ‘pornographic’ and ‘disgusting’? (The Guardian)
  • ‘Neighbors 2’ is a middle finger to anyone who thinks feminism can’t be funny (Fusion)
  • Hollywood Men: It’s No Longer About Your Acting, It’s About Your Abs (Jezebel)
  • The Male Gaze vs. The Female Gaze (CinemaVerite)
  • NSFW: See Images From “Bare Men,” A New Photo Book on Male Nudity (Paper)
  • A New Tumblr Calls Attention to “Headless Women” in Film & TV Marketing (Bitch, Feministing)
  • NSFW: 10 Images That Take The Female Nude Back From The Male Gaze (Bust; my Twitter and Facebook conversations about them)
  • Empowered Young Women Star In These Portraits Of Chinese Girlhood (The Huffington Post)
  • How did ‘Playgirl’ magazine go from feminist force to flaccid failure? (Fusion)
  • An Earl in the Streets and a Wild Man in the Sheets: Tarzan and Women’s Sexuality (Bitch)

That said, of course there’s still many differences in what heterosexual men and women find sexually attractive in the other; it’s just that I’m no longer convinced that lying in bed (etc.) is one of them. And if I’m right, that social commitment to literally keep women in their place seems to be the biggest reason for the discrepancy in the media.

Especially when, if pandering to the male gaze is the modus operandi, there are many more active alternatives, and/or alternative body types, that are just as effective…

vivian geeyang kim 66100 Ha Ji-won(Sources: Plus Size Model Vivian Geeyang Kim, edited; ask K-POP)

Which I’ll present in Part 2, before discussing the MV proper in Part 3. Thanks very much for reading this far, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. (By all means, feel free to jump ahead and talk about the MV too!)

Funky Man (펑키맨) by After School (애프터수쿨) — Lyrics, Translation and…Critically Examining the Evidence for Double Standards in K-pop

(Source)

Do Korean censors disproportionately target female singers?

No, not just those shameless hussies that sing about what they’d actually like to do with their love-interests I mean, and/or dance and show some skin to that effect. Because despite some obvious exceptions, I’d wager that Korean censors are generally equal-opportunity prudes.

Rather, I also mean those female singers that promote such harmful ideas as, say, that romance involves more than just sitting around looking pretty, waiting for a guy to notice you. Or that when you’re angry with your partner, you should say so. As whatever the actual rationales given for the banning of their work, be they indirect advertising, mention of alcohol, not wearing seatbelts while driving, or alleged double entendres in completely innocuous English phrases, somehow it seems to happen to women’s songs much more than it does to guys’.

Or maybe I just get that impression because I only ever pay attention to the women’s songs.

So, starting today, and hopefully finishing over the summer break, I’m going to painstakingly go over every banned song and music video from January 1 2011, noting the whos, hows, and whys, then moving on to the next…all the way until December 31. As I finish each month, I’ll write up the results and my analysis here.

I guess the next songs I’ll be looking at will be G-Dragon (지-드래곤) and T.O.P.’s (탑) Knockout and Don’t Go Home then, banned on the 4th and 5th of January respectively (with the latter banned a second time on the 12th!). But before I do, let’s jump ahead to July, when the Youth Protection Commission (청소년보호위원회) of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF; 여성가족부) banned After School’s (애프터수쿨) Funky Man (펑키맨) for its “sexually suggestive” lyrics.

Not just because I’m a big After School fan, or because the recent news that it’s been unbanned is what finally inspired me to do this little project. But also because the muddled way the banned lyrics are being reported on Soompi (and just about everywhere else) clouds the slight girl-power theme of the song as a whole, and in turn possible — but I stress, only possible — alternate reasons for its banning.

Let me explain:

(Source)

애프터스쿨 – Funky Man by Nana/나나 and Lizzie/리지; also featuring Kyung-min/경민 of Pre-School Girl

commin oh ma funkyman uh woo 좀더 깊숙히

fallin I I I I I can break U down!

날 흔들어봐 빙빙 Swing Ma Boy

날 유혹해봐 Keep it 맘대로

네게 빠져들게

그래 좀 뻔뻔하게

갖고 싶다면 Ring Ring Ring My Bell

느낌이 없어 넌 좀 부족해

못 참아 지루한 건

말해봐 너만의 Slogan

Commin, oh ma funky man, uh woo deeper

Fallin, I I I I I  can break u down!

Shake me round and round, Swing ma boy

Try to seduce me, Keep it as you want so that I will fall for you

That’s right, shamelessly

If you want to have me ring, ring, ring my bell

I feel nothing, this isn’t enough

I can’t stand this boredom

Tell me your own slogan

(Source)

Originally, I copied and pasted the lyrics from Naver here, which still requires ID despite the unbanning. Realizing I was struggling with the translation because of the essentially arbitrary choice of line breaks made in that though, I decided to reformat them all, to better fit how they’re actually sung. And once I did, then in particular the question of who wants to have whom in line 8 — 갖고 싶다면 — suddenly made sense: if he wants to have her, the singer, then he has to ring ring ring her bell.

Also, if that “ring ring ring my bell”  is just not the random, unrelated Konglish that it first appears, but actually an integral part of the song, then that opens the possibility that some of the other Konglish may be important too. Bearing that in mind, then the “slogan” in the last line for instance, isn’t so much lame as a handy rhyming device for the “건/geon” at the end of the line that precedes it.

But in that case, what exactly does the the “try to seduce me, keep it as you want so that I will fall for you” of line 4 mean? Does it mean that, very very literally, being shamelessly dominated is what is going to ring ring ring her bell, my surprising ultimate reading of the first verse?

You can imagine that it was with some trepidation then, that I turned my attention to the chorus…

(Source)

가슴 뛰는 나를 향해

O.K 짜릿짜릿하게

그렇게 오오오 (오오오) 내게 다가와 DON`T STOP

지금 내가 원하는건

O.K 아찔아찔한 Game (어떻게)

오오오 (오오오) 어서 달려와, 소리쳐봐

난난나 Crack Crack Funky Man! 오 baby baby baby shout

난난나 Rock Rock on Funky Man! 오 내게 내게 미쳐봐

오늘밤 너와 단둘이, 너무나 달콤한 story

나만을 위해 춤추는 puppet

My heart is thumping, come to me

OK thrillingly

Like that oh oh oh (oh oh oh), come to me DON’T STOP

What I want now

OK, a dizzy game (how?)

