K-POP Fans’ Hallyu Observation: Idol Girl Groups Break Free from Male Gaze and Become Symbols of Feminism?

Original link: https://sehseh.substack.com/p/k-pop

South Korean girl idol group Weki Meki performs in Seoul on August 10, 2022. (AP)

🔗Ready version of the full text|K-POP girl group re-evolution: Can they break free from the male gaze and become a symbol of feminism in the new era?

Text / Cai Yuanyan

As we all know, South Korean female idols are called “extreme professions”. Ever since I started following K-POP many years ago, I have found that misogyny in the idol industry is a difficult exercise to solve.

First of all, the top executives of South Korean entertainment companies that build idol girl groups are mostly middle-aged men. Secondly, they believe that the conditions for the popularity of women’s groups are to provide good fan service and attract the male market. The result is that girl groups are almost built to satisfy male fantasies; female idols are told that if they want to succeed, they must know how to please others, do things they don’t want to do, endure showing coquetry anywhere, and be treated like dolls.

This constitutes the most criticized situation in the idol industry: female idols in their teens play the incarnation of purity, sweetness, and sexiness, singing commercial, simple and brisk bubblegum music in order to gain applause. In the MV, the feeling of love is conveyed, showing the expression of seeing the heartbeat of the object of interest; in the fan meeting, the male fans are allowed to make close eye contact or light touch, and risk being sexually harassed.

“Does supporting idols promote the trend of objectifying women?” As a feminist, while I love female idols, there will always be intractable contradictions in my heart. Do you have to endure misogyny when you become famous in the music world?

Fortunately, the empowerment of female fans and female idols is changing the idol industry.

Since the mid-2010s, the fourth wave of feminism has emerged around the world, and the purchasing power of female fans for female idol products has greatly increased, making entertainment companies aware of the changes in the target market, and then turning to planning in line with modern women’s values, which will make women obsessed ( Girl Crush) idol music.

Therefore, it is not difficult for fans to find that the recent girl groups no longer deliberately show off pure or sexy. From (G)I-DLE , whose members wrote lyrics and music, aespa, which focuses on the world view of AI virtual heroines, ITZY , who became popular in the style of Girl Crush, to STAYC and LE SSERAFIM , who have deep magnetic voices, the girl group began to step out of the male gaze and show Confident, handsome and diverse beauty.

The evolution of the girl group is correct, and the same is true in terms of business performance. Now after BTS, the most popular K-POP idols are almost all girl groups. TWICE, BLACKPINK, Red Velvet, aespa, IVE and other girl groups are not only well-known, but also have strong fan support. Their new works continue to break market forecasts: aespa, a newcomer group that just returned in July, has a total pre-sale volume of 161 albums. 10,000 sheets, setting the highest pre-sale record in the history of K-POP girl groups.

This is a particularly rare phenomenon, since male singers dominate the pop music scene regardless of the region. Just 5 years ago, the same was true for K-POP. At that time, the pre-sale of girls’ albums only exceeded 100,000, which was great, while the sales of boys’ groups often exceeded 700,000. But now feminism is slowly curing the misogyny of the idol industry, and at the same time bringing about an era of unprecedented high sales of girl groups.

South Korean pop music critic Kim Young-dae also discusses the evolution of girl group styles in recent years in his book “The Secret of K-POP Conquering the World” . In this regard, he concluded: “I think the right to speak in this era is actually in the hands of women.”

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“The one who wins the meal wins the world”

Fans who are familiar with K-POP know that “the one who wins the female rice wins the world”. It means that as long as any idol group can consolidate the love of female fans, it can become popular. This is mainly because fans of different genders have different behavioral patterns in consuming idol products. In most cases, male fans are less inclined to show support by purchasing idol products, while female fans are just the opposite and are more willing to buy albums in large quantities.

In fact, since Girls’ Generation and KARA in the 2010s, girl groups have attracted many girl fans, but at that time, South Korean entertainment companies tended to focus on the male market. Charm.

Now that has changed, girl group music is as diverse and experimental as boy group music, with female idols’ performances focusing on presenting complex images rather than just catering to male tastes. ITZY, who opened the door to the fourth-generation K-POP girl group, sang with strong and confident eyes in the MV for the successful debut song “Dalla Dalla”: “It’s a pity to live thinking about other people’s eyes in this life, do what you want to do. Nothing is enough.”

(G)I-DLE’s latest album’s hit song “Tomboy” breaks gender lines: “Don’t frame me with a man or a woman, I am who I am, I am I-DLE.” When she was criticized by the sour people, she retorted in the title song “HIP”: “The exposed edges of the panties are popular on me.”

