That title comes from the lyrics of Spica’s English debut song “I did it” which was just released today. I felt a feminism segment coming for a long time, and it can’t be easier when I have lyrics to analyze along with the presentation for the video. If you wanna follow along, click here for a link to color coded lyrics.
Spica’s English debut single is one where it says one thing and shows the other. Now I know that as a woman I have the agency to wear whatever the fuck I want to to make me feel sexy, confident, etc. I also know that kpop stars surrender their agency to their literal agency. For Spica this is B2M entertainment, who also manages Lee Hyori. Now in the past, Hyori and Spica have been portrayed (whether it be by their own request or by the agency’s desires) as strong, independent women in videos such as “Bad Girls” and “You don’t love me”, but the English translations for the lyrics don’t quite make that same mark. “Bad girls” is a guide book on how to be a bad girl in order to be more attractive to men with lines like “Look a bit far ahead, walk a bit fast/Show just a little skin to be sexy” and “The heroine of a movie may be like an angel/But the bad girl next to her is more attractive”. You don’t love me is a distraught woman getting rid of a relationship; the lyrics would have been much more empowering without the breakdown where they repeat “I need you, love love.” This new single fixes the lack of agency in the lyrics, where the whole anthem in the song is that “I did it for me”. Can’t get much more empowering than ‘the only thing in my life that effects my decisions is my own damn opinion.’
But after you get past the lyrics, you watch the video. Now I’m ok with the outfits, I’m ok with the dance. The problem is in the editing, where the video literally embodies what feminism calls “the male gaze”. Juhyun, you ask me where I’m looking, and tell me that your eyes are up here. Let me inform you that the video is cut in such a way that the only way I can watch it is to look at your legs, or to watch every part of you dance but where your eyes are located. I never object to a shot of someone’s legs when the lyrics point to shoes, but this whole video was a series of disjointed body parts. The lyrics state that “I don’t care what you want me to be” but this whole video turned your image into one of an object, a faceless idol that could be replaced by any band anywhere.
B2M has shown through their lyrics and their idol’s images that they want to make the the strong independent women the sexy woman, and I am more than happy to support that line of thinking. I just hope that next video can be one where the lyrics are more like “I did it” and the video is more like “You don’t know me”. Spica certainly has the talent to rise above pandering and I hope they do so.
Kpop Music Video: Day 14 I Don’t Need a Man by Miss A under JYP Entertainment
CC included in this video
Miss A is a 4 member girl band that debuted in 2010. Two of their members are Chinese and are among the most famous Chinese celebrities in Korea. Their youngest member, Susy, was recently in a very famous Korean Drama, making Miss A more famous but conversely removing a lot of the spotlight from the other 3 members.
Koreans have an issue where women will be fairly dependent on finding a man to date and eventually marry. It’s not like Victorian style where they can’t survive on their own dollar, but it’s very post world war II America, where it was far more desirable for the men to make the cash in a relationship. In a country that doesn’t have a lot of room or capital, but the standard of living is exorbitant at the top, Korean women are pressured not only to work hard and get a good job, but to marry well. It is well noted that rarely does a woman marry a man in Korea that is shorter than her or lower in socioeconomic status. Since Koreans are also transitioning from a older matchmaking style engagement set up, where the family would find a suitor for their offspring to date, to a more Western dating style, family approval is also extremely important in finding a suitable life partner, and surely contributes to the aspirations to date a wealthier or more influential man.
Taking this in mind, this music video really goes against what Korean culture has to say about dating, while still maintaining the values of Korean society as a whole. Koreans are very work focused, and believe that the only way to be successful is to work hard. This music video’s goal is to tell women that as long as they work hard they should feel good about themselves. The first few lines of the first verse are about how proud she is about living paycheck to paycheck providing for herself, and paying her own rent. An important aspect of Korean culture is to note that renting an apartment by yourself is extremely hard, because “key money” as its called in Korea, is not first month’s rent but can be up to 2/3 of the worth of the location being rented, which would be paid back at the end of the lease (no rent is taken month to month in this system). What many locations elect to do is have their renters pay 1-2 years worth of rent up front as “key money” and then have a monthly rent from there. It requires a lot of saving and planning to be able to afford a location to live by oneself and therefore is a sign of affluence even though a person may be living a plain lifestyle as a result. This is why Min’s verse takes place in a jewelry store; she’s laughing at the people who look extravagant but are living a “comfortable” (boring) life.
