i’m bringing this back.
what gets you through your day?
i’m bringing this back.
feeling useless and lazy isn’t even a downward spiral.
it’s just a black period on a white surface, just growing larger and larger.
Crystal Castles 2013
@House of Blues Boston
Gender & Media Final Video Essay: Deconstructing K-Pop’s American Identity
This video is an attempt to describe the landscape of mainstream Korean Pop culture, focusing specifically on its take on assimilating to the Dreamworlds of US mainstream pop culture, envisioned by Sut Jhally.
[excerpt from the video essay commentary: “K-Pop is strictly gender normative, similar to the U.S. mainstream pop, where female bodies are objectified and showcased for a male audience. In mainstream K-Pop music videos (as opposed to BoA or Nell) especially, female bodies are often dressed in revealing or tight clothes, often emphasized by provocative dance moves. The male characters are generally represented as young, carefree, and rich, sporting expensive cars while engaging in “manly” activities. It can be seen even in G.Dragon’s music video segment, where G.Dragon is represented as a boy (Pinocchio), drumming while the female bottoms beat to the drums. (Perhaps G.Dragon is being tongue-in-cheek, alluding to Jhally’s identification of the Dreamworlds’ perspective as white, male, adolescent’s sexual fantasy.)” ]
The skeletal structure of the video follows:
The three most notable K-Pop figures: BoA, PSY, and G.Dragon.
They are the most successful and internationally popular stars who represent a figure who invests in and showcases his or her best qualities, while manipulating the cultural and social rules such as gender, sexuality and class.
Then, I introduce two excerpts from Nell and K.Will respectively, separated by a video of BoA for the sake of clear difference and separation.
I chose these two artists because I feel that they are equally as important as the aforementioned three: they challenge the normative rules of society. However, these two figures, Nell and K.Will, differ from the three in that they are hidden from the mainstream audience, either by not being able to appear in their own music video or by resorting heavily to the celebrity of the actors that are hired to visually represent the music.
K-Pop is strictly gender normative, similar to the U.S. mainstream pop, where female bodies are objectified and showcased for a male audience. In mainstream K-Pop music videos (as opposed to BoA or Nell) especially, female bodies are often dressed in revealing or tight clothes, often emphasized by provocative dance moves. The male characters are generally represented as young, carefree, and rich, sporting expensive cars while engaging in “manly” activities.
It can be seen even in G.Dragon’s music video segment, where G.Dragon is represented as a boy (Pinocchio), drumming while the female bottoms beat to the drums. (Perhaps G.Dragon is being tongue-in-cheek, alluding to Jhally’s identification of the Dreamworlds’ perspective as white, male, adolescent’s sexual fantasy.)
With gendered roles dictating the directed audience, K-Pop has become not only a music industry, but also a marketing industry, controlling the economic market through the advertising cosmetic products, food, and fashion. It is interesting to notice that significant amount of products advertised by K-Pop stars feature a more Western tinge, promoting whiter skin tone, Domino’s™ Pizza, and Americanized hip-hop fashion. “Expenditures on clothing, cosmetics, and accessories were presented as necessary investments in the construction of a desirable (and thus saleable) self.” (Ouellette, L., 1999).
Not only women but also men are subjected to rather blatant product advertisements endorsed by perfectly constructed stars that literally represent South Korea.
The next series of excerpts make up a montage that tries to illustrate different ways in which K-Pop tries to assimilate to what the Korean mainstream audience may envision as the US popular culture. After all, the target audience for mainstream K-Pop artists is young South Korean citizens.
Through the looking glass, G.Dragon demonstrates perhaps the mildest way of Americanization—costumes, sets, and makeup—while adapting the voyeurism similar to the voyeuristic point of view that American television has established (Heckler, S., Norman, A., Russell, C., 2004). G.Dragon sits with his trophy-girl, his Elvis hair dyed comic-book blonde, in an overly European setting.
PSY’s unprecedented approach to globalization in Gangnam Style was to emulate the essence of online viral videos of US mainstream YouTube culture, ironically and crassly pointing out the objectification of female body and other nonsense.
A more common way many K-Pop artists try to Americanize themselves is by placing themselves in the US for their music video or by inserting footage of the United States within the music video.
