Kpop is a competitive market, where artists compete for the public’s attention and continued popularity. In this market, good music does not guarantee that the artist or group will succeed. In order stand out from the rest, artists/groups resort to a number of techniques and acting sexy is just one technique.
Being sexy is usually not considered a talent. All you need to do is show some skin and move in a seductive way to be considered sexy. I have to disagree with this. I consider being sexy a talent, just like being cute or tough. It needs to look natural or else it will look too forced. Almost anyone can think of a time where they watched someone act cute and was annoyed by it just because it looked faked and unnatural. The same can be said for acting badass or tough; the audience needs to believe it.
Even though I am a big fan of all things cute, for the longest time I hated Yoseob from BEAST. I cringed every time he did aegyo, just because I thought it was too fake and cute for my taste. I was able to overcome my initial repulsion towards Yoseob, though, because the boy still has a great voice. Still… I find his aegyo a bit creepy and disturbing.
With that being said, there are some people whose aegyo I think is plain adorable, just because they do it well. The same thing can be said about sexiness. When it’s done properly, it can bring more attention to the artist. But the attention an idol gets from acting sexy may be the wrong kind or can have unintended effects.
The first problem that comes with acting sexy is that people tend to focus on the artist being sexy rather than their music, which takes second place. This may be sexiness done a little too well. A great example of this is Bi Rain. When he is usually brought up in conversations, the first thing discussed is his sexiness. Bi Rain is most known for his MV Love Song, most notably the part where he rips off his shirt and does some body rolls. Ladies, I know you know what I’m talking about.
That one part is so famous that a lot of celebrities have reenacted or parodied that one scene.
It seems a bit of a shame that more people don’t focus on his vocals because he has a wonderful tone. His voice is smooth yet husky, which makes it perfect for R&B. It’s also the same voice that makes him sound so sexy in the first place. Even if Bi Rain is in a MV where he acts cute and has some fun interacting with people while walking down a street, you can’t deny his voice sounds very sexy. Therefore, his biggest talent may lie in being naturally sexy. He pulls it off with ease and it never looks forced.
For the girls, I would pick Lee Hyori as an idol whose sexy image seems to overshadow her talents. Best known for her songs U Go Girl and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Lee Hyori has come to be known as an idol who is naturally sexy. When I first watched her music videos and heard her songs, I thought she was okay.
Then I came upon her MV for Swing, which featured Leessang, and I was completely blown away. My respect for her increased tenfold. Her emotional delivery of the song sent shivers through me. I never knew she was capable of it, so if you have never heard the song before, then I urge you to listen to it.
Both of the artists I mentioned above are solo singers. There are even more complications when groups decide to adopt the sexy image. This is because not everyone will be well suited to that image, and most of the attention will be focused on members who pull it off well. Therefore, most companies pick someone in the group to sell that image to viewers.
Members who are given the sexy image usually gather a lot of attention, but they also end up having a hard time. That’s because along with the sexy image, there are other negative labels attached to it. The member who is given the sexy image can end up being viewed as untalented, promiscuous and an attention seeker. Granted, the promiscuous label is unfairly used on females more often than males, but that does not mean that males are completely immune to the effects.
Take 2Pm for example, who debuted with a beastly and sexy image. 2Pm differentiated themselves from other idol groups by cranking up their sexy image. As a group, 2Pm sports the best bodies and six packs in K-pop. Due to this, they have become very popular with advertisers and are routinely offered advisement deals.
While their image has served them quite well when they first started out, public opinion is slowly starting to change. 2Pm has the highest amount of anti-fans compared to other groups. On January 2012, it was recorded that 2Pm had a total of 15,425 anti-fan cafes.
While most would attribute this to the Jay Park incident, I believe it’s their very sexy and masculine image that are also contributing to the negative stereotypes that are placed on them. The reasons people offer to explain why they don’t like 2PM range from the frequency with which they rip their shirts, to perceptions that they are untalented jerks, to a perception that they are not hardworking to opinions about whether they deserve the amount of attention they receive. 2Pm is also seen as more promiscuous compared to other idol boy groups.