Oh oh oh (oh oh oh), hurry to me and shout

Na-na-na crack crack funky man! Oh baby baby baby shout

Na-na-na rock rock on funky man! Oh, try to be crazy about me me

Tonight, just the two of us

[It’ll] be such a sweet story

You are just a dancing puppet for me

(Source)

Great — that was the very opposite message in fact, and one which is continued in the the rest of the song too. But first, consider the way the banned lyrics are being described on Soompi:

The controversy was caused over the following lyrics from “Funky Man”:

“Oooh Ooh, a little deeper / shake me around / try and seduce me / for my chest that is pumping / OK make me tingle like that oh oh oh”

What do you think? Are the lyrics explicit?

Now that we’ve covered all of those particular lyrics, then you can see that they’re actually cobbled together from verse 1 and the chorus, whereas Soompi makes them look like a direct quotation of just two lines*. Why this difference is important, is because already they’re clearly not the only “sexually suggestive” lyrics throughout the song, which raises the question of why only those ones above were singled out by MOGEF. Let alone why this song was banned when others with equally or even more explicit lyrics weren’t.

Could the censors at MOGEF, perchance, have had different, unspoken motivations? Were they, in fact, just annoyed at how “You are just a dancing puppet for me” belittled men, and so banned it using the sexually suggestive lyrics as an excuse? Or alternatively, were they perhaps a little unsettled by what turns out to be a song not about a woman who wants to be dominated, but rather one very much on top?

Alas, all that is mere speculation at this stage, and arguably reading far too much into it — indeed, there’s been at least one occasion when MOGEF was actually quite explicit about banning a song for belittling men. Also, how much of an alpha girl does the woman in this song really come across as? Not just because of that first verse, but also because, whatever the song, being assertive and confident doesn’t necessarily mean that the woman demands that the guy come to her. Rather, shouldn’t she really be going after him herself?

*I translated “OK 짜릿짜릿하게” as “Ok, thrillingly”, rather than “OK make me tingle like that”, as quoted at Soompi. But I can’t tell if it’s an adverb or a causative, so either is possible.

(Source)

commin oh ma funkyman uh woo 좀더 깊숙히

fallin I I I I I can break U down!

날 바라보면 쿵 쿵 like a boom

넌 두근두근 쿵 쿵 feel so good

내게 말걸어봐

그래 좀 당당하게

날 원한다면 몸을 움직여

다른 남자는 모두 숨죽여

못참아 답답한건

시작해 너만의 Slogan

Commin, oh ma funky man, uh woo deeper

Fallin, I I I I I  can break u down!

If you watch me your heart will pound like a boom

You throb and beat, boom boom feel so good

Try to talk to me,

Yes, like that, confident and commanding

If you want me move your body

Other men hold their breaths

I can’t stand it, this frustration

Start, your own slogan

(Source)

Finally, there’s the chorus, the first two lines of the first verse, the third verse, then the first two lines of the first verse again. To make it easier to follow along, I’ll put them all together:

commin oh ma funkyman uh woo 좀더 깊숙히

fallin I I I I I can break U down!

가슴 뛰는 나를 향해

O.K 짜릿짜릿하게

그렇게 오오오 (오오오) 내게 다가와 DON`T STOP

지금 내가 원하는건

O.K 아찔아찔한 Game (어떻게)

오오오 (오오오) 어서 달려와, 소리쳐봐

난난나 Crack Crack Funky Man! 오 baby baby baby shout

난난나 Rock Rock on Funky Man! 오 내게 내게 미쳐봐

오늘밤 너와 단둘이, 너무나 달콤한 story

나만을 위해 춤추는 puppet

말해봐 boy

모든걸 보여줘

서둘러 boy

이밤이 끝나기전에

매일 꿈같은 이야기

해주고픈 이맘 Crazy

오 가져봐

오 느껴봐

commin oh ma funkyman uh woo 좀더 깊숙히

fallin I I I I I can break U down!

Commin, oh ma funky man, uh woo deeper

Fallin, I I I I I  can break u down!

My heart is thumping, come to me

OK thrillingly

Like that oh oh oh (oh oh oh), come to me DON’T STOP

What I want now

OK, a dizzy game (how?)

Oh oh oh (oh oh oh), hurry to me and shout

Na-na-na crack crack funky man! Oh baby baby baby shout

Na-na-na rock rock on funky man! Oh, try to be crazy about me me

Tonight, just the two of us

[It’ll] be such a sweet story

You are just a dancing puppet for me

Try to speak boy

Show me everything

Hurry boy

Before this night ends

Everyday, a story like a dream

This heart which wants to do [that] is crazy

Oh, try to have [me]

Oh, try to feel [me?]

Commin, oh ma funky man, uh woo deeper

Fallin, I I I I I  can break u down!

(Source)

Did anyone else guess that the song’s actually about cheerleaders? No, me neither. And seeing as how management company Pledis Entertainment also claimed that there’s nothing sexual in the lyrics at all, then I’m not going to give much credence to that!

What I do take away from the song though, is a lack of substance and logic to the official reasons for its banning, which at least opens the possibility that the official reasons are not the real ones. And while mere possibilities are not evidence of course, if the biggest gaps between official denunciations of songs and their reality consistently occur in those about assertive females (sexually or otherwise), then, well, maybe that’s something.

Yes, I realize that that’s a little subjective, so I welcome alternative suggestions for judging this sort of thing. But either way, there’ll be far too many songs to cover to do much analysis. Instead, my aim is that all of the evidence I’ll present over the next few months will enable you to decide for yourselves.

Honestly though, as I type this I’m no longer so sure that the double-standards are quite as big as many people assume, not least myself. What do you think?

