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What K-Pop May Do to your Boyfriend’s Closet

As far as I’m concerned, the cross over between the Korean pop music market and the West is inevitable and imminent. The internet has made access to world music far easier, and with shout-outs from Perez Hilton and high production values, K-Pop is a big step above the competition. As of now, the Wonder Girls and BoA are the only ones who have actually released music in the U.S., but to little mainstream effect, and from the looks of things, YG Entertainment will be at the helm of the new flagship.

They're coming for you, Barbara

Personally, I’m psyched, but if you look at comments on YouTube or Perez Hilton, you might see comments from Westerners claiming that K-Pop is no different from American music, and as such its influence will be negligible. First off, such people are seriously underestimating the West’s desire for new shiny things, regardless of whether it really is the same thing with new packaging. Second, I don’t believe K-Pop is the same as American or European pop. The sound can be similar, but more often than not it isn’t – seriously, can you imagine Katy Perry or Britney Spears doing a track like  Brown Eyed Girls’ “Sign” or anything by Kara? Genres mix differently, vocals and processing have different emphasis, but most of all image is very different.

My biggest concern in the crossover is the reception of boy groups,  Big Bang in particular, as rumors are flying regarding their crossover possibilities due to a 4-second clip that seems to show an English version of not only the newest track, but a video (good chance its just the Japanese release, but its nice to think about). I’ve already talked about women in K-Pop and how they are portrayed on screen and the many problems I have with it. Not surprisingly, Korea gives the boys much more wiggle room in terms of acceptable behavior and image. The music may not be any more remarkable that their female counterparts, but the choreography, vocal ability and music videos production often are. In general, a higher caliber of talent is demanded of male Korean pop stars, because apparently all a girl has to do is look pretty to sell records. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

When I was roaming through Perez Hilton’s posts on K-Pop, I came across of his post on Big Bang’s latest video for “Tonight.” Responses to Hilton’s love for K-Pop has never been entirely warm, but there were a few comments in particular that caught my eye.


Lovely, though with a surprising amount of big words. I wonder if he knew what any of them meant.  In any case, it elicited this slightly more sophisticated response –

KPOP has an huge following in the west and in Europe. Do your research before you start venting off ignorant crap. And if you did more reseach you would know that only one of the members is under 20 years old (SeungRi) and their all as sexy as heck, I’d do all of them. lol. I think men find it alittle threatening when girls swoon over Korean men in these idol groups.

It was that last sentence that garnered my attention (in fact the first part I’d rather ignore), mostly because for some stupid reason it had never actually occurred to me that way before, but it is absolutely true. American men are taught all their lives that in order to be attractive to women they have to be strong and masculine, and they’re appearance has to be uncomplicated (so no bedazzled clothing) and barely cleanly. That the ideal man has a jaw line of a brick, large muscles, and a tan that speaks of manual labor but never of a tanning bed. Then you have a group like Big Bang, slight in physique and narrow in the face, fair-skinned that possesses a pampered gleam, perpetually changing hair, and fitted designer clothes. Hell, they even wear jewelry. And there are girls all over the world drooling all over themselves for them. Of course men find that threatening. Even the most dolled up of male pop stars here in the U.S. trim anything excessive about their appearance – undoubtedly the prettiest of them all, Justin Timberlake, cut off his curly blonde locks once he went solo and never wears anything more indulgent than a tux.

So, what does that mean for a crossover? Well, straight guys generally don’t buy boy band albums, for one, so in terms of money making ability it’ll be a mute point. There are plenty of women out there who  might be offended by Asian pretty boys as well, but I doubt that gets in the way of buying a song off iTunes. Ultimately, if Big Bang and other Korean boy bands really do manage to reach across the Pacific to American homes, I think that maybe, just maybe it’ll change how women view men and how men view themselves for the better.

Not every guy is going to verbalize his frustration with the clothing that’s marketed to him, or the image he feels required to adhere to that’s reinforced on TV, in commercials and music videos. But I assure you, its there. And I’m not just talking about gay boys, or alt boys, but bona fide  straight Mid-Western boys too. I’m hoping that the presence of groups like Big Bang on American radar might let guys and girls out there know that there is more than one way to be masculine and attractive. That doesn’t mean every sixteen-year-old-boy will go out and buy a kilt or a fringed leather jacket. But they would know that they could if they wanted to.

Of course, I might be totally naive. The styling of Asian pop stars might be glossed over as something “they” do, and they’ll be delegated a fetishistic niche of the market of sexual attraction, while “real men” are held to the same old standard. Or Big Bang might adopt a more sedate look in order to appeal to the West better, but considering that these guys have been in the business for a while, and are already far more focused on their craft than anything the industry wants of them, I like to think this will not be the case. Besides, with the Gaga manifesto in circulation, pop culture is moving closer and closer to high fashion and high art. If Big Bang made a move just the way they are, they could be riding a serious wave from just Eastern pop stars to world wide icons.

Or it may not happen at all. Maybe the pocket change of Korean and Japanese girls will be enough for YG, and the stormy waters of the West won’t be worth it. If that’s the case, there will always be YouTube. The world is a lot smaller than it used to be.


2 thoughts on “What K-Pop May Do to your Boyfriend’s Closet

  1. Considering how Asians are still very much an image of “The Other” in America (whitewashed Avatar, anyone?) I’m hesitant to believe there would be any notable shift in the image of what a man should be in America. Pop culture here is sadly defined by people who already fit an established norm. I mean, even people who like Lady Gaga don’t necessarily think her fashion is relevant to their lives, even if they think her music or philosophy is.

    Clothing is one of those things that a pop star exists separately from, because it’s their craft that ultimately defines them in the eyes of the public. Even if their fashion is perceived negatively, if their craft is good enough they’ll get fans or people who respect them regardless, before ever being on speaking terms with them. Regular people don’t have that luxury — they can only define themselves in other people’s eyes through their appearance, and then through meeting them on speaking terms (the perception of which is altered by their appearance).

    And all of this is filtered in the minds of the people based on how they perceive pop stars. Some people view pop stars like someone they would meet, and apply those appearance based judgments despite the obvious cultural distance between them and that star. Others see pop stars as separately “people when they are not being a star” and “just an image when they are being a star”. There are likely variants between these two that would have cloudy results on how they perceived image as playing a part in a pop stars personality and the relevance of that to their own person or philosophy.

    But to set all of those issues aside — 2NE1 and BigBang have the best chance to lead Kpop into America; not least because they have front men/women who can speak English with virtually no accent (to Americans). But 2NE1 stands a better chance because hot ladies almost always trump hot men.

    • “Clothing is one of those things that a pop star exists separately from, because it’s their craft that ultimately defines them in the eyes of the public.”

      I don’t know if I agree with that entirely. Like you said, people have different perceptions of pop stars, and a lot of them can’t separate the image or the clothing from the body of work, or at the very least don’t know how to put it into a perspective. Which is not surprising considering how the quality of work feels like its going into a death spiral these days, so what else do you judge a pop star on? I don’t know how many times Katy Perry is gained unwarranted criticism for her work just in reaction to the way she dresses. And I don’t know if I would care nearly as much about Gaga if it wasn’t for the way she dressed.

      But yes, in terms of image, K-Pop will probably only influence a small portion of the Western market. And even then, just having their faces out there, I think, could be something that gets into America’s collective unconscious. That would be enough for me.

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