An Open Letter to the K-pop Industry

Hello K-Pop… it’s time we have a conversation.

I have let this go on for the past few years but can simply not put up with it anymore. I have followed you through the years closely, bought your merchandise, sang along to your catchy songs and put up with the constant ‘refreshing’ of groups you have pushed into my face but it has to come to an end.

As someone from an ethnic background and a female I have found myself somewhat offended by the route you have been taking your female idols down in recent times. From your overused use of ‘swag’ and the time you spend attempting to up the ‘ghetto feel’ your acts give off to the lowering of standards when it comes to said performers, I feel it may be time to take a good long look at yourself and reassess your strategies.

While that is a lovely red dress, it's hardly the most practical attire for the situation.

While that is a lovely red dress, it’s hardly the most practical attire for the situation.

Within the past year female groups have returned with concepts that are supposed to scream out empowered women but do they actually do this? Secret were female bank robbers, but still had to rely on their ‘feminine charms’ (cleavage and legs) in order to actually complete the job. Miss A didn’t need a man and yet the entire dance was less tough female and more ‘look at me wiggle oppa whilst talking about how much I don’t need you’. You see, when it comes to female idols, as much as you may try to deny it, K-pop, you give them a hard time.

Now you have launched a twerking attack on the world and I look on with fear in my eyes. Not for the fact that I fear someone could possibly get their eye poked out with all that bone thrusting, but because I believe that this ‘innovation’ is likely to move K-pop back instead of forward. It’s understandable that you try to keep up to date with the newest ‘rages’ in the western world and that over the past few years twerking has risen, yes. But have you ever considered how exploited you are currently making your female artists look?

In 2010 alone, one survey found that 60% of underage female entertainers were pressured to expose as much skin as possible by their companies. However when covering this survey, many media sources lead with the 10% that were forced to expose specific body parts rather than the higher proportion that were pressured into wearing skimpy outfits. Is this only to be seen as a big deal to both the public and the media if they expose the ‘sexual’ parts of their bodies? Should it be easily pushed aside if they feel both uncomfortable and exploited?

That's not where you sing from, K-pop. Try again.

That’s not where you sing from, K-pop. Try again.

It’s quite clear for any sane fan to see that the more groups debuting the higher the need for them to flash the flesh to stand out seems to be. But it’s not just rookie groups taking the ‘less is more’ route, it’s also groups that have been around a few years. Take the recent comebacks from Girl’s Day for instance. In both we have watched them go from the cute girls next door to the ones that would have been found smoking behind the bin sheds at school. And all for the sake of selling a few more albums and gaining a little more exposure.

Which makes me wonder, K-pop, if this is how you believe females empower themselves, what else do you think it takes in order to survive the harsh tide of the Hallyu Wave?

But it’s not just the over-sexualisation that is currently making it difficult for me to deal with you, K-pop, but the constant striving for physical perfection that you are continuing to push on your idols. I mean day after day I read articles surrounding the ‘healthy’ lifestyles of my favourite stars. Take Secret for instance and their ‘fantastic’ diet plan which consists of little more than snacks you would give a child at play school. Or Nine Muses with their well-known three paper cup diet, in which they are to only eat what they can fit within said cups, three times a day. Some would consider this healthy, I however consider it to be dangerous. Let us not forget that these are people in the spotlight who are idolised and seen as role models by many young women. What they do (whether forced to or not) has a widespread impact.

According to the captions of this show, this is 'art'.

According to the captions of Hello Counsellor, this is ‘art’. Apparently many fangirls feel the same way.

However in a way, K-pop, I can stand up for you. You see I have gone over the things that I feel you need to improve but it is not you alone that is the problem. Sometimes fans can be also. Male groups can take off their tops and netizens write away about it for days online, celebrating and reliving the moment with pictures and memes. Throw a bucket of water over a male idol in an MV and he becomes a godly figure that ‘wrecks bias lists’ for weeks to come. Throw a bucket of water over a woman and discussions will revolve almost solely around her ‘sluttiness’. Controversy is all around and it comes in a variety of forms, but it is never helped by the way in which idols are unfairly viewed according to their gender.

I am able to admit that not everything is your fault right now. Us fans will also have to work hard in order to keep you going on the right path. The path that will allow females to be treated less like living. breathing sex dolls and more like the ‘talents’ they are. After all they are an investment of your time and money and should be made to feel like they have some kind of worth.

Now don’t get upset, K-pop, I’ve only written this letter to you because I care about you. I want to see you grow and expand to a younger generation of people and adapt to wider markets, I just want you to do it in a way that will allow you to be more substance and less cleavage. So grab a tissue, wipe those tears away and go listen to some G.O.D whilst reminiscing about the good old days.


