While love songs are dime a dozen in the K-pop world, many of the top female acts have also regularly taken down the status quo of perceptions of what it means to be a female pop star.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 this Sunday (March 8), take a listen and watch the music videos for some of these South Korean pop acts serving up fiery hits as they question what it means to be a female, both as public figures and private women, in the 21st century.
EXID’s “Ah Yeah”
Had enough with: Being the object of the male gaze
Context: EXID’s career surged out of near failure after a fancam of Hani’s performance of “Up & Down” went viral in South Korea, and their following release “Ah Yeah” spent the majority of its music video putting the members of the act in situations where they were dealing with how men treat women in workplaces, Internet spaces and more.
Also check out: EXID’s “Cream,” “Hot Pink”
ITZY’s “Dalla Dalla”
Had enough with: Conforming
Context: ITZY’s first single celebrated self-love and served up a confident anthem for their fans, in which they cheerfully sing about how being different is something wonderful.
Also check out: ITZY’s “ICY” and “Want It”
Sunny Hill’s “Princess and Prince Charming (Is the White Horse Coming?)”
Had enough with: South Korea’s competition and dating culture
Context: Sunny Hill spent a sizable portion of their career addressing things like working conditions, beauty standards, and, in this song, how dating in South Korea often feels like it’s based on rubrics rather than emotions.
Also check out: Sunny Hill’s “the Grasshopper Song,” “Darling of All Hearts”
2NE1’s “I am the Best”
Had enough with: Submissiveness
Context: 2NE1 was a dominant act in K-pop throughout the majority of its career, and regularly released empowering hits. like “I am the Best,” where they proudly proclaimed their power and reveled in what it meant to be a top act.
Also check out: 2NE1’s “Try to Copy Me,” CL’s “Baddest Female”
Had enough with: The way people perceive her
Context: South Korea’s “little sister,” IU grew up in the spotlight as one of the country’s most prominent singers and actors, and in the past few years she’s used her music to question why people think they know her (and use their time to critique her).
Also check out: IU’s “Bbibbi,” “Palette”
miss A’s “I Don’t Need A Man”
Had enough with: Men
Context: On their Independent Woman Pt.III album, miss A followed in the path of Destiny’s Child and declared their independence with this single.
Also check out: miss A’s “Bad Girl, Good Girl” and Fei’s “Fantasy”
4Minute’s “What’s Your Name”
Had enough with: Being asked out by random men
Context: 4Minute, and rapper HyunA who has had a successful career as a soloist, spent much of their career toeing the line, singing about the way women are viewed as easy and expected to share their private information with strangers.
Also check out: HyunA’s “Lip & Hip,” 4Minute’s “Crazy”
Brown Eyed Girls’ “Warm Hole”
Had enough with: The idea that Korean pop acts can’t sing about sex
Context: Brown Eyed Girls is one of the longest-running and most impactful female teams in the South Korean music world, and are in part to thank for the dance from Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” They’ve spent most of their career questioning the status quo, both through their joint and solo works.
Also check out: BEG’s “Sixth Sense,” “Kill Bill,” and all of Ga-In’s solo work, especially “Bloom” and “Fxxk U”
Had enough with: Obsessive critiques of their bodies and actions
Context: One of the most popular female acts in Korea today, Mamamoo’s members have regularly been criticized by Internet trolls for the way they act, what they look like, what they wear, etc. “Hip” put these criticisms in the spotlight in its empowering lyrics and music video.
Also check out: Mamamoo’s “Girl Crush”
Lim Kim’s “Yellow”
Had enough with: Racism and patriarchy
Context: Lim Kim was formerly signed to a Korean entertainment company, which she felt put her into “this box that is called ‘Woman,” she told Billboard. She has returned as a soloist singing about her place as an Asian woman in the world, and “Yellow” is her takedown of racist stereotypes.
Also check out: Her entire first EP, Generasian
Had enough with: The assumption women are acting and dressing certain ways for men
Context: CLC said “fork off” to stereotypes that women change and do certain things in order to make men happy.
Also check out: CLC’s “Me,” and labelmate’s (G)I-dle’s “Lion”
Had enough with: Stereotyping women
Context: One of the biggest K-pop stars of the last generation, BoA is considered to have played an integral role in launching K-pop across Asia, setting the industry up to spread across the globe. Her 2018 single celebrated everything about being a “Woman,” and even gave a brief rebuke of forced femininity and girlishness of the early days of her career, singing about how she’s taken ownership of her womanhood later in life as if it’s a new adventure to be had.
Also check out: BoA’s “Girl’s On Top,” “The Top”