Most striking attempts at Americanization is the artists’ embodiment of US popular culture, specifically those of of American college scene and Saturday night show-girl styles, utilizing iconic images of football jocks, frat parties, glitzy costumes and stunts.
Finally, K-Pop stars often succeed at Americanizing themselves by collaborating with American pop stars and featuring them in their music and music videos. Girl-group 2NE1 collaborated with Will.i.am (2012), while BoA featured Sean Garrett (2009), and the girl-group I will be focusing on for the main part of this video, Wonder Girls, has featured Akon in their US debut song, Like Money (2012).
This strive toward the “American ideal”, or at least the vision of American pop culture through the K-Pop lens, can be explained through Friedman’s (2005) claim that the “world is flat” and that globalization in the information age has diminished the importance of location as a competitive edge in fostering economic growth. (Jang, G., Paik, W., 2012) The ultimate goal these innumerable groups and solo artists, it seems, is to make the most profit, and K-Pop is the perfect trend-setting and trend-chasing platform; it is not about an accurate depiction of US pop culture, but rather about what will appeal to the most number of consumers.
The final segment of this video essay focuses on Wonder Girls, a mainstream––or one could say mediocre––K-Pop group that will help me illustrate my main argument that these “mediocre” mainstream groups are the most manipulated and vulnerable members of the K-Pop media culture.
After a seemingly seamless transition from BoA’s I Did It For Love to Wonder Girls’ Like Money, thanks to the videos’ similarity (specifically their incorporation of an African American male producer as the lone, powerful figure, the presence of sports car, and the sleek and dark production design), you see a glimpse of Wonder Girls’ Americanized rendition––and it’s not pretty.
To borrow the words of Eun-Young Jung, “Like most girl and boy bands in Korea, the Wonder Girls have a carefully managed career and group image … [employing] heavy eye-makeup, long fake lashes, and matching tight mini-dresses … an image that again brings to mind the stereotypical China-Doll look, and perhaps even the trope that all Asians ‘look alike.’” (Jung, 2010) Indeed, it is frankly difficult to tell apart one girl from another as they dance in synchronized movements, interrupted by flashing jump cuts. Women’s bodies are literally disembodied and dehumanized, as the Wonder Girls become a manufactured assembly of synthetic and robotic.
However, they were not always portrayed in this way. When the group first debuted in Korea, the school-girl innocence was the highlighted feature that characterized the image of Wonder Girls. As part of their debut singles, Tell Me is visually accompanied by a video narrative of a girl Wonder Woman. This music video avoids critical interpretations with its use of campy humor and its stronger concentration on the story rather than the bodies within the video.
Juxtaposing this “bubblegum pop style and their non-threatening girlish image” (Jung, 2010) are the fully transformed products, in all sense of the word, of JYP and Akon, the producers in charge of the Wonder Girls. Close-up shots fragments the body to reveal that these bodies are not human; the mechanical branding of “WONDER GIRLS” at 2:59 says it all.
The mosaic of dance-footage accentuate the “China-Doll” image, while the mere silhouettes of female body flashes to keep the audience’s attention. Rapid cuts of synchronized shots highlight the costume changes, alluding to Helen Gurley Brown’s emphasis on “the fluidity of female subjectivity” and encouraging the act of “[making oneself] over and even construct multiple selves, often to meet the demands and opportunities of prolonged courtship.” (Ouellette, 1999) This concept is also very obvious in almost all K-Pop music videos, mainstream or otherwise.
In addition, I included excerpts from HyunA’s Ice Cream and Bubble Pop! in order to represent the ways in which the Wonder Girls of 2007 deconstructed as the industry switched gears toward US pop culture trends. HyunA, a former member of Wonder Girls, left the group during its childlike phase to embrace the hypersexualized gaze of the Dreamworld.
Her body is objectified and displayed to cater to a male gaze, to the point where her music video for Ice Cream was deemed inappropriate for a general audience on Korean MTV.
