Kpop Culture Day 3: Beautiful Idols

Beautiful Idols: Korean Beauty Standards

Like any country, Koreans have a very specific idea of what a person should look like to be considered attractive. While some of these standards are common to the culture in the United States, other things are very different and an average viewer from North America might be shocked.

Body Types

Like Americans, South Koreans value height in their significant other. Koreans on average are 2 inches shorter than the same sex in America, but you wouldn’t be able to tell because often Kpop videos are filmed at angles other than eye height. A very common angle is from waist height pointed up towards the face. In addition, Koreans are slimmer than the average American, so what may seem to be fat to a Korean just looks like a regular person to an American (although this shouldn’t be confused with tabloid craziness, which will claim that the stars are ballooning up one week then emaciated the next). People will talk about about s-lines and x lines. S lines refer to having an s-shaped silhouette when viewed from the side, and an x-line is when you have long slim legs and arms with a narrow waist.

Secret 3
Secret is one of the curvier Kpop bands

Eyes, Hair and Skin

It should be black pearl because of her hair...
It should be black pearl because of her hair…

One of the major differences between Koreans and Americans is how they view skin. In Korea, they prefer their idols pasty white. The closer to “snowman” color the better. To point out how crazy this can be, the picture to the right shows two girls from Girls Generation. The girl on the left in the picture is Yuri (the one with the aviators); she’s nicknamed the black pearl because her skin tone is dark. As someone who is Italian and gets confused for Latino in the summer, that blew my mind. Skin should also be flawless. Koreans have some of the most advanced foundation and concealer in the whole makeup industry, they had BB cream years ago. It has even become acceptable in Korean society for men to wear skin makeup, since they believe that a person with flawless skin looks more professional.

In terms of hair, Koreans view colored hair as edgy, since many schools have a rule against colored hair in the dress code. My Korean friend got in trouble in first grade because he got some highlights in his hair. He was made an example of in his class and then was immediately forced to dye his hair back to black. While this may be a more extreme case in modern times (he was in first grade 13 years ago), fewer average Korean citizens dye their hair than American citizens. However, after a student graduates from grade school it’s very common for both men and women to style their hair in a semi permanent to permanent manner. They have straightening, as well as many levels of perming (from tight ringlets to curls you could drive a truck through), and treatments to add volume to hair.

Circle lenses for large eyes and for different colors.
Circle lenses for large eyes and for different colors.

Large, cute eyes are favored in Korea and this look is achieved in two ways. First is by the use of circle lenses. These special kind of contact lenses add extra area to the iris of the eye and will change the color of the iris. The other is by the physical shape of the eyelid. Koreans have two eyelid shapes, known as either single or double eyelids. Caucasians have a double eyelid, and this is denoted by a small indentation in the eyelid. A single eyelid will hide the base of eyelashes and therefore looks smaller. Because a double eyelid has a easier shape to hold eyeshadow and makeup, a common plastic surgery in Korea is to get one’s eyelids changed from single eyelids to double eyelids.  It seems to be a Korean right of passage in High School and could be compared to a child getting a large Sweet 16 or a Graduation present (think like a car).

Clothing Styles

My legs would be so cold.
My legs would be so cold.

One of the other things that is different between American culture and Korean culture is the acceptable clothing styles. The most notable difference about Korean clothing to an American viewer is that long legs are desirable, but not overly sexual, therefore having very VERY short skirts or shorts is common in Kpop videos. For the rest of Kpop, clothing styles are very similar in terms of guys and girls. Showing midriff is ok, but too much and it’s too sexy. Bare shoulders and and a bare back is considered really sexy, and too much isn’t shown in kpop music videos.

In Korean Culture, their society has an ideal look, and while certain people can have good looking features, only one feature type is considered sexy. However, features that are unique are considered cute. For example, my Korean friend has one double eyelid and one single eyelid. He wouldn’t be considered sexy, but the unique feature would be considered cute. When watching music videos where a member of a band isn’t featured as much as another, or if a talk show asks the members to rate themselves in terms of a feature, remember that Koreans see beauty a little more objectively than Americans.