Since it’s so hard to rent a space by oneself, many young men and women live with their parents. This is acceptable in Korean society, because like other Asian societies, Korea has just recently transitioned from a “clan” or “family” first mentality. As a result, young women have a tendency to rely on their parents for the purchase of items, as shown in Jia’s first verse. The girl with the Kangaroo card keeps sucking up to her father to get items that she wants.
Going back to traditional marriage ideals, Fei’s section of the video shows a bar where women and men are hooked up by bartenders, like blind dating meets speed dating. We see the ladies crowd around one guy who might have a great personality, but the guy on the left (who is taller than the guy on the right) waves a pile of cash and the ladies come running over.
Suzy’s section has two meanings for me, one that seems to be showing a negative portion of world society as a whole, and one that is showing a positive side of female empowerment. The later is easier to see; the three ladies throw a whole heck ton of cash in the general direction of the male stylist and then he is forced to bend down and gather up all the cash. The negative spin to this is that Korean women may feel that it’s necessary to spend a heck ton of cash on beauty products and styling when they already have makeup on. Based on the body positions and facial expressions, I’m thinking that the goal was to show the positive side of female empowerment, however, it would fit with the general theme of the music video if the boxes were showing negative aspects of society, so my mind always spins it in the “why do you need so much damn makeup?” direction.
There’s also the added factor of being able to see “behind the scenes” in the music video, that you as the viewer know each room is a set and some camera crew was filming it. This is to represent media’s influence in the Korean dating scene. As media themselves, Miss A go in a Lipstick Feminism direction, and don’t give up traditionally feminine items throughout most of the music video as they are allowed to wear dresses and makeup. They even have giant beauty products dispersed throughout the video. It’s their lack of reliance on a man to purchase items for themselves and their disinterest in the dating scene that goes directly against the theme of most Kpop music videos and Korean Dramas.
Then at the end of the video, the rap scene showcases the 4 girls being their own men in terms of bread winning. All the ladies are dressed up in business attire and mustaches are a heavy theme. While too much of this can scream of Freudian themes, the fun they had during the filming of this portion got rid of any “penis envy” notions that immediately popped into my head when I saw the mustaches.
The last portion of the music video is the dancing. The hip hop style is perfectly suited for this song, as it doesn’t attempt to be overtly sexual, and leans more towards simple powerful dancing maneuvers. I feel that this is an excellent decision, because for once I can do a Kpop dance without making myself look like a fool, and that I don’t feel like I’m attempting to seduce my mirror when I try to do this in my bedroom at night. Sexy dances have their time and place (and appropriateness -.-), but this music video was well thought out in terms of all the parts syncing together.
To an American fan, this may look like Destiny’s Child’s kid sister, in terms of independent ladies. You might dismiss this video as being just another empowerment video, but in Korea this is a newer music video concept, so I encourage you to watch this video and use it as a reminder of what type of music video the kpop scene manufactures. Also, make sure that you watch this with the close captioning English translation on. So much of this music video is enhanced by the lyrics and you’ll miss out on a bit of the message if you don’t use them. Wishing I had posted this for all the ladies on Valentine’s Day, but this can serve just as well as a post Valentine’s day reminder. Go out and do you!
PS. JYP, a famous Kpop star and the President of Miss A’s label is well noted for saying his name in his Kpop star’s music videos. It’s interesting to note that he does not say his name in this music video, which is what he says he does after he thinks his groups have made it big enough to be known by their own name and not the label (his label is one of the top 3 in Korea), but he is still in the music video. The money in the opening section thrown onto the table has JYP’s face on it.