This is war


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MBLAQ is a 5-member boy band. Out of all the boy bands in Korea, I would say that they are another group that falls under the category of jimseungdol boys, just like 2PM. Although 2PM’s image relies much more on this concept, MBLAQ is one of the bands that can be most closely compared to them in this aspect. They all have very well-toned bodies and a few of them regularly show them. Many of their music videos have them showing off their masculinity via their bodies.

“This Is War” is a slightly different type of music video than others we have watched thus far. Some Korean music videos are longer than the actual songs are, and are made that way to try and tell a deeper story. Instead of just having a song and a choreographed dance to go along with it, groups have entire stories that they act out in attempts to visually display the lyrics that are being sung. This is a 5 and a half minute video, but the song itself is much shorter than that.

This song and video has a typical theme that we see in other music videos, movies, television shows, etc.: 2 guys fighting over the same girl. Even though this is a K-Pop video and the boys are wearing a lot of makeup and are wearing a good deal of accessorized clothing, this is one of the most common masculine themes out there. Men fighting with each other, using violence, weapons, destroying friendships; all for the sake of a girl. The girl in this video starts out as one of their girlfriends, but after getting shot and staying at the other’s house, she falls in love with his friend. They then both declare that it’s war; they are going to fight for her no matter what it takes.

Although one can assume what is going on in the video by just watching it, I thought that it would be helpful to look at the English translation of the lyrics as well.

Shut up, I don’t even wanna hear it
Beg until your tears dry up
I will see the end of this, just watch
You messed with the wrong person

We were in love and I only had her
But why, why did you touch my girl – no way

I brush myself off and get up
As much as I suffered, you just watch
You mess with love, you mess with friendship – just watch

Just at the thought of you, my body shakes
I can’t forgive you – from now on –

It’s war, you coward – just watch
You made her cry again
You coward, you, who messed with my love
It’s war

On the day she left, you pretended not to know and told me to forget it all
I trusted you, you were my friend – how could you do this to me
I will curse you from now on

Will you please shut that dirty mouth
I will give back these painful tears to you
Engrave this in your ear – I will never leave you alone

You probably knew that I would find out sometime
I can’t forgive you – from now on –

* It’s war, you coward – just watch
You made her cry again
You coward, you just watch – you made her cry again
(Don’t you cry cry cry) She’s crying because of you again
(She said bye bye bye bye bye) It’s all over now
(Don’t you cry cry cry)
You, who messed with my love – It’s war

* repeat

Lyrics from

The lyrics show just how mad men can get when they are betrayed by a friend, especially over something like a girl. Not only are they angry because the other one wants the girl, but also because they just want her to be safe and happy.

In the end, one of them gets so jealous and angry that he thinks the answer is to use a gun to solve the problem. However, the bullet intended for his friend ends up turning around, hitting him and subsequently taking his own life. Is this is ultimate gesture of male feelings? Showing the woman that you love that you would die for her? It seems to be a common theme.

Another interesting thing that I picked up on in this video is that when the entire group is shown during the dance routine, they are all wearing all black. I think that this not only adds to the more serious and depressing feeling of the song, but it also brings out their masculinity. Black is probably considered one of the most masculine colors, and along with their punching, tantrum-like dance moves, the boys look very upset and look like they are ready for war.


The simple perfection of mugukjeok boys


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Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) is one of the largest, most popular, and oldest boy groups in South Korea today. The group originally was comprised of 13 members, however due to their age (mid-to-late twenties) and Korea’s mandatory military service by the age of 30, some members are gone for 2 years at a time. Super Junior has an amazing following, with thousands upon thousands of fans. Last fall, tickets for their “Super Show” went on sale. Both nights of their arena-sized concert sold out within MINUTES. If you were not sitting by your computer waiting for the clock to turn and if you didn’t have some of the fastest fingers out there, you didn’t get tickets. Their fans are extremely dedicated and don’t mess around when it comes to getting tickets to see them in person. When it comes to music videos, Super Junior is known for having large, wide stages (for all of them to fit on!) and meticulously choreographed dance routines, like the one you watched above in Mr. Simple. Their songs are always super catchy and get stuck in your head for days.

