That’s all, K-Poppers!

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If you haven’t read many of my posts, I would recommend going back and starting from the beginning. By reading them oldest to newest, they will make the most sense. I reference things that I have previously talked about in some posts and I think you will enjoy it more if you read it that way.

I hope that you all have enjoyed my Capstone blog. I know that I have really enjoyed doing it. It was a lot of fun having the opportunity to write about something that I am really interested in and intrigued by, while at the same time applying communication theories, research, and other people’s opinions to it.

I have heard from many people that there is simply something that sets Korean music apart. It doesn’t matter if you understand the language; the beat and feel of the music draws you in and keeps you wanting more. I hope this has become true for you as well.

I want to leave you with one thought: all that we have looked at here are professional, formal music videos. K-Pop stars also do many appearances on reality and variety shows, and some even have their own shows. Groups can take on an entirely different persona on these shows than they can in their music videos. In their music videos, they are more like actors, portraying characters that are not necessarily like themselves. However, on these shows, they can act more like their true selves and show fans more of who they really are. I think that that is an important thing to remember when analyzing K-Pop and the groups within it. Below are a few clips of different bands on some shows. After watching them, do your perceptions or opinions about their masculinity change at all? Food for thought.

Infinite:

 

FT Island:

 

Big Bang:  

 

MBLAQ: 

 

2PM:

 

Ending on an INTERESTING note…

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I thought as my last post, I would post an extremely current and extremely unique music video. This video was just released this month. The singer is Junsu, the same idol who is a part of JYJ and was the main character is the video “In Heaven.” The song is called “Tarantallegra.” “Tarantallegra” is actually Latin and is a spell from Harry Potter that it used to make someone dance uncontrollably. I have no idea as to if they took the idea from Harry Potter or not, but I thought that it would be interesting to note the correlation. After watching the video, I can definitely say that they picked a suiting title; they all seem to be dancing uncontrollably!

There are so many things about this video that I don’t even know where to start! It is definitely one of the most interesting videos that I have seen in quite a while. So many things to mention! First, this video is very outwardly sexual, both when it comes to the men and the women in the video. The dance moves that Junsu and his male backup dancers do are highly suggestive and the female backup dancers can be seen shaking, gyrating, and dancing around Junsu and the male backup dancers and grabbing them. Junsu also has his shirt off for some of the time and his male backup dancers do as well. I also think that the rap track in part of the song, performed by Flowsik, a member of Asian American band Aziatix, adds an element of masculinity to the song. While there are, what I think, forcefully masculine aspects of the video, Junsu is also wearing a good deal of makeup, jewelry, and has his nails painted. Do you think these aspects add or deter from his otherwise masculine characteristics? I would say that they slightly deter from his masculine identity, but not enough to hurt him.

Something else that I thought was interesting was that all of Junsu’s backup dancers are Caucasian, something that I have never seen in a K-Pop video. And the women actually have a little bit of meat on their bones! They are still not ‘big’ by any means, but they are still larger than the traditionally thin Korean backup dancers that we usually see in videos. This is extremely refreshing and I am happy to see it in a Korean music video.

Another topic Sun Jung discusses is what she calls ‘manufactured versatile masculinity.’ She says that “it is multi-layered, culturally mixed, simultaneously contradictory, and most of all strategically manufactured.” I completely agree with her. The different types of masculinity that we see in K-Pop videos today is completely made up; manufactured; malleable. I especially agree with her when she says that masculinity is ‘simultaneously contradictory.’ ‘Tarantallegra’ is an excellent example of that. While there are many aspects of the video that show us Junsu’s manly and masculine side, there are plenty of others that do not. But that makes for a more interesting video and thought-provoking reaction, right?

I found this reaction video that someone made of them watching this music video for the very first time. It shows just how much people enjoy K-Pop videos and just how addicted they are to them and the idols. It is great!

The two sides of the old DBSK

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As stated previously in my post titled “Balloons!,” DBSK split into two groups in 2009 due to a dispute with their management company. The two groups that resulted were TVXQ (an acronym for the Chinese symbols; the same meaning as DBSK) and JYJ. Here I would like to present a video done by each group.

 

JYJ’s “In Heaven” has a close resemblance to FT Island’s “Severely” video that we just looked at. His girlfriend dies by being hit by a car. She somehow comes back, he gets to relive the past 3 years with her and he gets a second chance to save her. Except in the end of this one, they both end up dying. Lovely, I know. Member Junsu is the one featured in the video. The song has a very ballad feel, which fits with what the song is about. A lot of what JYJ has done has been more ballad-type songs. I think that this video displays the masculine characteristic of protectiveness; Junsu has to do everything in his power to save his girlfriend. He feels that as her boyfriend, he has that opportunity and that obligation. Also, simply the way in which Junsu is dressed and the type of job he has shows his masculine identity.