❤ Rebecca

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Kpop MV Day 10

Kpop Music Video: Day 10
Face by NU’EST under Pledis Entertainment

NU’EST is a 5 member boy band that debuted in 2012. Their name stands for New: Established Style Tempo (which has always confused me, because how can something be new and established at the same time? I digress.) and their fan group name is L.O.Λ.E which comes from the first “letter” of the Korean syllables of their name: 뉴이스트.

From left to right: Minhyun, Ren, JR, Baekho, Aron
From left to right: Minhyun, Ren, JR, Baekho, Aron

Nu’est is not a super famous Kpop band, but then again, rarely are rookies extremely successful on their first album unless they are with one of the three big entertainment companies: SM, YG or JYP. This is their first single off of their first mini album and I like to talk about them because their music and subsequently their music videos are not about girls. That is very different from a lot of the kpop songs because it seems like the equation is ” love song + sadness = money” in the Kpop world. This song (and their other single from this album) focuses on the HUGE bullying problem going on in South Korea. South Korea has traditional teasing and physically picking on students, but they also have a very nasty type of bullying called wang-dda (왕따). Wang-dda is inflicted isolationism, and it’s an extremely effective bullying technique in South Korea because the Korean School day is very long and gets longer as the students get older, and Korean students have all their classes with the students in their homeroom. A student or students will decide to isolate a student that they don’t like and everyone in that class will shun that student for fear of being associated with the pariah. If a student goes to isolated student’s aide, they will also be shunned. This isolationism will follow them in after school activities until the student literally has no friends.  What is great about Nu’est is that they made a song to try to inspire students to stand up for themselves and their video is made to spread awareness on this issue.

If you would like more information about Wang-dda, check out Eat Your Kimchi’s TL:DR video on the subject here:

❤ Rebecca

Kpop MV Day 9

Kpop Music Video: Day 9
Fantastic Baby by BIGBANG under YG Entertainment

BIGBANG (stylized like that to avoid confusion with the science theory) is a 5 member boy band that consider rap, hip hop and R&B to be their roots, though lately they have been making pop and electronic dance hits. The band debuted together in 2005, but several members were active in the music and entertainment industry well before that (meaning that several of them started before they were teenagers). They have studio albums in Japan in addition to their Korean ones, and in 2012 they embarked on a world tour through 13 countries for a total of 48 concerts. In addition to many Asian countries, 4 concerts were held in the US, 2 were held in England and 1 was held in Peru.

From left to right: Seungri, T.O.P., G-Dragon, Taeyang, Daesung
From left to right: Seungri, T.O.P., G-Dragon, Taeyang, Daesung

In the spirit of videos that are focused on how artists are treated in Kpop, this video, like Abracadabra, is a message to Korean Media. In addition to being banned from TV due to sex and sexuality, Korean artists will be pulled off the air due to controversy. This happens in the US as well; after Rihanna’s face was posted on social media, Chris Brown was pulled from public light and media outlets refused to play his music. However in Korea, “scandals” seem to happen much more often. BIGBANG specifically went through two issues that pulled their members off the air. The first was a car accident that Daesung was involved in. Although it was not his fault, a person died in the accident and Daesung did not perform for quite some time, even after his injuries had healed. This inactivity also may have been the reason for postponing his own solo album, which was announced for release in 2010 and will be released this upcoming spring. The second scandal was in 2011, where G-Dragon tested positively (but very weakly) for marijuana. In Korea, doing drugs is a huge deal, although smoking cigarettes is quite normal. He said that he was given a cigarette that was laced and when he found out that it wasn’t a regular cigarette, he got rid of it. He wasn’t charged, and as a result he did not lose any sponsorships from any companies, but he was forced to stop promoting publicly for a little less than 2 months.