Image is everything in Kpop. How you present yourself to the public and how you promote yourself affects how people perceive you. Take for example 2PM’s brother group, 2AM. The images of the members and how the public views them are vastly different, even though 2AM’s bodies are just as muscular. So why the difference? Well, it’s a bit hard to hate 2Am when they sing ballads and emotional songs that get girls to cry and reach for their tissues. The image is also usually softer compared to 2PM.
The same problems 2PM experiences from being too sexy can affect members who are given the role of being sexy. Take for example Lee Joon from MBLAQ, Kai from EXO and Hyuna from 4Minute. Lee Joon somewhat escapes some of the negative stereotyping because of his…..simple image. Therefore, everyone laughs it off when Lee Joon decides to show off his pole dancing skills or his body. Still, there has been some negative impact on his image.
While Joon has become popular by being the face of the group, I secretly call him the body of the group. If you see a shirtless guy in any of MBLAQ’s music videos, you can be 100% certain that body belongs to Lee Joon. Sometimes it becomes a little ridiculous and it is hard to take him seriously. While I watched Maknae Rebellion, I could not help noticing that everyone was wearing winter jackets except for Lee Joon. Apparently, his hotness is sufficient enough to keep him feeling toasty, even in the winter time.
Antics like this can take the attention away from the group and focus it on one member. This can bring a lot of criticism from the public, and the person could be labelled as an attention whore. For those who are not familiar with that term, it basically means a person who steals all the spotlight for themselves. The same term that Hyuna and Kai have been suffering from because of their sexy image. It also does not help that their companies promote them more than the rest of their members.
In fact, the promotion of these members are so obvious that 4Minute has been labelled as ‘Hyuna and her backup dancers.’ EXO has also been referred to as ‘Kai and his back up dancers.’ What makes matters worse is that Hyuna and Kai do not exactly excel when it comes to vocals. Yes, Kai is a great dancer, but singing is his main job. Therefore, some people may not think that Kai and Hyuna deserve the attention they receive from the public.
With that being said, you would think a talented singer can usually escape criticism for acting sexy. Well, that is where you would be wrong. Sometimes the singer is just too talented to lower themselves to acting sexy. That should be left for less talented singers, because their voices are already attention grabbing. Examples of these cases would be G.NA and SISTAR.
When G.NA came out with her MV for So Hot, quite a few people were angry at her company, Cube Entertainment, for giving her a sexy concept. G.NA has good vocals but it’s a bit hard to show it off with a dance track. Therefore, some fans thought she sacrificed her singing skills to sell the sexy image. SISTAR is in the same boat as G.NA. The vocals are quite good, but SISTAR’s choreography always features the members’ hips and butt. In fact, they are well known for that. SISTAR is criticized by some people for pandering a bit too much to their male fans, and some suggest they should tone done their sexy choreography. Others feel SISTAR does not need to dance sexy because the members have proven to be quite competent singers.
Given how many different ways and how easily a sexy concept to go wrong, you would think that companies would stay away from this concept. While most companies try to tone it down or try to cover it up by making the idols act cute, you can’t deny that sex sells. Therefore, even if they receive some negative criticism from the public, it’s better than getting no attention at all.
Breaking into the music industry is hard enough. Trying to stay relevant and keep up one’s popularity is almost downright impossible, except for a few legendary artists. New and younger artists are always entering the industry. Therefore, unless there is no competition, artists will continue to use the sexy concept and test the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in our society . Sure, there is a possibility they could be criticized, but entering the music industry is a gamble in itself.
Lately, I have been watching Kpop Extreme Survival (aka., Strongest Kpop Survival), where the story focuses on an idol group called M2. The group M2 has some of the members graduating, which means they will be leaving the group and will be replaced by new members. This is the same system that is used by AKB48, which is a popular idol group in Japan.
Despite their name, AKB48 does not have exactly 48 members. The number of members in the group can be around 40-100 people. This is because AKB48 is a dynamic group that is always adding new members and letting go of others. This concept is also known as the ‘revolving system,’ because eventually all the members of the group will be replaced by new ones.