Forever your fan and voice of reason,


Is there anything you would tell the K-pop industry if given the chance? Let us know in the comments.

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Co-founder and Editor at Beyond Hallyu
Lover of Korean hip-hop and indie music...and Unicorns.
  • Hessa Alneaimi

    thank you for this article , I wish they would read your article…

  • Asela Cheung

    The only thing I disagree from this article is Miss A when they were promoting “I Don’t Need a Man”. They didn’t look like they were “look at me wiggle oppa whilst talking about how much I don’t need you’.” But I agree that the dance didn’t have enough female toughness. Everything else in this article, I fully agree with. I feel like this year K-Pop is pushing to hard on their artists, both genders, whether its a rookie group or a comeback. I mean, K-Pop have done this in the past but now they’re just being obvious (to me) when it comes to “sexy” concepts.

  • Jibril Ikharo

    Not to sound dismissive, but I feel that the issue of over-sexualization in K-pop comes from the fact that many groups aren’t formed organically. Instead of like-minded people getting together to play music, management teams recruit, groom, and market groups to display a certain image and, obviously, make a return on what they see as an investment. And since provocative images tend to catch more attention, it makes sense that more groups and their management feel pressure to move in that direction.

    When compared to groups that form because the members like to compose and perform songs together, it seems natural that they would have a different focus. In the case of musicians not involved in K-pop, I think it’s safe to say that they have a larger say in how they’re represented and the type of image they convey.

  • Rice

    While the issue lies on us long-time fans of Kpop cringe to see all girls display their white skin, you’d want to further highlight why we watch normally when Miley or Selena as ex Disney stars cringe on their sexy concepts. Push further by saying that Kpop is not only the pride of Koreans but Asians in general, as a race from the East we have this integrity and values as people of the East that being open about sexuality or selling sex is still something sensitive, amok the westernised and open-minded freewill youths of today. One example will be always still the BoA USA project where the Japanese MV is way cooler than the cringeworthy US version for ‘trying to hard’.

  • Orion

    Unfortunately, obsession with youth (to the point of it becoming a lolita complex), “beauty” and sex is not new or just a problem of Kpop. Any industry, at any part of the world, that is controlled by rich men and designed for susceptible audiences will try to tap into their raw desires, emotions and weaknesses to hook them and sell to them.

    Skimpy outfits are nothing compared to the “sponsors” most of these girls are probably forced or pressured to sell sex to for endorsements, money, power. Same goes for the male idols. Any industry which bases its appeal on clone-looking dehumanized butts, boobs and abs and by-the-dozen music is bound to give people just that.

    The fact that there are actual talents in there, good choreography, parts that are very much an art, does not make the thing as a whole art. When the people who run it run it as a “legal porn” business, it will be a “legal porn” business, despite the fact parts and people in it are solid.

    What I am saying is, I am not sure Kpop even can become better, when its very core is a business selling pleasure at the expense of those involved. If it does change, it will certainly not be Kpop as we know it and while that’s a good thing, it will inevitably not sell as well (with our current society’s mindsets) and become something else entirely, something which will probably have its name changed just before the Kpop we know surfaces again, in another form.

    As long as people have desires, business will try to manipulate them. When a business stops feeding into those and targets people’s minds and taste instead, its target audience, financial support, mass acceptance will change. To close this comment, while I agree the sexual abuse and violations of human rights going on in Kpop/Korea/The World need to stop, the fact that these genres of entertainment will always use basic desires to sell to as many as possible is a fact, until we start changing their very nature.

    It certainly has to happen, but it won’t start from a still modernity-challenged and confused Korea. It won’t start from a country where women are just starting to be seen as anything but baby-making and cleaning machines. It won’t start from a country where being a Stepford wife who looks like your Stepford wife neighbor is an almost necessity to find work and move ahead, at the expense of your individuality. It won’t start for the sake of women and it won’t start from Kpop.

  • sharaysabel

    My thoughts exactly…
    This is why I am VERY disappointed with new Kpop fans. They only look at how sexy this girl/boy group look like. They can’t even appreciate the TALENT or the MUSIC. This also happens to fangirls who only drool at their oppas’ abs. Thank you so much for this, I hope many NEW “so-called” Kpop fans can read this, I hope they can listen to our generation of kpop songs.

  • Jot •_•v

    I’m a fanboy. I love almost all the existing girl groups and I love sexy things. Every fan thinks differently. Sexist comments was never new to the world of Kpop.

    Concept was never a big deal for me as much as I just like watching these girls dance and sing. Same goes with the song. The problem is not Kpop but the fans.

  • Owlabi

    I agree with this > _> for me it’s both male and female idols xD