Music Break: Two K-pop Gems You’ve Been Missing

I’d like to like Misogyny Drop Dead by Planningtorock, but agree with a commenter that its more “experimental” and “obscure” than something you can actually dance to.

As for that “problem” though, the author definitely has a point. Just type “trance” into a Youtube search and see for yourself:

Trance Music ObjectificationThoughts? Any more quality K-pop (or covers or remixes) out there that should be much better known? Would you say the objectifying imagery is simply because — I assume — most of the DJs are male? Or some other reason?

*Update: Link is just about the regional Wellington competition sorry. Any sources on the national competition would be appreciated.

“Cleavage out, Legs in” — The Key to Understanding Ajosshi Fandom?

“Here is the next Samsung: fast growing Korean companies that you’d better know about.” Source.

“Stop obsessing with sex.” (Fernando)

“If I went to New York and started pointing out how many skyscrapers there were, would you suggest that it was *me* that had the obsession with noticing skyscrapers, or New York for building them all?” (Norman Lewis; source)

And indeed if you went to Seoul instead, it’d be difficult not to notice all the exposed women’s legs. Even—or perhaps especially — in the winter.

It wasn’t until I saw this November 2010 video from the Singaporean RazorTV though, that I realized the fashion might not be so common there yet. Likewise, it was just starting in Thailand, where authorities were warning against the danger of dengue fever from the ensuing extra mosquito bites:

Unfortunately, only the narrator speaks English, while the hosts and interviewees chat away in Chinese (is that normal for Singaporean TV?), and no subtitles are available. However, I was able to find this related article from parent organization The Straits Times, and it had an intriguing conclusion:

Entertainment journalist Tan Chew Yen from the Chinese Central Integrated Newsroom reasoned that showing off legs allows these girl groups to maintain a healthier but nonetheless sexy image.

It invites less controversy and criticism from concerned citizens as compared to showing cleavage, for example, due to their young fan-base.

I beg to differ on the youth of their fan-bases these days. But still, those few words resonated on so many levels, potentially speaking volumes about how K-pop has developed over the last 5 years.

First, because it’s certainly true that Koreans regard legs as a much less sexual body part than cleavage. While that distinction is easy to overstate though, and is eroding precisely because so many Korean girl-groups are wearing hot-pants and mini-skirts these days, it’s confirmed by numerous expat women that have had to adjust to it (and of course cishet men like myself have noticed it too!).


Next, because choreography, outfits, and music videos tailored for that distinction would be equally applicable to the more conservative—but still lucrative and influential—Chinese market, where for a long time Korean groups were considered much “safer” than their Japanese and Western counterparts:

In 2003, the Korean National Tourism Office [a major investor in the Korean wave] conducted a Hanliu tourism survey in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong exploring attitudes to Korean culture, publishing the results online…

….It compared the impact of Korean culture with that of four “competitor” countries (the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), and in the process revealed much about Korea’s own political and nationalist concerns, particularly in relation to Japan and America. Six of the eleven options for respondents to the category “reasons I like Korean culture” reflect this preoccupation: “less sexual than Japanese culture,” “less sexual than American culture,” “less violent than Japanese popular culture,” “less violent than American popular culture,” “decreased interest in American culture,” and “decreased interest in Japanese culture.” One other echoes Straubhaar’s notion of cultural proximity: “similar in culture.” Certainly, Korea’s own music media censorship laws (which even in 1997 prohibited the displaying of body piercings, navels, tattoos, “outfits which might harm the sound emotional development of youth,” and banned violent or political lyrics), meant that Chinese TV stations could buy in Korean music videos and music TV shows knowing that they were unlikely to upset local censors. However, these questions also reflected a perception that Korea acts as a defender against excessive Westernization and as a guardian of Confucian values within East Asia. (Rowan Pease, 2009)

Of course, this assumes that the Chinese make the same distinction between legs and cleavage. But I’d wager they do—after all, Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment especially has always had a firm eye on the Chinese market, with two members of Miss A being Chinese, and even the “A” in the name meaning “Asia.” And the group’s logo speaks for itself:


Finally, likewise hot-pants would be a perfect fit with “Ajosshi” or “Samchon” fandom. Here’s a quick definition of that for new readers:

…what is extraordinary in girl idols’ fandom is that a large number of male fans in their 30s and 40s have constructed the unprecedented scale and mode of fandom called Samchon-fans, or uncle-fans. As Samchon in Korean refers to one’s parent’s brother, this name implies the middle-aged men’s care for their young nieces. Once this familial setting is built up, a relationship between male viewers or self-claimed Samchon fans is restructured in the complicit relationship between uncle and little nieces. Accordingly, the male’s gaze at young female bodies is legitimized and normalized as the voluntary support and pure love of uncles for their nieces. Under the identity of uncle, they can deny the sexual aspect of what they see and insist on appreciating merely the pure surface of pretty children. This double male psychology of interwoven denial and justification is pervasive in the constitution of the girl idols’ fandom. Thus, with the pretentious reformulation of the male gaze into an uncle’s familial support, the male consumption of the girl bodies becomes relieved of the predictable blame for pedophiliac abnormality. (Yeran Kim, 2011; see sources below)

Previously, most discussions about Samchon fandom have focused on pointing out its existence and/or its effects, both of which you can read about in depth here and here. But in hindsight, not enough attention has been give to the process of how it came about, which this cleavage/legs distinction now potentially helps to fill. For if entertainment companies subscribed to it, having their girl-groups members flaunting their legs while covering up their cleavage, then it’s easy to see why this would provide plausible deniability for all involved.

“Because of Sistar, uncles [feel like] teenagers again!!” Source.

Not that being a middle-aged male fan of a girl-group is wrong per se of course. But for a number of years the Korean media would indeed promote the deceitful “innocent until proven sexual” byline of Samchon fandom (and to a large extent still does—see here and here), providing a window for entertainment companies to sex up performances to their hearts’ content.

