Strippers are people, too: On Hyuna.

Okay. So.

I'm the first one to admit that I don't know anything, really, about the female K-pop idols. I can be forthright and say that I, for whatever nonspecific reason, tend to pay more attention to the men of K-pop. Ahem.

But, my boys are in exam today, so I've got some time to get myself all caught up. So. First of all, here's the lady in question:

Hyuna, "Bubble Pop".

Hyuna, "Trouble Maker".

Now. First of all. The claims about Hyuna not being sexy, or somehow awkward, or too flat, or whatever else? I mean. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and there should certainly be a lot of different versions (as many as possible) out there about what qualifies as sexy. But. I mean, the first time I saw the "Bubble Pop" video, Busan was sitting directly to my right. And we both kind of sat there for a few seconds afterward, with our mouths hanging open. If conventional "sexy" doesn't do it for you, that's fine. But I'm really not about to hear the argument that somehow Hyuna is not fitting that mold. I don't know in what universe that's considered the truth, but it's not mine.

But do you know what else I see in these videos? Something that, perhaps, may be inspiring people to compare Hyuna to a stripper? Intentionality. I see Hyuna looking directly at the camera, without a smile. I see a consciousness about what she's doing, an awareness of the male gaze. A direct interaction with the male gaze, that is not incidental, or allowed to be imagined by the viewer to be something that the male gaze is inflicting upon her otherwise innocent actions, which just so happen to be sexy, if you, as the viewer (as the power-holder) choose to see them as such. She's turning you on, on purpose.

There's a lot of murky water surrounding the issue of mass marketed female sexuality, wrapped up in far too much history between pro and anti sex feminists to go into for the purposes and audience of this blog. I need to give a hat tip to that, and if one really set out to do so, one could write an entire thesis on this subject using these two videos alone as subject matter. But that's not what I'm trying to do. I also think it's a bit of an easy trap to fall into, trying to size these videos up from the Western perspective of femininity, and socially acceptable femininity. Calling Hyuna a stripper, for example, is already starting from a troubled position, because in South Korea.... well. Maybe you know something I don't, but I've never seen a fucking stripper here.

What I have seen are girls who are paid to sit beside you and cover their mouths while they laugh at all of your jokes and pour you drinks and act a little embarrassed as you slide your hand up their thighs.

It's different. See?

The reason why the stripper argument just doesn't work is because, in the West, it's already an old archetype. The girl who flaunts it all for attention. Who wears the tight, short skirt, dances too provocatively and looks the men straight in the eye while she does it. Our feminism has been down that block and back around again, a couple of times now. We've been through several phases of this argument, spanning decades. Female chauvinist pigs. Girls gone wild. The virgin and the whore. Free love. Is she daring and defiant and in control of her own sexuality, or is she just a pawn and a sellout playing right into the hands of the repressive patriarchy? The enlightened parts of these conversations have mostly happened behind closed feminist doors. But. The results have been seen in our pop culture and in our vanilla media.

From my point of view, in the West, the issue is far from settled. But it's settled enough that feminist leaning liberal individuals have had enough space to kind of lap themselves and come back around to somehow making the same exact arguments that the biggest, most conservative antifeminists are making. For different reasons, of course. But still, the same arguments.

Because whatever starts as a revolution will always, always be misappropriated by mainstream society to pull it back into the fold. Always. That's the way that power structures work. When it becomes clear that women are just going to be sexual in public, and there's not a lot that society can do to shove that back into the closet, then the best next move to make is to grab a hold of it and claim it was your idea all along. Slap a price tag on it. Give it some perimeters of social acceptability. Put it in a box and make a dollar off it -- mass market it and get it under control.

But this is not the West.

K-pop is still a place where men are allowed to do this:

(1:20 for the money.)

Without the slightest trace of cute playfulness, or hand-over-the-mouth, "Oops! Did I do that?" And not have their character questioned or assassinated.

Meanwhile, if women want to grind a little:

You'd better make sure they're wearing a cute little bunny tail and adding in a lot of smiling and 애교 posing to soften the blow. You don't want to make the audience feel too uncomfortable.

I want everyone to take a minute to notice something about "Trouble Maker" and these other videos as well:

Brown Eyed Girls, "Abracadabra".