Give it to me (줄래) by Lee Jeong-hyeon (이정현): Lyrics and Translation

It feels like a long time since I’ve posted something here simply because I liked it. So, let me put what I had planned aside for a moment and remedy that, starting by passing on this video of “internet DJ” Lee Jeong-hyeon (이정현), covering the 2000 hit Give it to me (줄래) by the singer of the same name. The next time I’m harping on about the evils of aegyo and female infantilization in Korea popular culture, please remind me of how much I love this video despite myself, and that being cute definitely does have its time and place:

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much information about her when I first saw the video on Mongdori back in 2008, and I can’t find anything at all now. But I did find the music video of the song itself to compare (update: see here for a higher quality version):

And as it turns out, it was covered that same year by the Wondergirls (원더걸스), then by KARA (카라) the year after that:

Given that popularity; an English title that reminded me of double entendres like the “get into my core” from Girls’ Generation’s (소녀시대) Visual Dreams (비주얼드림); a doll in the music video that surely symbolized something; and the fact that Lee Jeong-hyeon was selected by Lady Gaga to open her Seoul concert in 2009, then — you guessed it — I just had to translate it!

(Lee Jeong-hyeon opening for Lady Gaga, 2009. Source)

뒤돌아 날 본다…넌 내가 셋을 셀동안

홧김에 끝내잔 얘길 넌 던진 것 뿐야

이대로 날 두고 갈 생각 전혀 없어 넌

거봐 너! 지금 너! 또 오잖아

Look back and you see me…while I count to three

You said that you only broke up with me because you were angry

You don’t want to leave me like this

See, look at you now. You’re coming back.

불안해 왜 불안해 내 말을 왜 못믿어

그렇게 겪어봐도 나를 몰라 왜 몰라줘

니몸에 날 묶을까? 내 옷에 써 붙힐까?

난 바로 니 여자라고…

Nervous? Why are you nervous? Why can’t you believe what I say?

Don’t you know me by now, after going through life so much together?

Shall I tie myself to you? Shall I write your name on my clothes?

I’m the woman for you

처음엔 좋댔잖아

섹시한 눈웃음도 감았다 살짝 뜬 우아한 내 윙크도

너 만을 위한거야

딴데선 난 안그래 왜 맘 좁게 날 의심해

At first, you said you liked my sexy eyes and my elegant, subtle wink

It was all for you

I don’t do that to other guys

Why are you so shallow and suspicious?

[CHORUS BEGINS]

톡 쏘는 콜라처럼 난 니 마음 속에 들어갈꺼야

지금은 화난척해도

또 풀릴걸 내가 안기면

Like a cola fizzing, I’ll rise to be in your heart

Now, you’re only pretending to be angry really

I know that will go away if I hold you

모든걸 가질래 아무도 안줄래

나 니 마음을 다 사로잡을래

나 오늘은 순결한 백합처럼

나 때로는 붉은 장미처럼

모든걸 다줄래 너에게 다줄래

나의 관심은 언제나 너뿐야

언제나 나만 사랑해줘 날 안아줘 너는 내꺼야

I’m going to have it all, I’m not going to give anything [of you] to anyone

I’m going to grab all your heart again

Today, like a pure lily, and sometimes like a red rose

I’m going to give everything to you

It’s always been just you

Please love and hold me always, you are mine

[CHORUS ENDS]

우리가 그동안 함께한 날이 얼만데

난 알아 널 알아 널 알아

너무나 잘 알고있지

하나에 하나반 둘에 또 둘에 반에 셋!

거봐 너! 지금 너!

또 오잖아…

A long time has passed since we were together

I know you, I know you, I know you

I know you so well

One, one and a half, two, two and a half, three!

See, look at you now, you’re coming back to me again

오늘은 뭐했는지 누구를 만났는지

핸드폰 왜 껐는지 물어볼래

간섭할래 사랑은 구속인걸 난 너무 잘 알지만

때로는…난 숨이 막혀…

I’m going to ask you what you did today, who you met, why your phone was off

I am going to interfere like that, because I know well that love is a prison

Sometimes it means I can’t breathe

할수만 있다면 넌 날 작게 만들어서

주머니 속에 날 넣고 다니겠다고

그게 소원이라고 그렇게 말하는 널

나 어떻게 미워하니

You said that if you could, you would make me smaller

So that you can put me in your pocket

That was your wish

How can I not love you when you’re like that?

[CHORUS REPEATS]

아무리 차가운 척해도 소용없어

넌 가득찬 내 작은 손을 넌 못벗어나

이대로 널 두고 갈생각 전혀없어 난

하나 또 둘에 반 셋…거봐 너 또 오잖아…

날줄래, 날줄래, 날줄래, 날줄래

There is no reason for you to pretend to be cold

You’re stuck with me

I won’t break up with you like this

One, one and a half, two, two and a half, three!

Look at you, you’re coming back again

I want to give myself to you (x4)

What do you think? Naturally, the feminist in me rebels against a woman loving that her boyfriend literally wants her to be his doll, but on the other hand the lyrics indicate that she’s by no means the submissive partner in the relationship. Even if she does uses a lot of aegyo to achieve that, which is the impression I get from Lee Jeong-hyeon seemingly going through her entire repertoire in the music video!

Meanwhile, apologies for the quick translation (I’m sure there’s many mistakes), and I’m more than happy to be corrected and/or explain any of it. But I do think I have the gist of it!

(See here for Lee Jeong-hyeon’s website [there’s an English section], and here for her Twitter feed)

Pray (기도) by Sunny Hill (써니힐): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

(Source)

…Sunny Hill have shaken things up in K-Pop by releasing unconventional music – at least as far as Korean pop is concerned – and they’ve garnered a new following by doing so. Sunny Hill is a talented group and they’re in the hands of creative people who understand the purpose of a concept, in that a concept not only melds visuals with music, but is designed to evoke a powerful response from their audience (Allkpop, September 2011).

Hey, I do like what I’ve heard of Sunny Hill (써니힐) so far, but still: nothing about their music really strikes me as really different. Rather, to me they stand out for their collaboration in in Mamma Mia (맘마미아) by Narsha (나르샤), the first(?) and only(?) Korean music video to feature a Korean woman kissing a Caucasian man, and then for their rare critique of the Korean rat race in The Grasshopper Song (베짱이 찬가). And I’d love to hear of any more such “socially-conscious K-pop” by them.

