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SEX. Now that I have your attention…
Sex appeal plays an enormous role in consumerism. Not every product needs to be advertised as sexy to sell but many of them do it because the sex drive is a very basic human instinct. So, what is the role of sexiness in an industry known for being conservative?
First off, provocative lyrics and dances are heavily regulated in public venues by the Korea Communications Commission to protect young ears and eyes that may be present. For all practical purposes, the process isn’t particularly systematic, since the KCC sometimes pulls one dance off air, while letting an arguably more overt one slide. However, there is an overall trend of keeping things clean. Sometimes, members of the Hallyu audience choose Korean pop for that very reason.
That’s not to say that Korean dance or music isn’t sexy. It is. Korean pop production just tends to be a little more subtle on how it packages this idea of being sexy, possibly out of habit from trying to slip past KCC’s radar. I think some people may focus on the idea of showing some skin and dancing certain moves, but there’s a lot more to it. For one thing, a big part of it is in the face and posture, from throwing a coy ‘come hither’ look to the full frontal ‘smoldering gaze of desire’ (please excuse the cliche). For another, what is considered attractive in Korea may look different to outsiders.
Cutesiness, or aegyo, gets maxed out for both men and women. How many celebrities have been asked to perform Gwiyomi on TV? The target audience doesn’t consist mainly of infants, parents or grandparents. Aegyo is for fans to see the adorable dorky side to squeal over. It doesn’t matter if it’s a manly man or a flower boy. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hyuna or Naeun. There’s bound to be someone lapping it up, finding the performer all the more lovable and attractive. Personally, I don’t normally think of cutesiness as sexy, but when Sunny launches her aegyo attack, men start looking away and covering their faces to show that they’re so pleased that it’s embarrassing. It’s a cultural thing, and if they find it attractive, yes, it counts as a kind of sex appeal.
More than being sexual, the underlying idea of increasing attractiveness is more important to understand what’s going on. Ga In explores sex as a theme in “Bloom” through the song and the music video, so while there is a marketing element, it’s not simply a ploy as there is a degree of artistry involved. In this case, sex appeal is a byproduct, not present for its own sake. More commonly, there are songs that seem to be mere shells built for the purpose of showcasing the performers’ different “charms,” through the general sound of how the song is sung and the dance that accompanies it. Even if sex appeal has a different form in a different culture, it’s still there.