It’s time for part two of the great stage presence debate, Soompiers! The boys have already had their turn, but now it’s time to switch our discussion to the girls.
Stage presence is easy to define — it just means a performer’s ability to engage an audience. Of course, it gets a bit trickier when you start trying to measure which stars have more stage presence than the rest.
That said, here is a list of eight women who we think know how to captivate a K-pop crowd. None of my biases make the list — but take a look to see if yours does!
And why not see if you can expand on our list? Tell us which female stars you think can really rock the show in the comments below!
Often called the “Korean Madonna,” Uhm Jung Hwa shares much in common with the American pop legend. And make no mistake about it, stage presence is certainly a factor in this comparison.
When push comes to shove, absolutely no woman on this list or any other could ever hope to have as much stage presence as this K-pop pioneer. Personally, I see her more as the Korean Marlene Dietrich — the Korean Madonna is…well, you’ll have to read on to find out who I think that is.
Like Marlene Dietrich, Uhm Jung Hwa does not have a great voice. She is not particularly beautiful conventionally speaking. She is also relatively short in person — many modern girl group members tower above her.
About all she does have, like Marlene Dietrich, is stage presence. But boy does she maximize that.
Her track “Invitation” is a byword for sexiness — even now, every time a variety show panelist does or says anything that is supposed to be construed as sexy, you can be sure this song will get played in the background.
It has also been covered (or dance covered) by everyone from BIGBANG to Ivy to Nine Muses to Girl’s Day’s Hyeri and Sojin. But as mind-fryingly sexy as all of the above stars are, not a single one of them can captivate an audience like Uhm Jung Hwa.
Bear in mind that this video features a 45-year-old, post-thyroid cancer Uhm Jung Hwa — a woman who has not been active on the Korean music scene since 2008, singing a 17-year-old song. Yet she still slayed so hard with this performance that in the wake of it, it broke back into the Korean top 10 almost two decades after it was first released.
Like PSY on the male list, we are talking about a celebrity with pure star quality here. But while PSY electrifies crowds and has them on their feet, Uhm Jung Hwa instead throws them into a mesmerized stupor.
K-pop stage presence? She wrote the book on it.
SISTAR occupies a pretty unique place at the top of the ultra-competitive girl group tree. Along with EXID and Girl’s Day, the girls are arguably the only non-big three (JYP, YG, SM) agency act who can step with the likes of Girls’ Generation, f(x), 2NE1, and miss A.
And although people everywhere also go nuts about Soyu, it is Hyorin who has put this act on the map.
When they started out, I have a feeling Starship Entertainment intended to make Bora the focal point of the group. After all, on purely conventional terms, she is probably the most aesthetically pleasing member of SISTAR.
But as personable and cheerful-looking as Bora is, she is not a born performer. Well, not like Hyorin, anyway.
Perhaps it comes with the knowledge that she is a better singer (and rapper) than just about any other K-pop star you care to mention, perhaps it is something deeper even than that. But whatever it is, Hyorin was born to perform and you could bet your bottom dollar that SISTAR would not be even half as successful as they are without her (and her stage presence) onboard.
Again, an artist who proves that conventional good looks are not much help in the quest for stage presence. I am not sure that Ga In boasts the beauty of her bandmates — arguably Narsha wins in that department.
But whenever you see Brown Eyed Girls onstage, it is exceptionally hard to take your eyes off Ga In, which is probably why her solo career has taken her to places that her bandmates probably could not hope to follow.
This is possibly one of the most ambitious, experimental releases of 2015.
Part nightmarish fever dream, part literary tie-in, part contemporary dance routine, Ga In really pulled out all the stops on this one. K-pop meets John Milton? That’s cerebral, that’s daring.
Is she weirdly sexy or utterly terrifying? Whatever she is, you simply cannot take your eyes off her.
There are few K-pop stars who could pull off a concept like this without looking hopelessly self-conscious, awkward, or just plain confused. Instead Ga In is totally in her element. And that is all down to sheer magnetism.
It is really hard to pick between Jimin and Choa when it comes to who in AOA has more stage presence. Almost certainly neither can match Seolhyun in the beauty stakes. I mean, seriously, how are you going to compete with looks like these?
Seolhyun, like miss A’s Suzy, possesses a very objective kind of beauty.
But I have to say that when I watch AOA perform, I can barely ever notice Seolhyun because of the magnetism that Jimin and Choa exude.
Like them or loathe them, Jimin and Choa just dominate the stage — and your screen.
However, I am going with Choa on this one, if only because Jimin only seems to shine when she is onstage with AOA. As part of the original series of “Unpretty Rapstar,” she was fun, but was outshone by other contestants, and not just in the emceeing department.
In her collaboration with J.Don, Jimin should have ruled the roost, but ended up playing second fiddle to the N.Flying man.
But Choa seems to have what it takes to engage an audience outside the AOA frame. Her TV work is picking up, as is her modeling. She is sought-after by musical show casting directors and her chart-topping Primary collaboration “Don’t Be Shy” is one of the most outstanding songs of the year so far.
Both Choa and Jimin have got it, but Choa just edges this one for me.