Pray (기도) though, doesn’t really qualify. But it is one of the darkest music videos I’ve ever seen (for which it was banned on MBC and KBS), and can be very moving. As the reader who asked me to translate it admitted:

Seriously. . . I was crying within the first 15 seconds.  I was a WRECK by the end.  My roommate came in and asked ‘Who died?’  Me? ‘The *hiccup* man in the *hiccup* videooooooo!’  The main character is the type that truly tugs at my heart strings.  Of course, Joseph Merrick comes to mind, but the character has such an. . .how do I put it…almost unspoiled nature.  Innocent in the most pure sense of the work – like the innocence of a child (that’s getting much harder to find today).  What I truly loved, though, is that it fit with the tone of the song but wasn’t melodramatic.  Dramatic, yes, but not melodramatic.

See here for an excellent discussion of all the symbolism in it. Meanwhile, the “mutant” is played by veteran movie actor Lee Jae-yong, and fans have noticed that only three of the five members of the group actually sing, although all of them are featured in the music video:

Save me from broken time

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

그 어떤 누군가가 기도하라 꿈꿔라

이뤄진다 했던가 어떤 모든 것들도

다 내게 말해 넌 나를 보고 말해 이젠 제발 멈추라고

한숨은 잔혹하게 거칠게만 들리네

허나 들리지 않아 어떤 구원의 소리

난 기도하네 또 나는 소리치네 누가 나를 꺼내주길

Did someone say your dreams would be achieved if you prayed?

Tell me everything

Now you look at me and tell me to stop

A sigh sounds so cold-hearted and coarse

But I can’t hear the sound of a rescue

I pray, I scream out, I hope someone will help me break out

The chorus is next:

Stand by me and necessary

점점 깊어만가 너를 앓을수록

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

Cry for me and I’m sorry

점점 패여만가 너를 잃을수록

제발 다시 안아달라고

멈춰 있던 나를 깨워줘 멈춰 있던 시간 돌려놔

어제처럼 그렇게 나에게만 웃어 보여줘

감춰 있던 슬픔 조여와 감춰 있던 아픔 올라와

헤어지잔 그 말은 아니 아니 아니 아니야

Stand by me, and necessary (pronounced “nesary”)

The more I long for you, the deeper I get

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Cry for me, and I’m sorry

The more I lose you the more empty I am

Please, I beg you, hold me again

Please wake me from my paralysis, please give me back my frozen time

You showed me your laugh like that yesterday

Hidden sorrow is strangling me, hidden pain is rising

“Let’s break up” – those words, no no no

그 어떤 누군가가 사는 게 다 그렇다

무뎌진다 했던가 어떤 모든 것들도

다 내게 말해 넌 나를 보고 말해 제발 정신 차려 좀 달라고

눈물은 빗물 되어 내 몸을 다 적시고

온몸이 얼어붙어 땅에 늘어뜨리고

몸서리치네 또 나는 울부짖네

따라라라 라라라라

Did someone say that life is like that, that you just get used to it?

Tell me everything

You look at me and tell me to hang in there

My tears become like rainwater, I get drenched

I lie down, my whole body frozen to the ground

Dah la la la, la la la la

The chorus is repeated, then finally:

간절히 난 기도하네 listen to the song

대답은 또 나를 울리네

날아가는 나를 잡아줘 날아가는 우릴 돌려놔

떠다니며 잡히지 않아 너를 붙잡지 못해

하루만 더 살아보려고 깨물었던 나의 입술을

사라져가 이제는 아니 아니 아니 아니야.

Save me from broken time

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

I sincerely pray, listen to the song

And the answer makes me cry again

Grab me from flying away, turn back our fleeting relationship

It flouts around but cannot be grasped, I cannot grasp you

Just to live one more day, I bite down on my lips

But now it’s vanishing, and it’s not not not not there

Save me from broken time

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la la

(Source)

A confession: just before I started translating the final verse, I stumbled across this translation on Youtube (embedding on blogs isn’t allowed sorry), and, finding nothing wrong with it, decided to use it for the final verse here too. Also, I have to admit that the whole translation is much more elegant than mine, so I strongly encourage readers to check it out, especially if you want to read the lyrics as you watch.

But there are some differences though, so I’d be happy to elaborate on those, and/or any other parts of the translation if Korean learners are interested. Alternatively, by all means please correct me if you think I’ve made a mistake!^^

One More Chance (나 좀 봐줘) by The Grace – Dana and Sunday (천상지희 – 다나 & 선데이): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

(Source, all screenshots)

아, 짱나! Why’d you always choose songs with such bloody strange lyrics?!!

While I’m very grateful to my long-suffering wife for her help, somebody had to redeem this song’s reputation among English speakers. For it definitely deserves praise for its empowering lyrics, especially when people may be put off from hearing the song at all through reviews like this, this, and this that don’t even consider them. Or translations like these that don’t give enough thought to resolving their ambiguity.

Yet who can blame those writers? With an official title of One More Chance (나 좀 봐줘), and lyrics that sometimes mention a guy, then it’s only natural to assume it’s basically about one more chance with that guy. In which case, SM Entertainment has done Dana & Sunday (다나 & 선데) a great disservice, for that English title doesn’t just dilute the song’s message, but positively subverts it.

If I’m going to argue that other people allowed their preconceptions to color their judgement of a song though, then first let me disclose my own, which I gained through readers’ emails like this one:

There seems to be 2 camps about the lyrics: It’s either stupid or the lyrics are quite ingenious. Is this a girl-anthem lite or is it a true empowerment song?

What I can only pick out is: “Amazon” “Adam & Eve” “Soju” “Bridget Jones” From the translations I have already read, there seems to be more metaphors than the usual k-pop songs.

And then from Jessica in the comments section to a post on underlying messages in girl-group songs:

…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..)

Then from Gomushin Girl’s reply:

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.

And finally from Jessica’s response:

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.

