In K-pop, we see a lot of pretty, cute and sexy female idols and we see numerous male idols with masculine bodies and pretty faces; yet at the same time, in recent years, we can spot a few K-pop headliners who do not seem to fit in either group. These ‘exceptions’ are the androgynous looking idols whose gender identity may confuse audience at the first glimpse. These idols make use of the fluidity of gender and sexual images, mostly through dress-code and appearance, to create a gender ambiguous image. Representative examples of androgynous looking idols include f(x)’s Amber and Big Bang’s G-dragon; on the other hand, some idols, like Girls’ Generation, recently began to adopt androgynous fashion despite their previous fixed feminine images.
K-pop idols rely not only on music, but also a variety of visual means like music videos, live performances, magazines and promotional photo shoots to appeal to the public. Through manipulating their appearance by dressing in these mainstream media, the idols may construct a desirable image and present their characters to the public. As Judy Park mentioned, ‘the image affects everything they do professionally, including their music, what kind of issues they support and what kind of advertisement deals they get, and most of all, they affect who will become their fans and imitate their looks’(24). We can see that an ‘image’ is very important to an idol, and that is why most idols prefer playing safe and stick to the conventional image and gender representation. Female idols stick to a sexy and cute concept to attract male fans while male idols stick to a soft masculine image to attract female fans.
In K-pop, everything is manufactured and created intentionally with strategies by entertainment companies, and there are certain ‘formula’ for male idols and female idols to succeed. As time goes by, some entertainment companies may be aware of the need to create new images and new ‘formula’. A good way to break the conventional image is playing with gender boundary by androgynous concept. Androgynous look breaks the dichotomization of male and female by merging male traits and female traits into one. It is thus considered as an unconventional style, as people expect to determine one’s gender by what one wears (Entwistle 140). By intentionally abandoning these ‘formula’ and straying away from conventionally accepted gender image, idols build an image different from other idols and successfully become a unique persona in the K-pop scene. They may also expand their fan base and attract same-sex fans using androgynous concept. On top of that, these K-pop headliners may shed a light on new ways of gender and sexuality representation in K-pop, increasing the diversity of K-pop idols.
Entwistle, Joanne. The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Inc, 2000.
Park, Judy. ‘The Aesthetic Style of Korean Singers in Japan: A Review of Hallyu from the Perspective of Fashion’. International Journal of Business and Social Science 2.19 (2011): 23-34.