Earlier this week* I was asked by thereistoomuchbutter to comment on the (huge) role ‘eye candy’ plays in K-pop. An issue that’s particularly irking is the assumption that K-pop fans are only in it for the industry’s ‘good looks,’ which does have some truth in it (except maybe for the “only” part, but, well, that depends on the individual) but as she implies in her personal vent (as a response to this article by Korean Candy Class), there’s an air of condescendence in the premise on which this is often expressed (or perceived as, by thereistoomuchbutter and I, at least). In thereistoomuchbutter’s words, “are they saying I am shallow or what? Are they accusing us of…looking at the bands too much?” Two of the many things that are in play, from where I see it, are a) certain stereotypes of K-pop fans, and b) personal feelings of insecurity as a K-pop fan. Needless to say, that portion may get a tad personal, and I’ve decided to split this discussion into two. This first half though, will be a brainstorm of the importance of visuals in K-pop, which, if you’ve been digesting enough K-pop, is somewhat of a no-brainer to many.
*@thereistoomuchbutter, thanks for your patience and I’m so sorry for the delay!
Here’s a rundown of several of thereistoomuchbutter’s points:
In terms of K-POP costume it becomes about a band’s image, (By image I mean how they are seen by us, the consumers) B.A.P [for example] […] [aims] to stand out from the crowd. We’ve seen many concepts which simply reflect high street fashions of the day (SJ’s “It’s You”, even EXO could arguably fall under this bracket) and many that are blatantly against ‘normal, casual’ fashions, embracing the idea that they are filming a MV or doing a photoshoot (which exists in a pseudo-world) and that then becomes the art […]
Makes sense so far, not unless a red trench-coat baring a pack of choco abs is an everyday look for you. Good on you if it is. (Super Junior for “Mr. Simple, image source)
The things that make these people ‘attractive’ to the rest of the world are ARTIFICIAL MATERIAL things like hair, makeup, clothes and good camera work […] the Idol (and Pop) industry in general is image conscious, often members are picked on potential, potential for looks, growth in talent etc […] Idols take care of their ‘image’, including their reputation, how they are perceived, respect, appreciation, modesty, truthfulness, hairstyling, skincare, dieting, exercise, fashion which all reflect how they are seen.
An idol’s physical image (for all celebrities, in fact) is their selling point, which pulls facial features, body shape and size, wardrobe, hair, and even the manner (which is most apparent, therefore easily absorbed by their audience*) of which they carry themselves in interviews, shows, and any other publicly televised event into relevance. Due to time constraints, broadcast editing, and general limited opportunities for public exposure (especially if you’re not an A-list superstar), they have to learn how to make themselves massively appealing in the most direct way possible*. Furthermore, the mediums through which we are introduced to, get to know,
and fall hopelessly in love with, idols are predominantly visual-based: TV, YouTube, the Internet, magazines, etc. It would be a mistake to undermine the powerfulness of this exchange… remember the implications of celebrity culture’s ubiquity in our world today.
*Gestures, choice of words, tone of voice… such surface (‘shallow’) attributes potentially have dire consequences if idols give off the wrong impression.
*And what is ‘massively appealing’ is constantly changing, depending on what the aesthetic ‘trend’ is at a given time (or at any time). If sunglasses and suaveness has somewhat demonstrated to be what many consumers react positively to, then the next time you see oppa he’ll be sporting exactly that.
Yup. (2pm for Lotte Magazine, image source)
That’s what makes it unfortunate for us. We aren’t equipped with everything needed to form a deeply thought impression of them - their values, beliefs, backgrounds, opinions, as well as the specific social exchange that occurs between them and us on a personal basis (sharing secrets, spending time together, etc). That’s why, like thereistoomuchbutter said, a condescending accusation such as ‘you like idols because of their looks’ is empty because, well, that’s the case for every single one of us as consumers of celebrity culture*. ‘Pretty’ and ‘sexy’ in its most generic sense, is exactly what is being (force) fed to us. Even if you’re the most perceptive fan out there
(read: in denial) and you’re like ‘oh the looks is the last thing I like them for,’ try to sincerely deny that their physical image was what initially got you hooked in the first place, whether it be how their actual faces look, the poses they make for the camera, or hell, even their debut song, because that is a form of external image: the rhythms, their voices, their outfits*. What you see off the bat is what (or what doesn’t) spark initial interest. And with the understanding society is extremely image-oriented, let alone Korea’s, that’s the reality, albeit a sad one.
*Besides, how is one supposed to respond? “No you’re wrong I like him because he has a heart of gold I know he does I feel it like have you seen him on We Got Married he’s like the perfect husband and such a beautiful person inside..” Oookay.
*Who are we kidding, it’s not like we can extract any sort of ‘unshallow’ impressions from K-pop music. And I’m not even going to mention lyrics, because a) it’s Korean, unless you’re an international fan who is fluent in the language; but even if you are, b) it’s K-pop. I’m sorry, but many we see are of very similar themes, making K-pop lyricism itself quite generic. And anyone who attempts to challenge the norm (or tries to integrate some sort of ‘shock factor’) is gonna get slapped with a MOGEF ban.
It takes a lot of effort to promptly cleanse your consciousness of the shitty stereotypes related to appearance upon seeing a person for the first time; and even if you do, external appearance still has a role. If someone’s physically attractive, you’re curious about them; and if someone isn’t physically attractive but you ponder about what appeal that person must have, you’re still nonetheless curious because appearance itself is what you are basing your interest of pursuing a deeper impression of that person.
Shisus, that was a mouthful. May have missed some things, so as always, drop by with your thoughts. Stay tuned for the second part!
EDIT: All this, and, well, damn if I like them and I think they’re good looking, then I like them and I think they’re good looking. So sue me -_-