Was this the result of a deliberate, years-long strategy by entertainment companies? That’s unlikely: not only did Girls’ Generation at least actually wear “skinny jeans” well before hot-pants for instance (I believe they only started doing so with Tell Me Your Wish in July 2009), but it’s difficult to speak of grand plans by JYP, for instance, when he’s well known for his constant experimentation with groups, trying everything until one concept finally succeeds.

In short, I think entertainment companies lucked out. But like the video says, K-pop has been about legs, legs, and legs ever since they did, and with a palpable influence on Korean fashions. Moreover, whether they’re on the screen or on the streets, people will still make much the same claims about them:

…people maintain [Girls’ Generation are] pure, clean, and cute, and everyone tries to erase and deny the blatant fact of their sexualization in that curiously Korean way that college freshman can click-clack to class in 5-inch hooker heels and a leather skirt and when asked if that might not to be too risque for class, people get defensive and indignant and call the gazer the pervert, while letting the main parlayer in and of the male gaze (the women totally subjecting herself to it) off the hook. (Michael Hurt; source)

Granted, mini-skirts especially are just as — if not more — popular in Japan, so it’s entirely possible that the Korean trend actually comes from Japan, and predates the girl-group boom of the late-2000s. Yet I don’t personally recall seeing quite so many legs on the streets of Busan (which is much warmer than Seoul!) until just a few years ago, with the exception of World Cup summers (when standards are relaxed). And while I’m usually loathe to ascribe top-down origins to fashion trends, I’d be lying if I said Koreans don’t seem to be notoriously conformist in this regard (as this 2004 Prugio commercial with Kim Nam-ju used to be a good illustration of, before the video was taken down!):

And on that note, please let me know what you think, and by all means poke holes in it—my connection between girl-groups only showing their legs and the rise of Samchon Fandom is just the germ of an idea at the moment, which now needs fleshing out (not unlike many of the legs themselves). But if I do say so myself, it’s one of the biggest epiphanies about K-pop I’ve had in a while!

Update 1—See here, here, and here for the next 3 parts of the RazorTV video, about which idol has the best legs, problems with underage performers, and the increasing objectification of male idols respectively. Parts 2 & 3 also have more English

Update 2—Let me pass on Esther Hoeve’s illuminating comment from Facebook:

The difference in what constitutes as ‘sexy’ bodyparts is an interesting one. Back home (western Europe) I’m much quicker to reveal cleavage or shoulders, but I spent half a year in Thailand and had to adjust to wearing shorts, but tops with sleeves. The shorter my skirt or shorts, the longer my sleeves would be. I actually grew self conscious of how much upper body I was showing, but usually have the same feeling concerning my lower body here in Europe. It completely changes your perspective on what’s considering ‘revealing’.

Like I say there, this reminded me of some of my female students back in 2000 complaining of middle-aged and old women telling them to cover up their bare arms. This was in Jinju/진주 though, a university town but still quite small and conservative, so I don’t know if their counterparts in larger cities had the same problems.


  • Yeran Kim (2011): Idol republic: the global emergence of girl industries and the commercialization of girl bodies, Journal of Gender Studies, 20:4, 333-345.
  • Rowan Pease (2009): Korean Popular Music in China: Nationalism, Authenticity, and Gender, in Chris Berry, Nicola Liscutin, and Jonathan D. Mackintosh ed.s, Cultural Studies and Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia: What a Difference a Region Makes, 151-167.

(Hat tip to dogdyedblack)

Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You”


A much more serious topic than it may sound, this article from Ilda Women’s Journal will definitely give you a renewed appreciation for the goals of the Slutwalk (잡년행진) movement.

Once it does though, unfortunately you’ll probably find yourself pretty frustrated with it too. For the author only really gives platitudes about the need for change, rather than provide any details about who those boys were, what they said exactly, and the sex-education program her and her colleagues were involved in.

But still, she’s right to be concerned about the messages children are receiving about sexuality when any elementary school boys both approve of and chastise attractive women for wearing revealing clothes. Let alone disallow “ugly” ones from wearing them:


“못생긴 애들 핫팬츠 입지 말라”는 아이들 Children That Say “Ugly Girls Shouldn’t Wear Hot Pants”

여성의 노출’을 바라보는 십대들의 시선 Teenagers’ Views on Women Who Wear Revealing Clothes

So Yeong-mi, August 2010

(일다의 독자위원인 서영미님은 현재 십대들과 함께하는 성교육 프로그램을 진행하고 있습니다―Editor)

Editor: Ilda reader So Yeong-mi is currently involved in a sex-education program aimed at teenagers.

“선생님, 질문 있어요. 왜 여자애들은 그렇게 짧은 반바지를 입어요?”…“여자애들이 핫팬츠 좀 못 입게 해주셨으면 좋겠어요!”…“?????????”

“Teacher, I have a question. Why do women wear such short shorts?”…”If young women didn’t wear hot pants, that would be good.”

이게 도대체 무슨 문제란 말이지? 최근 들어 두 번이나 받은 질문이다. 고등학교 청소년 남자 아이들을 만났을 때 한번, 그리고 초등학교 남자아이들과 교육하면서 한번. 성장기 자신의 몸의 변화나 성관계, 임신/출산에 관련한 질문들이 대부분인 편이라 이 질문이 유독 기억에 남았다. 같은 반 여자아이들이 핫팬츠를 입지 말았으면 좋겠다니 이 무슨 말인가?

(Source, NSFW)

Why on earth are they saying and asking these things? This has happened to me twice recently. Once, from teenage boys at a high school, and the other from boys at an elementary school. Most of the questions I get are normal ones about their development, changes to their body, sexual relationships, pregnancy and childbirth and so on, but I especially remembered these. Why are boys saying that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants?

James – Because of the mention of female classmates, I’m assuming the boys were in mixed-schools then? But So Yeong-mi doesn’t mention how the girls reacted to such questions, an omission which hopefully means she taught the boys and girls separately.

