Lee Jung Hyun’s “Vogue Girl” and Western beauty

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”

While the rest of the world was watching Kanye West make an ass out of himself last night, I was busy catching up on some albums and watching the Old Hollywood promotional blitz for Lee Jung Hyun’s comeback mini-album Avaholic. I listened to the album back in May when it was released and was sincerely disappointed. A long time fan of Lee’s eccentric techno, I’ve come to love the beautiful mess of her shrill voice and high-pitched attempts at rap. I loved the tribal influence on I Love Natural and the traditional Spanish instrumentation on Passion. But for all its purported hip-hop influence, Fantastic Girl had all the toughness of a mewling kitten and the street sense of a Hall & Oates single. After three years, my expectations were pretty high and the failure to deliver on even five full-length tracks was a rude wake-up call; Lee Jung Hyun: No longer awesome.

But when I stumbled upon a couple of performance videos for “Vogue Girl” (or “Vogue It Girl” as the television shows call them), I was forced to reassess my initial response. OK, so Avaholic, as a whole, is still sub-par pop, but “Vogue Girl” is extremely fun and fits right into the mold of current electro-inspired Korean hip-pop. It’s got a great beat and sassy attitude and if the satire is intentional, it’s kind of genius.

Some of the performances have Lee spoofing Classic Hollywood cinema, namely as Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Marilyn Monroe (The Seven Year Itch, although the opening clip they used was from Some Like it Hot – a totally different, declining-health Monroe). But even after watching something like ten of these performances, the song began to seem a bit hokey and even the Hollywood schtick seemed slightly bizarre. Lee Jung Hyun is a beautiful Asian woman, so why the exultation of  a platinum blonde stereotype? My hope is that the whole concept pokes fun at these pedestaled institutions of fashion and beauty, although the lyrics of the song are so vague it’s hard to debate. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and operate under those terms, that she’s not just having fun playing dress up but that she really does have something to say. Take for example the lines “Making, making / an image that I don’t even know” and the playful, mocking call of “Baby, don’t you wanna wanna be a di li di di di, it girl?” as if she’s some sort of sleazy publicist. But she’s not; she’s dressed as the product of misogynistic Hollywood studios, going through the motions of the winks and the ultra-feminine poses, while playing the preening starlet who’s aware of and very satisfied with the use she can get out of her sexuality; in promotional photo shoots, it goes further back historically as she dons the heavily tiered powdered wigs of a Marie Antoinette inspired get-up. The implications are brilliant in a way I’ve seen rarely expressed by a pop star, particularly an Asian one who has more to lose with the world’s obsession with Western women’s beauty standards.

But though those are the central concerns, it’s more than that: using Classic Hollywood figures attacks one of the biggest industries to fuel the obsession with a woman’s appearance. And while many might just see Marilyn Monroe as the classic embodiment of femme fatal or condemn her role as a willing play-thing of big-wigs and casting directors, there’s really something very vulnerable and sad about her entire existence that demands a sympathetic eye-opener to the strings that manipulated her every move, abandoned her during her weakest moment, and allowed her life to end so tragically and alone.

But if Lee is attempting to make a big statement, she’s not very good at following up on it: the rest of her performances of “Vogue Girl” drop the Hollywood act and feature her seemingly just as flawless and airbrushed as her fickle public demands and generally embodying whatever stereotype I thought she was making fun of up until that point. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to ruminate on the possible satire in the those few moments of promotional brilliance, or maybe it’s just another culture she’s almost fetishizing in the likes of her past fascinations with Native American and Spanish cultures, but I’d like to think it’s one more positive, albeit brief, message that managed to slip through the cracks.

