Why Baby Hyuna makes me feel so uncomfortable

A few days ago, my evening was ruined just a little bit by a series of videos that appeared on allkpop. They featured a four year old girl on the popular TV show Star King dancing to a series of songs by Hyuna including her big hits Bubble Pop and Ice Cream. This made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Now, I thought that I wouldn’t have to explain to anyone why watching a four year-old child doing such highly-sexualised performances would make me feel like this, it seemed obvious. Reading the comments though, apparently I was wrong. Most commenters seemed to think it was ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’ and some said that because I thought these dances were inappropriate and overly-sexualised, I was a paedophile.

HyunA-Ice-Cream-concept-pics-hyuna-32481405-500-333But let’s get this straight. When Hyuna does these dances everyone universally agrees that they are highly sexualised. In the countless debates about Hyuna’s image that happen every single time she releases something (whether she is comfortable with this image or not, whether it is inappropriate or not, whether it is exploitative or not etc.) no one ever says that that image is not ‘sexy,’ or at least intended to be. Those meanings and associations do not suddenly go away when the performance is being done by a young child.

Of course this little girl has no idea what she is doing! She has no real understanding what the actual cultural meanings are behind the dances except maybe that Hyuna is something called ‘sexy’ and that that’s good. In an article about princess culture for the Good Men Project, Hugo Schwyzer argues that little girls learn from a young age from compliments about how cute and pretty they are that they can get most attention for and are most valued for their looks. They also learn that the way to continue to get this attention as they grow up (and of course most kids love attention, it’s only natural) is to look and act sexy:

‘This sexiness has very little to do with sex, and everything to do with the craving for validation and attention. While all children want affirmation, princess culture teaches little girls to get that approval through their looks. Little girls learn quickly what “works” to elicit adoration from mom and dad, as well as from teachers, uncles, aunts, and other adults. Soon—much too soon—they notice that older girls and women get validation for a particular kind of dress, a particular kind of behavior. They watch their fathers’ eyes, they follow their uncles’ gaze. They listen to what these men they love say when they see “hot” young women on television or on the street. And they learn how to be from what they hear and see.’

hyuna heartI am not denying that the little girl is cute (she is four and most four year olds are) and I am also sure that she doesn’t really understand what she is doing. However, that doesn’t mean the dances she was doing suddenly lose all their meaning because she doesn’t understand them. To some degree the show even acknowledges the intent of the dance moves. There is one caption which reads ‘Her transformation from a cute fairy into a powerful and sexy warrior’ (notably, both ‘powerful’ and ‘sexy’ are Konglish words and not native Korean) although nothing said by the presenters imply that anything in the performance is sexy. She is not sexy but the dances and performance are still sexualised. And that is very troubling.

What is even more troubling is the desire to deny, by both the Korean media and apparently a lot of international K-pop fans, that this is the case. By doing that, we do not protect children from sexualisation at a young age instead we normalise and accept this kind of behaviour.

This is nothing new and arguably a large amount of the K-pop industry in the past few years has run on the idea that by denying the sexuality of young women K-pop companies can target older, and richer, male fans (SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo Man has explicitly said these men were Girls’ Generation’s target audience.) The companies encourage these men to deny that they feel any sexual attraction to these girls and simply want to protect them by describing them as ‘uncle fans’.

sunny geeGroups, sometimes with members as young as 14 or 15, routinely employ cutesy hand gestures, and feigned innocent facial expressions alongside sexually provocative dance moves to allow the male audience to more easily deny any attraction to these young women. If this is how adolescents are being treated in the media, it’s not particularly surprising to see children treated in the same way. If it’s not sexual when a 15 year-old does it, why not a 4 year-old?

It was very strange to see Baby Hyuna mimic the combination of sexualised dance moves and feigned innocence of some of these performances with the real innocence of a small child. I am not exaggerating to say that I felt extremely uncomfortable. There was also an even more bizarre moment after Baby Hyuna performed her dance, when actual Hyuna did her own performance of the ever-popular aegyo-laden Gwiyomi song. It is a strange contrast to see a small child giving the performance of an adult woman followed by an adult woman giving the performance of a small child.

This blurring of the lines between acceptable adult behaviour and acceptable child behaviour raises some very worrying issues. If little girls see from a young age that the way to get attention is to act ‘sexy’, they not only start to see themselves in a sexualised way at far too young an age but they learn that their power and worth lies solely in their appearance. This is made even more confusing if they also see adult women simultaneously acting in a childish manner. And that is not even going into all the extremely problematic issues it raises surrounding paedophilia.

My discomfort from watching these videos and others before them like ‘Wonder Baby’ is not because I am a pervert of some kind that is looking at a child in an inappropriate way, it is because a child is being presented in a way which is age-inappropriate and exploitative. If a child dances like that along to a music video in their own house it is understandable, children like to mimic adults after all. That, however, does not mean that it should be celebrated and glorified. That does not mean it should be shown on national TV.

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  • http://orion21.blogspot.com/ Orion

    I was one of the voices who spoke about how disgusting and borderline child abuse this is over at allkpop and I guess it does give me some comfort about the kind of people that exist around us when I got mostly up-voted on my comments rather than down-voted. Still, the fact that so many focus on the cuteness of the child alone without sparing a thought to what this means for the child and for our society is depressing.