뜬금없는 질문이 궁금해 스무고개 하듯 계속해서 질문을 주고받으며 질문한 의도를 파악하려 애썼다. 질문자는 한 명이었지만 반 아이들 모두가 동의하고 있었고 별로 웃기지도 않은 질문에 아이들은 자지러졌기 때문이다. 질문을 받은 내가 자신들 생각대로 웃어넘기지 않고 진지하게 계속 물으니, 나중엔 아이들도 제법 진지하게 맞받아쳤다. 그리하여 나온 결론은 같은 반 여자아이들은 핫팬츠를 입으면 안 된다는 것!

I was very curious why these questions came out of the blue, so I sort of played 20 Questions with the students to find out. Only 1 student [in each case?] asked, but all the other students thought it was hilarious, and they expected me to laugh along with them. I wanted to get to the bottom of that, and so later when they gave me feedback it emerged that they felt that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants.


모자와 핫팬츠는 다르다? What’s the Difference Between Hot Pants and Hats?

“오크가 그런 걸 입는 게 말이나 돼요?” “Would Orcs Wear Hot Pants?”

판타지 소설이나 롤플레잉 게임에 주로 등장하는 괴물, ‘오크’족. 쭉쭉빵빵 몸매도 좋고 능력도 좋은 미녀캐릭터들에 비해 볼품이 없어 쉽게 무시당하고 힘만 센 캐릭터. 아이들의 설명에 의하면 이랬다. TV에서 연예인들이 입는 것과는 다르다는 것. 그건 당연히 ‘봐줄 만하다’는 것이다. 핫팬츠뿐만 아니라 미니스커트에도 역시 강한 불만을 표했는데, 이번에는 또 다른 이유를 제기했다.

As the students explained, in fantasy novels and role-playing games the monster that appears the most frequently is the orc. Unlike beautiful female characters, with great abilities and voluptuous bodies (and usually useless armor – James), orcs are essentially faceless characters that can easily be disregarded. What entertainers wear on TV is different though, and, of course, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not just hot pants that the boys had problems with girls wearing, but also miniskirts. They gave a second reason for that.

“옷이 그러면 그렇고 그런 거 아니에요? 위험할 수도 있잖아요.”

“Doesn’t wearing clothes like that say something about you? And it’s dangerous too!”

아이들은 여성인 내게 “선생님도 그런 옷을 입냐”며 “도대체 왜”냐고 야단이었다. 한 학생이 모자를 쓰고 있기에 “너는 왜 모자를 쓰고 있냐” 물으니 “그냥 좋아서”라고 가볍게 얘기했다. 그럼 “핫팬츠나 미니스커트를 선택해서 착용하는 것은 무엇이 다르냐” 물으니 “그건 당연히 다르다”고 소리친다. 적절한 대답이 없을 때 아이들은 대개 화를 낸다.


The students asked me, a woman, “Do you wear clothes like that?”, and, in a critical tone, “Why on Earth do women wear those?”. So, to one student who was wearing a hat I asked “Why are you wearing that hat?”, to which he casually replied “Because I like it”. So then I asked “How is that different to choosing hot pants or a miniskirt”, and got the retort that “Of course it’s different!”, the student becoming angry that he didn’t really have a proper answer.

그날 종일은 아이들과 좀 더 많은 시간을 들여 ‘개인의 취향’에 대한 이야기를 나누었다. 서로의 취향을 존중하고 이해해야 하는 이유를 찾아보며 남/녀를 탈피한 다양한 관계 속에서 역할활동까지 해봤다. 그러나 그 날의 아이들에게는 이미 모자와 핫팬츠의 ‘선택’이 다르지 않다는 것을 이해시키는 것이 어려워 보였다. 너무나 견고한 그들만의 ‘패션철학’이 놀라울 따름이었다.

I spent all day with the students, and shared a story about personal tastes with them. Then we did roleplaying, breaking away from normal man/woman and girl/boy ones, in order to better understand and respect each other’s personal tastes. It was difficult to make them understand that wearing hot pants was a choice, no different to wearing a hat, and I was very surprised in how unwavering some of their attitudes to fashion were.

우연히 비슷한 시기에 만난 이 집단 아이들만의 문제였을까. 교육이 끝난 후 평가시간에 이 에피소드를 털어놓으니 유난히 남자아이들 교육을 진행할 때 그런 질문이 많이 나온다는 실무자들의 의견이 있었다. 예쁜 사람이 입으면 괜찮고, 아니면 안 괜찮고, 짧은 옷을 입으면 위험하고 야한 어떤 것이라는 10대 초반의 아이들의 논리. 고등학생 이상의 청소년 들을 만났을 때만 해도 성인과 비슷하게 생각해나가는 시기여서 그런가 생각했는데, 초등학생들에게서까지 강한 불만으로 표출되어 나오니 그냥 웃어넘길 일이 아니라는 생각이 들었다.

I wondered if this way of thinking was just confined to the groups of students I taught, so afterwards I asked other sex-ed teachers involved in the program, and they confirmed that they get similar questions and opinions from especially male students. The logic of boys in their early teens was that if pretty girls wear hot pants and so on it’s okay, but if they’re not pretty then it’s not, and that [in either case] such clothes are both too revealing and dangerous.


Now, if I’d asked high school students and so on, who think like adults, then I wouldn’t have been surprised, but once I learned that even elementary school students are saying such things then I realized that this was no laughing matter.

고 민지점은 성인들이 갖고 있는 편견이나 고정관념들이 고스란히 아이들에게도 답습된다는 것이다. 또한 그 연령이 대폭 낮아졌다는 사실도 놀랄만한 일이다. 그 어린 학생들마저도 ‘여성’의 몸을 검열하고 있다는 사실에 주목하지 않을 수가 없는 것이다.