Each and every year, Korean boy bands’ international reach and global consumption seem to widen. Whether foreign fans see videos on Youtube, they hear about Korean bands via word of mouth, or what have you, more and more people have seen Korean music videos, or are at least aware of their existence. Another reason Korean boy bands are able to extend their global influence, Sun Jung says, is due to the concept of ‘mugukjoek’ boys.

To quote Sun Jung, “This hybridity contributes to the aspect of mugukjeok (무국적, non-nationality) in globalized South Korean popular culture to be globally consumed, which is the principle trait that enables South Korean popular culture to be globally consumed.” She says that for the purposes of her book, she references Koichi Iwabuchi and his book Recentering Globalization. In that book, he suggests the concept of ‘mukokuseki’ (non-nationality or non-Japaneseness), “where he emphasizes ‘culturally odorless’ aspects of Japanese consumer products such as the Sony Walkman or computer games.” In other words, even though a certain country [Korea] is producing a product [music videos], that doesn’t mean that that country’s identity, language, customs have to be attached to that product. In fact if they are not, the product may be more marketable to a variety of foreign countries around the world. “I use the concept of mugukjeok here within the paradigm of transcultural hybridity, to refer to how popular cultural flows enable the mixing of particular cultural elements (national, tradition, and specific) with globally popular cultural elements, which then causes those particular cultural elements to become less culturally specific.” So, Sun Jung is saying that mugukjeok doesn’t really mean “non-nationality,’ but rather that popular culture has a transcultural hybridity.

One example of this ‘mugukjeok’ concept can be found in the second music video here, whose title translates into English as “Perfection.” Super Junior has a couple of sub-units where only some of the regular members (plus a couple of non-regular members) comprise a group independent of the main group. Super Junior-M (the M stands for Mandarin) has some of the normal members as well as 2 Chinese nationals. The songs that they sing are in Mandarin. Branching out and singing in another language and having native Chinese speakers in your group widens your fan base and increases your popularity internationally. Remember Nichkhun from 2PM and the fan base they have in Thailand thanks to him?

Super Junior is by far not the only group singing songs in other languages. In fact, all of the groups that we have looked at so far have done songs in Japanese and have also gone on tour there. Japanese is the most popular foreign language that groups sing songs in, partly because of how close Japan is to Korea. They are related languages and it is relatively easy for them to learn how to speak Japanese. Korean groups have an overwhelmingly large fan base in Japan that just keeps growing and growing. The more people you can appeal to, the more money you can make.

Piles of makeup and global consumption


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“I’ll Be Back” is a song by 2PM, the same group that sings the last video we looked at, “10 Points Out of 10.” This song is a few years newer, after the group became a 6-member band. With some ‘running man’ dance moves and a title that reminds us of ‘The Terminator,’ the song is bound to be good, right?

A source of information that I haven’t yet utilized that I thought would be useful in analyzing music videos such as this one are the comments that people leave on Youtube. A good majority of the comments are by fans of the group; people say how much they love different members of the group, what their favorite part about the music video was, cheer them on, etc. Of course there are going to be those types of comments. I wanted to dig deeper, though, and find comments that aren’t exactly positive or that bring up interesting points about the group’s masculinity.

One comment that I thought was extremely interesting comes from someone with the username ‘radialvelocity.’ The comment was posted last year. Radialvelocity said, “I love 2PM but what’s up with the girly eye make-up and over-powdered ghost faces? Didn’t the producers of the video figure out that they’re not chicks? WTF! I guess if guys want to be famous in Korea, means they have to give up their masculinity.”

2PM does have some interesting makeup on in this video. They are wearing a lot more makeup than they usually do in their videos. A lot of Korean boy bands regularly wear makeup in their videos. Usually, they wear dark eyeliner to highlight and emphasize their eyes. However in “I’ll Be Back,” the boys are wearing a good deal of glittery, shiny eye shadow that is somewhat distracting. Even though many Korean boy bands play around with makeup, not many of the videos have them wearing any more makeup than we in America would typically see a female wearing. I think that is why radialvelocity made a comment like the one they did. I infer that part of the reason they feel that way is because of the socially constructed norms that we were taught growing up in America. Girls wear makeup; boys don’t. Although it seems like radialvelocity is comfortable with the boys wearing some makeup, the extent to which they wore it in this video seemed to make them uncomfortable. Radialvelocity even says that 2PM practically had to give up their masculinity for this video, suggesting that they are feminine. I really appreciate radialvelocity’s comment because comments like theirs can help us reach a deeper level in the minds of the viewers of these videos – deeper than just the fact that they like the band.