Agencies everywhere must have been on red alert when HyunA stepped down from Wonder Girls. Cube Entertainment certainly wasted no time whatsoever in snapping her up and making her the focal point of 4Minute, a role she flourishes in.
I once worked backstage at an event that 4Minute performed at, and it was quite an eye-opener.
After rehearsal, the rest of 4minute walked off to chat. But not HyunA. She had had a manager record her dance routine and the second she stepped offstage, she began watching the video back with intent concentration, critically appraising her performance. She watched it over and over again. I have never seen a K-pop star quite so devoted to her craft.
Obviously HyunA is very aware of her stage presence, but the truth is, she has obviously worked as hard as possible to ensure she always stands out, no matter whose company she is in.
Not many people could do what HyunA does on stage without looking cheap or awkward, but she never looks out of place, be it alone, as part of Trouble Maker, or as a member of 4Minute.
If there is a successor to Uhm Jung Hwa or Lee Hyori’s crown as the Korean “Queen of Sexy,” it is almost certainly this young lady. Nobody else has the combination of sheer magnetism and unflagging determination.
So far this list has gravitated towards sexy stars, women whose onstage persona is captivating because they have a sensual aura that somehow reaches through your TV screen and draws you in. But CL is a completely different prospect.
The likes of HyunA and Choa engage you on totally different level; they suck you in and make you feel like you are onstage with them. They make you think things that aren’t proper to post on a family friendly site like this. But CL just seems to want to make you dance with her.
For a girl group, this is quite a difficult prospect. As stated here, the modus operandi for just about any girl group you care to speak of is to pander to a male sexual fantasy. Although 2NE1 is far from being a sexless act, CL’s stage presence is more about energizing crowds than stimulating their fantasies.
She makes everything seem like so much fun. And like her labelmate G-Dragon, she is a natural who makes all this K-pop business seem so straightforward and exciting.
OK, this is the first name on the list you are probably not going to agree with me on at first. But hear me out.
Television is a hopelessly poor communication tool, in that it only permits one-way dialogues. The real stage presence kings and queens are the ones who can make you feel like they are looking at you, not at a bank of ENG camera lenses.
But a star needs to do more than just look at the camera to convince people to suspend disbelief and feel for a fleeting moment that the person on TV is looking at them. Not true in the sense of Keumjo.
In my case, I found it hard to maintain an interest in 9MUSES after all three of my favorite members left — Sera’s uniqueness and musicality, Lee Sem’s looks and Eunji’s energetic rapping were the whole point of the group for me.
The other members are talented, yes, and exceptionally attractive, but I felt that without that trio, the group would just become basically Kyungri (the only member who had ever shown any real stage presence) plus assorted others.
But then Keumjo joined and the dynamic changed. Whereas before there was just one member with natural magnetism, now there are two. Kyungri was always the one with that look, even in the days of Lee Sem, Eunji, and Sera. She just draws your eyes away from the rest, no matter whether she is your bias or not.
And now Keumjo is doing the same.
I am not sure any K-pop act has more than one member with outstanding stage presence (aforementioned AOA excepted), but 9MUSES now has two.
For whatever reason, 9MUSES have accumulated relatively little in the way of a following, a pity as they have released two of the best girl group songs of the year so far. “Hurt Locker” is great, as is the recent “Sleepless Night,” in which Keumjo is outstanding.
A subunit project or a solo release needs to happen soon and Keumjo needs to be a part of it.
And here’s the other pick you are going to be raising your eyebrows at, especially if you are not a fan of MAMAMOO.
However, I am not sure MAMAMOO would have amassed the relatively large following they now have without a member like Hwasa.
Yes, they have bags and bags of talent and can sing better than most girl groups out there. Yes, their material is far better than most. But let’s for a second compare Hwasa and her bandmate Moonbyul.
Personally I think Moonbyul is one of the most talented young K-pop stars to surface anywhere in the past few years. And if I have a bias in the group, it is certainly her.
But the latter has almost no stage presence whatsoever. She looks almost apologetic about performing, whereas Hwasa looks like she believes she has a divine right to be onstage.
In many ways, she is very reminiscent of the young Madonna in the 1980s — not a mere pop star, more like a force of nature.
There is even a physical resemblance.
That strong jawline, that air of supreme confidence, that shock of bleach-blonde hair. Tell me I am not alone in thinking this.
And like some of the artists mentioned above, she has the uncanny, Mona Lisa-like ability to make every member of the audience feel like she is making eye contact with them and only them.
Maybe I am imagining it, but I cannot help feeling that MAMAMOO’s numerous 1940s-themed concepts (“Mr Ambiguous,” “Piano Man”) were designed with Hwasa in mind. She has that unflustered, Jean Harlow bombshell look.
It may come as little surprise to hear that Hwasa is very close to that other stage presence queen HyunA. Birds of a feather flock together, as they say.
Hwasa solo. Make it happen, Rainbow Bridge World.
You’ve read our thoughts, now it’s over to you, Soompiers! Which female K-pop artists have the most stage presence? Tell us in the comments below!
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica and a hankering for hip-hop.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not represent Soompi as a whole.