    Just like Toddlers & Tiaras, such a thing is about letting children and viewers know that being objectified, gawked at for your appearance and mimicking what you see so that others will praise and accept you is what we should all be doing. Which is all kinds of twisted a lesson to teach people.

    Kpop is a sick enough industry when underage men and girls feed the lolita and flower-boy complexes of twisted horny adults under the pretense of music (even if many are true music fans and follow kpop for it and not the sexualization), but bringing in even younger children to celebrate the influence this sexualized pop culture phenomenon has on them for a show is really hitting a new low.

    • jubies33

      Well written article and I completely agree. This ismalso how I feel when I see young girls dressing in skirts up to here, spagetti strap or belly tops and makeup. I wonder how parents can let their kids dress that way without thinking about the kind of attention they may be inviting from older boys and perhaps pedophiles.

      • http://ethlenn.blogspot.com/ Ethlenn

        We have parents who dress up their 4-yo as Miss Plastic and show them around with fake lashes, hair, cheeks and tushies. I’m not surprised. Little girl is talented, she understands nothing from the lyrics, she doesn’t know the moves are associated with let’s call it frivolous behaviour. She could be dancing to BAP moves and that would be better. But it’s up to parents.

  • HJ

    I was shaking my ass to Shakira with my bff at the school fair in 2nd grade. i don’t see what was so bad about it…

  • http://twitter.com/cutiiecupcake PROUD 4NIA


    • http://kpopranter.blogspot.com/ K-Pop Ranter Blog

      Rude much?

  • http://twitter.com/_jullieps Jullie

    I grew up dancing to some Brazilian songs with very ambiguous meaning. My dance was not sexy, but the songs were full of hidden meanings for sex and stuff. At that time I didn’t know what I was listening. I didn’t know what that people were singing about. Today if I listen to those songs I can understand. But well, I grew up ok. Not being sexy to everybody or with a “dirty mind”. And I think it’s exactly because I didn’t know what they were singing. I belive it will be the same with the girl. When she turns 13 or 14, i think, she will be conscious of what she was doing. But I don’t believe it will make her grow in a bad way.

    This image that HyunA has is because of her label. I don’t know if she is confortable doing it or not, but her label tells her to be sexy, so she has to be. I’m not saying you did that, but it’s important that people pay attention to that fact. So they will understand it is not directly HyunA’s fault that the little girl is dancing sexy.

    • http://orion21.blogspot.com/ Orion

      Did your parents make you dance in front of million viewers while your idols tell you you’re awesome? Of course a sexy dance alone cannot harm a child, but this is not about the dance. All kids dance for themselves or their parents. It’s about exposing a child and its innocence to the concept of fame and acceptance via appearance and mimicking behavior you don’t even understand.

      If the parents are not good at the child’s upbringing and let that association of Blindly do what others like seeing = You are praised and loved happen, things can turn out a lot worse than in your case, where you clearly had a good environment or grew up with enough sense to not make that association. There is a reason child stars often grow up with severe problems.

      As for HyunA, I doubt anyone is really blaming her. She’s as much a victim of an industry using underage girls to feed lolita-crazy audiences as a lot of idols. The people who make the show, her management, the parents. Those should really be ashamed of exposing a child to this and in this manner.

  • Sarah

    When Hyuna does these dances everyone universally agrees that they are highly sexualised.

    What about other female artists? Many do worse than HyunA but it is HyunA who is insulted, bashed, slut shamed…

    • Lizzie

      Hi, thanks for the comment.

      That was purely a statement of fact, not any kind of judgement. Hyuna is an adult, she can do what she wants (although it sounds like she’s been highly overworked lately so I’m not sure how much she actually wants to do). All I wanted to point out is that it is very obvious from the way Hyuna has been talked about in the past that these dances are very sexualised.

      I have the exact same problem with ‘Wonder Baby’ dancing to ‘So Hot’. It has nothing to do with Hyuna specifically. I can think of dozens of other girl group songs that would also be the same.

    • http://kpopranter.blogspot.com/ K-Pop Ranter Blog

      I think the problem about it is that HyunA OVERDOES it. I mean, the start of her sexy dancing was in Bubble Pop (also the start could be Mirror Mirror for some people) and though some people ridiculed her as a slut, most other people still stuck by her side and supported HyunA till the end.
      However, now, I think that dancing is just getting redundant. I mean, how many times can you see the SAME thing before getting tired of seeing it? It’s losing the same vibe it once had when it was Bubble Pop days and now, it’s just becoming ‘something HyunA does’.

  • Monkey

    Ah the human race is one stupid race.

  • Cyril Ebarvia

    what a joke id rather see a girl who dance sexily but is in a faithful relationship rather than a girl who acts like a saint but secretly is a whore, bunch of hypocrites whether we like it or not all of us have the potential to be objectified is it ethical? maybe maybe not but if you really want to find a place where objectification is non existent then you can go to a deserted island where only you live or possibly go to another planet 😉