 

 

TVXQ’s most popular song, on the other hand, is extremely upbeat and forceful. Titled “Keep Your Head Down (“왜” or “wae”), TVXQ shows different aspects of traditional masculinity then we see in JYJ’s video. We see Yunho with the ability to control fire and Changmin with the ability to control light. Wow. That’s pretty cool. I’m not quite sure about the low-cut jacket that Changmin is wearing. This goes back to the conversation we had earlier about SS501. Do you think showing just parts of the male body is masculine? Also, I find the suits that they are wearing at the end (the ones that look like owl eyes) to be very interesting. While I don’t think they look feminine, I also don’t think they especially look masculine. But, the visual interest adds to the fun of the video. I found a review of the video on a blog titled One Song at a Time, which I found really accurate and interesting. Here is a short excerpt from the blog about the dance and clothing in the video:

Despite Yunho and Changmin having to pull off a manly, powerful image, they put a spin on it by incorporating unique costumes and intricate backgrounds. The portions of the MV that cut to the white background are shocking (personally I was a bit thrown off by the outfits that they were wearing), but give a brighter, futuristic touch to an overall dark MV. As expected with a powerful song, there has to be powerful choreography to go along with it! I really hope for a dance version of the MV to be released sometime in the future so I can see everything better, but for the time being, I like how their moves are sharp at certain points and powerful (I guess you can call it krumping, especially by Yunho.)

Both JYJ and TVXQ’s videos show aspects of Korean masculinity, as we can see, but in very different ways.

Ballad boys

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Not all K-Pop groups sing all upbeat and punchy songs. Some groups are better known for singing slower, ballad-type songs. FT Island is a great example of this type of group. A 5-member band, FT Island is much different than any of the other groups that we have looked at. The other groups sing and dance to their songs. FT Island, on the other hand, plays all of their own instruments. Guitars, the bass, the drums; they are more of what we would think of as a traditional American band. They do not have choreographed dance routines, but rather just move about the stage and try to interact with fans.

In this video, titled “지독하게,” or “Severely,” lead singer Lee Hongki (이홍기) is showcased. His girlfriend was struck by a car and killed, but he has the chance to go back in time and try to save her. Unfortunately, in the end, he ends up getting killed while trying to save her life. I think that there are interesting aspects of masculinity to talk about with this video. First of all, we see him crying in the video. This is not the only boy band video where members are crying, either. Take Big Bang’s “Haru Haru” (“하루하루,” or “Day by Day”) for example. Men crying, at least in American culture, is popularly viewed as a sign of weakness. However, in K-Pop videos, it’s not. Male group members can be seen crying in a variety of videos across the board. I don’t think that this necessarily makes them look un-masculine. I think that men who are able to show their emotions are more comfortable with themselves and are therefore more masculine. But that is just a personal opinion of mine. What do you think? Do you think Lee Hongki seems feminine in this video because he cries?

Something else that is worth mentioning about this video is that Lee Hongki has his nails done. Not only does he have them painted, he has them professionally done. His nails look WAY BETTER than mine do! Not that many boys in K-Pop paint their nails. And if they do, it is often just for one music video and then they get rid of it. Lee Hongki, on the other hand, regularly has his nails done. Because he likes them that way. He even has jewels and other things adhered to his nails. When I was first introduced to K-Pop, I thought that that was extremely feminine. I had never seen boys get their nails done professionally that much. But now that I am very familiar with K-Pop, it doesn’t really strike me as feminine as much as it used to. What do you think? Is it too girly?

 

Lee Seung Gi is an extremely famous ballad singer. In fact, he is the king of ballads. He is also a very famous drama actor. By watching this video, “Let’s Break Up,” you can’t help but feel depressed. Most of Lee Seung Gi’s videos are about relationships, lost love and other unfortunate circumstances. However, I think that he is a very masculine singer. He sings about love and all of the good and bad times that result from it. He is one of the K-Pop singers whose lyrics have deep meaning and whose videos are meant to touch the heart.