Children are picking up adults’ prejudices and biases, although it is surprising that they’re doing so at such a young age. And we can’t help but notice that even these children too think the female body is something to inspected and evaluated.

우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을까 What can do we do about this?

노출이 많은 옷을 입은 여성과 그렇지 않은 여성을 간단하게 이분화 시키고, 거기에 아름다움이라는 가치를 연결시킨 잣대로 평가하는 것은 아이들도 어른들과 크게 다르지 않았다. 다만 아이들의 용어로 표현하고 있을 뿐이었다. 이를 우스갯거리로 사용하는 아이들을 보고 있자니 솔직히 조금 화가 나기도 했다. 그리고 그와 동시에 우리 스스로 반성해야 될 때가 아닌가 생각해보게 됐다.

Children splitting women into simply those who wear very revealing clothes and those that don’t, and judging their value only in terms of their appearance, is little different from what adults do. But although the children just used these terms jokingly, to be honest I still got a little angry with them.

Yet at the same time, we really need to examine ourselves too.

대중매체에 대한 비판을 하려던 차에 최근 10대 청소년 연예인들을 상대로 60%가 신체 노출이나 과도한 성적 행위 장면을 강요했다는 기사들을 보게 되었다. 한 언론과의 인터뷰에서 가수 이은미는 음악성 보다 외적인 면에 더 관심을 갖는 사회 분위기를 우려하며, 성적인 면이 강조된 걸그룹의 노래, 의상, 춤에 환호하는 이 사회를 ‘몰상식의 극’이라고 표현했다. “초등학교를 졸업한지 몇 년 되지 않은 아이들을 벗겨놓고 대 놓고 섹시하다고 박수를 치거나, 꿀벅지, 꿀복근 같은 용어들을 사용하는 대중문화를 보면 소름이 끼친다.”는 것.

(Source: unknown)

I was about to blame the mass media, as recently I’ve read reports which say that 60% of female teenage entertainers have claimed to have sometimes been forced to wear revealing clothes and/or do sexual dances and so on. And in an interview of the singer Lee Eun-mi (James – Not one of those teenage entertainers; she was born in 1968), she said she was worried about a society that considered external appearance more important than musical quality for singers, where girl groups’ sexual dances, songs, and outfits where cheered…she used the term “thoughtless/careless”. She said “I freak out at the thought that just a few years after they graduate from elementary school, young male and female entertainers are being praised for taking off their clothes and being talked about in terms of their ‘honey thighs‘ or six-packs.

쏟 아지는 대중매체의 벗기기 논란은 새삼 어제오늘 일도 아니건만, 아무 손쓰지 않고 있었음에 반성하게 된다. 상품화되고 대상화되고 있는 여성들의 문제를 공공연히 문제 삼지 않았던 것이 일상생활에까지 주변 사람을 대상화하고 외모로써 평가하는 지금의 일을 만든 게 아닌가 하는 생각에서다.

But these trends in the media didn’t just appear overnight – they were allowed to flourish by the public’s inattention and lack of concern. This way, we have come to consider the commercialization and objectification of women as a normal part of our daily lives.

아 이들의 생각을 넓게 펼쳐주진 못할망정 오로지 외모로써 사람을 평가하는 우리 사회에서 우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을지 함께 고민해봤으면 좋겠다. 우리가 그동안 무심코 내뱉었던 말들이 아이들에게 어떤 영향을 미치게 될지 생각해보면서 말이다. 문제가 수면으로 드러난 지금이야말로 왜곡된 미와 과장된 외모 중심의 평가들로부터 벗어나 아이들에게 더 많은 관심을 가져야 할 때다. 아이들뿐만 아니라 사실은 우리 모두를 위해서 말이다.

It’s difficult to broaden children’s minds, but we do have to make an effort to stop judging each other on our appearances. We have to consider what has been the effect on our children of this focus, this excessive emphasis on appearance. Not just for them, but for society as a whole (end).

My post title aside, I don’t mean to generalize about all Korean boys, and given the author’s vagueness then what she says about them really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. So, to get a better overall picture, I’d really appreciate anything any teachers can tell me about what their own young students have ever said about such things (alas, it’s been a while since I’ve taught children or teenagers myself).

And to end on a positive note, was anyone else reminded of the above semi-response to such sentiments? Now I have a renewed sense of appreciation for that too!^^ (See here for a discussion of the song’s lyrics and meaning)

Korean Gender Reader

(Sources: Top, Bottom)

1) Professionalism in K-pop: A Double Standard?

For those of you unaware of the latest storm in a K-pop teacup, Yoona (임유나) and Taeyeon (김태연) of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) were heavily criticized by netizens last week for appearing tired and bored in an American MTV interview. But while that may well have been “unprofessional” of them though, Chloe of Seoulbeats points out that women tend to be called out on it much more than men, with the rudeness and unprofessionalism of Heechul (김희철) of Super Junior (슈퍼쥬니어) in particular usually simply dismissed as good harmless fun instead.

2) Why the Huge Disparity in Korean Rape Sentences?

I’ve never read Stars and Stripes before, naturally assuming it to be a little partisan. But if the following article is any guide, I’ve been misjudging it:

From a distance, it appears a travesty of justice has occurred.

In hearings held just 12 days apart in the same courtroom, the same three-judge Uijeongbu District Court panel sentenced a Korean man in his 20s to 3.5 years in prison for the rape of a U.S. soldier in her late teens, and sentenced a U.S. soldier in his 20s to 10 years in prison for the rape of a Korean girl in her late teens.

The disparity in prison terms prompted a flurry of emails and Internet message board posts suggesting that the soldier-rapist was unfairly punished for his crimes and that the Korean man who raped the female service member was given a relatively light sentence because the Korean judges were biased toward their countrymen or against the U.S. military.

But a closer look at the situation reveals that while some believe publicity surrounding the soldier’s rape of the Korean teenager might have played a role in the disparity, there were a number of other factors that could explain why one rapist was sentenced to almost three times as much prison time.

