Girls in the men’s room: BoA’s androgyny

I’m not saying girls dressing up like guys is anything new (nor vice versa), but when super-feminine waif BoA’s new single is still touting the same fedoras, three-piece suits, and all-male dance cast, it’s worth reiterating a notion I skimmed while gushing over “Eien.” At a time when popular Korean girl groups like SNSD, 2NE1, and 4minute are wrapped in layers of techno-colored wardrobes and purporting to sell tough girl images while skirts get shorter and suits come tailored in revealing short-shorts (and I would be making a completely different point if it wasn’t so obvious that they weren’t choosing any of it themselves and instead, kowtowing to image consultants and gender standards), BoA gets a short haircut (that isn’t pixie, or twee), a three-piece suit (that wouldn’t look attractive on anyone, and looks a size too big), and gender-neutral choreography (that has never showed off her talent better).

Hip-hop may still be a man’s game, but BoA has never been playing it better. A determination to keep her overseas Japanese urban reign has produced some interesting choices, among them “BUMP BUMP!”, her new collaboration with VERBAL. The music video initially caught my eye because it uses the same effect that Koda Kumi’s “Physical Thing” does wherein the edges of frames are dark and blurred so it seems the only light comes from a cheap camera flash, creating a keyhole view. This technique is often used in brooding music videos, a sort of updated film noir that’s supposed to let you know something seedy, sexual, or sinister is occurring. “Physical Thing” played up the stereotype, alluding to bodies littering a room but never taking the lens off Kumi, all the while watching her perform sexually suggestive gestures with wine bottles and grapes. But the effect in “BUMP BUMP!” is absolutely G-rated to the point where it’s almost dull; at least in “Eien” there were multiple settings. “BUMP BUMP!” takes place in one room with two masters of their craft doing nothing much but dancing, singing, and goofing around.

I’m deeply interested in the point behind this particular evolution: Appeal to a wider audience? Highlighting craft over image? Deliberate separation from younger, more stereotypical idol-esque pop groups? Interestingly, there was a completely different marketing strategy with the U.S. release of “I Did it For Love” at the same time the costume change was occurring across the ocean. In any case, no complaints about the turn around here. If at all successful, it will at least provide immunity from the pesky Japanese media who ignore whatever women are actually trying to do to field questions on relationship status, parenthood, and ex-boyfriends at charity events and promotional parties with which men don’t have to deal. I just wish I could dig the song as much as I do the concept.

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