The last detour I take before ending with the video clip of Like Money is Wonder Girl’s recent music video for their new Korean release of Like This (2012). It is very much a real-life flashmob at a shopping district (note: indirect advertisement and direct endorsement of consumerism) that really engages with the South Korean public. This additional glimpse of the Wonder Girls shows that they in fact do not have to resort to artificially high production quality and that they can still attract the audience without following the rules of US pop media.
Sources: Primary Sources:
BE2ST, 아름다운 밤이야 (Beautiful Night) [http://youtu.be/ckIGhwQtd-c]
Big Bang, Bad Boy [http://youtu.be/1qnV55LUFVM]
BoA, The Shadow [http://youtu.be/8fHERLFv-FU];
Only One [http://youtu.be/PQjovLrnvVo]
BoA ft. Sean Garrett, I Did It For Love [http://youtu.be/yDAIPaXn4Gk]
G.Dragon, Crayon [http://youtu.be/t3ULhmadHkg];
그 XX (That XX) [http://youtu.be/j57IzkTFnT8] G.Dragon GMarket Ad [http://youtu.be/bhWJXIGb8ao]
Glam, Party (XXO) [http://youtu.be/5T62b-FxzxA]
Girls’ Generation, I’ve Got A Boy [http://youtu.be/wq7ftOZBy0E]
Girls’ Generation Domino’s™ Ad [http://youtu.be/TpUvnF-tfcw]
HyunA, Bubble Pop! [http://youtu.be/bw9CALKOvAI];
Ice Cream [http://youtu.be/QlWZluzBNxM]
K.Will, 이러지마 제발 (Please Don’t) [http://youtu.be/PdUiCJnRptk]
Nell, 그리고 남겨진 것들 (The Day Before) [http://youtu.be/a6AzbOupbxk]
PSY, Gangnam Style [http://youtu.be/9bZkp7q19f0];
SISTAR, 나혼자 (Alone) [http://youtu.be/E0ZHXVp_wUE]
Soo-Young Commercial [http://youtu.be/Gwjc6BtGgOc]
Wonder Girls, Tell Me [http://youtu.be/Bcy3i2RmFSk];
Like This [http://youtu.be/7EZTUYwjWBs]
Wonder Girls ft. Akon, Like Money [http://youtu.be/quE6Cq4Q2bs]
2NE1 ft. Will.i.am, Take The World On Intel Ultrabook™ Project [http://youtu.be/OINGO7IkI4M]
Jang, Gunjoo. “Korean Wave as Tool for Korea’s New Cultural Diplomacy.” Advances in Applied Sociology 02.03 (2012): 196–202. CrossRef. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
Jung, Eun-Young. “Playing the Race and Sexuality Cards in the Transnational Pop Game: Korean Music Videos for the US Market.” Journal of Popular Music Studies 22.2 (2010): 219–236. Print.
Jhally, Sut. Dreamworlds III (Unabridged). (2007): Video.
Ouellette, Susan. “Inventing the Cosmo Girl.” A Cultural Studies Approach (1999): 120. Print.
Heckler, S., Norman, A., Russell, C. “People and ‘Their’ Television Shows: An Overview of Television Connectedness.” The Psychology of Entertainment Media (2004): 275-288. Print.
lh-a asked: Wow, I am glad to have stumbled upon your tumblr. Your writing is so concise, I'm beyond jealous! I love how you "piece-the-puzzles-together" in your writings. Keep up the great work, I look forward to reading more! : )
Oh wow wow- thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so happy that you enjoy my writing. I hope to add more to my blog soon, and throughout the summer! Thanks thanks :)
every few nights, i feel like walking out of here. stuffing things in my bag and just disappearing.
during those nights, i have to kill that boy whose brain twitches at the thought of getting up and leaving.
because the boy who wakes up in the morning would want to have you beside me.
Ashley Mackenzie tackles complex questions about the relationship between mind and body, creating conceptual, illustrative works that stand at the cross-section of the philosophy of the mind and neuroscience. “As our knowledge of the brain becomes more comprehensive, it seems like the idea of the soul exists only in the gaps of our understanding,” Mackenzie writes on her website. Bodies melt like pools of liquid in these placid, sparsely-detailed illustrations as they visualize the inner workings of the mind. Take a look at some of Ashley Mackenzie’s works below, images courtesy of the artist.