Jailbait

In K-pop fandom, it’s become standard practice to refer to idols as your “oppas” and “unnies” (for those unfamiliar with the lingo, those are Korean terms for older men and women). Older fans have adopted this practice as well, despite the fact that there are very few K-pop idols who actually are our oppas and unnies.

It’s become a running joke for me that everyone in K-pop is younger than I am. Everyone (well, minus a few members of Shinhwa and H.O.T.). It amuses me seeing K-pop fen who are all of 21 or 22 complaining about how old they are compared to other fans, and angsting about being a whole one or two years older than their fave new rookie! That’s just like Ashton and Demi! But I ain’t even mad. For most early 20-somethings, every year after 30 becomes some misty far-off place in which, if life were a Peanuts cartoon, your voice would become that vague “wahh wahh” sound. The truth is you don’t feel all that different at age 30 than you do at age 21, and the years in between go by fast. It’s kind of depressing.

How a 21-yr-old K-pop fan perceives themselves

The only thing that really changes once you hit 30 is that you stop caring about “coolness.” You’re old and therefore uncool by definition, so it’s not like you’ve got a rep to uphold. You could give a shit if you’re rolling into the parking lot of your workplace cranking G-Dragon, or if you’re at a college volleyball game and suddenly everyone in the stands is jamming to “Gangnam Style.” You especially stop caring when idols are younger than you are. I’ve found that as you age (or at least, as I age) attraction doesn’t age with you. You don’t miraculously stop finding guys who are way too young for you attractive. Before long you find yourself uttering statements like, “Hey, it’s only a nine-year age difference. Not too bad” (this would be me about my ultimate bias) or the ever-succinct, “Ehh, legal in [my state].”

It occurs to me that, of course, as western women we are not immune to the double standard that exists regarding age differences between men and women. May-December relationships where the guy is older? No big. May-December relationships where the woman is older? Big. They become a spectacle, the butt of jokes with people either viewing the woman as a cougar or sexual predator (even if the young man is legal). Older female k-pop fans—“noona” fans according to the lingo—are no exception. We are assumed to be cougars or pedo bears, or we’re sexually frustrated married women (regardless of whether or not we are actually married—and no, I am not). So basically, we’re Twilight Moms with better taste.

Jailbait the American way!
I wonder if Teen Top will get besieged by porn offers once the members hit 18.

I personally tried to resist the jailbait for a long time. I refused to be attracted to any K-pop idols under age 25 (which, in 2009, limited the pool considerably). Then I found myself feeling MBLAQ’s Lee Joon, having assumed he was older because of his looks and because of MBLAQ’s more mature image. When I found out the truth, I shrugged and was like, “eh, he’s not that young.” I don’t really remember my gateway jailbait drug (I suspect it involved U-KISS), but eventually, I just stopped caring. Now I’m all up on NU’EST and Teen Top and really could not care less if y’all think I’m a “pedo noona” or not.

The truth of the matter is, none of us are ever going to date these guys. There is really a world of difference between appreciating a young male celebrity and actually dating him.  It’s the persistent myth that attraction and sexual desire are a natural and intrinsic part of masculinity, whereas they are are only present for women when conflated with romance and commitment. It’s that belief that fuels the male-dominated western porn industry, which assumes that there’s no market for women since we only get off to things like Fabio romance novels and 50 Shades of Grey (which is basically a glorified Fabio romance novel). The closest the west gets to the kind of blatant female-oriented fan service seen in K-pop is with western boy bands, and the only sexuality exuded by those is of the chaste, non-threatening variety targeted exclusively to teenage girls.

In the west, it’s really only accepted for women to view as objects of desire men approved of by other men—alpha males that straight men admire, basically. Western society conflates male sexual attractiveness with power—desired qualities include wealth, status, physical prowess, a brooding or domineering disposition—and women are buying into it. Many romance novel guidelines require the hero to be older than the heroine, for example. And he’s nearly always more sexually experienced. In heterosexual narratives, female sexual discovery is hot; male sexual discovery… not so much. Occasionally, the latter can be spun as an erotic fantasy for young men—the “Mrs. Robinson” rite of passage cliché—but never for women. If a woman is attracted to a man who is not in some way powerful (physically, socially, emotionally)–then she must necessarily be atypical in a way that prevents her tastes from being “normal.” Ergo, the cougar/sexual predator/Twilight Mom stereotypes.

Or, you know, maybe we’re just horny.

Chunji feels us.

K-pop seems not only to acknowledge the noona fan but to actively cater to her. Teen Top’s been noona-baiting since the day they debuted, culminating in their noona-bait anthem “No More Perfume on You.” In the video, the noona is clearly in a position of power through the whole relationship; she’s got Chunji whipped to the point that he needs to buy his teenage girlfriend a bottle of the same perfume that the noona wears. NU’EST, another jailbait boy band, is less overt but still pretty obvious in their “Action” MV which features them in all manner of revealing outfits and compromising positions. And then we have Baek Ji Young’s “Good Boy,” in which she mocks a younger boyfriend with taunts about going through puberty. In fact, many fans have jokingly called the song a response to “No More Perfume on You” (further convincing me that L. Joe should’ve done the rap instead of Junhyung, but I digress). The sexuality exhibited by these jailbait boy bands is a far cry from the chaste Disney-approved variety seen in current western boy bands; these MVs were not made for preteen girls.

Yeah, the JoBros can’t do this.

And we, the noonas, appreciate them. A lot.

OK, now I’m just adding gifs because I can.

Look, I ain’t saying Asian media is some mecca of female equality and western media is male-dominated and oppressive… OK, I am saying the latter. But not necessarily the former. I don’t really know enough of Asian media to comment upon that. I know only what I see via K-pop. And K-pop gives noona fans something we rarely get in western media—lots and lots of pretty boys who not only acknowledge but court us. I find it pretty telling that the West, which prides itself on being so socially progressive, is still forcing women to outsource when we want to get our rocks off to more appealing fodder than the likes of Christian Grey. Quite frankly, I can think of a far more appealing bondage scenario than anything in the pages of that tome.

I hear special hell is a lovely place this time of year.

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