On Episode 47 of Kultscene’s K-pop Unmuted, Joe, Scott, Stephen, and Tamar look back on the last decade of Kpop. In the first of two episodes, we discuss our personal Kpop journeys over the last ten years, we pick our Artist of the Decade, and we list our picks for Top Five Music Videos of the Decade.
Summer’s well underway and K-pop took a bit of a vacation over the past week. While we’ve recently received an onslaught of new releases, the middle of July lagged a tiny bit. Our writers highlighting songs by the likes of Hello Venus, Amoeba Culture artists, Stellar, and f(x) in our weekly column. Look at all those girl groups!
Take a listen and comment at the bottom of this page to let us know what song you like the most from the past week!
“Paradise” by Hello Venus (Released July 18)
To few people’s attention, the girls of Hello Venus released the song of the summer this week. Produced by team Devine Channel, “Paradise” is a tropical doo-wop track made for days on the beach. Its music is lowkey with sporadic guitar licks and bursts of brass. “Paradise” really beckons with its vocals however. There’s a great range and assurance of voice on display. New girls Yeoreum and Seoyoung open brilliantly with a cheeky rap and an enticing vocal respectively. The rest of the girls go on to show their own takes on similar styles all while adding a new hook of their own. Throughout the day I could get any part of this song stuck in my head and be more than happy. It’s a perfectly pitched summer track made for only a digital release.
“highfiVe” by Dynamic Duo, Primary, Boi B, Crush (Released July 21)
After a string of disappointing songs released this summer, Amoeba Culture artists came to the rescue. Dynamic Duo, Primary, Boi B, and Crush teamed up and put their amazing chemistry to good use to come out with “highfiVe”. It makes you want to grab a drink and dance the night away in an outdoor bar or club — and not only because it’s an ad for the Korean beer Cass. Seriously, how can you go wrong with Crush’s buttery vocals, Dynamic Duo and Boi B’s fiery verses, and Primary’s hyped up beats? It might not be anything groundbreaking, but it’s a fun track. And given the spot for summer anthem has yet to be grabbed, I’ll take it.
“All Mine” by f(x) (Released July 22)
f(x) is back! Well, kind of. This past week, f(x) unleashed this single as the next installment of SM Entertainment’s weekly STATION project. The EDM banger is produced by LDN NOISE, some of K-pop’s more well-known EDM producers. With a memorable melody, the song is matched with an equally cute music video, which shows the four members singing along to the song at various parts of an SMTOWN concert venue. And while they aren’t promoting it on music shows, the song is actually doing amazingly well on the charts (unlike most other SM STATION releases this year). It’s nice to see f(x) together releasing a song, especially considering that the group has been under a lot of speculation in regards to disbandment. Whether the members renew their contracts or not (and it’s likely that they will), it’s great to have this song to get us through the remainder of the summer.
”Crying” by Stellar (Released July 18)
While I’ll let Joe and Kushal be called our resident girl group experts, I was intrigued by Stellar’s latest release for the sole reason that it was giving me major 2010 K-pop feels. While an extremely different song, producer Brave Brothers utilized similar synth chords and autotuning on both “Crying” and NS Yoon-G’s “Just Dance” of that year. Since I’m obsessed with NS Yoon-G and think she’s been robbed of her career, I played “Crying” and “Just Dance” alongside one another for about a half hour before I realized it was the mellow dance pop sound of both songs that really drew me in as a listener. This is clearly a 2016 take on what Brave Brothers has done best for much of his career, but I felt like it wasn’t a far enough step to give Stellar the leap they need to propel themselves to the height of popularity. Sweet and soft is fine, but please bring back Stellar’s biting unique sound and style for their next release!
The release of Sticky Sticky has completely transformed what kind of a group Hello Venus is. This is not a new type of change either; it is one which we have seen more and more in the past two years. The sexy concept has become a staple of the K-Pop industry to the point where if a girl group is not doing so well, they immediately revert to it. I think this comes from Sistar‘s success with Alone, which may not seem too sexy right now but it was at the time. After Alone, Sistar gradually became one of the most popular girl groups in Korea. So naturally other girl groups would follow but at what price?
