troublemaker: a coda

No, Hyuna and Larry do not pull an Alias-like magical plot twist and are actually secretly alive because the ones who killed each other were actually their doubles and the real Hyuna and Larry are still out there and will return with the wonderful cat for a sequel. Although that would be awesome.

It seems like there’s been quite a bit of blowback regarding the Troublemaker vid and performances. The choreography was changed in live performances due to controversy over the moves being “too sexy” for TV. Stateside, there’s been controversy over a rather… strongly worded review of the video over at Eat Your Kimchi. Now, while I personally do not know Simon and Martina, I do enjoy their blog and believe it is a pretty valuable resource for international K-pop fen. I hoped I was not stepping on their toes when I started this blog, but I feel reassured that other than the focus on K-pop it’s quite different in content and reviewing style (not saying any one is better than the other, either, just different). I have read their “Troublemaker” blog entry and watched the review video. This entry is admittedly partially a response to it, but mostly, it’s a response to the controversy over this video and over Hyuna in general.

In my “Troublemaker” recap, I mocked Internet feminists for appointing Hyuna as their poster girl. Not because I don’t take feminism seriously–I am a feminist myself–but because I always mock people being overdramatic on the Internet. It’s just what I do. I certainly have no issue with Hyuna or with her sexy image. Still, I’m not sure I’m ready to appoint her as some kind of feminist icon either. In the eyes of this jaded American fan, she isn’t really doing anything new, not only in terms of Western media, but even other K-pop. When After School first debuted a few years ago, much fuss was made over their sexy image, and they were compared to the Pussycat Dolls. The Brown-Eyed Girls are also known for being sexy, as you can see in their “Abracadabra” and “Sixth Sense” videos. More recently, Rania played up a sexy image in “Doctor Feelgood.” And obviously, there’s Lee Hyori, to whom Hyuna is often compared. I don’t find any of these videos to be any more or less sexy than “Bubble Pop” or “Troublemaker.”

So why is everyone making such a fuss over Hyuna? Why does she receive so much more censure than others?

The obvious answer would be that she’s simply more visible, at least internationally. “Bubble Pop” went viral and it’s everywhere now. Even non K-pop fans on the Internet all seem to know about it. It’s shown up in a handful of Western music magazines and websites. “Bubble Pop” also sounds a bit more Western than the other K-pop songs named above, except for perhaps “Doctor Feelgood.” But mostly, I think, it’s because of the way Hyuna is hyped and marketed. And this is a problem–because Cube only focuses on the sex appeal. Sure, lip service is paid to her dancing skills and charisma, but I’ma cut the shit–aside from her fans, no one cares about that. They care about the booty poppin’. It’s the first association people make with Hyuna–not her songs, her dancing, her singing, or her rapping. And while it does work brilliantly as a marketing strategy–you can’t convince me for a minute that Cube doesn’t know what they’re doing and are milking it for all it’s worth–it devalues Hyuna as an artist, and makes her instead into a spectacle. Her music is almost an afterthought, if people even think about it at all. For me, this isn’t what music (even silly fluffy pop music) is about. I like to think that any creative work, even pop music, comes from some kind of creative spark, to paraphrase Harry Plinkett. And I don’t really feel that from “Bubble Pop” or “Troublemaker.”  They just feel coldly calculated and churned out for maximum controversy and exposure, even more blatantly so than other K-pop. Which is already pretty blatant.

Of course, you could make the argument that Hyuna doesn’t seem to object to any of this, and that she actually seems quite comfortable in the sexpot role. And there is nothing wrong with that. I ain’t saying she needs to turn into IU or someone else known for being cute or wholesome. The sexy image isn’t the issue here. The issue is that the hype and marketing surrounded her has made her only into that. While fans will look at her other work and appreciate her as an artist, casual K-pop fen and drive-by youtube surfers will not. They will only see the sexy image, and that is all she will be to them. And it opens up the door for her critics to be really gross and to slut-shame, and then discussion quickly derails into bitter arguments over gender and sexuality.

I have seen the argument that male idols can flaunt their sexuality by stripping and hip-thrusting onstage and nobody will object to it. I find this argument rather simplistic and idealistic, because the answer should be plainly obvious. Most K-pop fen, including international ones, were raised in and operate within patriarchal societies. We are conditioned to see male sexuality as powerful and active, and female sexuality as objectifying and passive. It is impossible to slut-shame men, because there is no long and enduring tradition of men being exploited as sexual objects. As a society we are trained to be uncomfortable with expression of female sexuality, even when it is meant to be powerful and active, for that reason. These associations are so deeply ingrained that most of us respond to them without even realizing it. Again, quoting the brilliance that is Harry Plinkett: “you didn’t notice it, but your brain did.”

