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Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Associate Professor, Elon University (U.S.)
K-pop girl groups tend to be described as sexy, fierce or cute. Some suggest that images of fierceness encourage girls to be empowered, while images of cuteness take away their agency. However, responses by fans of f(x), a K-pop female group, suggest that fans prefer unique and diverse images of women.
Male groups outnumber female groups in K-pop, but girl groups attract large numbers of mostly female fans. Commentators and fans describe these girl groups as cute, sexy or fierce. On the blog Miss Unconditionally Moilicious, Miss Mila describes the difference between 2NE1 and SNSD, two of most popular girl groups, this way:
First of all, 2NE1 and SNSD are completely different. 2NE1 is westernized in every way and makes music with “the independent woman” theme. SNSD is much more oriented towards the Asian audience and makes cuter and less intense music.
Fans tend to think of the independent image of 2NE1 as more empowering and the cute image of SNSD as less empowering. One respondent wrote: ”I’m not interested in girl groups that go over the top with the cuteness and the aegyo because I just find that plain annoying. So to see a group that focuses on how strong women can be and how sexy women can be without the overuse of ‘cute’ is something that drew me in immediately.” (Anderson, “2ne1 Data Set”).
Lizzie at Beyond Hallyu echoes the critique of the cutesy image for women when talking about SNSD’s “I Got a Boy”: ”However, I was still shocked by how blatantly this song flaunts it’s reductionist, and frankly insulting, view of women. By using a more complex song structure to tell more stories and show more points of view, this song manages to create an even worse image of young women than songs like ‘Oh!’ by the sheer number of negative portrayals. Both the video and the song consistently portray women in numerous different examples as vain, petty, manipulative and incompetent.”
These opinions suggest that fans of K-pop’s girl groups only see images in terms of cute/fierce. However, fans of f(x) say they like the group for reasons that go beyond the cute/fierce binary.
Like most K-pop fans, fans of f(x) like the group because of the music, which fans find to be unique. One respondent wrote: ”Just like the meaning of their name, their music does not stick to a single or fixed genre, which i believe is a very good point in terms of music flexibility. they can go from dance to bubblegum pop then to ballads, showing their strength in adapting different genres of music” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set”).
This range can be seen in the ballad “Beautiful Goodbye” and the dance single “NU ABO”:
Respondents also embrace the variety of concepts of f(x). They say that the members have different personalities and different talents. One respondent wrote: ”Their music is amazing and their personalities are even better!” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set”). Several respondents also made reference to their appearance, calling members cute and beautiful. At the same time, respondents identified Amber‘s “tomboy” concept as something they liked. One respondent wrote: ”But most importantly I like the fact that they have Amber in the group, because she is a tomboy, and not any other group in Kpop or even in the mainstream really have an “amber” in the group!” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set).
This range of images can be seen in f(x)’s photo shoot for Marie Claire Korea and a photo from a Thailand trip:
Other respondents see the images of f(x) as falling in between those reflected by SNSD and 2NE1. One wrote: ”I don’t always follow F(x) but they’re another unique image among girl groups! They also don’t go with traditional cutesy and sexy like 2ne1.” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set”) Another wrote: “They are often over shadowed by their SNSD seniors which is what provokes me to pay attention to them even more.” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set”)
Other respondents also identified the diversity of the members themselves in terms of ethnicity. One respondent wrote: ”Two Chinese members and two English speaking members which makes for me being able to understand them more. Support Victoria because she’s mainland Chinese like myself ” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set”). Another wrote: ”I also like how the group is half Korean and mixes members from different places.” (Anderson, “f(x) Data Set”)
Instead of limiting the members of f(x) to one image of women, fans demonstrate that they like a range of images for women. Respondents shows that they include cuteness as just one of a range of images that women can take on. When commentators use the cute/sexy binary to describe girl groups, they are using an Anglo-American feminist lens that not only eliminates other modes of being a woman, but it also overlooks the role that race and ethnicity plays in expressions of feminism. Caren Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal write:
Many feminists who identify themselves as marxist view all women as belonging to a unified class with a homogeneous class consciousness. The Eurocentric and class-bound nature of this analysis is reflected in the theorization of the family as the primary site of oppression. Third world feminists and feminists of color have objected to a hegemonic approach that demonizes non-Western families as more oppressive than their first world counterparts. (351)
In other words, commentators measure the feminism of K-pop girl groups by Western definitions of empowerment. These definitions do not take into consideration how different women may value different kinds of femininity. Specifically, commentators define feminism in K-pop by rejecting cuteness. However, fans of f(x) show that they embrace a range of concepts of women, including cuteness. In this way, they are like other fans of K-pop girl groups. Sun Jung and Yukie Hirata explain that Japanese fans like K-pop girl groups for a variety of reasons:
K-pop girl groups present variedly constructed images including strong female images less visible in the Japanese aidoru pop scene, and many young Japanese female fans see them as role models. As widely reported, these fans find K-pop girl groups are kakkoii (“cool”) and sexy, whereas J-pop girl groups are mainly kawaii (“cute”) (Y. S. Jeon 2011; H. S. Kim 2010).