Therefore, it is not surprising that this system is disliked by most K-Pop fans. I even found myself getting emotionally involved in the drama and shouting at my computer screen that this was not Japan and to stop with these rotation groups. It was probably because of the scene where fans of M2 were protesting the members’ graduation, which reminded me a lot of Super Junior.
For those who do not know, Super junior is a popular South Korean group that was initially planned to be structured the same way as AKB48. Originally, Super Junior was a group of extra trainees that SM Entertainment had no idea what to do with. Not wanting to drop them, SM decided to put all the trainees into one group and debut them as Super Junior.
Their name makes more sense when you understand the initial purpose of Super Junior. The members of Super Junior were trained as actors, MCs, singers, comedians and dancers. The group was supposed to bring the members enough fame, so that when they did graduate, they would be popular enough to pursue their individual careers in the entertainment industry. The members who left were supposed to be replaced with other trainees. Therefore, the group would always have young members.
This model, however, was thrown out the window because ELFs (Super Junior’s fans) had fallen in love with the members of Super Junior and did not want them to be replaced. When new members were added to Super Junior, ELFs grew afraid that the rotational system would be put into place once again. This is when the conflict erupted and from where the term, ‘only 13′ came from.
Generally, K-Pop fans do not like the graduating or revolving method. Rightfully so, because it changes the whole dynamic of the group and members’ places in the group do not seem so secure any more. There have been a lot of complaints by fans of Korean group, After School, who are opposed to the revolving and graduating system. With one of the most popular members, Kahi, leaving the group, many fans have expressed that this is the end of After School. A lot of controversy has also revolved around the new member of T-ara, with fans saying she is too young to join the group.
So why does the graduation and revolving system receive such tremendous support in Japan compared to Korea? This is because groups in Korea and Japan are structured and promoted differently, and they are competing in different markets. The creator of the popular Japanese group, Yasushi Akimoto, have also created other groups such as SKE48, NMB48 and SDN48. All of these groups were created from the same model as AKB48.
The biggest challenge to graduating groups is the connection between fans and the group. Ironically enough, AKB48 deals with this by having a large amount of members in their group. When Akimoto created AKB48, he presented a concept known as Aidoru, which is an abbreviation of ai ni ikeru idol. Translated it means ‘an idol that you can go and meet’. This certainly seems to be true, because almost everyday, a subgroup of AKB48 puts on a performance for their fans and they have their own theatre where they do this.
Imagine performances everyday by a K-Pop group. This allows fans to feel closer to the idol. If you also purchase one of AKB48′s CDs, you will receive a lottery ticket in order to win a chance to attend a ‘Handshake Event’, where fans shake the hands of their favourite members. K-Pop idols have these events too, but AKB48 does it regularly with hundreds of fans. If you take a look at the video below, the place where the handshake event is being held is a large shopping mall, and it looks like there is about a thousand people in there. This can only be done because of the group’s large size.
When one group promotes a song or an album, another group puts on a performance in their theatre and meets their fans on a regular basis. The large amount of members also helps them to dominate the entertainment industry and help promote the group whenever they conduct their individual activities. In a way, Super Junior did the same when they first started out. Each of the members’ solo activities helped to bring in fans. With a total of 13 members, Super Junior dominated the entertainment industry in a wide variety of areas that included dramas, movies, variety shows, radio shows, commercials, musicals, etc.
The type of connection is also very important. The type of connection fans have with Korean and Japanese graduation groups are different. Since Korean groups are smaller, fans can learn all of the members names and form connections with the members individually. Even though Super Junior is the biggest group in Korea, it’s still small enough for fans to learn their names if they want to, though it can take a long time. Personally, for me, it took one year. So, that might explain why I love the group so much. All that time I spent learning their names would go down the drain if I was ever to stop becoming their fan.
The connection fans have with AKB48 though is different. Only die-hard fans would take the time to learn 40-100 names! Instead, the connection they have to the group is like the love a person has towards a favourite baseball team or for cheering on your home countries when the Olympics come along. As long as the person is a member of the group, fans will support them. In fact, in K-Pop, this would be the equivalent of being a YG or SM Stan, where fans generally love most of the artists under a label even though the names of the artists might change.