So, are there any characteristics of masculinity in this video even though they are wearing a lot of makeup? I say yes. One of the masculine traits that I think shines through in this video is the b-boy, gymnastic-esque dancing that 2PM is known for, especially in the segment at the end. In “I’ll Be Back,” 2PM decided to step beyond the ‘normal’ use of makeup and play around with what we [a good deal of Americans] would define as masculine and feminine traits. But, even though foreigners looking in may feel this way, there is a reason that boy bands dress, act, and dance the way they do: Korean fans (and possibly foreign fans) like it enough to consume it. They may even demand it. The group, and many others for that matter, would not be successful unless there were loyal followers who enjoy consuming their videos.

Somewhat unrelated, another interesting point I wanted to bring up was that there are two ‘foreigners’ in 2PM. Taecyeon is an American-born Korean and Nichkhun is an American-born Thai Chinese. Both can speak fluent English and Nichkhun is also fluent in Thai. Having foreigners can greatly assist a group in targeting people in other countries and expanding their reach for global consumption. To quote Sun Jung again, “Unquestionably, Nichkhun is considered the most successful and well-known foreign artist in the South Korean entertainment industry thus far. With a prince-like kkonminam [flower/pretty boy] appearance, his jimseungdol image with a well-toned body has made him a national iconic figure of the male idol star regardless of cultural barriers…Because of Nichkhun, 2PM was able to gain instant recognition among Thai viewers.” So, just because he is from another country, Nichkhun had gained 2PM and entirely new set of fans that not all groups have, expanding their global reach.

Women as objects


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2PM is a six-member boy band. At the time that this music video was made, there were seven members, but one has since left the group. This song, titled “10 Points Out of 10” or “10점 만점에 10점 (Shipjeom Manjeome Shipjeom),” was the group’s first single on their very first album. As the title suggests, it’s meaning is that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the woman they are all swooning over ranks as a 10. As you can see, the premise of the music video is that there is one girl that all seven of the guys can’t keep their eyes off of. They think she is so attractive that they all start daydreaming about her. She is highly sexualized and is often seen wearing revealing clothing, or not much clothing at all.

2PM, in the world of Korean popular music, are known as ‘beast idols.’ This means that they are portrayed as ‘hunky,’ ‘manly,’ ‘buff,’ ‘strong,’ and other words that you can use to describe some one who is ‘beastly.’ In Korean, the words are 짐승덜,  or jimseungdol. 짐승 translates to ‘animal’ or ‘beast’ and 덜 stands for ‘idol.’ In her book Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Oldboy and K-Pop Idols, Sun Jung says that “Since their debut, 2PM has been displaying dynamic acrobatic and b-boy dance styles, maximizing their tough manly images. Following their image of wild masculinity, the local media and netizens have nicknamed the group jimseungdol.” In addition, she says that “2PM, from the beginning, claims to be a tough, manly, and beast-like group. Their stage performances exemplify total wildness and manliness.” Based on my own experience, I completely agree with this. I had the chance to go to 2PM’s concert in Seoul last fall. In all of their performances, their dance moves, their clothing and their demeanor all screamed ‘beast.’ That’s one of the reasons all of the girls love them! 

This music video does show these characteristics to some extent. More of their later music videos, which we will see one of soon, display this identity even more clearly. In this video specifically, I think that 2PM looks more like a traditional boy band that we have here in the U.S. The way that they act, the clothes that they are wearing, etc., are reminiscent of our boy bands from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

One thing that I think is extremely obvious in this video is how much women, or in this case, one woman, is extremely objectified. The video leads people to believe that the only reason the boys like her is because of her body and that her body is the only thing that she has going for her. There are plenty of K-Pop music videos that outwardly show sexuality, but I wouldn’t say that it’s in all of them. A good majority of them do, as music videos from the U.S. also do, but definitely not all of them. And it’s not just boy band music videos; many girl groups use sexuality in their videos and objectify the male body in the process. To be honest, sex sells. That’s one of the main reasons there is so much sexuality in music videos, and countless other things for that matter, today. I don’t think that this sexuality is unique to K-Pop music videos whatsoever. It is a characteristic that is widespread around the world. However, I do think that it helps perpetuate the group’s beastly image.