Read the rest here.

3) What to make of IBM Korea’s Pro-LGBT Ad?

At first, it sounded great:

IN LATE September, the South Korean arm of IBM, an American computing multinational, put out an advertisement soliciting applicants for a round of job vacancies. The text was standard fare in every aspect except one: sexual minorities—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people—were to be given “extra points” in the screening process, according to Asia Kyeongjae, a South Korean financial newspaper.

Such a policy might raise eyebrows in many places….

But later:

IBM Korea thus looked to be at the cutting edge of South Korean social change. However, the firm is now backtracking and has changed the wording of its original advertisement. Public-relations staff say there was a misunderstanding and that the firm simply wants to offer equal opportunities to all.

Read the rest at the Economist. Whether because of a genuine mistake or negative publicity though, I think IBM Korea’s retraction will have done it no favors with more liberal Koreans.

See Asian Correspondent also for, sadly, parents and teachers’ opposition to The Seoul Office of Education’s attempts to safeguard gay students’ rights, and here for a good historical guide to Korean LGBT issues up to 2009 (source, above).

4) The “Good Girls Marry Doctors” Project

In its own words:

Many times, Asian parents in the diaspora have a sharpened sense of what family or society in the “home” country might expect of them. Even if they left Asia decades ago, the older community rules by which they grew up is what is replicated as a model of behavior for their daughters, even if things in the “home” country have changed quite a bit with the times. Most importantly, it is made clear to women in particular that they are the bearers of their culture, and that if they fail to impart tradition to the next generation, they will have failed in their duties. The stress this creates often leads to these girls loving and feeling totally loyal to their parents, but also feeling like their parents don’t necessarily understand them.

Read the rest at the F-Word Blog. But just to be clear though, the project is NOT about “backward” Asia-bashing:

…this project’s goal is not to chastise culture for limiting women’s choices, but rather we hope [it] will give strategies and ideas of how girls can find new ways of finding their own path while still being able to honor our cultural background.

(Not technically related to the above story sorry, but this book I stumbled across while looking for an accompanying image does look quite interesting!)

5) Ultrasound Images Posted Without Parents’ Knowledge

Which is more concerning than it probably sounds:

The images, which can be used to determine a child’s sex and check for abnormalities, were found to have been posted on a web page where anyone with a membership could see them.

MediNBiz, which began ultrasound imaging of fetuses in 2003, is the top-ranked company in its industry, with partnerships with some 300 hospitals, or more than 70% of birthing hospitals nationwide. An examination of its SayBebe website ( by the Hankyoreh found that 2.82 million fetus ultrasound images for 400 thousand members were posted on the site as of Nov. 2, with the mother’s name, the birth date, and the hospital where the child was born. The images were available for viewing by anyone with a membership.

Read the rest at the Hankyoreh. On the plus side, all images were immediately made private as a result of the newspaper’s investigation.


Finally, it behooves me to mention that today is “Bra Day” (브라데이) in South Korea, on which men are encouraged to buy lingerie for their girlfriends and/or or wives. See the helpful graphic above for an explanation of why November the 8th was chosen for it, and especially Brian in Jeollanamdo’s post for more on this and similar fabricated Korean consumer holidays.

Update – For any single readers traveling to Shanghai this week, don’t forget that the 11th is “Bachelor Day” there! (via: @AdamMinter)

The Most Impressive Girl-Group Dance Performance Ever?


Girls’ Generation justifiably gets a lot of flak  for the underlying messages about gender roles and body image they present in their songs, not least from myself. So much so, that sometimes it’s easy to forget what consummate performers they are, and how important their level of training has been in distinguishing them from their Japanese counterparts. Hell, if SM Entertainment deems them fit to act like actual women too, as is widely expected with the imminent release of their third album? Then I may finally be able to admit how much I like them, albeit pretending it’s only recently and begrudgingly.

Ironically though, perhaps they were actually at their best when they were first about to debut. As askbask explains, at Frank Kogan’s music blog:

“This is the most impressive dance performance I’ve ever seen from a girl group. It almost beggars belief. The stuff around the 3 minute mark is just scary…. Helps that it’s all lip-synced — it’s noticeably less sharp on regular performances — and that the camera is fixed so we get the amazing sync work and units moving around the stage. I don’t expect them to ever match this level again because it was their debut track and they exclusively practiced this choreography for such a long time”.

It’s certainly a video that deserves to be much better known, and kudos to askbask for finding it. See what you think:

Here are some better quality live performances found via the “features related” sidebar on its Youtube page, albeit without the OMG effect that comes with the fixed camera angle:

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have stars in my eyes, and it says a lot about the nature of the K-pop assembly-line that better performances don’t necessarily come with performers’ greater experience. But the products it can create are no less impressive for all that!


Korean Gender Reader

(Source: unknown)

1) Street harassment and respect in Korea

After a terrible Korean New Year’s, It’s Daejeon, darling! wrote the following:

I am tired of feeling so fucking vulnerable in Korea. I am tired of inappropriate bosses and groups of drunk guys who yell awful things in the street. I am tired of guys who think No means Maybe! or Just keep trying! I’m tired of fighting with men about wearing condoms. I’m tired of the fucking cat-and-mouse game where even if they do wear one, you have the exhausting task of making sure they keep it on. I’m tired of men who don’t respect my personal space and try shit with me that they would never attempt with a Korean women. I’m tired of taxi drivers who hit on me and give me their business card, men who leer and intimidate me. I’m tired of feeling like there’s a significant group of people out there who don’t view me as an equal, and it’s because I’m foreign. I’m tired of people expecting that I should be fucking pleased by the “attention”. I’m tired of the people who pass this shit off as a “cultural difference”. I am tired of feeling so fucking vulnerable in Korea.

See here for a follow-up on the condoms issue, and here for more on groping and street harassment in Korea.

