Tohoshinki vs. Girls’ Generation: Selling the uber-gender

I am very tempted to discuss the gender divide among this week’s most buzzed Korean pop releases in a sort of battle of the super sexes (and I probably will do some shallow probing – them PVs just too good to resist), realizing it will probably make me unpopular among fans who like their girls to be girls and boys to be boys, as dictated by the exploitation of some seriously conservative gender values. But I don’t want it to seem like I’m completely anti-cute, which in the case of Girls’ Generation/SNSD’s “Oh!” would be completely off: you guys, this PV is oh em gee, double exclamation point adorable and what else would you expect from a record company that asks for winks, flashes of the peace sign, and displays of comical shock and awe among the audition pieces?

But we take these things for granted now, almost as much as all those tough looking guys on the boy band side like Tohoshinki/DBSK who have to consciously navigate the tender line between innocence and sexual development in order to appeal to young girls who should not, should never, think about sex. The angry young man archetype has been replaced by the new Asian boy band archetype: the angry young dancing man, who wraps himself in Johnny Cash’s wardrobe, loves to chill with the boys, and sings about how hard it is to just like, live your own life, man. As it is the girl groups’ duty to “Feel so embarrassed, I can’t look at you / I feel shy because I’ve fallen in love,” it is the boy bands’ duty to keep on pressing the optimistic, but over emphasized, notion of the young and ignorant that absolutely everything is within your control: strong men make their own destiny, women fall in love with them.

Lest I start becoming too critical, Girls’ Generations leading single off the new album “Oh!” and Tohoshinki’s “BREAK OUT!” are both incredibly succinct pop songs, almost to a fault. Tohoshinki has proven their Japanese crossover a success, accumulating groupies like Ayumi Hamasaki, and reaching number one on the Oricon daily charts with “BREAK OUT!”, a very bold song (boys are aggressive!) in comparison to Girls’ Generation’s fluffy, cheerleading “Oh!” (girls are nurturing!). We have yet to pin the two in any sort of overseas charting competition, as the only Korean crossovers we’ve had are boy bands (Tohoshinki, Big Bang – and please correct me if I’m wrong).

While the PV for “Oh!” ends with the girls encountering their doppelgangers in black (perhaps a future twist of their cute hallmark), I’d much rather see SM Entertainment give them the same commecial push they’ve given Tohoshinki, though I’m admittedly on the fence about their ability to succeed; Girls’ Generations albums, as a whole, are about as bad as their singles are good. “Oh!” itself is a rather broken album, one reason I find myself passing over Girls’ Generation more often than I do debating the merits of the possibility of their becoming Japanese pop’s next big thing (after all, in sheer numbers they’re ready to compete with the likes of any Hello! Project subgroup and more than willing to preen for enthusiastic wotas).

If you’re interested in far more scholarly gender issues on Girls’ Generation (or gender/sexuality in Korean pop in general), I recommend this post by James Turnbull over at The Grand Narrative (who also does a fantastic take on the G-Dragon scandal).

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12 thoughts on “Tohoshinki vs. Girls’ Generation: Selling the uber-gender

  1. eccentricyoruba January 30, 2010 / 12:24 pm

    excellent write-up! i don’t have much to say though i’m still amazed that it took a very long time before i realised the gendered divisions in Korean pop. i recently had a conversation on my blog that lead to discussing the gendered differences in dances by Korean pop groups as well in which girl groups are mostly expected to shake their hips and look sexy/hot as opposed to boy bands.

    • James Turnbull January 30, 2010 / 5:43 pm

      Took the words out of my mouth! And thanks for the compliments about my own blog Appears, but I think you do yourself a disservice, as I’m not particularly into K-pop (especially the boy bands!), and very much rely on posts of yours like this to interpret it myself. Please keep them coming!

      • Anna February 3, 2010 / 4:44 pm

        Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’ll do my best to point these things out when I come across them!

    • Anna February 3, 2010 / 4:43 pm

      I think the gender divide among choreography is pretty consistent around the world, but recently I’ve become very interested in the idea that even though girl groups may have to operate under systems of rigid gender roles, boy groups aren’t any less idealized or objectified…

  2. mellowyel January 30, 2010 / 7:21 pm

    BoA i think is the only successful female Korean pop star to cross over to Japan, and her image has matured a lot since her debut. I guess you can say she has more substance than Girls’ Generation, and that’s why she’s successful all over Asia. An interesting analysis, though, would be her American vs. her Asian image (mature vs. Britney-copycat) and why that turned out the way it did.

    • Anna February 3, 2010 / 4:46 pm

      BoA is a really good point, and I mentioned in a post very fleetingly the difference between the way she has been recently marketed in Asia, versus the West, per her music video for “I Did it for Love” versus her very androgynous look in recent videos like “Eien.”

  3. Lisa January 30, 2010 / 8:23 pm

    Great article! How men and women are perceived in different cultures has always been interesting to me.

    Although I have to wonder who wears the pants so to speak, behind closed doors as I’ve noticed at least in America men may put up a good front but it’s usually the women who rule the roost.

    • Anna February 3, 2010 / 4:55 pm

      I think that’s a really broad generalization to make without research. One has to take into account the number of different cultures that comprise America and look at which cultures are patriarchal versus matriarchal. One also has to take into account how household roles have been affected by divorce or separation. There would have to be more research to prove that claim…

      • Lisa February 5, 2010 / 3:54 pm

        I meant in my own experiences, sorry!

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