2NE1, "Can't Nobody".

Miss A, "Bad Girl, Good Girl".

Do you notice a common theme? Because I sure as fuck do. What do you want to call it? Revenge? Anger?


Now. I'm not about to argue that these highly preened, highly stylized pop icons have come to set the women of Korea free. But I think looking at it that way is a bit backwards, to begin with. Pop culture is exactly that -- popular. It caters to the masses. It finds a way to tap veins of atmosphere and emotion running through certain large portions of society and bleed them dry. It reads the mood, and responds accordingly, thereby also perpetuating the mood.

So, who do you think these videos are marketed toward? Hormonal young men with a perpetual hard on? Maybe. Definitely, partially. Partially, also, maybe to the men who don't exactly mind the idea of a woman pushing them up against a wall and kissing them, for once.

But I don't think they're the only target audience.

Let's not forget: strippers are people (are women), too.


Daantaat said...

What I'm seeing here, especially with groups like 2NE1 and now with Hyuna, is a reclaiming of their agency. These women have taken charge of their sexuality, something which flies in the face of patriarchal expectations of women's behavior. I don't get a vibe of "power" or "anger" so much as a sense of "I am a woman, and part of that is being beautiful and being sexual, and I am going to own that for myself". These women are attempting to subvert the male gaze by looking directly back into the eyes of those doing the gazing and taking back their power.

The older male demographic (over 30? over 35?) isn't used to women acting this way; they come from homes where the mother is the nurturer and little sister is someone to be protected and patronized.

Korean culture (in my opinion, based on my own experiences and things I've gleaned from discussions with my husband, who is Korean) has relegated women (especially young women) to the lowest position on the societal totem pole. Women like Hyuna and Boa, etc., are refusing to stay down. Of course there will be the usual attempts at slut-shaming, denigrating names (i.e. stripper, hooker), denial of sexiness, and other opinions expressed by those in power, in an attempt to rein in any other "upstart" young women (especially teenaged girls) who may see Hyuna, and others, as role models, because it is these young women who subsequently will decide that they, too, can have a stake in their own agency and refuse to bow down to the patriarchy. And the patriarchy doesn't like it when they can't be in total control of a woman, her body, and her sexuality.

Juche said...

"Subvert the male gaze?" and "A reclaiming of their agency?" What 1970's Gender and Equality 101 text book did you pull that out of? I fondly remember my Lingnan U. class of Gender Stereotypes. Ughh, what tripe.

Did you know that many of these Korean stars have to supplement their income at high class nightclubs flirting with rich guys? Does that make them sluts? No (well, perhaps some that cross that line). But does it make them women libbers? Quite clearly No.

These aren't songs about female oppression (Bubble pop...really?) and neither are they trying to channel Joan Baez playing guitar naked. They are setting an ideal of beauty for women, which is ironic since their plastic surgery only entices more plastic surgery. At the same time they are trying to get on that 16 year old boy's wall.

Hong Kong feminism is miles more advanced than Korean feminism. (I love to eat daan taat) Trying to project your perspective of HK feminism on Korea doesn't make it true, even though it's valid in HK. These singers aren't trying to make a social statement -- they are just giving the patriarchy what they want via videos...created by the patriarchy.
I'm sure you imagined this:

Manager: Hyuna, you can't dance so provocatively. It's a slap in the face of the patriarchy who want you to be a nice, quiet girl whom we can protect and patronize.

Hyuna: Screw you, it's my body and I'll make the video the way I want to. Korean girl power!

Manager: Since you'll be popular forever, I must accede to your request, even though the last this I want to see is you grinding. You'll never get married at this rate!

Hyuna: I don't need a man to complete me. And don't worry, I'll only use vague subtext and imagery so no one understands what I'm actually doing.

Manager: I don't see how this could make us any money, but I trust you with total creative control of this video.

I'm no Picasso said...

I agree 100% that the artists themselves can hardly be seen as being liberated or as liberating with these videos. However. I do see these videos being made in a very different way from the past, and I see the popular representation of female sexuality shifting. Pop sexuality is never going to be truly liberating, or truly feminist. But it can indicate some interesting things about the current pulse of its consumers. And I think the fact that these videos are appealing to an angrier, more aggressive, more power-driven version of female sexuality says something interesting about how young Korean women (and men) may be feeling. Is that not fair?