Fans of f(x) also value the variety in both concepts as well as the members of the group. Specifically, they recognize the different ethnicities of the members of the group, something that also challenges an Anglo-American form of feminism. The responses of fans of f(x) demonstrate that there are multiple forms of feminism at play in K-pop girl groups.
“에프엑스 f(x)_NU ABO(NU 예삐오)_MusicVideo.” Uploaded by SMENT. YouTube. 4 May 2010.
Anderson, Crystal S. ”2NE1 Data Set.” Unpublished raw data.
—-. ”f(x) Data Set.” Unpublished raw data.
Kaplan, Caren and Inderpal Grewal. ”Transnational Feminist Cultural Studies: Beyond the Marxism/Poststructuralism/Feminism Divides.” Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms and the State. Ed. Caren Kaplan, Norma Alarcon and Minoo Moallem. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
Jung, Sun and Yukie Hirata. ”K-pop Idol Girl Group Flows in Japan in the Era of Web 2.0.” ejcjs. 12.2 (2012).
Lizzie, “Girls’ Generation has a boy and some serious gender troubles.” Beyond Hallyu. 1 Mar 2013.
Miss Mila, “Keeping up with Kpop – SNSD vs 2NE1.” Miss Unconditionally Moilicious. 24 Apr 2011.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
IFANS: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandom is an scholarly research project that examines global fan attitudes and activities through surveys, collection of information on online communities and analysis of websites. Crystal S. Anderson, PhD (Elon University) is the Principal Investigator of the studies and Designer and Curator of the iFans project site.
iFans Case Studies Survey captures fan attitudes about the following 12 K-pop groups that have global, active fanbases: 2NE1, Aziatix, BigBang, Epik High, f(x), MBLAQ, SHINee, SNSD, SS501, Shinhwa, Super Junior and TVXQ. If you are a fan of more than one of these groups, you should take this survey.
iFans Individual Case Study captures more in-depth information on fan attitudes about each group. Click on one of the following to answer additional questions about your favorite group!
Case Studies Exhibit provides digital tours and analysis of selected fansites that support 12 K-pop groups.
This resource organizes online K-pop fan communities, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other fansites. You can look up information two ways:
Watch the progress of the project on the Omeka site, IFANS: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandom.
*This human subject research has been reviewed by the Institutional Review Board at Elon University. Click here for study documentation.
|Kim Bum Soo|
Origin of Fan Name
Official Fan Color:
- Melon Music Award, R&B/Ballad
- Kim Bum Soo “겟 올라잇” Show, January 2012
It Will Pass
Sun Setting In My Heart
I Want to See You (Missing You)
By CeeFu and Nunee
RIVENDELL (AHMN) – E.L.F.s have started to gather for Super Junior’s Super Show 4, to be held in the biggest tree in the elven city. Armed with their sapphire blue lightsticks, legions of fans look forward to cheering on the group at the history-making show. Super Junior is the first Kpop group to play the Rivendell Celebrian Arena, and rumor has it that SM Entertainment is currently contemplating additional dates in Mordor and Minas Tirith, with the possibility of holding a fanmeet on the Pelennor Fields.
