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.