Rain: a globalized masculine product

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Rain (비), whose real name is Jung Ji Hoon, is by far the most sexualized K-Pop idol that there is today. If you’ve ever seen the American movie “Ninja Assassin,” you’ll recognize him; he played the main character. He was also in the Hollywood blockbuster “Speed Racer.” Rain is known for his sexy demeanor, shirtless stage presence, and soulful voice. He has been in the business for about 10 years and just recently entered the military for his mandatory service. Not only is he a K-Pop idol, he is also an actor, both in “Ninja Assassin” and many Korean dramas. Rain also created the group MBLAQ, who we have already looked at.

‘Love Song’ is the video in which his famous shirtless body roll dance takes place. Rain has an incredibly toned body and his image is centered on his body. Probably known as one of the most masculine singers in K-Pop, Rain never fails to show his abs. I think that ‘Love Song’ shows two different aspects of Rain’s masculinity. First of all, he dances around with he shirt off, showing his perfectly toned body to the world. But at the same time, we see him as a nurturing and loving partner to the woman in the video. Masculinity doesn’t just mean looking tough; it can also mean protecting and caring for other people.

Rain’s popularity extends far beyond Korea. He is known all around the world, even in America. As stated above, he had the lead role in an American movie. He can speak English, which also allows him to branch out to foreign markets. Steven Colbert has even featured Rain on his show multiple times! According to Sun Jung in her book “Korean Masculinities,” she talks a lot about Rain. Giving fans in Singapore as an example, she says that “the last convergence of Rain’s global masculinity is that of Japanese kawaii masculinity and momjjang masculinity. Kawaii masculinity is evident from the ‘cute’ aspect of the boyish image of Young-Jae while momjjang masculinity is evident from the sexual aspects of Rain’s stage perfromances. The former implies pre-adolescent masculinity while the latter implies post-adolescent masculinity. This sexually ambiguous pre-post-adolescent masculinity of Rain, it appears, resonates with the complex trans-pop-consumerist desire of Singaporean fans.” This mixed masculinity makes Rain appealing to people all over Asia, and around the world.

Rain is a great example of a mugukjeok idol. “Due to the pragmatic marketing strategies based on turbo-capitalism, Rain is culturally hybridized through the adoption of foreign popular cultural elements in order to appeal to wider audiences. This cultural hybridity constitutes the mugukjeok aspects of Rain’s stardom. It appears that this hybridized, globalized, and mugukjeok aspect of Rain resonates well with the trans-pop-consumerist lifestyles of the new rich in Asia,” Sun Jung says. Although Rain is a Korean superstar, his masculinity is marketed in a way that does not necessarily identify him as Korean. Also, his international success helps earn him recognition and followers in many different countries.

I had the opportunity to attend one of Rain’s concerts while I was studying in Seoul. It was his last stadium concert before he entered the military. There were fans from many different countries there, showing just how popular Rain is all over the world. I even say an older woman from the United States! Rain is almost 30 and is still a nuna killer!

Attack of the nuna killers

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The boys of Infinite (인피니트), a 7-member group, are more of nuna killers than U-Kiss could ever dream of being. Ranging in age from 18-23, the younger group appeals to girls of all ages. Girls can’t help but like them. They can sing, they can dance, and they are easy on the eyes. What’s not to like?

This music video, ‘Nothing’s Over,’ is one of the group’s earlier songs. You can see them all in their pastel-colored skinny jeans, playing around with each other, and acting silly, especially at the end of the video. One of them even pats another on the behind. Girls like these types of groups because they seem as though they don’t take themselves too seriously, they have strong friendships with the other members, and they are extremely comfortable with one another. Not only does this attract girls their own age, but also older girls who see them as adorable younger boys.

Teen Top: 

Boy groups are starting to debut at younger ages in Korea. Another group, that is even younger than Infinite, is Teen Top. The youngest member of Teen Top is just 16 years old, with the oldest being just 19. The members of the group still have baby faces, making them look just as young as they are. Groups like Teen Top, as well as other labeled ‘nuna killers’ have power some groups just can’t attain. Older boy groups have to focus on using other avenues to attract an audience: catchy songs, excellent choreography and lyrics, and their experience in the industry. Younger groups like Infinite and Teen Top have those things (just maybe not as much experience) plus their age in their favor.

 

SHINee: 

Although we have already talked about SHINee, I think that they are worth a mention in this post. SHINee is the epitome of nuna killers. Their debut single was titled ‘Noona, You’re So Pretty,’ directly targeting women who were older than them. They are still pretty young. Today, the oldest one in the group is just 22, and this video was years ago. K-Pop groups have the power to transcend any age barriers and appeal to a mass audience. But is there ever such as thing as too young? What do you think?

