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K-pop’s music video gender imbalance : A look at some of the most popular clips reveals far more women than men on screen

July 03,2018
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In many music videos from male singers and idol groups, there are more women on screen than men. Four-person group Winner’s “Everyday” (2018) starts off with the members surrounded by eight girls dressed in bikinis, top. Zico and Babylon, middle, walk through women wearing bikinis in “Boys and Girls” (2015) and Big Bang’s “Bae Bae” (2015) features the members dancing with women, above. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
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Many music videos for girl groups feature plots that pit women against each other as they try to get the attention of the same man. At top is AOA’s “Heart Attack” (2015), in which former member Cho-a is in love with a man who also happens to be interested in member Seol-hyun. Middle, members of Red Velvet encircle a delivery man as if they are performing a cult ritual. Sunmi’s “Heroine” (2018) features many scenes of Sunmi dancing with an all-female group of dancers, above. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Many K-pop songs talk about love both directly and indirectly. Countless pop songs have boys swearing their undying love for their one and only girl and girls expressing their affection for their man. So, it may not be a big deal that a male idol group’s music video features women and that a female idol group’s video features men.

But, a deep dive into the most popular music videos of the past few years on YouTube reveals that, in the majority of K-pop music videos, the number of women on screen often surpass the number of men, creating scenes where men are often paired up or surrounded by women, whereas women are often depicted as fighting over the same guy or dancing for the gaze of the camera.

Large pop groups with more than five or six members don’t usually feature backup dancers in their music videos or at live performances to fill up space. This is the case for many popular idol groups these days, such as the seven-member boy band BTS, the nine-member girl group Twice, the six-member group GFriend, the 11-member group Wanna One, the nine-member group Momoland, the seven-member group BtoB, the nine-member group EXO as well as some smaller groups such as Blackpink, which has four members.

But when artists do decide to feature other people in the background of their videos, they are nearly always women.

YG Entertainment boy band Winner’s recent single “Everyday” is a love song sung to a girl, making the promise that the singer will be with her “every day” of the week.

But contrary to the message of the song, the music video opens with the members of Winner sitting among eight girls in bikinis.

Similar images can be seen in music videos from a wide spectrum of artists. Rapper Zico and Babylon are surrounded by girls lounging in bathing suits in their video for “Boys and Girls” (2015), while scantily clad women dance for the camera in rapper Jay Park’s “Mommae” (2015) music video. Park Jin-young’s “Who’s Your Mama?” (2015) opens with Park blatantly staring at the bodies of women while they work out in the gym.

If this is the nature of music videos from male singers, then one might assume that music videos from popular girl groups would feature men as eye candy as well. Instead, most of these music videos feature stories that pit members of the group against each other as they fight for the attention of a single man or feature only the singers.

The music video for Red Velvet’s “Pick-A-Boo” (2017) centers around a spooky cult theme, has the members preying on a delivery man and, in the end, circling around him as if performing a cult ritual. In Mamamoo’s video for “Decalcomanie” (2016) each of the members fall for the same man. In the music video for AOA’s 2015 hit song “Heart Attack,” members Cho-a and Seol-hyun are caught in a love triangle with the same man, although Seol-hyun turns out to play cupid for Cho-a.

Even music videos from strong, young and female divas, such as CL, HyunA, Sunmi and Chungha, are packed with girls with maybe one man playing the singer’s lover in the video’s story. While male singers are often seen playfully hanging out with the women in their videos, female singers are frequently depicted as if they are flirting or fighting for the attention of a single man.

According to culture critic Ha Jae-geun, this phenomenon is based on conventional gender roles in the Korean art world that are set deep in the minds of the video directors, where women are deemed as something comparable to a flower - nice to look at and good to lighten up the mood.

“Conventionally in pop culture, women have been treated as a means to lighten up the mood, and to act as eye candy,” said Ha. “This is the case with the idol groups’ stage performances, but especially in music videos. Producers use women to make the screen look brighter. While a large number of women are used for sex appeal, the small number of men who appear are there to depict ordinary love scenes.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]