Only after reading those, I confess, did I really investigate who Dana and Sunday were (those three reviews above remain excellent introductions to them btw, and of course there’s also their Wikipedia page), and then get stuck into the video:

And in the interests of full disclosure, One More Chance happened to be the first song I’ve ever translated that I needed my wife’s ID to get the lyrics from Naver for, as it turned out that it had been banned for public broadcast for the heinous crime of mentioning alcohol, which you can read more about here or here (and more about increasing opposition to such inane censorship here, here, or here). Not that I seriously think that that biased me of course, although I did realize later that the song would make little sense without the alcohol in it.

But at the very least, I was clearly expecting a message of female empowerment in the lyrics, and – surprise, surprise – got one. Albeit only after giving up on it in frustration late last night, then realizing in the light of day that that narrative was the only way to resolve its many ambiguities. Was I just projecting though, reaching for a solution? Please judge for yourselves if the following explanations objectively justify that conclusion then, and why I ultimately think the song should actually be called Hear Me instead!

Update With my eternal gratitude, reader Seamus Walsh has spent a great deal of time in the comments analyzing the lyrics himself, including noting many minor and some major mistakes with my translation. Starting here, please make sure to read those also!

아담의 갈비뼈를 뺐다고? 진짜 빼야 될 사람 난데

내 허리 통뼈 이대론 안 돼 웃지 마라 진짜 진지하다고

소주는 싫어 잔이 작아 얼굴 더 커 보이잖아

막걸리 가자 잔도 크고 양도 많아 내 스타일이야

오늘 끝까지 한번 달린다 Let’s Go

It’s said Adam’s rib was pulled out? Really, I’m the person who needs things taken out.

I can’t endure my big-boned waist as it is. Don’t laugh, I said I’m serious.

I hate soju, its little shot glass makes my face look bigger

Let’s go drink makkoli, its glass is big and holds a lot, that’s my style

Tonight, let’s run until the end, Let’s go

In line 2, “뼈” by itself means “bone”, and “통” means…well, it has 8 entries in my dictionary. But “통뼈” together is a euphemism meaning “big-boned” (e.g. “난 통뼈야!).

In line 4, I think there’s an unspoken “in order to drink”  between “makkoli” and “let’s go” (e.g. “막걸리 먹으로  가자”), but my wife says that adding saying “[a drink]” with just “가자” is also common slang for emphasizing how much you really want to have that particular drink (not that our explanations are mutually exclusive of course).

Finally, in line 5 I think “tonight” makes much more sense than “오늘/today” for most non-alcoholics.

Next, there’s the (sort-of) chorus:

아마조네스 시대엔 내가 왕인데

남자가 언제부터 우릴 먹여 살렸니?

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

지금이 최고로 마른 건데 살쪘대

오늘만 마셔 낼부터 다이어트 쭉쭉 간다

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 아 쭉쭉 간다

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 아 기운 없어

In the Age of the Amazons, I am the queen

From when have men supported us?

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

I’m the thinnest right now, but people say I’ve become fat

I’ll only drink today, from tomorrow I’ll diet properly

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Ah…I’ll do it properly

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Ah…I have no energy

The first two lines are simple enough here, but the third and fourth are very vague and frustrating. Partially, that’s because I didn’t know “놓다” could mean “release” (I usually use it as “put”), but after that who or what are the “먹여 사렸니” referring to exactly? Other translators think the whole line means “Let me go, I can feed myself”, which is certainly logical, but then there’s not only no indication of the object and subject like I said, but the verb is in the past tense too. So, my wife thinks they’re actually just repeating line 2 really, but which is too long itself to repeat all of it.

In line 6, “쭉” will always be difficult to forget for me personally because the term “쭉쭉빵빵” was the precursor to “S-line”, although here it means  “utterly/completely/entirely” rather than “a straight line [tall]”. Meanwhile, the “간다” means it’s something that’s going to happen in the future, as explained in depth in my discussion of T-Ara’s Like the First Time.

Finally, in lines 7 and 8, again other translators give – all together – “나 좀 봐줘” as “give me one more chance”, and sure enough, that’s the English name of the song too (although I don’t know who came up with that). But I’m going to have to dissent, as not only is “chance” not mentioned whatsoever (although I acknowledge there’s a [slim] possibility that it’s unspoken) but a verb plus ‘줘” means “please [do the verb] for me”, and so in this case “봐줘”  would be “please look at me”, or indeed “please pay attention to me”. And this is corroborated by in the video when Dana says it again at 2:10 (see below), as she both looks at the viewer the entire time and is stared at intensely by Sunday, albeit only partially because Sunday does exactly the same when she says “Let me go” too, as in the fourth picture up.

However, if there was a (conjugated) verb before the “봐줘”, like, say, “해봐줘”, then that would be quite different, as the “봐” stops being “see” but becomes part of the  form “[verb] + [try to do the verb]” (e.g. “해봐” means “try to do it”). But as you can see, there’s nothing.

Whether it’s “give me one more chance” or “pay attention to me” though, saying “Ah [as in “sigh”]…I have no strength” straight afterwards is still a bit of a contradiction.

(Author’s screencapture)

브리짓존스는 짝을 만났지

내가 걔보다 뭐가 못해?

선배들 얘기, 솔직히 반대

‘눈을 낮춰야 남자가 보여?’ 흥!

좋은 녀석이 있어 머리가 좀 사실 많이 크지

그 옆에 서면 내 얼굴 진짜 작아 보이더라구

그것 땜에 만난다는 건 아냐, 진짜

아담이 이브, 만난 정돈 아니고

죽도록 걔한테 목매는 나도 아닌데

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자꾸 생각나

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자꾸 생각나

Bridget Jones met her other half, right?

What can’t I do compared to her?

My seniors’ stories, honestly I disagree

Do I have to lower my standards to meet men? Hmmpth!