International expansion of the nuna killers

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U-Kiss is a 7-member boy band that has debuted in both Korea and Japan. The boys range in age from 20-23, so they are slightly younger than other groups that we have looked at so far, but are still older than many boy bands in Korea today. U-Kiss is known for having upbeat, catchy dance songs and strong, choreographed dance routines. This video, “Tick Tack” (pronounced ‘tick tock’), is actually one of their most popular Japanese tracks. The group recently spent 8 months promoting themselves in Japan while on a hiatus in Korea.

Sun Jung says that “Many forms of non-Korean global masculinities – such as metrosexual, cute (Japanese, kawaii), and cool masculinities – cross cultural boundaries through disjunctive media cultural flows and hybridize contemporary South Korean masculinity. The consequent hybridity of South Korean masculinity creates mugukjeok traits which, in turn, contribute to its global popularity.”

In addition to mugukjeok, Sun Jung presents another term, chogukjeok (초국적, cross- or trans-national[ity]). She says that “in addition to mugukjeok or the effort to make ㄴouth Korean stars Asianied and/or globalized and to play down their Korean specificity, another characteristic is increasingly demanding of attention. This is chogukjeok, or the tendency to retain national specificity while deploying it as part of a transborder and multinational cultural configuration. It appears that such tendency is widely practiced and eagerly developed in the South Korean popular entertainment industry that is driven largely by its capitalist desires for globalization.” So, while groups do try to downplay their Korean-ness to be able to appeal to people of other cultures, they also embrace their Korean-ness while crossing cultural boundaries and targeting foreign audiences. In ‘Tick Tack,’ I would say that U-Kiss is practicing chogukjeok. While they are singing entirely in Japanese, they are not trying to cover up the fact that they are Korean and do not alter their clothing, dance routines or attitudes much from what we see in their Korean music videos.

There is a term in Korea called ‘nuna killers’ (pronounced noo na). A nuna is the term that males call females who are older than them. Whether it is an older sister, a friend, or simply a girl who is older than they are, ‘nuna’ is the term that is used. ‘Nuna killers’ refers to how young boy bands make female fans who are older than them feel. U-Kiss definitely falls into the category of nuna killers. The younger groups sometimes specifically target women who are older than them with their videos. They know that there is a huge following with that demographic and they take every advantage of that. By the term ‘nuna killers,’ we mean that older women fall in love with these boys and their music. U-Kiss even admits that they like women who are older than them. They are prime nuna killer material!

Balloons!

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DBSK (동방신기 or Dong Bang Shin Ki) is one of the most famous and most popular boy bands in Korean popular music history. Their name translates to “The Rising Gods of the East.” The 5-member group debuted in 2003 and has continuously proven themselves to stand the test of time. The group is extremely popular in not only Korea and Japan, but all around the world. In 2009, due to issues with their management company, three of the members ended up leaving the group and started their own group under a different company. The remaining two members, Changmin and Yunho, retained the group’s name and continue to sing together as a duo.

The other 3, Jaejoong, Yunho and Junsu started JYJ (an acronym made from the first letter of each of their names). They have enjoyed outstanding success since the very beginning, even producing an album with the help of American star Kanye West.

“Balloons” is probably one of the most childish, ridiculous Korean boy band videos that I have ever seen. But I say that as a good thing. It is a very unique song that talks about childhood dreams and how, as people grow older, they can often forget the importance and value of such dreams.

Take a look at the lyrics: 

during my childhood i dreamed a beautiful dream about riding a balloon and flying away
if a red balloon flies in the sky my heart remembers beautiful memories

my dream as a child was to ride a red balloon and fly high into the sky
i forgot about that small dream and lived on until now because i grew up so much

but when i’m miserable i want to run around and play like a child
filling a balloon full of my small dreams

during my childhood i dreamed a beautiful dream about riding a balloon and flying away
if a red balloon flies in the sky my heart remembers beautiful memories

i can’t understand why tears come out when i look at the sky
i wonder why you forget that tiny childhood when you become an adult

at times, i too want to just fly high into the sky
with my forgotten dreams and memories

during my childhood i dreamed a beautiful dream about riding a balloon and flying away
if a red balloon flies in the sky my heart remembers beautiful memories

lalalalala lalalalala lalalalala lalalala lalalala lalala
though time passes though i forgot
will it be possible to contain it in the red balloon

during my childhood i dreamed a beautiful dream about riding a balloon and flying away
if a red balloon flies in the sky my heart remembers beautiful memories

Lyrics are from http://lyricstranslate.com.