Jung Hyun Lee’s “Fantastic Girl”

Jung Hyun Lee / Fantastic Girl / October 10, 2006
03. Teul / 06. Dallyeo / 11. All In

Since 1999, Jung Hyun Lee has been Korea’s leading lady when it comes to techno. In 2005, she revitalized her career by recording most of her well-known songs in Japanese and attempting a BoA-esque crossover. However, her popularity failed to match its desired reception and Lee returned in 2006 to recording in her native Korean. Best known for her DDR promoted tracks “Wa” and “Bakkwuh”, Lee first captured my attention with the release of these very singles. Her early albums reinforced her quirky, high-pitched vocals that ranged from the smooth to the staccato with use of the industrial techno of which she is now most associated.

Though her third album waned in the genre pigeon-hole, with Lee dabbling in hip hop for the first time, the crux of her work has not changed much aside from influence. Her first two albums focused heavily on Indian influence (“Nuh”), her fourth work used plenty of Native American influence and her fifth (and possibly most terrible album) used a fair share (re: ridiculously enormous amount) of Spanish influence. Although her fifth effort may very well have been her weakest, her newest album, Fantastic Girl, may be hitting rock bottom.

Fantastic Girl is an attempt to resuscitate a drowning career via Lee’s third album with zero success. Gone are the flourishing techno and dance elements and present are the pseudo-hip hop attempts (“FunFun (feat. Double K”)/”Formula”), tuneless pop (“Just Look At Me”), and lots and lots of early 90s Top 40 ballads (all of the slow songs). A look at the song titles is a look at the power of false advertisement. “Men Annoy Women” could be an idiosyncratic battle of the sexes but is one of the weakest links on the entire album and “Love Song” immediately sets itself up for disappointment and satisfies all expectations because unless a song titled “Love Song” is brilliant or fantastically unique, it fulfills its own stereotype with substandard results. The only two songs that stand out are “All In” because it’s of its Magic To Go To My Star factor and “Dallyeo,” a not so subtly “This shit is bananas” influenced pop number that takes us back in time to when Lee was catchy and knew how to use hooks to her advantage.

Although this album seems to imitate her third album most, Fantastic Girl is not a welcome and admirable attempt to criss-cross genres successively. I think if Lee stuck to what she was best at, she would have an album with a higher good-to-mediocre song ratio. Often, there is comfort in the known.

Official Site
Buy Fantastic Girl

Friday night shuffle VI

Wherein I put the ol’ iRiver on shuffle and post the first five songs that come up.

Lee Jung Hyun – Q: Lee Jung Hyun is a phenomenally huge East Asian singer. Mostly dabbling in techno, she first amassed popularity in Korea with “Bakkwah” and “Wa” which were both showcased in mixes for Dance Dance Revolution. After releasing six full length albums, she finally took it upon herself to conquer Japan, where she released Japanese versions of already popular Korean songs. She failed to gain the attention she was accustomed to, but continues releasing new material in both languages with plans for a new album coming this summer. This song is insanely catchy and does a good job of pigeon-holing her typical style of fast paced techno laced with her alarmingly high-pitched vocals.

Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana: I’m not really sure why I have this song in my iRiver, but it’s only one of two Michael Jackson songs I have in here. All hail the King of Pop pre-Jesus Juice era. I think this is a song he did with Slash from Guns N’ Roses?

Nelly Furtado – Do It: Off of Furtado’s latest CD, Loose, comes this poppy, 80s synth funk debacle of loveliness; easily one of my favorite songs off the entire CD. Many are quick to point out her “selling out” by collaborating so ribaldly with Timbaland and changing her homey, wholesome style in favor of heavy hip hop beats and brain dead lyrics about promiscuous girls, but I’m sorry, the new CD is one of the best American pop albums I’ve heard since Love Angel Music Baby. The slower songs are all worth skipping over, leaving about eight actual foot stomping numbers, but it’s worth it anyway. Eight out of fifteen on an American pop album? That’s a bulls-eye if I ever saw one.

Sex Pistols – No Feelings: It’s the Sex Pistols. You either like them or hate them…must I continue?

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine in Pepperland: If there’s anything I love more than the original “Yellow Submarine,” it’s this orchestral version by George Martin. Huzzah!