Muse-gate: Is Jonghyun a misogynist? No, probably not.

SHINee’s Jonghyun sparked some controversy and debate with a remark he made about women on his MBC radio show Blue Night while talking to Nine, the lead singer of indie band Dear Cloud a couple of weeks ago.

The outrage which only really emerged yesterday surrounded Jonghyun’s assertion that women are muses calling them “blessed beings. They are the biggest inspiration to all artists. They make all poets write poems, all painters pant, and all singers sing.”

It all began as an attempt for Korean SHINee fans to show Jonghyun in a positive light on Korean Twitter but gained traction as people called the statements misogynist.

It then received more attention after Jonghyun himself addressed the issue – not apologising but still asking what he said wrong while defending himself.

“I believe that one shouldn’t overreact to small happenings. I also think that the fundamental basis of a life of learning is that you should try to fully understand people’s views, and fix your wrong opinions. The reason why I’m posting this is because, as a man with a mother and a sister, there are talks going around of me being a misogynist and that I’ve said misogynistic statements. That is not true, but if those stories are going around and I stay quiet about it, some people will believe that I’m a misogynist who says misogynistic things. That would be a really big problem in my life, and a stain that I would not be able to erase.”

“I am not a misogynist nor did I say misogynistic things. If what I’ve said offended anyone, I want to know exactly what I said that has offended you, which is why I’m communicating like this. While talking about music on radio I said that women were blessed beings, and regarding this issue I will continue to post on SNS.”


As is so often the case, the discussion surrounding this has been reactionary and over-dramatic with one side accusing him of misogyny and a much larger other side loudly arguing that he couldn’t possibly be ‘a sexist’ because he loves his mother. What has been mostly lost is the context of the discussion and therefore the potential for an interesting debate about the way women are discussed in the Korean music industry.

If you actually look at the full conversation, it is a fascinating example of the direction conversations which engage with issues of identity – in this case gender – often take when two people who are not on the same page interact. Particularly, as is here, when the two people interacting are at different ends of the power dynamic.

In the entire segment, Nine subtly implies that some male musicians use music as a calculated way to have sex with women – not exactly a startling conclusion – with her assertion that the writer of the song they are discussing has ‘dark dark designs to be loved by all women.’

Jonghyun then proves her point with his slightly crass and clichéd statement about women being muses which she counters by pointing out that women make music too. From her perspective as a female songwriter, she sees that this idea that music is something men make for and about women makes it difficult for women like her to find her audience.

He broadly agrees with her point but argues that it is a global issue not just a Korean one. The translation embedded below ends at this point but he then goes on to say that he just wants women to know they have a ‘beloved existence’, he quips that their conversation is creating world peace and then the song is played.

  ‘Benevolent sexism’ is a concept coined by psychologists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske nearly 20 years ago which describes simplistic stereotypes about women which the holder views as positives but may not always be so. Often these idea actually end up placing women in a position of less power. As Ilene H Lang puts it:

“[B]enevolent stereotypes hurt women because they maintain inequality. Whether she’s the “little lady” or the “woman behind the man” or the soothing creature who exists simply to make men nicer, woman’s “natural” goodness becomes a rationale for why she should be protected from activities and occupations that require stereotypically “macho” qualities.”

Here, in this sense, what Jonghyun said is potentially offensive. As Nine alludes to in their conversation, the concept of the Muse (which dates back to Ancient Greece in Western tradition) may appear to be sweet and positive but often excludes women from becoming creators and subjects and normalises the idea that women are important in art only as objects from which to glean inspiration.

Is this what he meant? No, probably not. What he probably really meant is that for straight male artists the pursuit of sex, love and beautiful women has inspired centuries of great art – which is true. But framing this as this being the experience of all artists supposes that all artists are straight and male – which is not. That is not helpful to the cause of female and other not-straight-and-male artists who often face larger barriers in music anyway.

But to call this misogyny is equally unhelpful. Misogyny means the ‘hatred of women’. Jonghyun is misguided and wrong but not hateful.

It is particularly ludicrous within the context of K-pop. There is literally a K-pop girl group called Nine Muses. The role of the muse is one ever female entertainer is thrust into whenever they perform at an army base to ‘give strength’ to male soldiers.

Almost any given K-pop video, whether it is for a female or male artist or group, perpetuates benevolently sexist tropes of a similar level to Jonghyun’s statement. Got7’s brand new ‘You’re so silly for not knowing how pretty you are’ music video is a pretty good example but the strict gender roles in K-pop means they’re being released every day.