Update: a recent survey of 1500 men and women by the Korea Transport Institute and the Korean Women’s Development Institute found that “about 26 percent of the women said they experienced sexual harassment on buses and 21 percent on the subway, compared to 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent of men respectively”.

2) Hot sweaty Korean women

In his review of E. Taylor Atkins’ Primitive Selves: Koreana in the Japanese Colonial Gaze, 1910-1945 for the Japan Times, Gord Sellar noted that:

One of the things that grabbed me, while reading this book, was how much of the stuff Westerners in Korea complain about, that Japanese were complaining about back in the colonial era.

An example of this is clothing. Japanese anthropologists especially liked to complain about Koreans’ clothing, which if you will think back to the early 20th century was quite different from what most people wear today–it was mostly white ramie fiber clothing. Because it was all-white, it tended to get dirty quite easily, and as a result, according to those Japanese anthropologists…Koreans, especially women, tended to avoid any kind of exercise or physical activity as it presented the risk of dirtying their white clothing

And which reminded him of comments made by many expats including myself, that Korean women don’t tend to exercise very hard in gyms here. Granted, a lot can change in 100 years of course, but still: modern Korean attitudes to exercise may have deeper roots than we think (Source above: Gord Sellar).

3) Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

From the BBC :

In Japan, the courts normally give custody to one parent after a marriage breakdown and it is up to that parent if they let the other parent have any access.

Many separating couples come to amicable agreements, but it is not unusual for one parent to be cut out of their children’s lives forever.

And the article gives the example of one foreign father who, as things stand, will effectively never see his children again, and the numbers of similar cases are growing with the rising number of marriages to foreigners.

But without any other evidence though, then observers should resist the temptation to assume that custody rulings are automatically made in favor of the Japanese parent. And although there is definite pressure for change, note that the system does have some logic, being based on “the expectation that families should largely work things out for themselves”, rather than “the state enforcing agreements on access and child-support payments” (source, right: BBC).

Does anybody have more information on how foreign parents usually fare, and/or know what the Korean system is like? And speaking of the latter, now 1 in 10 Korean marriages are with foreigners.

4) Cambodian wife cuts off husband’s member in Sunchang, Jeollabuk-do.

Yes, I think this will be the most clicked link this week too.


5) “Kiss Rooms” raided because of their…advertising

As reported by Asian Correspondant:

Police have begun a harsh crackdown on “kiss rooms” and other varieties of prostitution that until now existed under legal loopholes.

The Ilsan Police Station in Gyeonggi-do announced on January 20 that it conducted a two-day crackdown on the 17th and 18th against kiss rooms and internet prostitution in Ilsan New City, and arrested without detention 32 people, including 38-year old “B”, the owner of a kiss room, on charges of [their advertising] violating the law on the protection of teenagers (청소년보호법).

As hinted at there, this seems to be very arbitrary use of the law, as it’s difficult to so much as step out of one’s apartment in Korea without coming across numerous advertisements for brothels. Or, indeed, peacefully sitting by the river in beautiful Jinju in September 2003, enjoying your last morning there before moving to Busan later that afternoon…only to be suddenly presented with this business card by a passing local:

6) South Korea: online haven for gays

When Suh Eun-pil was being harassed at school last year because of rumors he was gay, the internet was one of the few places he felt safe. One website in particular, called Rateen, provided a haven from critical eyes and verbal abuse.

Suh began visiting Rateen regularly, and six months later his life had completely changed — for the better.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Suh, 18, was surrounded by friends, everyone chatting and laughing. The small group of friends — all whom met through Rateen — was planning a social event for gay and lesbian teens, with games, prizes and special speakers…

Read the rest at globalpost.

7) Seo-hyeon (서현) of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) revealed to be 9kg underweight

But this is no great surprise given the group’s 1500 calories a day dietary regime of course, and belies claims by their gym instructor that “otherwise they love snacks and eat well.”

Later, netizens worked out her exact weight to be 51kg (source, right).

8) The perils of trusting oppa

A hotshot young app developer, a great idea, and technology that lets you know where your loved ones are. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out.

9) Korean dermatologists assume that unmarried women don’t have sex

More insights gained the hard way by It’s Daejeon, darling!:

The doctor…put me on Accutane. Hella cheaper than the states but the health oversight is SHITTY. Accutane carries a lot of serious health risks and I researched quite a bit on my own because the derm didn’t tell me dick about it. All he asked was, “Are you married?” No. “Then no problem. You can take this.” I’m guessing that question was to assess if there was any reason to warn me about the dangers of getting pregnant while on the drug. The US has the iPledge program, Korea has the ‘Let’s believe that unmarried women are practicing abstinence, so there’s no reason to discuss this and that’s that thankyouverymuch’ program.

For the record, she does mention that this may just be her dermatologist, but she’d probably agree – and have the experiences to back-up – that such attitudes exist throughout the Korean medical establishment. But note that this frequently doesn’t apply to foreign women though, whom hospital staff often assume that their visit is simply because they want the morning-after pill, and it can take a lot to convince them otherwise (see here and here as to why).


10) The Piggy Dolls (피기돌스) finally explain their name, and why they don’t think it’s degrading

If this is the first you’ve heard of them though, first see #10 here and #8 here on why there’s such an interest in them.


Visual Dreams (비주얼드림) by Girls’ Generation (소녀시대): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

Apologies for not providing the lyrics for Girls’ Generation’s (소녀시대) 2010 hit Oh!(오!) as promised, but then I’m much too addicted to DJ Areia’s remix of this one at the moment. And just like that of Oh!, which instantly got me into mainstream K-pop despite a whole decade of simply loathing it, this one has rendered an otherwise mediocre song into, well, something magical for me.