Theory of culture industry


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Why do the boys of Big Bang play with their masculinity? How are they able to do so? One theory that a Communication professor of mine presented to me is called the Theory of Culture Industry. The theory was formulated by two critical theorists, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. In their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, they have a chapter titled ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.’ The duo argues that popular culture is like a factory producing standardized cultural goods, whether that be through film, magazines, radio, television, etc., to manipulate the people into a state of passivity. No matter how difficult someone’s economic situation, people are content from the easy pleasures of popular culture and consumption. From this theory, we can say that the reason masculinity in Korean popular culture is played around with is simply because they have the economic means to do so. Because they have all that they need to construct this malleable depiction of masculinity, they go ahead and take advantage of their resources. They implement these resources to create their unique sense of masculinity and to therefore influence the people who consume this media.

But why is Korean popular culture different from that of other countries? Aren’t there countless other countries that we could say the exact same thing about? Take the United States for example: we definitely have all of the products and have enough money for our singers and other celebrities to be able to do the same. But there definitely isn’t the same level of malleable masculinity in American popular culture as there is in Korean popular culture. So what makes Korea different? One of the reasons I think Korea has utilized their resources so much is because they are fairly new to the country. A little bit of background on Korean history can help us understand this.

Before WWII, Korea was one country, and has been for thousands of years. After WWII and the subsequent Korean War, Korea was divided into North and South. The technologically-advanced, affluent South Korea that we know today was nonexistent 60 years ago. The economic boom in South Korea didn’t really start until about 30 years ago. So, South Koreans have not had an overwhelming amount of resources for very long. Different types of clothing, accessories, makeup, etc., is affordable and readily at hand today. Because everything is somewhat new for them, that might be why masculinity is constructed the way it is. If they have the means, why not use them? This is a theory that I think has validity when applied to Korean pop culture. What do you think?

Big Bang: Masters of both masculinity and femininity


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So what is the band Big Bang all about? The last two videos that I posted were both Big Bang, however the styles of the songs and the music videos themselves were very different. Do both videos show the same type of masculinity? Or do they contradict each other? Somewhere in the middle? I am going to argue that both videos show elements of what we [Americans] would see as masculine, but at the same time, features that we would view as feminine are also present.

Love Song, I would say, is a song that is on the calmer, more balled-esque side of K-Pop. This was the first video that I showed at my Capstone presentation last week. The audience seemed to enjoy it. One of the comments an audience member gave was that because they were all cleaned up nice and were wearing suits, they seemed to give off somewhat of a feminine aura. I really appreciated this comment because it completely contradicted what I thought. I think that their clothing in this video made them look extremely masculine. When I see men in clean-cut suits, I think it is very masculine. Also, none of them are wearing much visible makeup, which I believe adds to their masculine appearance. And of course, things on fire and exploding cars SCREAM masculinity, right? The only thing that I think might be a slight bit feminine in its portrayal is their dance.

Fantastic Baby came out only a few months ago and is one of Big Bang’s most recent music videos. It is a fun, colorful, upbeat, and visually interesting video to watch. I would say that it is one of the craziest K-Pop videos that I have ever seen, but in a good way. The members of Big Bang are dressed in bright, funky clothing, accessories, and a few of them have colored their hair interesting colors (including G-Dragon’s mile-long orange hair in the very beginning of the video).

I also showed this video as a part of my Capstone presentation. The responses that I got from the audience were pretty much what I was expecting. Many people thought that the band members looked somewhat feminine because of the clothes that they were wearing, the color and style of their hair and the amount of makeup that they were wearing. I totally agree with these perceptions. But, at the same time, I challenged the audience to identify what I thought were screaming elements of masculinity. I brought up the fact that we see 4 of them shirtless at least once in the video. A couple of them are even shirtless for a good portion of the video. They are extremely toned and show all of their muscles. Another aspect of masculinity are some of their tattoos. In American culture, I would say that tattoos are pretty common. In Korean culture, however, tattoos are not as commonplace, and are more of a sign of edginess and rebellion.