I think that the kkominam identity can be considered in this video. DBSK is known to naturally have a kkominam appearance. All of the boys have softer facial features, a couple of them have more delicate voices, and a slightly more feminine look to them, which has granted them recognition for being some of the most popular flower boys in K-Pop. This video is so incredibly over the top with cuteness and childlike behavior that I would almost say, however, that maybe kkominam characteristics are not the right ones to be labeling this video with. Instead, I would say that this is just them being silly. Boys dressing up in animal costumes and trying to be cute doesn’t exactly fit the kkominam model.

“Balloons” shows that groups have the ability to deviate from the types of videos that they usually do. DBSK didn’t have any other videos that were even comparable to this one; theirs were more tough and presented elements of sexuality. “Balloons” is a great example of the flexibility boy groups have with the videos and with their fans. Although this video doesn’t scream masculinity in any way, fans eat this stuff up!

Beautiful, my flower boy

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6-member group BEAST is an amazing group of dancers; it is something that they are well-known for. Through this video, they really try to display their dancing talent. This video for “Beautiful” is similar to MBLAQ’s “This Is War,” in the way that it is more of like a story video and not just a video to go along with the song. The video is over 7 minutes long! The song is broken up to allow for different dance routines and conversations between dance members to take place. There is actually a second part to this music video story which you can watch if you are curious.

BEAST is a Korean boy group that often falls under the kkominam (꽃미남) category. Translated to English, this means ‘flower’ or ‘pretty’ boy. These boys tend to have a softer masculinity, comprised of softer or more delicate features as well as a more cutesy and playful demeanor. “Beautiful” shows the boys of BEAST both in their kkominam state as well as in their tougher, b-boy style. I think that the video provides a really good snapshot of a middle ground approach to masculinity that many K-Pop videos have. For example, in “Beautiful,” the boys try to show their coolness and toughness by the dancing that they do, the way they interact with girls, the way they treat each other and the jealously they feel when they feel that someone else is stepping on their territory. But, during the shots of the entire group dancing together, the boys have more delicate, playful and cutesy dance moves, gestures and facial expressions. They rub their eyes, play peekaboo, make the shape of a heart with their hands, and so on.

BEAST has a variety of different music videos, just like countless other groups do. Others of theirs have much more serious topics and themes and showcase them as whatever they need to be. BEAST’s masculinity is very malleable and can change from video to video.

Let me love ya

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SS501 (said like ‘Double S 5 oh 1’) is one of those Korean boy bands that have been around for a while. They sang together for 5 or 6 years but have all been working on their solo careers for over a year now. They have not disbanded, but are rather taking a break to all do their own thing. This song, “Love Ya,” is one of the last songs that they did together before starting their solo careers.

“Love Ya” has an interesting blend of masculine elements. Just like the last video that we watched, all of the boys are dressed completely in black. Their outfits are reminiscent of dressy suits. Their hair is nicely quaffed and they look as though they could walk straight into dance or a fancy restaurant and fit right in. But, there are unique things about their outfits that we might not automatically consider masculine. If you look closely at their backs, their jackets have a lot of mesh cutouts in them. You can see the skin on their backs through the mesh. Although we do consider it masculine for men to have their shirts off and to show skin, seeing skin through mesh jackets isn’t really the same thing. But that’s my opinion. What do you think?

A couple of them also have very low V-cut shirts that show a lot of their chest, but nothing else. Do you consider that to show masculinity? I say both yes and no. Style choices such as this one are on a fine line between being perceived as masculine or not. While we always think that shirtless, toned men display masculinity, is it any different when they are wearing clothes that are just showing a little bit of skin? I would argue that it all depends on what skin the boys are showing. The thing with deep V-cut clothing is that it is a popular cut on women’s clothes and many believe that because of that, it looks more feminine on them rather than masculine. Thus, this style is socially constructed. On the other side of the coin, some people would argue that they look extremely masculine because you can see their chests. I think that both sides have valid arguments.

“Love Ya” also offers some dance moves that we can analyze. Hip thrusts, collar popping, punching the air; I would say that all of these remind me of men. Hip thrusts brings an element of masculine sexuality. Collar popping suggests that the boys are hip, cool, suave, and in control of the situation. And punching the air is a common symbol of strength, frustration and energy. There are not an overwhelming amount of dance moves like these in this video, but I think that these few give us a look into how the boys want to be viewed in the video; as strong men who just want to love ya!