Music quality aside though, a much more striking parallel with Oh!is its narrative of helplessness, passivity, and sexual desire but both inexperience and inability to act on it, in turn very similar to Like the First Time (처음처럼) by T-ara (티아라) and Breathe (비리드) by Miss A (미쓰에이) as already discussed in previous posts. Which is not to say that all songs by Girls’ Generation or those other groups are like that of course, and in particular I’ve heard that Run Devil Run and Hoot! are quite different. But still, jumping ahead to the conclusion of a project I’m working on at the moment, there does seem to be a definite paucity of song themes for popular Korean girl groups these days.

Alternatively, you could argue that this isn’t really an official song of theirs at all, but rather part of an Asia-wide marketing campaign for Intel’s 2nd Generation Core™ processors, and in which case it should possibly be viewed more as something aimed at a very techie audience, and therefore assumed to be a largely male one. If so, then that might also explain all the obvious double entendres in it, which although not surprising in themselves (Korean advertising and popular culture are full of them), are most definitely aimed at men here.

Either way, but for their regulation hot pants (which have less sexual connotations in Korea than they do in Western countries anyway), actually you might never have realized this from the music video itself, in which all 9 women appear even more cute and innocent than normal. Those of you who would still like to maintain that rather naive image of them then (and there’s an awful lot of you, both in Korea and in Western countries!), by all means feel free to watch the video with DJ Areia’s remix below, followed by the slow – nay, appalling – original under that, as well as all the screenshots provided courtesy of this 26MB(!) zip file from Red and Rosy. As for the lyrics though…well, read them at your peril!

Update: I’ve rewritten some of the lyrics in response to a commenter’s suggestions, many of which require a great deal of extra explanation. Rather than add those explanations to the post though (which would mean completely rewriting it), I’ve indicated the changes with an asterisk, with a number next to that to indicate what part of this comment to refer to for the explanation:

One Two Three Four 짜릿하게 어머나

One Two Three Four 너를 원해 이미 난

One Two Three Four 솔직한 내 맘을 다 들켜버릴래 다 들려줄래

촉촉촉 오 달콤한 내 입술에 Come Come Come 천천히 그래 다가와

Tic Tac Toe 오 아찔하게 네게 푹 빠져버린걸 녹아버린걸

One Two Three Four Oh, how exciting (*1)

One Two Three Four, I already want you

One Two Three Four, I want to tell you all my honest feelings, I want them to be discovered (*2)

Yes, oh, come come come to my sweet, moist lips

Tic Tac Toe, Oh, you make me hot and giddy…Despite myself, I’ve deeply fallen and melted for you (*4,6)

First up in what turns out to be the chorus, in line 1 the “게” in”짜릿하게” make the word look like an adverb, which would give…er….”tinglingly”, but following the advice of commenters on the last translation then I’ve wisely tried to sever the mental link I’ve long had between “-게” forms and adverbs (especially as “짜릿하다” could just as well be “thrilling” say). Meanwhile, “어머나” is an expression of surprise that is almost exclusively used by women, the closest English equivalent I could think of being “Oh my!”, although in practice it’s usually said very quickly (and so just “Oh!” might be better).

Next, in line 3, “들켜버릴래” is a combination of “들키다” (to be found out, discovered, caught etc.), “버리다” (literally to throw away, but when added to another verb gives a sense of relief and/or completeness in finishing the act”, and then “~ㄹ래” (to want to do the verb). And so after all that,  then, “I want to tell you all my honest feelings” seems more than sufficient, but nevertheless the Korean includes the superfluous “들려줄래”, or “I want them to be discovered”. Possibly it just makes the words flow better, and indeed there does seem to be a lot of nonsense words in the song as a whole for that reason.

Finally, line 5 – “Tic Tac Toe 오 아찔하게 네게 푹 빠져버린걸 녹아버린걸” – is literally “Tic Tac Toe – oh – dizzily – to you – fall + 버리다 + thing – melt + 버리다 + thing”. As you can see, I thought “dizzily” was fine in this case (although probably “I’m dizzy” is okay), but really don’t understand why the fall and melt parts were in the “~ㄴ걸” (thing) form.

Update: The “~ㄴ걸” form isn’t as simple as I first thought. As discussed in #4 and #6 of that later comment I refer to, this explanation from Korean Grammar for International Learners (KGIL) is required (pages 224-225):

처음 느낀 이 감정 My Deep Love Core

점점 뜨거워지는 얼굴 숨이 막히는 순간 어쩌지

떨리고 있어

Boy boy boy boy bo bo bo boy boy boy boy

고민고민 해봐도 모르겠어

상상만으론 정말로 하나도 오 how to do my first kiss

Just wait a minute?

Boy boy boy boy bo bo bo boy boy boy boy

망설이지 말고 my love get into my core

This is the first time I’ve had this feeling My Deep Love Core

My face is getting hotter and hotter, and at this moment I can’t breathe. What should I do? (*3, 5)

I’m trembling

Boy boy boy boy bo bo bo boy boy boy boy

I don’t know what to do no matter how much I agonize (*see below)

No matter how I think through it over again and again, I’m just not sure. I truly have no idea, from just imagining [it], how to do my first kiss (*7)

Just wait a minute?

Boy boy boy boy bo bo bo boy boy boy boy

Don’t hesitate my love, get into my core

An awkward verse.

My first problem was with “어쩌지” in line 2, which I mistook for “어쩐지”. That means “so that’s why!”, which made no sense here. Once I realized my mistake though, “어쩌지” wasn’t in my dictionary, and so I turned to my long suffering wife, who said it means “what am I going to do?”.

Next was “고민고민 해봐도 모르겠어” in line 5, which, although I’m sure my translation of “Even though I worry and worry about this, I just can’t solve it” is fine, I was stuck on it for a while because it doesn’t seem to make much sense in the context of the song (learners, note there’s a missing “아무리” at the beginning).

*(Update: with thanks to commenter dogdyedblack, probably “I don’t know what to do no matter how much I agonize” is better).