Hello Venus had been one of the more popular girl groups who debuted in the busy year of 2012. Their quirky, cute sound stood out in a crowd of groups who offered nothing new to being cute. What Are You Doing Today? was one of the songs of 2012 and Would You Like Some Tea? got to number six on the Gaon music chart. These songs were also interesting enough to foreshadow Hello Venus becoming big. I imagined them growing gradually and maturing in a similar way to Girls’ Generation who had started slowly and became megastars, with the multi-talented Lime becoming their star of Hello Venus. This was not to be though, as a big change occurred that caused Hello Venus to change.
Pledis decided to pull out of the deal with Fantagio to co-produce the group and took the Pledis members, Yoo Ara and Yoonjo, with them. Fantagio kept the other four members and the Hello Venus name, so added two more members and decided to continue with their promotions. It also gave Fantagio a chance to alter Hello Venus’ style quickly in order to pander to current trends. As I said, they went the sexy route and went for it in a big way.
Also on KultScene: Sexualization In K-Pop: The Bare Truth
As this trend grows, it becomes more of a problem. There was a time when sexy concepts were used to differentiate from the regular and shock an audience. Even at this time it is a tenuous subject as there is always a problem of objectification and fetishization of the body. As sexy songs continue to sell, women’s bodies will continually be used as objects to help these sales. This activity reinforces a sexist agenda in society and punishes women who do not conform. It even punishes those who act on sexuality, even though they are taught this is what woman should be like. Especially in a conservative country such as South Korea, girls cannot be seen to be sexually active even if being sexy is the hot topic of the time.
If this type of performance is allowed to become normal, the sexism of the K-Pop industry will never stop. Girl groups will forever have to strip in order to succeed. Female idols will forever be seen as sex objects to sell records. Their bodies will forever be fetishized into whatever their company decides. There is already criticism of these things in the K-Pop industry to some degree, and girl groups becoming sexier to sell their music will just make the criticism even worse.
The reason I’m singling out Hello Venus for now is because they are the most recent group to go this way, and also because of the increased effort they are putting into grabbing attention with their “sexiness.” Hot off the viral success of a fan cam of EXID’s Hani, Fantagio obviously saw an opportunity to drum up some publicity for Hello Venus with their own viral hit. The recent release of a dance practice video to Jason Derulo’s song Wiggle Wiggle, in which the Hello Venus girls danced along to the song, was their attempt at creating a sensation. I am not condemning the girls themselves here but those who led them to this. I fully believe people can do whatever they want with their own bodies but this video does not show us a group of girls who are just dancing for fun. This is blatant pandering to a male audience to stare at young girls gyrating their bodies, a cheap way of drumming up attention by essentially exploiting these girls.
This is not specific to Hello Venus though. We have seen recently Girls’ Day move from their cute comedic songs like Twinkle Twinkle to sexy songs like Something, Expectation and Female President. This change also brought Girls’ Day new success to the point where they are winning weekly music shows. AOA had a similar change of fortune when they adopted the sexy concept. Miniskirt boosted their sales in a big way and only grew with subsequent singles Short Hair and Like A Cat. It is clearly a trend which is in full flow but all trends eventually die, whether it’s a few weeks or a few years. So do we wait and let it pass over?
Also on KultScene: 5 Reasons To Watch ‘Korea’s Next Top Model’
I think we should not. Another trend will take its place immediately after and the issue will be forgotten. Allowing this to pass over means the patriarchal reign on K-Pop will always remain whether through sexy concepts or something else. I don’t think sexy performances should be completely eradicated but I think the decision making has to be changed to allow female idols to speak up if they do not agree. At this moment in time female idols are not at an equal level to their male counterparts. We as fans must speak up against this; we must not allow this to continue. It’s time for there to be a level playing field for genders in K-Pop.
What do you think about Hello Venus’ comeback and of the sexy concept? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.