This video also has many historical references about Korean culture also, which I believe adds to the masculinity of the members. Unless one knows a lot about Korean history, it can be hard and even impossible to pick up on the clues. Even I didn’t pick up on everything the first time I watched it, and I know a good amount about contemporary Korean history. One example is the hat that G-Dragon is wearing at the beginning of the video. The hat is actually a traditional Korean king’s hat, which symbolizes power and influence. Also, there are parts of the video where people are ‘rising up against the man.’ This symbolizes the many struggles that South Korea went through to fight for democracy and get to where they are today. These elements, I think, are very masculine.

I think that Fantastic Baby is a great example of how Korean boy bands are able to play around with their masculinity. Even in the same video, there can be glaring aspects of femininity, while at the same time there can also be strong characteristics of masculinity.

So why and how are they able to do this? What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below and I’ll discuss these topics in my next post before moving on to a new video!

*All images are from Google Images. I own nothing.

Masculinity means “manly”?


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Welcome back K-Poppers (and non-K-Poppers)! It’s time to discuss the video that I posted in my first entry, “Sherlock” by SHINee.

Before I start analyzing any video, I would like to present a disclaimer. I am an avid consumer of Korean popular music. I was introduced to Korean culture, Korean popular culture more specifically, a little over 2 years ago. I watched my first Korean drama and was hooked. I think that one of the reasons I became so interested in Korean pop culture was because it is a lot different than ours here in the United States. There are some aspects of Korean boy bands that remind of American boy bands back in the day. However, I believe that Korean popular music is in a category all on its own. Please note that as I am a consumer of K-Pop, my analysis and discussion will be coming from a biased point of view. I am not simply an outsider looking at these music videos for the first time, not knowing anything about them or the groups who are singing in them. Although I am biased, you might find that I do sometimes like to make fun of K-Pop. But, when I do, it is probably out of love. Now that I’ve set that on the table, let’s begin!

Google Images

This music video came out about one month ago, so it is extremely current. The one topic that I want to discuss about this video is the appearance of the 5 boys. What traits of masculinity do we see by looking at them? Do we see any feminine traits as well? I think that it is important to first define what we mean by masculine and feminine. According to, “masculine” is defined as “pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men” and “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.” “Feminine” is defined as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.” I think that these definitions can give us an idea about how a good portion of the people in our country view these characteristics. My concern is that we live in such a masculine society, we can sometimes be blind to the fact that other countries and other cultures may have different, and even opposing views of masculinity.

Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions can help shed some light on masculinity and femininity in different countries. According to Hofstede, his dimension of Masculinity/Femininity can be described as follows:

A high score (masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational behaviour.
A low score (feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable.

United States:

The United States score 62 on this dimension and is considered a “masculine” society. Behavior in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. As a result, Americans will tend to display and talk freely about their “successes” and achievements in life, here again, another basis for hiring and promotion decisions in the workplace. Typically, Americans “live to work” so that they can earn monetary rewards and attain higher status based on how good one can be. Conflicts are resolved at the individual level and the goal is to win.

South Korea:

South Korea scores 39 on this dimension and is thus considered a feminine society. In feminine countries the focus is on “working in order to live”, managers strive for consensus, people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation. Incentives such as free time and flexibility are favoured. Focus is on well-being, status is not shown. An effective manager is a supportive one, and decision making is achieved through involvement.

While I think that Hofstede’s masculinity/femininity dimension does shed some light on the difference between the United States and Korea, I think there are many things this assumes about Korean culture that are not true. For example, the professional world in Korea is actually very competitive. Careers are based on hierarchy: if someone is older than you, they deserve more respect than you do. Period. It’s all about age in Korea; their language even has different forms of words to use depending on who you are speaking to. I also don’t think that this dimension really speaks to what we are trying to discuss about this video. Hofstede’s dimension talks more broadly about the professional sphere and careers. What we are trying to evaluate are music videos: what do the appearances and actions of these boys tell us about masculinity in Korean popular culture, and possibly Korean culture as a whole?

What are some things that you noted about the video that you thought portrayed masculine behavior? What about feminine behavior? Masculine appearance? Feminine appearance? Androgynous appearance? Some things that I think might seem feminine to someone who grew up in American culture are: one of the boys’ long hair, painted finger nails, hair styles, eye makeup, and possibly clothing and accessories. In America, we are not used to seeing boys wear that much eye makeup (unless they are in a punk band) and are not used to seeing boys that have long hair like a girl’s. What do you guys think? Do they seem feminine to you? Masculine? Why do you think your opinions are the way they are?

The next video I post will deepen this conversation!