This video is a direct response to the stifling that the tabloids inflict on artists when a mistake comes up. The media is represented by the “Stop Music” force, and the members are trapped. At the beginning G-Dragon is dirty and has long hair that has not been cut in a while, signifying being neglected. TOP is stuck inside art pieces, forced to pose for the media. Taeyang has to be unfrozen, and Daesung is chained to a wall. The hardest imagery to figure out is Seungri, who is being scratched at by cat women. I choose to look at the cat women as the media trying to claw at Seugri, but I feel that this is the weakest point of an otherwise solid metaphor.

In good news, Fantastic Baby was very popular on Youtube and in Korea, especially in dance clubs. While scandals will go on, BIGBANG got to let out some frustration that they had with the media, while making a great track to spread their message around with.

❤ Rebecca

Kpop MV Day 8

Kpop Music Video: Day 8
Abracadabra by Brown Eyed Girls under Nega Network

Brown Eyed Girls is a 4 member girl band formed in 2006. The leader Jea, was actively involved in the groups creation and help to scout the other 3 members. They debuted as an R&B group but were not widely successful until their electronic dance hit “Abracadabra” came out. Since then only one other single, “Sixth Sense” has been a pop hit. In between releasing albums and singles, the members pursue solo careers, Gain arguably having the most successful singing solo career out of the 4 girls.

From left to right, Miryo, Narsha, JeA, Gain
From left to right, Miryo, Narsha, JeA, Gain

While too much “sexy” can be very degrading to the girls in the Kpop industry, many times an opposite issue arises. Korean culture can be very conservative when it comes to sex and sexuality, and many times a video will get banned or receive a 19+ or a 15+ rating if it is too sexy. This restricts when a music video can be played, if it can be aired on TV at all. This music video is one that was banned, and there are many things in this video that are very risque. I think that those sexual moments are not done because they want to reel in male viewers, but rather to tell a story about a girl, her man and a female (potentially sexual) companion. It had meaning, and I feel by censoring this type of sexual subject matter, the artist is being censored in terms of a message.

Fortunately for us, and for Brown Eyed Girls, the hip sway dance was such a big hit that people found a way to watch and spread the music video, and subsequently the song.  It won the “Dance/Electronic Song of the Year” at the Korean Music Awards and the girls also won the “Dance/Electronic Album” award. These girls keep struggling with the establishment in terms of their expression and what is and isn’t allowed to be broadcast on TV, but they keep making music videos with deep plots and great imagery and I love them for it.
Go girls, and don’t be afraid to be yourselves!

❤ Rebecca

Kpop MV Day 7

Kpop Music Video: Day 7

Volume Up by 4 Minute under Cube Entertainment

4 Minute is a 5 member girl group formed in 2009. Like 2ne1, their roots are in hip hop and the girls exude a powerful image rather than a cute one, although they have had very cute videos. They have had singles in both Korea and Japan.

The girls of 4Minute
The girls of 4Minute

After Gangnam Style, many people got a short look into Kpop culture and thought that many of these great artists were one hit wonders. This was through the lens of the American pop market; in Korea, these stars were already very famous. The American market also got a glimpse of Hyuna when she did her rendition of Gangnam Style (which I feel shows her in possibly the worst light possible), but it has eclipsed her work with 4minute, which I feel is far better than her covers or cameos. I feel that this is unfair to her fellow bandmates, who have worked equally as hard as her, but do not get as many lines in the songs as her or the opportunity to start a solo career. In Hyuna’s solo videos, the directors have resorted to putting her in skimpy outfits and doing very sexually suggestive dances and maneuvers, all to cater to the American male audience.

Instead of showing that Hyuna, I would like to show 4Minute’s latest video. It may not have equal line distribution and it may have some sexually suggestive portions, but much of the video is classy and it shows the hard work of all the members of 4minute. All I would like is for people to recognize that Hyuna’s success is not tied to Gangnam style exclusively; she has been trained and built up with many other lovely and equally talented individuals. I hope that one day, they will all get a chance to shine in the manner that they most see fit and not have to change their style and image so drastically to appeal to a different market.

❤ Rebecca