K-Pop: Oversexualization in K-Pop

Promotional image of the original Monsta X lineup. From left to right, Chae Hyungwon, Sohn Hyunwoo (Shownu), Yoo Kihyun, Im Changkyun (I.M), Lee Jooheon (Joohoney), Lee Minhyuk, and Lee Hoseok (Wonho). Copyright goes to Starship Entertainment.

Hey! Hallie here!

Oversexualization is a term that gets thrown around a lot in K-Pop fandoms. Sometimes rightfully so and sometimes with no reason whatsoever. Though it doesn’t really ever go away, I’ve seen this word pop up a lot more often in recent days. Every once in a while ARMY will get into fights about oversexualizing Jimin and Jungkook specifically, which is starting to pop up again. This topic is complicated and there’s a lot of things to consider here. At the same time that a lot of groups, both girl and guy, market themselves partially off of attractiveness, at what point do fans start taking this whole thing too far? What is respectful and what is so disrespectful that it no longer acknowledges the idol as a human being? I’m going to dive into this for a ton of groups, not just BTS. And if the photo above is any indication, Monsta X will be a big part of this conversation. Let’s get into it!

What is Oversexualization?:

It seems kind of simple. Oversexualization is the act of aiming sexual content or comments at others to an inappropriate extent. In the K-Pop community, it most often takes the form of making content that’s sexual in nature featuring an idol, or making explicit comments about an idol, when that behavior is unprompted. The issue is deciding when that behavior is unprompted. As I said above, the K-Pop industry, as much as it might try to deny it, is run partly on looks alone. Attractiveness is a major aspect of choosing an idol for an idol group because it’s considered extremely marketable. As such, a lot of music videos and photoshoots use concepts most find attractive and rely on the fact that many people will be drawn to the idols as a result. So if idols and idol companies are inviting others to view them in a sexual way, when does oversexualization step in?

Oversexualization of Idols Against Their Wishes:

This one seems really obvious. If an idol tells you that they’re uncomfortable with certain explicit comments, don’t circulate explicit comments. But there are ways this can get a bit more complicated. Particularly when companies force their idols to adapt a suggestive look without their consent. Most girl groups have experienced this. Music videos that are intended to be cute end up not-so-cute because of the costumes the company chose, or companies shame girls who don’t seem sexy enough when they dance for “lacking self confidence”. These things run rampant through the industry and often times primarily affect minors. I mean, look how many girl groups start out their careers with either the school-girl or femme-fatale theming despite their ages. But yes, it’s simple to just say don’t oversexualize minors and move on, so here’s your warning that people can and do over oversexualize those who aren’t minors. Such as the group After School, who were forced by their company to do a pole dancing concept for a music video despite the fact that none of them agreed. What resulted was all of the women getting major injuries from trying to master a skill that takes years of practice in only a month. The moral of the story is, you can find members of K-Pop groups attractive, but if they don’t want that type of attention, don’t aim that type of content at them. Even if they are using suggestive themes for their work, if it’s not something they want themselves, they won’t want your sexual comments.

Oversexualization of Idols Who Don’t Invite It:

Above I listed the situations that are obvious examples of harmful oversexualization. I think most people would agree that oversexualizing idols against their will is disturbing in every situation. But this category starts to get trickier. In this category we have groups like BTS, where their general image is not tied to a “sexy” look, but they aren’t explicitly against it either. BTS has done more suggestive concepts. “Black Swan” and “Blood, Sweat & Tears” are great examples. They have also done photoshoots where they’ve played around with their self-confidence in both their personalities and their looks. So what counts as “oversexualization” here? To be honest, I think there are a few things people should consider when approaching comments that are sexual in nature towards groups like this. First, what is the content? If you’re posting something sexual in nature on a music video or concept that’s meant to be cute and endearing, you can probably count that as pretty uncalled for. When the idols do want to branch out and explore something sexier, It’s definitely alright, and may even be flattering, as long as you’re still being respectful. There’s a level of explicit that’s uncomfortable to everyone involved. Be sure your content or comments don’t reach this level. (Describing sexual acts in detail or dehumanizing an idol in any way is never appropriate.) It all comes down to making sure that you’re respecting the idol as a person first and foremost before saying anything. If it would make you uncomfortable, don’t say it to them.

Oversexualization of Idols Who Invite It:

Yes, this does exist. And this is where I bring in Monsta X. Monsta X has built a reputation for themselves off of breaking some cultural taboos by discussing sex in a lot of their songs. It isn’t the only thing they talk about, but they do base their image quite a bit on those themes in particular. Their concepts go along with a lot of “bad boy” imagery that goes very well with songs that break some societal norms and fall completely into the “sexy” category. You’ll also find some of the most strip-teases and thirst traps in K-Pop from some of these men. Shownu and former member Wonho in particular are known for these. The members help write songs, have some say in their general image, and take pride in what they do. So obviously, they’re inviting sexual comments. In that case, how is oversexualization possible? Simple. When fans forget the members are human beings. You can comment things that are sexual in nature all you like, but if all you have to say about the members are about their bodies, then you’re oversexualizing them. Be sure to note they’re people with lovable personalities as well. One of the things that irritates me the most with pictures of Shownu and Wonho in particular are the amount of people who crop their faces out of thirst traps and just keep an image of their bodies. Yes, they willingly post thirst traps and they have no problem with you making comments about their bodies. But cropping their faces out is an act of dehumanizing them. Whatever you do in any K-Pop fandom, never dehumanize idols. They are people just like us, not pieces of meat for you to fantasize over.

I hope this gives everyone a better idea of what oversexualization is and how to avoid it. I’ve said multiple times on this blog before that I’m asexual, and for me in particular, an excess of sexual comments does make me uncomfortable even when idols invite it. For that reason I did try my best to talk out my opinions with others and read other opinions to best navigate this situation. Overall though, I think this just comes down to critical thinking and respect. As long as you’re paying attention to context and you’re acknowledging the idols are their own people with thoughts and feelings, you should be fine. When in doubt though, be sure to do your own research on the idols you love. That way, you know if they’ve explicitly said how they want their fans to interact with them!

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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