I have a boyfriend, actually his head is quite big

People say that next to him my face looks small

That’s not the real reason I met him

We not close like Adam and Eve were

I’m never going to be so in love with a guy

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! This consumes me

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! This consumes me

Easy enough to translate, but frustratingly vague towards the end. First, the “걔” in line 2 means “그” or “that”, in this case Bridget Jones, mentioned in line 1. Then in line 6, “더라구” is slang for “더라도”, which I scanned an explanation of (from p. 150 of 100 Korean Grammar Patterns/한국어 문형 표현 100) for you below (basically, it’s used for emphasis when you’ve telling someone about something you’ve directly experienced, but the listener hasn’t).

In lines 10 and 11 though, we’ve already established that the first part means “pay attention to me”, but the while the “자꾸 생각나” easily translates to (literally) “frequently think” or “unceasingly think”, what is the singer thinking about exactly? Late last night, my wife and I thought it was about the guy mentioned earlier, but (again) that’s a contradiction. If the next verse was about a guy though, as it certainly appears at first glance, then it could retroactively be about him though, but…well, we’ll get to that.

For now then, if we just take for the sake of argument that it isn’t about a guy, then it must be about the issue of people saying she just chose to date him because he made her face look smaller, or the wider issue of paying attention to her, letting her do her own thing. In which case, as that is the main theme of the song, then I think my own rendition of it as “this consumes me” is quite eloquent(!), even if I do only say so myself.

Of course, the lyricist may be just have been having an off-day too…

Show me! Show me! 어쩜 좋니

토크는 안 끝나고 우린 더욱 아쉽고

이 밤을 불태워버릴 우리만의 100분 토론

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! Yo! 100분 토론

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 100분 토론

난 먹고 자고 울고 웃고 사랑하고

다 저울질하고 때로는 미워하고

오 매일 매일 난 큰 꿈을 꾸고 있는데

이 놈의 통 큰 갈비뼈를 빼서라도 날아갈 거라고!

Show me, show me, how

We got more to say, it’s sad that we have to stop

Our 100 minutes of talking will burn this night

Me! Please me! Let me go! Yo! 100 minutes of talking

Me! Please me! Let me go! 100 minutes of talking

I want to eat, sleep, cry, laugh, and love

I hate having to weigh everything up

Oh! Every day I dream a big dream

Even if I have to take out this big rib of mine, I will fly!

Ironically for all the time spent on the translations of previous verses, I didn’t really see have any problems of note in translating that. And by coincidence, it’s here that the fundamental message of the song becomes clear too.

Just a few lines ago, the singer was talking about her (literally) big-headed boyfriend, so it’s only natural to assume that she is still talking about him in this verse. But just think back to the situation: she opened the song talking to her (probably female) friend, she suggested that they go get a drink together…and until there’s anything to suggest otherwise, then she’s still talking to that friend here. So no, she isn’t sad about having limited time to talk to her boyfriend, and she certainly doesn’t want “one more chance” to be with him.

Indeed, only when you remove that assumed longing for a guy from the song, does it finally begin to make some sort of sense.

Unfortunately, the last verse below has (to my mind) a throwaway line about love which potentially confuses it, but again only if you have the preconceived notion that the song is about love between a man and a woman. Love her friend listening to her though, platonically or otherwise, and there’s nothing to be confused about.

아마조네스 시대엔 내가 왕인데

남자가 언제부터 우릴 먹여 살렸니?

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

아담이 이브, 만난 정돈 아니고

죽도록 걔한테 목매는 나도 아닌데

왜 자꾸 자꾸 네가 생각나니 이상해

들어봐 온 가슴이 그렇게 말해 이게 사랑이래 I got you baby

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자, 기운 내서

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 가는 거야

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자, 기운 내서

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자, 가는 거야

In the Age of the Amazons, I am the queen

From when have men supported us?

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

We’re not close like Adam and Eve were

I’m never going to be so in love with a guy

Why am I so consumed like this? It’s strange

Try listening to me, my whole heart is saying this is love, I got you baby

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Cheer up!

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! I’m going to go

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Cheer up!

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! I’m going to go

And on that note, “Pay attention to me!” doesn’t roll of the tongue very easily, so I hereby retroactively change all instances of that to “Hear me!” instead, and submit that as a new song title!

What do you think? Am I simply projecting my own narrative onto the song, or am I onto something? As always, I defer to readers’ greater knowledge of the group and/or Korean abilities. Perhaps especially the latter in this case, as my epiphany about how much the song has been misinterpreted is so dependent on my alternate translation of just a few lines. On the other hand, from what I’ve read they’ve been known for grrrl-power from the outset, so surely the burden of proof is more on those who claim that this is such an uncharacteristic romantic love-song?

Update – Again, and especially if you’ve read this far, please make sure to read Seamus’s comments also!

(For more Korean song translations, please see here)

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Syndrome (신드롬) by ChoColat (쇼콜라): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation / Reading The Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 4

(Source)

Way back when the internet was just for emails, getting on a plane was pretty much the only way to immerse yourself in another country’s pop-culture. But there were instant insights to be gained if you did.

Take the first Korean music videos I saw. Certainly, they were confusing at first: the hairstyles and clothing were downright bizarre, and I couldn’t understand a word of the language. But seeing the same dance moves, facial expressions, and hand gestures on Korean singers as those back home? I suddenly gained a profound sense of how manufactured pop music was in both countries, which I’d never been able to get from my hapless media studies lecturer.

And that was in May 2000. Fast forward to 2011, and it’s great having 24/7 access to K-pop, wherever you are in the world. But what would it be like encountering the K-pop assembly-line for the first time today?

(Source, all Syndrome screenshots)

Enter Chocolat’s (쇼콜라) music video for Syndrome (신드롬), offering similar quick insights into Korean girl-groups specifically, in this case through seeing girls doing things you normally only see women do. In particular, cutesy aegyo is bad enough coming from a 21 year-old singer, but simply surreal when you see it done by a 14 year-old.

Yes, surreal, not merely awkward and inexperienced. Essentially, you’re watching a child pretending to be an adult pretending to be a child.

Likewise, de rigueur sexy wistful stares at the viewer, hinting at hidden pain and heartbreak, while walking aimlessly in moodily-lit rooms? Receiving one from someone not yet old enough to date, only seems to highlight the pretentiousness of the device all the more. So much so, that I’m not sure I won’t be able to simply laugh at the next one I see now, unless it’s coming from a genuinely worldly-wise diva like, say, Uhm Jung-hwa (엄정화).