The K-POP industry believes that the soaring sales of girl groups’ albums is precisely because the current image of girl groups is more attractive to women, so that the proportion of female fans is getting higher and higher. Originally, the fan circle of the girl group was probably composed of women in their 10s and male fans of the uncle generation. Now the age group of the fans of the girl group has expanded to women with high purchasing power in their 20s and 30s, and the number of global fans has also grown rapidly, which is beneficial. to enter the US market. These changes are bound to make entertainment companies more willing to listen to the voices of fans and bet their efforts on girl groups.

In the book “The Secret of K-POP Conquering the World”, music critic Jin Runxia believes that the potential profits of girl groups should not be underestimated, and the future development is even more limitless. “The investment in the girl group by the agency is much less than that of the boy group, but the current girl group can attract such a huge number of fans, which makes me think that if we can invest more and study more girl groups, maybe there will be more fans than men’s. The girl group of the group appeared,” she said.

The possibility of a girl group changing from the extreme profession

South Korean patriarchal culture is especially harsh on female idols. The most famous example a few years ago was when members of a drug addict boy group could release albums as usual, while the popular 2NE1 member Park Chun was exposed to the United States with drugs that could not be used in South Korea, but was frozen by the agency for many years. Warning dismissed.

K-POP female idols’ disobedience to “patriarchy” can also cause controversy: Red Velvet’s Irene was burned by male fans because of reading “Kim Ji-young Born in 1982” ; A Pink’s Na Eun just used “GIRLS CAN DO” ANYTHING” mobile phone case was bombarded as “feminist”.

In order to achieve the dream of fame, South Korean female idols often have to be more treacherous than male entertainers. Young girls in their 10s and 20s undergo intensive training every day, devote themselves to busy schedules, and must pay attention to their image and speech anytime, anywhere, so as to avoid being bullied and making a big fuss by the internet. They are so dedicated and professional, but the golden period of their careers is shorter than that of men. Most of them do not exceed the 7-year period of signing a contract with the company, and once they get married or become pregnant, they must leave the team.

“Compared with male idols, female idols are subject to stricter standards and restrictions. This is completely unfair. Although society has changed a lot now, we still have a long way to go.” Her YouTube channel says she felt pressured to be an idol because she was constantly living up to the public’s expectations of female idols.

“My agency told me to speak like a girl group member, in a more endearing way, with a higher voice, because the public doesn’t like girls who speak upright and free like me,” Way said.

However, it is precisely because many female idols are striving for the upper hand in this unfair environment and are not afraid to express their own ideas, many feminists prefer girl groups, and they also strive to protest against entertainment companies for female idols and fight for their rights; Online bully confrontation in men’s super forum.

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Men’s Super Forum : Refers to online forums where most members firmly believe in male supremacy such as “men surpass women”. There is also a “women’s super forum” that counteracts it.

A South Korean girl idol group performs in Seoul on August 10, 2022. (AP)

Girl group leads fans to break free from misogyny

After the scandal of Room N and Big Bang’s victory “Old Driver Group” was exposed, it is easy for female fans to project their love on female idols because of their reduced trust in male idols. A girl group fan told me: “Watching female idols live their lives so seriously and pursue their ideals makes me feel positive that I want to become better with them.”

Star chasing is a process of empathy and self-projection, and fans see their “ideal appearance” in idols. Although female idols are in an industry that oppresses women’s rights, their stage strength, life values, hard work and enthusiasm make them shine. In his book, Kim Young-dae also explained why idols can move people’s hearts – “Although idol music is the most commercial and controlled type of music, it is also the simplest, symbolizing ardent efforts and dreams, and is the rarest music genre. Living, the most human kind of music.”

As the values ​​of female idols and the audience who love them change, the styles of girl groups will naturally become more diverse. In “The Secret of K-POP Conquering the World”, critic Kim Yun-ha said that in the idol industry in South Korea, the power of fans is absolute, and the rise of feminism has also changed the way people view girl groups, and the women’s group members’ attitudes towards their own careers The idea that entertainment companies can only keep up with changing consumer attitudes as quickly as possible.

I think this fully proves that after the rise of feminism, female idols have the support of fans who also support feminism, and they no longer need to obey the structure of misogyny to survive. (Finish)

About the Author| Cai Yuyan (Graduated from the Department of Political Science of National Taiwan University, now an international news compiler/reporter.)

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This article is reprinted from: https://sehseh.substack.com/p/k-pop
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