K-Pop, or “Korean Pop,” is an international music genre based in South Korea that has grown into a major driver of global culture. This genre of music blends hip-hop, pop, rock, electronic and R&B styles of music into one cohesive sound. With its distinctive blend of catchy melodies, smooth choreography and large production values of performances, K-pop is now a global phenomenon.

Despite it’s unquestionable success, the appalling reality of K-pop hides behind the sparkling outfits, cheesy smiles, innocent dances and catchy tunes (Reynolds, 2014). This reality is sexualization, and it is more prevalent than you think. To “sexualize” someone, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is “to see someone or something in sexual terms, or to make someone or something sexually exciting.”

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Sexualization in this industry is extremely prominent through not only their attire, but the lyrics in their song (Pak, 2013). A huge pressure exists for K-pop artists to be flawless. Image is everything in this business, not only just to be successful but also in attracting their fan bases. It’s really unfortunate, but sex sells. The pressure to be perfect has caused over 90% of K-pop performers to undergo plastic surgery in order to modify aspects of the face, including eyelids, lips, the jawline and their nose (Reynolds, 2014). Interestingly enough, the increase in plastic surgery customers has gone against South Korea’s norm of cultural modesty. Throughout their history, Korean culture and society has frowned over the sexualization of artists because their culture promotes innocence (Pak, 2013).

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When sexualization is discussed in K-pop, it is mainly talked about in relation to the female gender. Female K-pop artists have been sexualized based on their tight clothing, provocative gestures, lyrics and exposure of skin when performing. The “innocence” of K-pop has shifted into a want for “sex (Pak, 2013).” Female K-pop performers are competing against well known famous artists from other countries to gain larger exposure, such as female artists in America. American artists have gained massive fame through promoting “sex” in their songs, such as in “Slave 4 U,” by Britney Spears, or “Stay,” by Rihanna. Seeing that “sex sells,” an increased number of K-pop artists have follow suit in order to gain more fame in their own individual careers. To increase their revenue, they must increase their following. Female K-pop artists have made their material sexier to increase their revenue and fan base (Pak, 2013).

Women are also sexualized in many male music videos as well. Many male artists display women in their videos as objects of pleasure. Through these videos, they are sending the message out to women, their main followers, that women have to possess a certain image in order to be considered beautiful (Isbah, 2017).

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Women are not the only performers who are sexualized. Men are sexualized in this business, but in a different light. Men are marketed as eye-candy. They are sexualized based on their abs or how much they move their hips. When a male goes shirtless, it is rarely seen as an issue because society is more accustomed to seeing males shirtless. (Park, 2016). When a male takes off their shirt, it is seen as manly or sexy. If a woman were to do the same thing, it is classified as provocative or dirty (Park, 2016). Some male K-pop performers have undergone plastic surgery in hopes of looking better to attract more followers (Reynolds, 2014). Male K-pop performers put pressure on young males to be muscular and sexy. This can lead to the deteriorating of a males self-confidence (I., 2017).

Here are some examples of sexualization existing in K-pop.

Jay Park – “Mommae” 

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Jay Park, a popular K-pop singer, released this video in May 2015. In this video, he was very open in revealing what he loves most about a women’s body. In this music video, the women are hovering around Park, making him be seen as the “prize” or the “authority figure.” He has the power in this video to have the girls be as revealing as he wanted them to be, thus the reason why a ton of skin was exposed. In the video, to show the women’s sexiness, while the females in the video were wearing very little clothing, they were laying on top of him or dancing (Park, 2016). Also, for more than half of the video, the camera was focused on a women’s butt with little clothing covering it or their breasts. As this video was geared towards Park’s heavy female audience, this video gained more male viewers than females because of how revealing the females were. Women in this video were portrayed to fulfill a males desires and are seen almost as mannequins, not strong females. Throughout the entire video, men’s sexual desires were satisfied by females revealing body parts (Park, 2016).

HyunA – “Lip & Hip” 

Kim HyunA, a solo female K-pop artist, released this music video in January 2018. In this video, HyunA and her backup dancers are wearing reveling clothing, heavy makeup and are dancing very provocatively. This video was aimed for her male audience, which was the reason why she showed so much skin and switched to a “sexier” approach in her choreography.  The music video starts with the girls doing hip roles and the camera is focused on their back side. HyunA is wearing a long jacket that she flares up every time she does a hip roll. She lifts her jacket so that the camera can have a better look at her butt and white panties. During the music video, she draws more attention to her boobs not only by wearing just a bra on her top half, but by feeling around them to accentuate them. Also, in the video, HyunA drops her panties to the ground more than once.

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In the video, there were multiple moments where the camera would only be focused on the girls butts as they were twerking, or other private parts as they were opening and closing their legs. This video came very close to HyunA and her backup dancers so they would be seen as sex objects. This video proves that in the K-pop industry, sex sells massively.

Overall, sexualization definitely exists in K-pop, and it is a larger reality than many people know it to be. As it has been reiterated throughout this article, the fact is, “sex sells.” The issue definitely has the capability to only grow worse and worse. This could occur because sexiness is what is wanted and demanded on stage right now. Against groups that go for the “sexy” appeal, those that are going for the “cute” appeal are significantly failing in comparison. How both women and men are portrayed in the media can be very upsetting. Hopefully this will change soon, but it doesn’t look like that is the path we are going to follow (Park, 2016).

In conclusion, K-pop is following suit of American artists to sell sex in order to grow fanbases and enlarged their appeal. Is this right? Is this wrong? What are your opinions on the matter?

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