Oops: Juliane (줄리앤) above, is actually 18, albeit—if you’ll indulge someone twice her age—still far too young to pull the look off. But that’s not her fault, and I’m sure her and other members will improve with experience. Call it an occupational hazard of teenage groups: No More Perfume on You (향수뿌리지마) by Teen Top (틴탑), for instance, relies on a similar suspension of disbelief, as we’re supposed to pretend that all the boys are playas in a nightclub, despite none being old enough to even get in one:

Rather than dwelling on how teenage girls dancing in tight clothes made me think of teenage boys though, let’s wisely turn to the issue of Chocolat’s marketing instead. First, some quick context.

These days, with notorious levels of illegal downloading ensuring that girl-groups’ (and boy-bands’) management agencies overwhelmingly rely on endorsement deals rather than music sales for profit, then the most important thing is to get noticed. However, this is increasingly difficult, as 27 girl-groups have already debuted just this year.

One inevitable development then, is the increasing sexualization of K-pop, as I discuss in the Korea Herald here. Another, much more recent one, is explicitly using what’s known in advertising as a “unique selling point” (USP), such as the Swing Girls (스윙걸즈) highlighting the fact that all members have D-cup breasts, or the Piggy Dolls (피기돌스) that they are—or rather weremuch heavier than most other female stars.

(Update – Megan at Seoulbeats explores this more in her post about the very similar—and increasingly tiresome—use of “concepts”)

As for Chocolat, their own USP is that 3 members are biracial, with Korean mothers and US Caucasian fathers. Not the first Korean group with biracial or foreign members by any means, but certainly the first to emphasize it so (although as an aside, it would be interesting to see how SM Entertainment handled the issue of Kim Isak’s {김이삭} mixed race back in 2002).

(Source)

Will this succeed? Angry K-pop Fan, ellieAisa (in the video below), Gord Sellar, and Ashley of Seoulbeats are pessimistic. In particular, let me quote Gord at some length:

Whereas the media hypersexualization of children is pretty much accepted—if not admitted—in Korean society, and the media hypersexualization of white women is all but de rigeur now, I think the idea that the media sexualization of biracially white/Korean children might not turn out to be as profitable an enterprise in Korea.

The band seems to be getting a pretty negative reception online, and it’s not hard to see why: the particular anxieties regarding race in Korea that the group’s promoters are trying to exploit—ambiguities of race, and the permissible exoticism of the non-Korean female—take on a life of their own when there is not a Korean male in the picture to “own” her (and, likewise, to “pwn” her).

Put that mixed race woman in a group of Korean women, without a man in the mix, and I think you might find what I’ve seen in reality: she gets ostracized, because she is the one who’s enviably different. And then, if you take a few of them and put them together, make them dominate a group, and let media out where they could remotely be understood (or misunderstood, or willfully misunderstood even) as looking down on Korean girls, and…

Well, I don’t know what will happen. But I expect a lot of negative press, a lot of anti-fans. Korean girls are not going to like this very much. What remains to be seen is whether the appeal to middle-aged men is going to be enough to outweigh that narrowing of audience.

(Update—Related, also see Hello Korea!’s discussion of SuperStarK’s judges recently hesitating to approve a Caucasian entrant, as they anticipated “that the Korean people would be reluctant to let him win over a Korean”)

With the benefit of an extra month’s hindsight though, I’m going to wager that they will actually become popular, for several reasons.

First, because they have not just one USP but two: their race and their youth. Two of the three biracial members, Tia (티아) and Melanie (멜라니), are only 14 (the other biracial member is 18 year-old Juliane, mentioned earlier). From the perspective of management agency Paramount Music, this makes great sense both in the long-term and the short term.

In the long-term, because the younger a girl-group member becomes popular, the greater the range of consumers she can appeal to: ergo, both teens and young children and the uncle/ajoshhi fans. And she will have a much longer shelf-life so to speak.

This is the heart of “The Lolita Effect”, and why performers—especially female performers—are becoming younger worldwide, not just in Korea.

In the short term, while Girl Story (걸스토리) and GP Basic (지피 베이직) have even younger members, both groups seem to have quickly dropped off the radar, leaving – correct me if I’m wrong – Chocolat with the youngest girls currently active in K-pop. This presents a great opportunity for Paramount Music to gain notoriety for them by pushing the Korean public’s toleration of the hypersexualization of Tia and Melanie to the limit.

(Source)

Call me projecting my own narratives onto K-pop, but, sure enough, Tia at least has already been in a romantic couple photoshoot with 27 year-old actor Ji Hyun-woo (지현우), even before Chocolat officially debuted. You could argue that that was simply one small part of their overall marketing strategy rather than presaging a focus on sexualization per se, but my money’s still on them following the footsteps of So-hee (안소희) of the Wondergirls (원더걸스); Sulli (최설리) of f(x) (에프엑스; see here also); HyunA (김현아) of 4Minute (포미닛); arguably Suzy (배수지) of Miss A (미쓰에이); just about all of Girls’ Generation; and so on. As like Gord Sellar has said elsewhere, it’s not sex itself that sells, but more sexuality and sexual relationships only just on the fringe of public acceptance:

…we westerners also have a lot of weirdness in our entertainment media floating around that grey area of the age of consent. We’re profoundly uncomfortable with — and at the same time fascinated by — the period where sexuality begins to form in the mind of people, and the moment at which that sexuality becomes permissible. Straight-laced objectionability is, in fact, the greatest determinant in whether you’ll see a sex scene between two characters in a film. This is why we so rarely see plain, slightly overweight forty-year-olds having marital sex in a film. Doubtless, there must be some plain-looking middle-aged married couples out there who have passionate, enviable sex lives, but you’ll never see that in more than a few films, because it’s the most permissible sex on the planet. It’s when sex becomes imaginably objectionable—transgressive—that it becomes worthy of depiction…

Second, USPs aside, another thing in Chocolat’s favor is how they’re already behaving like better established girl-groups, already dieting and claiming that they haven’t had any cosmetic surgery(!). But more seriously, it also didn’t take long for Tia at least to secure a cosmetics endorsement deal, according to Paramount Music precisely because of her exoticism (albeit hardly an objective source).