Comparatively this is a non-issue. I find it difficult to understand how anyone who is really deeply offended by his remarks could willingly support K-pop in any form. Jonghyun’s side of the argument had serious faults but, because of him, a lot of young women heard a conversation about female musicians in the Korea on the radio. Maybe Nine even inspired one of them to pick up an instrument – who knows.

Jonghyun, as his fans keep pointing out, clearly does not hate women. As mentioned, he obviously loves his mother and sister and has nothing but praise for them. Overall his record on saying sexist things is fairly clean compared to my ever-growing laundry list of Korean entertainers – mostly men but often also women – who have said actually abusive, nasty, small-minded and harmful things about women. In fact, his words have probably been picked over like this exactly because he is viewed as very progressive.

Calling Jonghyun a misogynist is ultimately unfair and inaccurate but if it gets people talking about the role of women in Korean entertainment, that’s okay with me.

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  • nadia

    I don’t know. I read only that a guy said that women are a blessed beings that inspires artists. He did not say that he is inspired by their physical appearance, sex or anything. In fact he did not explain how women are a source of inspiration for him and then we can’t know why he claims that women are blessed beings and he is inspired by them. I also read several times their conversation and actually I don’t see written anywhere that he was talking only about men when he appointed poets, painters and artists. Once again we are not in his head so we can’t argue that he thought only to male gender. In fact he did not say much, as their conversation has changed management and focused on the female experience in professional music. In this matter there is a lot of speculation and a lot of imagination, for example, am I wrong or is the girl that compares women to muse? Sexism exists also towards men. It ‘also a cliché that some have immediately thought that the boy is inspired by women because they are beautiful or because he is sexually attracted to them. Or that he did not include women artists when he spoke of poets, etc. He wants that women know that they are loved, what’s wrong? He did not say that he wants them to know that they are loved by male artists. Frankly this is just a guy who has an idea a bit too romantic and naïve about art and women and maybe he is in love and during this time sees everything through pink lenses. I have known many sexist and misogynistic men, tv, radio and music are full of these revolting characters and I have to say that this guy has nothing to do with them. This guy is actually a bit too kind, if he does not wake up a bit will take a lot of kicks, some women may be very good in take advantage of gullible men and ruin their lives. Have a good day.

  • Just Me

    it’s a potential problem since people might misunderstand Jonghyun’s words. But he never said being a muse is the only role a woman can achieve. In fact I remember him saying that female artist also are inspired by muses (women or men). This is the reason why I think calling Jonghyun a misogynist is harmful.

    Jonghyun is a man who does a lot for causes and to make public see him under that light can make fans who admire him and follow his example go in the wrong direction by questioning his good actions.

    I think the person who had a problem with what Jonghyun said should instead pointed out what was lacking in his speach, to clarify that women are much more and free to be as they wish.

    I believe this kind of criticism misleads people. If a person say this or that is misogynist/sexist/discriminatory/etc. and is fundamentally not, then people will become prone to believe those critics are exagerating, therefore it might dismay the real issue.

    • EbolaJenkins

      LET US IN!!!!!

  • Cats, Femme, & Men

    Personally, I don’t find what he said problematic. Realistically, yes, I think the chances that he was speaking from a strictly straight male perspective are quite high. That being said, it is a bit unfair to place that on him without really knowing for sure, and I also don’t necessarily feel he was limiting females to only being a muse.

    Either way, I loved the article you wrote on this and throughout reading I found myself unconsciously making noises of agreement because of how well you expressed your view point. I particularly loved the emphasis on opening up a dialogue about the issue. I’m a big fan of Dear Cloud and Nine, so the back and forth between them and the way Nine transitioned into making this more about the female perspective without shutting down conversation was so enjoyable for me to read.

    For me, this was a triumph in many different ways.

    • EbolaJenkins


      (Good reading about your heritage in black-America)…

      So RACIST, right?!?.. black people only targeted KOREANS… I know their music is ‘cool’ and trendy, but they are racist against YOU and your family…

      At least Koreans are now building the largest skyscraper in the western half of North & South America; the funny thing is they are building it right there at ground-zero of Sa-i-Gu 1992… What’s even funnier, is how the black-neighborhood that was responsible for burning down Koreatown still looks EXACTLY like it did in 1992. You can only educate primates so much i guess.. Even Beyonce and Kanye music is designed by a staff of over 32 gray-haired white men with masters’ degrees in Music. Kanye is a special-Ed dropout; you didn’t SERIOUSLY think he could overlay lyrics to a self-designed musical-melody (much less write his own name on paper) did you?!? Ahhh!!!! HAHAHAH!!!