Unfortunately, the response to this kind of discomfort isn’t to question why we feel it or to consider what it means. It’s far easier for critics to slut-shame than it is to actually articulate whatever is bothering them. Why would go through all the trouble of thinking these things through and tl;dring all over your WordPress blog when you can just say she’s a slut and call it a day? This kind of behavior is really gross, but it’s sadly also typical. As a society we have been conditioned to immediately turn to gendered insults when critiquing women. Just look at any Internet discussion on a woman, real or fictional. The overwhelming majority of insults will be gendered. I would be really surprised if a discussion existed in which they weren’t. This sort of thinking is so deeply ingrained in us that even when people mean well (and I do think Simon and Martina mean well), it still comes bubbling to the surface (no pun intended). You don’t have to call someone a slut to slut-shame. Attacking a woman based upon her expression of sexuality is slut-shaming, full stop.

I would also like to stress that while the above paragraph is an explanation, it is by no means an exoneration. I don’t believe in just shrugging and writing this behavior off as, “So gendered terms are the ‘default’ insults for women, it’s just the Internet.” I find this sort of thinking every bit as destructive as the sexist comments, frankly. Because until people start calling this sort of thing out, and until people realize that it is not OK, then nothing is going to change. Saying nothing, or shrugging it off, might as well be approval, because as long as there are no repercussions for being gross people will continue to do so.

Conversely, this doesn’t mean that any woman with a sexy image is immune to criticism.  Nor am I telling everyone reading this that they have to like Hyuna. What I am saying is to think about why her songs or videos make you uncomfortable, and to think about what you’re saying when you criticize them. Find a way to articulate what you dislike without resorting to gendered terms or concepts, and if this is impossible, well, maybe it’s time to reconsider why you feel so uncomfortable. It’s hard to unlearn sexist ways of thinking that have become so ingrained in us, and until a greater societal change in these attitudes occurs, these discussions are always going to be volatile. This isn’t something that’s going to happen instantly, I know, nor is it going to happen solely from complaining on the Internet. But I also think every little bit counts, and any way you can increase awareness is a good thing. It is only when we are open about these topics that any kind of progress can be made.

Until then, just enjoy the music. Trust me, it’s much more fun that way.


13 thoughts on “troublemaker: a coda

  1. Hello, sorry TLDR ^^ (and I’m not an English-speaker )
    About Eatyourkimchi, I always laugh a lot with their videos, even if I really like a group and they just go like trolling the band But this last video, I admit that I thought they exaggerate a little bit, like they were talking ONLY about Hyuna’s sexyness. They’re not unfair, they just talked a lot about her sexyness (and how it’s being used in the wrong way by Cube).
    Yesterday, the United Cube concert happened in Brazil, and the Brazilian press said that the dance moves in 4Minute and G.NA performances were sexy, but not “dirty”, and that Bubble Pop was sexier that average performances, but still more innocent than american pop. Words of a journalist that didn’t know anything about kpop (he wrote “Hiyuna” in his article D:)

    So that’s it, I think eatyourkimchi was partial, but not unfair. And for me Hyuna could go on with her sexyness, but stop before her reach the American level (or the Brazilian one – in Samba Carioca the dancers go almost nude, but THAT’S NOT DIRTY… Funk Carioca (miami bass) is A LOT DIRTIER than the “simple” Hyuna’s hip moves )

    1. First, thank you for your comment!

      I get what you’re saying, and I believe that Simon and Martina did not mean to offend anyone with their review. I just think that, considering how sensitive of a topic this is, they could have expressed it more thoughtfully and carefully. Like it really rubbed me the wrong way that they say, “Remember kids… slut shaming is BAD!” and then proceed to compare Hyuna to a stripper. That is slut-shaming, yo.

      I don’t think that they’re terrible people and I enjoy most of their reviews, even when they trash bands I like (as long as it’s in a funny manner). Hell, I make fun of my favorite bands all the time! I think they just expressed themselves poorly, and that in the future they should be more careful about how they talk about sensitive topics like this.