Next, you might reasonably expect me to also present the photoshoot with Ji Hyun-woo as an example of a Korean male “owning her”, but honestly I’m not sure what Gord is driving at there, and invite him to elaborate either in the comments or on his own blog. I will grant though, that while it’s difficult to generalize, I do get the impression that the more Caucasian women you see in Korean-produced ads, the more they’re depicted with a Korean romantic male interest, as is also the case for music videos (see two examples below). Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course (although it would be nice if the opposite were also true), and I’d be grateful if any readers could fill me in on how they fare in dramas and movies.

Also, it’s certainly true that, sometimes, Korean girl-groups’ music videos have a completely unnecessary, often distracting and confusing male presence. To my mind, the most notorious example would be Because of You (너 때문에) by After School (애프터스쿨; discussed here), which inexplicably features a male in it despite clearly being about a lesbian relationship between two of the members (although technically the lyrics leave the gender{s} open):

Finally, it’s only indirectly related, but it’s one of the first things I thought of when I read Gord’s take on Chocolat (so what the hell): while the “policing” of women in K-pop is constantly in flux, with many backward steps, generally I’d say its slowly but surely liberalizing over time. In particular, whereas S.E.S (에스이에스) was forced to make Caucasian rather than Korean men the target of their wrath for their music video for U back in 2002, lest Korean men be offended (see here and here), now Korean men are fair game, with Miss A’s music videos in particular coming to mind.

Moreover, the debut of a girl group focused on its biracial members provides a great opportunity to do away with convention.

It’s such a pity then, that the music video for Syndrome has such a cookie-cutter feel about it instead, although that is of course what you’d expect from something so representative of the genre. For an analysis, see Quynh’s breakdown of it at Seoulbeats, while I’ll finally—belatedly—provide a translation of the lyrics for the remainder of this post:

Oh yeah~

그 얼굴 닳아질라 널 자꾸 보게 돼 baby baby

너 귀가 따가울라 여기저기서 니 얘기뿐야

Woo~그 hair, fashion 모든 게 it style 닮고 싶은 hot style

Boo 떠오른 new icon uh huh

Oh yeah~

Your face is fading, but I want to see it often

Your ears are burning, everyone is talking about only you

Woo~ that hair, fashion everything it style, a hot style I want to resemble

Boo a rising icon uh huh

Mercifully after a such a long discussion, Syndrome is probably the shortest, most repetitive song I’ve ever translated. Unfortunately though, just like the music video lacks any story, so too do the lyrics too seem disjointed and thrown together, chosen more for their sound than their meaning. Add an excessive amount of English nonsense, even by K-pop standards, then I’m going to forgo discussing my translation on this occasion, although I’d be quite happy to in the comments if people have alternative translations and/or think I’ve made a mistake.

Next, there’s the chorus:

빠 빠 빠 빠 빠져 버린 걸 헤 헤 헤 헤 헤어날 수 없게

너땜에 앓고 있잖아 모두 다 la la la la like me

폐 폐 폐 폐 폐인이 된걸 너 너 너 너에게 중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

I’ve so fa- fa- fa- fa- fallen for you, I can’t escape

I’m suffering because of you, everything la la la la like me

You’ve cr- cr- cr- cr- crippled me, I’m addicted to you you you

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

널 새겨 놓은 my eye eye eye eye 멋진 그 목소리 in my headset

어떡해 미쳤나봐 낮이나 밤이나 니 생각뿐야

Woo 그 ment, motion 모든 게 issue 폭풍눈물 tissue

Boo 빛나는 new idol uh huh

You’re engraved into my eye eye eye eye, your cool voice in my headset

What am I supposed to do, I only think about you every day and night

Woo, that ment, motion everything issue, storm tears tissue

Boo, shiny new idol, uh huh

빠빠빠빠빠져버린걸헤헤헤헤헤어날수없게

너땜에앓고있잖아모두다 la la la la like me

폐폐폐폐폐인이된걸너너너너에게중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

I’ve so fa- fa- fa- fa- fallen for you, I can’t escape

I’m suffering because of you, everything la la la la like me

You’ve cr- cr- cr- cr- crippled me, I’m addicted to you you you

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

내가 어쩌다 이렇게 됐나 몰라 몰라 몰라 몰라

내겐너무먼별같은걸

내맘을알아줘 baby 맘을알아줘 baby You never break break my heart

날잊지말아줘 baby 잊지말아줘 baby la la la la like me

내맘을알아줘 baby 맘을알아줘 baby You never break break my heart

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

How did I become like this, I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know

To me, you’re like an unreachable star

Please know my heart baby, please know my heart baby, you never break break my heart

Please don’t forget me baby, please don’t forget me baby, la la la la like me

Please know my heart baby, please know my heart baby, you never break break my heart

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

빠 빠 빠 빠 빠져 버린 걸 헤 헤 헤 헤 헤어날 수 없게

너땜에 앓고 있잖아 모두 다 la la la la like me

폐 폐 폐 폐 폐인이 된걸 너 너 너 너에게 중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

Never break break my hearta

I’ve so fa- fa- fa- fa- fallen for you, I can’t escape

I’m suffering because of you, everything la la la la like me

You’ve cr- cr- cr- cr- crippled me, I’m addicted to you you you

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

Never break break my hearta

Make sure you see ellieAsia‘s short video (“Chocolat Scares Me”) for her rendition of the way Tia says that last line—it’s hilarious.

And on that note, apologies for the long delay with this post: blame an editing job at work that took much longer than expected, and then a cold from the lack of sleep. Also, no vote for next week’s song this time sorry, as One More Chance (나 좀 봐줘) by Dana & Sunday (다나&선데이), sub-unit of  The Grace (천상지희 더 그레이스), came a very very close second to Syndrome when votes closed on Friday at 5pm (or were supposed to close sorry – PollDaddy doesn’t seem to be working very well):

The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series: