Thursday, March 7, 2013

Equal Opportunity Sexual Objectification in K-Pop

After all my fevered research and writing, as you know, I presented my paper on K-Pop last weekend in Austin. I actually feel pretty good about it, and I'm further editing to share with a couple friends and then submit it for publication. Since I talked about it so much on here, I thought you'd like to see at least how the introduction looks today... 


Since the late 1990s Korean popular music has achieved an audience beyond Korea, becoming a leading part of the growing phenomenon of inter-Asian popular music (Shin 2009: 472). Musically indebted to hip-hop and Western pop, Korean popular music is generally performed by groups of a single gender. Although scholars have discussed the global rise in "girl power" in the field of popular music using examples such as Madonna, the Spice Girls, and Faye Wong (Fung and Curtin 2002, Dibben 1999, Lloyd 1994, McClary 2002), there are few that can argue for "girl power" in Korean popular music (hereafter K-Pop). One reason is that K-Pop is almost entirely a manufactured commodity; the stars, called "idols," are scouted, trained, and assigned to a group with a specific image under the tutelage of K-Pop's major entertainment companies, such as SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, and Starship Entertainment. At the helm of each company CEOs oversee the production of K-Pop idols in a way strikingly similar to preparing other commodities for the market.[1]
            In K-pop with few exceptions the songs, choreography and costumes of the performers are chosen by the management agency. The agencies control their lives, including housing them in dormitories, choosing their diet, and doling out cell phone privileges as a reward for hard work. Analyzing the lyrics, choreography, and costume choices of the artists reveals less about the performers and more about the agencies, their understanding of the market, and the particular persona that they have assigned to the members of each group. However, a comprehensive performance analysis of popular music,[2] including a specific focus on presentation and framing of gendered lyrics, choreography, and costumes in live performance provides a new window on the construction of femininity through K-Pop. 
            For my research I chose to analyze live music performances on the TV shows Music Core (MBC) and Inkigayo (SBS). Consequently my attention focuses on choices made by the television stations and their emcees, stage and video production crews. In this paper I begin by sketching the connections drawn between music and morality, and discuss the Republic of Korea's cultural laws and statutes that relate to popular culture. Finally, through an analysis of specific live performance videos I analyze how the music shows treat gendered behavior to construct Korean femininity.

[1] The fans of K-Pop also have affective power both vis a vis the artists and their management companies (c.f. Gitzen 2013) although the degree of fan influence is difficult to quantify.
[2] Such a performance analysis is needed—scholars such as Philip Auslander have remarked on the emphasis on the "reception of popular music much more than the performance behavior of musicians" (2004: 3).

p.s. the title of the post is part of the title of the article. Pretty cool, huh? Anyone would stop to check out an article on Equal Opportunity Sexual Objectification!

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