On the Intense Gender Norms That Support the Korean Music Industry

Feature Image: TWICE top, iKON bottom

K-Pop is seen by most of the outside world as the South Korean take on the Western fad of boy and girl singing groups (see NSYNC, Destiny’s Child) during the 90s, while in fact that is truly not the case. In fact, having that sort of mentality is extremely toxic in and of itself. No, K-Pop groups are not American-wannabes; while influence in the west is all well and good, it is not the final goal of any group.

That’s besides the point, though. What I’d much rather get into at this time is the nature of said music groups, that being the reluctance of Korean artists to form co-ed groups, straying from the norm of girl/boy groups. For girl groups, what is typically received best by (primarily male) audiences is a cute, childish, and soft theme among their songs, dances, and music videos. As for boy groups, just about the opposite is what’s popular among their (primarily female) fans, that being a more dark and sexy, if not cool and laid-back concept.

We’ll look at two examples. Two of the most popular groups in Korea at this time; girl group TWICE and boy group iKON.


TWICE released their first album, THE STORY BEGINS, in October of 2015 with title track “OOH-AHH하게”. The music video for the song features the nine members dressed in up in varying degrees of cuteness, ranging from a cheerleader to a schoolgirl. They dance around and in a grotesque-looking building resembling a school, countless zombies scattered about. Their bubbly dance moves contrast the intense setting, as well as their glowing smiles.

(A/N) As mentioned, this video does send extremely conflicting messages about it being either cute or sexy (as seen in their random costuming), but the undeniable fact is that the song sounds, plainly, cute.


In May of 2017, seven-piece iKON released their first mini-album, NEW KIDS : BEGIN with title track “BLING BLING”. The music video begins with a sweeping shot of the dark outlines of the seven members standing, feet placed uncomfortably far apart in an ultra-masculine stance. Their dancing begins with them thrusting their bottom halves towards the camera. In fact, most of the dancing in the video involves forceful mo

vements of their hips in all directions. The bulk of the video features a number of the members (every member, as far as I could tell) rapping or singing from the hood of an expensive-looking car.

In all honesty, the only way to truly understand the overwhelming masculinity of the video is to watch it yourself. I don’t think I, or any writer, could do it true justice. Overall, the song’s heavy beats and raps leave you with the impression that it is by boys.

It all boils down to what the market wants; if what the Korean market wants is intense  and distinct gender themes and roles, then that is what it wants. But, that speaks to much deeper problems in South Korea.

Korean culture can be considered more conservative than that of the United States; being gay is extremely taboo and resented, primarily due to unfamiliarity; openly gay Koreans are few and far between.

A few Korean music companies have ventured beyond the norm with co-ed groups such as K.A.R.D and Triple H, both of whom are received with rather mixed feelings in Korea, but both have respectable followings in countries such as Indonesia, Mexico, and the United States.

The immediate future of K-Pop groups seems bleak, the idea enforced every time a company debues another cute, bubblegum pop girl group or another hip-hop boy duo. Until the current co-ed groups experience an explosion in popularity, the norms will remain the same.


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