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OPINION: Singers Or Sex Symbols? Female K-Pop Groups Struggle Between Artistry, Audience

OPINION: Singers or sex symbols? Female K-Pop groups struggle between artistry, audience

By Daniel Kim
GSS Correspondent

SONGDO, South Korea — Has K-Pop gone too far?

Aspiring Korean “idol” groups are turning to sex appeal to gain popularity. They disregard musicality and focus on the aesthetics instead. The “hit songs” they churn out are merely loud, fast-paced chants filled with hooks that get stuck in your head instantaneously.

Even worse, they are becoming products instead of artists. Devoid of any creative control, many of them are helpless under the orders of the producers who often focus on emphasizing sexual images.

Commercializing sex is an issue frequently found among female K-Pop groups.

For example, Stellar suddenly gained media attention with its sexually charged single “Marionette” shocking K-Pop fans; in a recent article, group members said they had “no choice” but “to go the sexy route” to build an audience:

AOA is another girl group that went from anonymity to fame after promoting songs and choreography laden with sexual themes.

What is most problematic is that uniqueness is often sacrificed for sexuality. After new K-Pop groups fail to gain mainstream success, they immediately take on seductive concepts. In order to gain the attention of the public, they wear revealing outfits and dance to sexually charged choreography.

Although overly sexual pop songs are often criticized by media outlets, there still remains a high demand for such products. This compels producers to churn out musical concepts that rely heavily on emphasizing what they believe is an ideal body of a female. As a result, the public is easily persuaded into worshipping the seemingly perfect bodies of female K-Pop singers.

Fortunately, all hope is not lost.

Some K-Pop acts are taking a step away from sex appeal, focusing on promoting their self-composed songs or vocal skills instead. Take the example of girl groups Wonder Girls and Mamamoo, both highly praised for their originality.

Wonder Girls made its debut in 2007, and has been well-known for their infectious hook songs ever since. Although their most famous songs were mostly dance songs without much focus on musicality, they successfully underwent a shift in musical direction with their most recent chart-topping release, “Why So Lonely.” This reggae-pop song was composed by the members themselves, marking the girl band’s transition from idol to artist.

Mamamoo has been promoted as a girl group with amazing singing skills. Instead of turning to sexual themes, the group has focused on creating unique music in addition to giving engaging performances. Although it took Mamamoo several tries to reach mainstream appeal, it has become a key figure in the K-Pop scene.

Both Wonder Girls and Mamamoo demonstrate that it is possible for idol groups to gain popularity without relying on sex appeal. While it’s true that pursuing creativity often means years of hard work without acknowledgement, such a bold attempt is necessary in order to truly diversify K-Pop.

Featured photo: Screenshot of the Korean pop group Mamamoo’s “Piano Man MV” video, at

—Daniel Kim is a student at Chadwick International School in Songdo, South Korea.  

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