The Controversy Revolving Around the K-Pop Industry and Its Sexual Objectification of Its Female Singers

One glaring controversy that has always been present in the K-Pop industry despite its success is the sexualization of its female singers. Such is present in videos, live performances, and even music posters.

It has been nearly seven years ever since the world first danced to the highly addictive song by PSY titled “Gangnam Style.” In the following years, Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, was able to dominate the global music industry. K-pop groups such as BTS, Twice, Red Velvet, BLACKPINK, and GOT7 have hordes of ever-loyal fans around the world. 

However, there is a single controversy that has always revolved around the success of the K-pop industry. It is the sexualization of their female singers. 

Not too long ago, this issue resurfaced once more when fans expressed their anger over the sexualization of female nurses in “Lovesick Girls” a new song by Blackpink. The music video features Jennie, one of the group’s members, dressed in a tight nurse uniform, short skirt, and high heels. In addition, the Korean Health and Medical Workers Union condemned the video as well due to its unnecessary sexual objectification of nurses.

However, the K-pop group’s agency its intentions about the way that it portrayed nurses in the video. Yet in the end, it decided to delete the controversial scene. 

The Controversy Revolving Around the K-Pop Industry and Its Sexual Objectification of Its Female Singers

Meanwhile, the aforementioned issue is not an isolated one. Rather, the K-pop industry already has a long and consistent record when it comes to the objectification and sexualization of its female artists. 

Female K-pop Singers: A Brief History

The act of sexualizing female K-pop artists began long ago. It started happening to the earliest icons of the industry such as Fin. K.L., S.E.S, Diva, and Baby V.O.X. Most of these groups followed two completely different schools of thought. Some of them copied the west. On the other hand, the others became confident, spunky performers who were comfortable with their sexuality. Some also copied Japanese groups as well as demure Asian women. More or less, the latter set the industry standards and gratified the male gaze with its conventional yet provocative image and performances. 

Female K-pop Artists As Sex Dolls

Most of the time, K-pop singers are called “idols.”This culture of idolizing them reduces the female K-pop artists from singers to stage sex dolls. They become objects that have to conform to the unattainable standards of beauty in their country. For this reason, they are left with no choice but to undergo invasive plastic surgeries. 

In fact, “Factory Girls,” a 2012 article published by the New Yorker described female K-pop singers as carefully manufactured objects. It has long been told that the K-pop industry is suffering from a Lolita Complex with regards to its female singers. The said complex describes the sexual attraction towards pubescent girls. This is exactly how female K-pop singers are presented to the world as– innocent dolls yet sexualized. They are also made to behave in a flirtatious manner to arouse their misogynistic fans. 

The K-pop Industry and Its Pedophiliac Nature

In addition, there is an entirely new generation of female K-pop artists who have allegedly strived to get “uncle fans.” These fans are old men with a lot of money to spare. 

The Controversy Revolving Around the K-Pop Industry and Its Sexual Objectification of Its Female Singers

Girl’s Generation is the perfect example of this phase. The extremely popular K-pop idol Hyuna was marketed as a “sexy girl’ at the young age of thirteen when she debuted as a member of the group Wonder Girls. Moreover, the proliferation of this pedophiliac fantasy is the particular reason why South Korean music agencies are recruiting girls age 12 to 13. These young girls train in a highly controlling idol-producing system for most of their performative years. This impossible to attain an image of female K-pop singers is the actual representation of the pervasive sexism and patriarchy in their country.

The Sexualization of Female K-pop Artists

Apart from creating sexual images for its female artists, the K-pop industry is also promoting some forms of covert sexualization techniques. Such include featuring female background dancers who are dressed provocatively and are performing flirtatious dance moves in almost all K-pop videos they release. This is present regardless of what the genre of the song maybe. True enough, this problem is something that is present in the entire global entertainment industry. However, what makes it particularly lethal in the K-pop industry is that women there are imaged as little girls to gratify the unsuspecting male gaze. 

It was also said that particular Korean music broadcasting shows are objectifying female singers through the use of camera techniques. These camera tricks draw the attention of viewers to the exposed body parts of the female singers. Needless to say, the industry is selling its female artists as objects for sex– something like a sex doll. 

Professor Kevin Crawley of the East Asian studies at a university-based in Ireland told Korea Times that female K-pop artists are required to dress and dance provocatively. Yet, they are also expected to follow the Confucian sexual conduct norms. In other words, South Korean artists must act like Virgin Mary prototypes while having a teasing kind of sex appeal. 

Some Changes in the Narrative

Despite all these upsetting facts, there are a number of female K-pop groups such as MAMAMOO who flaunt their body parts and sexuality in their videos and performances. However, they do this on their own terms and they are not forced by their agency or anyone. In addition, Blackpink also shows some kind of alpha-girl swag while they are on stage. Similarly, LOONA uses gender-fluid aesthetics in its videos. It does away with sexists representation and instead promotes inclusivity. With these small lights of hopes, one can only wish the women of the K-pop industry can achieve a thing that they cannot have until now. This thing is a female agency.

The Controversy Revolving Around the K-Pop Industry and Its Sexual Objectification of Its Female Singers

Furthermore, it would take a long time before the K-pop industry entirely change the image that it requires its female artists to have.

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