Both were a doddle though, compared to line 6, “상상만으론 정말로 하나도 오 how to do my first kiss”, literally “imagination – only – through – as for – really – through – one more again – oh”. But my wife said that there should be a “모르겠다” after “하나도”, and that together “하다도 모르겠다” means “I really don’t know”, and with that knowledge and the context then we cobbled “I can’t really do it only in my imagination, I have to do for real, oh how to do my first kiss”. I admit that that might not be the final word though!

Finally, the English “just a minute” in line 7 seems very strange next to the “don’t hesitate” in line 9, but that is definitely what both say. Perhaps the English in line 7 is just something essentially random by the song writers, which happens all the time in K-pop, but then much of the English in the rest of the song suggests otherwise. Get into her core indeed…

Ahem. Anyway, next is the chorus again:

One Two Three Four 짜릿하게 어머나

One Two Three Four 너를 원해 이미 난

One Two Three Four 솔직한 내 맘을 다 들켜버릴래 다 들려줄래

촉촉촉 오 달콤한 내 입술에 Come Come Come 천천히 그래 다가와

Tic Tac Toe 오 아찔하게 네게 푹 빠져버린걸 녹아버린걸

One Two Three Four Oh, how exciting

One Two Three Four, I already want you

One Two Three Four, I want to tell you all my honest feelings, I want them to be discovered

Yes, oh, come come come to my sweet, moist lips

Tic Tac Toe, Oh, you make me hot and giddy…Despite myself, I’ve deeply fallen and melted for you

내 맘 속 visual 너무 완벽해

네 가지 고민 언제 어디서 무엇을 어떻게만 빼고 헤매고 있어

Core Core Core Core Co Co Co Core Core Core Core

우물쭈물 하단 놓칠지 몰라

망설임 the end 여길 봐 두근두근 pop pop 들리지 어때

Core of my love

Core Core Core Core Co Co Co Core Core Core Core

지금이야 바로 start! jump into love core

[When I imagine the scene of our first kiss in my mind, with images pulled from the movies, comics and TV programs I have watched ever since I was little] the visual images in my mind are so perfect (*9)

But for 4 kinds of things not to worry about – when, where, what and how – I’m puzzled

Core Core Core Core Co Co Co Core Core Core Core

If you keep hesitating, you might miss [lose] me

Hesitation, the end, look [listen] here: how is the throb throb pop pop sound [of my heart]?

Core of my love

Core Core Core Core Co Co Co Core Core Core Core

Yes, of course, start right now, jump into love core

The final verse already, unfortunately much of it is completely non-nonsensical. Starting with line 1: “내 맘 속 visual 너무 완벽해” which gives “Inside my heart the visuals are perfect”, which means…well, God knows, but probably alludes to the functions of the chip more than it continues the romantic narrative of the song. But anyway, note that “맘”, short for “마음”, really means something between heart and mind (a phrase difficult to sing well), and in my experience “너무” means “very” just as often as the dictionary definition of “too [much]”.

Next, my wife said that “가지” in line 2 is just another form of the counter word “게”, or “thing”, but I beg to differ: my dictionary gives “a kind, a sort; a variety”. But which is not to say that line 2 – “But for 4 kinds of things to worry about – when, where, what and how – I’m puzzled” – actually makes any sense of course.

After that, line 4 was really tough. But then my wife told me that “하단”, was short for “하다가는”, which fortunately was in KGIL. Which I’ll let you read for yourself (p.280):

As for the rest of line 4, naturally I’m assuming that it’s the object of the female narrator’s affections that shouldn’t hesitate rather than vice-versa, as clearly she doesn’t want to make the first move despite what she repeatedly says she wants him to do to her core. The same goes for line 5, although note that she does say “look here” (“여길 봐”) when “listen to this” would be better, with the “this” surely being her heart.

Finally, the “이야” in line 8 was interesting, which, seeing as I still have my KGIL next to me as I type this and have already cleared the junk off my scanner, I may as well give you page 181 of too (but sorry that I can never seem to get the book straight!):

Note that KGIL gives 4 more meanings for  “이야” depending on what comes immediately after it by the way, but if you want to know those too, then buy the damn book yourself already fortunately none of those apply here.

Finally, there’s the chorus again, the first part of which is repeated twice, and with the addition of 3 extra English lines:

One Two Three Four 짜릿하게 어머나

One Two Three Four 너를 원해 이미 난

One Two Three Four 솔직한 내 맘을 다 들켜버릴래 다 들려줄래

Take you higher / oh my love ooh yeah

visual dreams / 느껴봐 beating of my heart

One Two Three Four 짜릿하게 어머나

One Two Three Four 너를 원해 이미 난

One Two Three Four 솔직한 내 맘을 다 들켜버릴래 다 들려줄래

촉촉촉 오 달콤한 내 입술에

Come Come Come 천천히 그래 다가와

Tic Tac Toe 오 아찔하게 네게 푹 빠져버린걸 녹아버린걸

ooh yeah visualize my love oh yeah

One Two Three Four Oh, how exciting

One Two Three Four, I already want you

One Two Three Four, I want to tell you all my honest feelings, I want them to be discovered

Take you higher / oh my love ooh yeah

visual dreams / try feeling the beating of my heart

One Two Three Four Oh, how exciting

One Two Three Four, I already want you

One Two Three Four, I want to tell you all my honest feelings, I want them to be discovered

Yes, oh, come come come to my sweet, moist lips

Tic Tac Toe, Oh, you make me hot and giddy…Despite myself, I’ve deeply fallen and melted for you

ooh yeah visualize my love oh yeah

Sigh: if only all song translations could be so quick and easy! Still, I have many more to do this month nevertheless, and so expect at least 2 or 3 a week in addition to other posts, starting with So Hot by the Wonder Girrls (원더걸스) on Wednesday or Thursday Sunday, followed by Can’t Nobody by 2NE1 (투애니원) on Friday next week.

Meanwhile, apologies to Girls’ Generation fans, but Oh! will have to wait until next week I’m afraid, as one Girls’ Generation song a week is probably more than enough for many people!