Androgyny in Korean Popular Culture

K-pop is no doubt heavily influenced by American culture. The clothing, filming, English lyrics and instruments all reflect a process of Americanization. But there are certain aspects of K-pop that confronts Asian American stereotypes. Androgyny, the possession of both male and female characteristics, is one that often occurs to male singers. Instead of being portrayed as the typical geeky, harmless Asian male, singers like Rain (Jung Ji-Hoon) possess two types of personalities, both of which are revealed in music videos, concerts and television shows.

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Rainism,” the main song in Rain’s fifth album, targets the American market. In its music video, Rain comes across as the alpha male who has the most power and is very intimidating to people of all races. There are numerous scenes in the video where he appears in front of a group of men and women and puts his hand on each of their heads to make them kneel down or fall onto the floor. These scenes demonstrate his masculinity, for he seems bright and in control of the situation. Yet at the same time, the heavy eye makeup makes him appear more sophisticated than typical males and thus counts toward the feminine part of his performance.

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Moreover, during many of his concerts, Rain would take off his shirt and sometimes even perform in artificial rain. An example would be his 2005 concert called Rainy Day. He originally wore a deep V tank top and walked onto the stage with three female dancers. When he arrived at the center of the stage, the dancers ripped his shirt off and began a sexy routine. The singer is known for having a fit, muscular body, which may be why he frequently shows it off to the fans. While some may say that this is a result of Americanization because many American hip hop singers do this with female dancers and actresses in their music videos, too, Rain’s performance is only one side of his public image. In addition to the masculine features, he can also be soft, naive and empathetic. These characteristics can be found in songs he sang for K-dramas, as well as the shows in which he played a part.

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I Do” is the opening song for the show Full House starring Rain and Song Hye-kyo. The music video of the song shows Rain in a white shirt and pants planning out his proposal. He sets up a camera, tries to play cool but ends up acting clumsy, and then he leaves the house and finds so many people in love in the city. The song is very warm and cheerful and may be played at weddings. The music video adds on to it and shows Rain’s other side. He appears playful like a kid and sensitive like a girl, which contradicts his self-presentation in other music videos. These feminine qualities, along with the aforementioned masculine ones, makes him an androgynous entertainer.

Such androgyny in Korean popular culture could be considered a positive phenomenon, for it separates the already-very-Americanized music from American popular music. Not only does it help diversify performance styles in South Korea, but it also breaks the Asian American stereotypes held by other racial groups. Overall, this type of image may be further developed by South Korean artists and producers to stir racial and cultural discourses regarding the entertainment industry.

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