But don’t log on to Ticketmaster just yet. Aren’t you a little skeptical? You should be, because news reporting in the Kpop world sometimes looks just as improbable. In our investigation of all things Hallyu, KPK has noticed several trends in the way information about Kpop is distributed. This article is about how Kpop fans are informed, or in some cases, misinformed, by coverage of Kpop. This is not about any one outlet or blogger, and the examples and photos within this article are used to illustrate a trend. They should not be construed as judgements on how individual sites choose to create or distribute kpop news.
|Meaning of Name||If turned sideways, 8 is “infinity”|
|Debut||August 25, 2007|
|Label||Big Hit Entertainment; United Asia Management|
|Origin of Fan Name|
|Fan Club Website(s)|
Official Fan Color
Individual Fan Names
- Winning competitors on the first season of MBC’s Show Survival, 2007.
Close That Lip
The End is Coming
Goodbye My Love
I Love You
Music is My Life (Part 2)
Forget About Love and Sing
| 8Eight – Mini- Album (June 21, 2011) (Source Music)
|The Bridge – 1st Mini-Album (May 12, 2010) (Loen Entertainment)
|Golden Age (March 3, 2009) (Loen Entertainment)
|Infinity (March 3, 2008) (Sony & BMG, SBMG Korea)
|The First (September 6, 2007) (EMI Music)
That’s what a lot of netizens say when offering an opinion on new or returning idol groups with extremely large numbers. They may have a point, but I also think that there is something to be gained from mega Kpop group.
While fans are always noting the sheer number of idol groups that debut, they seem to be especially sensitive to groups with large numbers. Five members may be ideal, but when numbers start to climb beyond that, as it does with groups such as U-Kiss (seven members), T-ara (seven members), Infinite (seven members) , ZE:A (nine members) and After School (nine members), people get antsy. Given their success, fans seem to have accepted the large numbers in SNSD and Super Junior, but that was not easily achieved. So I wasn’t surprised at the reaction to newer, larger Kpop groups. Something seemed to snap in fans when Golden Goose Entertainment announced plans for a Japanese debut for APeace (formerly Double B/21) back in March. With 21 members in tow (yes, 21!), some viewed APeace as a science experiment gone horribly wrong, one that created a monster with the numbers of Super Junior and SNSD combined. Kpop fans flooded forums with their displeasure at the high number of members. Some wondered how all 21 of them get paid. Others complained about not being able to see them all. And still others lamented having to learn all of their names.
I have to confess, I like APeace. I like their single, Lover Boy. I find it to be a great dance song. But what can prepare you for the music video for Lover Boy? It makes me absolutely giddy, and it has everything to do with the fact that there are eventually 21 of them dancing on the screen at one time!
Maybe I like this video so much because it brings back memories of being in a marching band. I especially like the move at :41, which I’m sure will be come the international sign for “baby girl.” However, beyond my potential fangirl-y reaction to APeace, I do think that they learn from some of the challenges that other mega groups like Super Junior face, and, as a result, could make it work.
Mega groups mean mega profits for agencies, as they can strategically place members in multiple places at once, so it makes sense from their point of view. Clearly, SM Entertainment did not foresee how attached fans would get to the initial membership of a mega group like Super Junior. Now, before we get started, I like Super Junior, so I want all the ELFs to take a deep breath. I am not hating on Super Junior, but there are some things that we all know to be true. For instance, all was well in Super Junior land back in 2007 until SM Entertainment started making noises about adding more members, like Henry, to the already super large Super Junior. This prompted some fans to take action to protect the membership. Asianbite.com featured a story about fan protests over the plan. One fan stated, “We do not want Henry or anyone else to be added in Super Junior. We want Super Junior to be a safe 13-membered group.” I believe that some of this anxiety came from the fact that fans perceived the membership of Super Junior to be set, and that the addition of Henry was not something they signed up for. As a fan, you would wonder whether or if the additions would stop. SM Entertainment could just keep adding members, with no end in sight. However, APeace avoids this by hitting you with 21 members up front. 21 is a large number, so if you accept that APeace has 21 members, you are not likely to have anxiety about the possibility for additional members. If they added more members (gasp!), would it really be that big of a deal?