  2. Nice post! I agree with everything you say, but i would like to point out that I think why Simon and Martina were too harsh was that they seemed really disappointed by the contrast between JS’s (super cool!) and Huyna’s images….honestly, I was too! My “problem” with Hyuna sexyness ( put it in quotes because I love her 😛 but this does disturb me a bit) is that it is used only for marketing! Most of the time to me it doesn’t feel like it’s an empowered/empowering sexy, it feels like sexy made for men to drool over. That is what I dislike! I love seeing sexy and strong women in kpop, it’s the reason why i love 2ne1 and why i love 4minute! But I think that with Hyuna Cube does it the wrong way. Too often it doesnt make think “She’s so awesome!!!!!” but only roll my eyes….because i dont give a fuck about seducing men all the time! (<–obviously im just referring to her image here and not to her as a person!)
    Dunno, i find it a bit hard to express properly, but i hope you get me ^^

    1. Let’s look at it in another way:
      Hyuna – a submissive young woman who is desperate to seduce men
      BEG – possess confidence and assertiveness, also seduce men

      They are both there to seduce men. It can be argued that men find BEG-types as sexier because they look like they don’t “give out” as easily, but just because they have their hands on their hips doesn’t mean they’re not trying desperately to seduce. Either way, it’s expressions of female sexuality as well as sexualization of them that we see. There’s a false notion that their being sexually confident is empowering and shows them as active and assertive as humans, but it all boils down to the same thing – sex. From the male gaze, they’re just different flavours of sex objects who are showing what they can do in the bedroom.

      1. No, you’re absolutely right! I just find it always hard to express myself against female sexuality in kpop videos, because i feel like i’m saying “oh, women’s sexuality is bad! sluts sluts sluts!!”, which is not how i feel at all about real life! BUT when it comes to the entertainment industry (of any kind, from any country) i am usually really really annoyed by how female sexyness is shown, by the men and for the men.
        With kpop in particular i feel bad, because it’s an even bigger deal for a woman to display an amount of sexyness and i really dont wanna bash. So my mind tries to come up with some lame excuse haha =^.^= But yeah, i dont really feel like any of them are “empowered”, at all.

  3. I agree with you. I know that Simon and Martina are feminists, but they tend to contradict themselves very often. It’s perfectly understandable, as most people tend to when it comes to a topic so complex as feminism, but it’s important to point it out. I didn’t like the way they answered some people…they say they want to listen to others’ opinions but then go into a hostile tirade against the other person.

    They were trying to be careful in the video and even used that Twilight guy as an example for why they were just against “sleaziness”. But do they ever slut-shame k-pop boybands? No. In their review for Bubble Pop, they just made fun of Hyuna’s sexy attitude, and that’s okay. But deciding all of a sudden that she “fails” at being sexy to justify their slut shaming is ridiculous. Then they go on to say that they admire BEG and Beyonce’s overt sexiness because it expresses confidence and doesn’t look desperate. They’re all a part of the same machine – just because someone’s sexy attitude looks fake doesn’t mean it’s bad. Boyband members who rip off their shirts and thrust their hips are ridiculous for their attempt at seducing too, but they’re never condemned for it.

    Oversexualization of females in the media is so prevalent that it’s very difficult to know what is real and what is man-made, so to speak. You’re right in saying that it’s important to think of why those derogatory terms pop into our heads and form a double standard. People might dislike it when women look like they’re bad “gatekeepers”, but it would be better if more criticism were aimed at male aggressors instead.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I wrote this before I read their response, but having done so, I am now far less willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t a bunch of ELFs wanking furiously over less-than-glowing commentary on the sublime godliness that is SuJu. This is a serious issue that affects everyone, and people have legitimate reasons to be upset. The least they could have done is LISTEN to people’s concerns and think about why their review upset so many people.

      I understand what they were trying to do with the Taycob comparison, but I think it missed the mark, because of what you said. If you took the standard anti-Hyuna rant and find+replaced the name with a male idol known for being overtly sexy (Taeyang or Jay Park, for example), nobody would bat an eye because that is not and will never be remotely the same thing. And it isn’t just because horny fangirls want to drool over the pretty boys (although I’m sure that is part of it). It’s because male privilege renders the comparison apples and oranges. You can’t slut-shame men. My point being, this topic engages a host of complex issues involving gender and sexuality that are simply beyond the scope of Simon and Martina’s oversimplistic tirade. I don’t care if they didn’t *mean* to offend anyone, they did, and they owe it to the people they offended to own up to it rather than getting defensive and dismissive.

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