      Also, here is a funny picture about what your false hip-hop idols think about your family’s store:

      • Cats, Femme, & Men

        What is this comment? I can’t even…and why is it being replied to me? How is any of what you said remotely relevant to this article or my comment?

        Regardless, you’re disgusting for calling black Americans “primates,” and it’s funny you assume I’m Korean. You’re on some other shit right now. Please refrain from responding…and reproducing.

        • EbolaJenkins

          you are racist against Koreans, white people, Latinos, Hindus, and ANYONE ELSE who isn’t black. WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION, BRAIN-CHILD?!?!?!?!!

        • EbolaJenkins

          I suggest you study some world history…

        • EbolaJenkins

          …and no, YOU ASSUME. Because if you were Korean, you would be too busy with more important real-world sheeot than to be sitting on a stupid site like Disqus trying to defend thug-pop. You are a FAILURE!!!! YOUR PARENTS WILL BE ASHAMED!!!!

        • EbolaJenkins


        • EbolaJenkins

          bacoz you RACIST!!!!!

        • EbolaJenkins

          ay yo, you one them Jap womens who have a fetish with black snake?… I can p00p in yo mouth if you down. Ay were you at?…

        • EbolaJenkins


    • EbolaJenkins

      We DEMAND you let more people of African-color into your nation!!!! WE KNOW you got the tax-money to sapport!!!!

    • Lizzie (beyondhallyu)

      Sorry for having to deal with that. All the comments have been deleted and the user has been banned. I hope they were trolling because their comments were disgusting.

      Also, Nine <3

      • Cats, Femme, & Men

        It’s all good, no need to apologize. I figured it was only a matter of time before someone could come and remove.

        Anyway, thanks for taking care of that. :) Also, yes, Nine!! <3 If I go back to Korea, I must see her live!

  • EbolaJenkins

    ..Remember in 1992 when the black/hip-pop neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles was mad at some white cops for beating a crank-addict who was trying to aszsault them; in ‘revenge’ they burned down the neighboring Koreatown full of first-generation immigrants who couldn’t afford business insurance and struggled with the English language… Their young K0rean-American children almost ended up starving in the streets while still wearing diapers… However, today, 23 years later, those same children became doctors, lawyers, dentists, scientists, and business-owners. K0reatown Los Angeles is in the middle of constructing the tallest skyscraper (in North AND South America), the new Wilshire Grand, west of the Mississippi River. For some reason, neighboring South Central still looks EXACTLY like it did 23 years ago!….

    It is a simple-Algebra equation… for every 1 piece of greatness Korean-Americans build, there are always 3 rac!$+ hip-hop pr!mate sa/ag3s nearby ready to destroy it… It is YOUR fault (not everyone else’s) if you betray your great culture and commit b3a$tiality by allowing them to squirt g0r!11a-milk and half-primate thuglets inside of you… Just look at the cute hip-hopper Kevin Watts and his Sam Won Garden restaurant massacre in San Antonio:


    …She went back to Korea. Welcome to America, right?… She could not even read her own victim-statement to the black-man in court without collapsing onto her knees. Do you even know what it is like to have two black men s0d0mizing you with the pistol they ki11ed your new husband with???… duct-tape still on your mouth and all?..

  • HypocriteSlayer

    Jealousy is always at the root of these things.

    The people who think he is a misogynist are gay men and female yaoi-shippers who are sad because Jonghyun speaks so romantically of women and places them on a pedestal.

    Just like the people who call those that are romantically interested in another race “____ boos/lovers” because they are jealous that no one likes them.

    Just like how women die a little inside every time they see another body type or feature being praised by the men they like.

    Just like how men with hideous mistake tattoos flame when they see natural men being adored for it.

    God forbid someone be into something other than you.

  • HypocriteSlayer

    Jealousy is always at the root of these things.

    The people who think he is a misogynist are gay males and female yaoi-shippers who are sad because Jonghyun speaks so eloquently and romantically of women which is rare these days in this time when shaming and bashing them is so common from men and women. Instead he praises them in general and places them on a pedestal without going into details (which is a GOOD thing for women). There needs to be more men these days that view women this way.

    It’s just more of: “G*d forbid someone be into something other than me.”

  • Ma Lghi

    this was a nice read, thank you