The creation of subgroups by SM Entertainment to capitalize on as many markets as possible contributes to even more anxiety around the mega group. Hey, when you are working with 10 to 13 people, you have options. But sometimes these subgroups cause challenges of their own, especially for new fans. I encountered Super Junior M before I encountered Super Junior, so I didn’t understand the relationship between the subgroups and the main group. I could not understand why I couldn’t find Henry or Zhou Mi in what I have come to call Super Junior Proper. And don’t get me started on the guest status of Sungmin and Eunhyuk in Super Junior M right now. Are there more subgroups on the horizon? One never knows with SM Entertainment. However, APeace has the foresight to establish their subgroups up front. According to their official website, we can look forward to APeace Lapis, APeace Jade and APeace Onyx, three subgroups with seven members each. This move avoids fan disappointment and confusion.
The number of members and the subgroups are not the only things that causes anxiety in fans in relation to a mega group. One of my issues with Super Junior is the presence of the membership of Super Junior at any given time. When a news story runs that Super Junior will make an appearance, can you really be sure who is going to show up? How often do you see all of them together? Yes, we know that Kangin has a good excuse, as he is doing his military service, but when was the last time you saw Kibum? Is he even still in this group? I miss him. This inability to predict which members of the group participate in group activities is in part linked to the busy schedules of individual members, and this is a problem for me. I was introduced to Super Junior as a group. I kinda expect them to act like the other groups I like. You know, to be together, to show up, together. Sometimes, it just seems that they are individual artists who get together once in a while and make music. However, I don’t even expect APeace to function as a group in that way because they are rolling 21 deep. I’m not looking for them to have a deep bond with each other. I don’t know APeace, but I don’t feel that I’m expected to know them individually in this 21-member unit. Yes, I vaguely remember them introducing themselves, but who remembers that? I remember them being introduced as a 21-member group, so I don’t invest in their group dynamic, as I did with SS501 or SHINee. APeace, with its large numbers, lowers your expectations about the interaction among the members. I see them more as individual artists who come together to form the mini-nation that is APeace every once and a while. So if fans rarely expect to see them all together, then they are less likely to be disappointed.
I guess this is why I’m not up in arms about APeace. I know I won’t convince a lot of you that bigger is better, but that’s not my goal. What I am saying is that creating a viable model for a large Kpop group is worth exploring. Whatever you think of APeace or any other mega group coming down the turnpike, it takes a certain amount of expertise to promote a mega group. Somebody had to arrange 21 voices on a track. Somebody had to choreograph a dance for 21 people, and I think APeace pulls it off. They are so in sync, a friend of mine thought it was a special effect. Somebody had to film 21 people in motion. There is something to be said for the people who work behind the scenes and for the members of mega groups themselves. You try doing anything with 21 people.
“Super Junior Fans Protest Against Addition of New Member,” Asianbite.com
Photo Credits: thehottestprimadonna
APeace, Lover Boy, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvUuSfXlA7I
All right, time to talk about Rain and Sun Jung‘s treatment of the Almighty Godfather of Modern Kpop. I will try my best to point out both the good and the bad in this chapter, but unfortunately there is a lot more of the bad than the good. Let’s begin.
Litterally means “Older brother” used by younger female sibling. However, frequently used for older male friends. Popularly used as a cutesy petname for older boyfriends or admired male idols.
Term used to describe the action of sticking out one’s tongue in a teasing manner. Often coupled with actually saying “Meh-rong” at the time of the tongue being extended.