AKB48 also promotes fan participation, which helps the fans to get attached to the group. Imagine a K-Pop group where you can pick the face of the group, and who gets to have the lead role in a song or a MV. Fans do this by buying their albums, where they receive a slip of paper that allows them to vote. Therefore, in order to see your bias do well in the rankings, fans need to fork over some money. This allows the more popular members to get featured rather than the unpopular ones. This also creates competition among the members, but the up-side is that fans feel like they have some control over the group, which is important when members are temporary and can be replaced at any time.
The biggest challenge to graduating groups though, is training time. AKB48 and their sister groups usually have a couple months to a year of training before they debut. Korean idols, though, including After School members, usually experience a longer training period. Losing a member after putting a lot of resources in them is not the best idea. If a popular member leaves, then the group could very well lose a large fraction of their fans.
So, the simple solution to this would be to decrease the training time, but here is the main difference between the two music industries. AKB48′s charm is that they are unfinished. Fans can cheer on their favourite idols and watch them as they grow. In Korea, however, there are high expectations for rookie groups. Only the most talented rookies come out on top. This is why rookie group B.A.P has received a lot of praise. They exude an energy and vibe that does not seem like it belongs to a rookie group. A group like AKB48 might not survive for long in Korea.
There are only two ways I see the graduation model working in Korea. Companies could scout trainees who have been cut from the entertainment companies. This way, the trainees would have already received some form of training before they get picked up. A lot of popular idols today like IU, Hyuna from 4Minute and Kikwang from BEAST got famous even though they were dropped as trainees. Plus there are numerous groups out there who have failed to reach immense popularity and have had to break up. So, it should be quite easy to take on the members from those groups. I think the number has increased this past year judging from the sheer amount of groups that have just debuted.
Or companies that wanted to create graduating groups could pick plan B, which is my favourite: start putting all your trainees into one group!
I want to see the Kwon twins from YG entertainment!
I want to see Cho Jino from SM Entertainment!
Most of all, I want to see every single trainee from Pledis Entertainment!
The twins from YG have been in a number of music videos, and they have their own fans, even though they have not debuted yet! These boys have made their appearance in Senguri’s music video for VVIP, GD & TOP’s Baby Goodnight and BIG BANG’s Fantastic Baby.
Jino from SM Entertainment has already been a member of a temporary group called SM Ballad. When EXO made their debut, a lot of people thought he was going to be one of the members of the group. Needless to say, his fans were extremely disappointed when they found out that he would not be debuting yet (myself included). What do I need to say about Pledius Entertainment? Ever since NU’EST debuted, everyone has been interested in their male trainees, trying to figure out which boys will be in Tepest and which one will be in the larger group Seventeen.
Putting all your trainees in one group can be advantageous. Trainees can learn things they can’t learn just by training. For example, they can get comfortable in front of the camera and large audiences, as well as getting more comfortable with performing. Putting them into a group also has the added benefit for the company and the trainees to earn a few extra bucks. When graduation time comes around, the trainees don’t have to necessarily leave the company. The popular trainees, or ones that show potential, can be put into another group. The company will have the extra benefit of being able to gauge which member is popular and bring into the new group an already established fanbase.
Most importantly, the public will already know that the group is temporary and is meant to showcase the company’s trainees. Fans will automatically lower their expectations and they can watch while the trainees grow and develop their skills. The graduation group can act as an intermediary step between training and becoming a full pledged idol. With a lot of these big companies housing a lot of trainees, I would like to see this happen.
Does anyone else agree with me, or should graduating groups only be confined to Japan?
Source: Pop Oddities: AKB48 / Japan Goes Gaga Over a 92-Member Girl Group / Former JYP trainees IU-Kikwang-Hyuna-Eunkyo, “hurricane growth” / Members for 2nd “Pledis Boys” group “Tempest” revealed / Pledis Entertainment to debut a 17 member boy group this year / Super Junior Fans Protest Against Addition of New Member