Daantaat said...

Juche, my, honey, aren't you just charming? It's always nice to receive such respectful, helpful and thoughtful feedback, devoid of mockery and derision.

I never professed to be up on Korean feminism (if such a thing exists; I think it may, albeit at a grassroots level, but I have only seen inklings of it in conversations with my female Korean co-workers), but I was merely stating my opinion, based on my observations of the videos. I don't speak Korean, so I was looking at the videos purely from an aesthetic/body language point of view. And I stand by what I said before: these women are staring back at the men, and, as INP said, they are indeed doing so from a much different perspective than the women performers of the past.

Is it beyond the realm of possibility that these women may have had some input into how they display themselves in their videos? Granted, I'm not up on the ins and outs of K-Pop or what goes on behind the scenes, but I'd like to think that, while Korea is many decades behind the west in a lot of areas, it's possible that young women are now taking more ownership of their sexuality than in the past.

I'm no Picasso said...

The thing is, I don't know enough about the Kpop industry to comment extensively, and these women are a product.... there's no doubt about that. Also, the Korean talent industry has some well known serious issues with how they deal with female talent in general.

But. I find it interesting that there's so much talk of these poor girls who are forced into these roles and objectified against their will and taken advantage of, yet no one ever really seems to have that issue with the male talent. To me, there's a touch of "delicate oriental flowers" syndrome to it all.

The truth is, no one knows how Hyuna does or does not wish to portray herself, but to be so quick to make the assumption that she's being forced into it when I don't reckon the same conclusion would be rushed to with, say, Rain's dance in the posted video, is a little problematic to me.

3gyupsal said...

You should watch a live version of "Trouble Maker." Most of the people in the audience aren't screaming about Hyuna. Which is unfortunate, she is a very hard working popstar. I respect her because she used to be in The Wonder Girls, but ended up in Four Minutes which was kind of a B-class girl group. In addition to Four Minutes, she also has her solo career, and appeared on Korean dancing with the stars where she didn't get much love from the judges. Anyway, the kid in "Trouble Maker," does a damn good Micheal Jackson impersonation, while Hyun-ah is kind of used as decoration. I hope that she can really take control sometime and upstage someone else, but for now the trouble maker kid really kind of steals the performances.

matt said...

So that's the Hyuna who was in the Wonder Girls? Took a moment to wrap my head around that. I believe it was the the Wonder Girls' first single 'Irony' which may have kicked off the revenge theme in videos (with Hyuna being the lead voodoo child) - or at least, the first to be targeting Korean men for revenge rather than western men.

Anonymous said...

I think the only problem with Hyuna is the fact that her sexy is too forced. That and that sexy, plus sexy dancing, is pretty much her only talent.

Her singing and rapping skills are only passable, and her dancing skills consist of mostly sexy dancing (hips thrust, butt shaking and that going down hand between her legs thing that I just don’t get). Her company is basically using catchy songs and very provocative dances/videos to sell/market her. She is developing this very bad reputation for over the top sexy that many people just don’t like, but as long as she is bringing in the money her company doesn’t seem to care the hate she receives for it.

Honestly the video is PG next to the live perf. The amount of touching in private parts is mind blowing, with the latest having her face inches from his package. She has been in a steady rise of over the top sexiness since Bubble Pop and people are just worried/mad/uncomfortable at it.

But the reason people say her sexy is forced is because that girl lives and breaths aegyo. I’m not kidding here, one minute of listening to that girl talk and you want to rip your ears out from the amount of whinny aegyo girly voice she has and the way she acts outside the stage matches that. Well, the aegyo and the many over the top sexy moves and this sexy face she insist on putting.

But like you said, sexy is different for everyone and to some she is and to others she isn’t.

Ly* said...

Having a total of "zero" knowledge about korean female pop artists, I won't get into much detail about all the deep stuff being discussed here. Although, after watching all the videos, I started to wonder... is Hyuna really the only korean female singer who does what she does on her videos?
Because I know a couple of male pop artists and damn it, they take it all out there on the videos and I guess I've just assumed it was like that with the girls too. Guess I was totally wrong.

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