the k-pop idols dismantling gender stereotypes

Art and writing by Belle Murphy

Accentuated through their songwriting, group dynamic and authentic approach to style, there’s something refreshing about BTS’ approach to masculinity and self-identity. This article explores a number of ways these much-loved Korean idols are dismantling gender stereotypes and redefining hegemonic beauty standards, and ushering in a liberating new wave of masculinity and gender neutrality. The concept of masculinity in the entertainment industry, is further examined in greater detail in my earlier article.

Perhaps most poignantly, a number of BTS’ songs throughout their discography are written using gender-neutral terminology, including ‘Singularity’, ‘Serendipity’ and ‘Spring Day’. BTS’ Kim Namjoon explains that this decision was made because he believes the feelings illuminated in the chart-topping single ‘Serendipity’, “transcend genders, cultures and barriers between people”. Fans also noticed the subtle, yet meaningful change of pronouns in BTS’ official remix of Jason Derulo and Jawish 685’s ‘Savage Love’ earlier this year, further conveying BTS’ message of inclusivity and acceptance of gender fluidity. In addition, BTS’ leader Kim Namjoon (also known as RM) made an impassioned speech at the United Nations Youth Strategy Conference in 2018, encouraging fans and the broader community to embrace their own individuality, “no matter where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself”.

The group’s strong emotional bond with one another is undoubtedly one of their most endearing attributes. It is illustrated through their closeness, both emotionally and physically – whether they’re holding hands, hugging, earnestly complimenting each other for their achievements or consoling each other when they’re emotional during awards ceremonies and concerts. To add to this charming dynamic, two of the members, Jimin and Taehyung (V), fondly call each other “soul mates”, and co-wrote a song called ‘Friends’ celebrating their special bond. The band’s modelling of open displays of affection and expression of emotions, is incredibly important for society to see, and contributes to breaking down potential stigma.  In a recent interview with Esquire Magazine, Yoongi (known as Suga) expressed his perspective on the culture of defining masculinity by particular emotions and traits, confessing he is, “not fond of these expressions”. Continuing on, Yoongi explains, “many pretend to be okay, saying that they’re not ‘weak’, as if that [being emotional] would make you a weak person” and urges “society [to] be more understanding”. Beautifully expressed through the raw and nuanced lyrics on the self-produced eight-track record, BTS’ most recent album “BE” encapsulates the member’s inner dialogue, experiences with burnout and their mental health journey throughout the global pandemic. They have never shied away from conversations about mental health – further elaborated on in their films, which follow the Korean idols’ emotional journeys throughout each of their world tours.

BTS’ Jimin is widely admired for his progressive fashion ensembles, including his appreciation for silk scarves, striking eyeshadow looks, as well as his statement “unisex uniform” denim-boilersuit from Nohant. The Korean idol also regularly incorporates clothing items categorised as from “women’s collections” into his personal style. Jimin’s liberating character has also been recognised by Korean florist, Kim Isaac, who made a guest appearance in a BTS ‘Run’ episode. Hosting a floral-arranging workshop, he acknowledges that, “it’s rare for a man to be so delicate [like Jimin]”.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, after being featured on their 2019 Best Dressed List, Jungkook famously said that he considers great style to be “wearing anything you like, regardless of gender”. This sentiment is reflected in his consciously curated wardrobe, incorporating a range of lesser-known gender-neutral and unisex clothing labels. For instance, earlier this year Jungkook wore a casual outfit from a brand called A NOTHING, on his birthday Vlive (a popular communication channel for Korean idols and their fans) and has since made multiple public appearances sporting the clothing line. Prior to this, the genderless designer brand took two years to establish 1,000 followers on social media. They’ve since reached 17,800 followers on Instagram, which is a testament to the economic influence and power of the K-pop phenomenon.

BTS are renowned for raising a brand’s public profile, leading to brands instantly selling out of stock and, in some cases, sites crashing due to the overwhelming demand created through their endorsement. This sentiment was exemplified when photos of BTS’ Suga went viral on Twitter, after he was spotted wearing pro-LGBTQ sneakers – part of the limited-edition Vans collection celebrating New York’s diversity and different forms of love.

It is clear that the Korean idols are mindful of their incredible influence in shaping public opinions and global gender-norms. It is an influence BTS endeavour to use as a positive vehicle for change, reflected in their touching lyrics, inspirational speeches and expressive personal styles.

top 10 modern anthems for female empowerment

Author: Molly Davidson

I’m sure many of you, like me, are not immune to belting out feminist classics like Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman. Fists clenched; eyes clamped shut as we hit all the high notes with (what we believe to be) precision. When these songs were originally released, they sought to empower a generation of women who were fighting an epic fight for equality: the 1970s women’s rights movement.

Lyrics like “I am woman, hear me roar,” became everyday phrases associated with female ambition. In her day, however, Reddy was told that these lyrics seemed too angry and that they would hinder her success. The men who told Reddy this wanted to let her know that sure, they were okay with the song and its message, but only if it was toned down.

Be powerful, but not too powerful.

The thing is, I Am Woman today is tame on the spectrum of female anger. Nowadays female anthems sound fairly different. Women are still angry, but their anger is a lot less subtle. The message that modern feminist recording artists are trying to send is less “we are strong, and we’ll prove it to you” and more “we are strong, and we don’t care if you disagree.” Now, it’s all about self-love and proving your worth to yourself.

However, while their message diverges slightly from what they used to, the conversation surrounding female empowerment anthems is still controversial. In the 70s, Helen Reddy was “too angry,” and today Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP is “too sexual.”

A month on from its release, the song is still making headlines for its raunchy subject matter. Over its short lifetime it has been labelled “bad history” filled with “hoary sexual cliches.” Twitter users have accused it of setting “the entire female gender back by 100 years,” and called its creators “children [who were] raised without God and without a strong father figure.”

But whilst not everybody has celebrated  WAP with words of adoration, the song has generated a vital dialogue surrounding a woman’s right to sexual freedom, creating change that only a true anthem could. Many of us have probably read comments condemning the song and asked ourselves why. Men have never had an issue sexualising women before, so why is it an issue now? This conversation has highlighted that men are excited by female sexuality – as long as they have control of it. They want us to be sexy, but not too sexy.

Be powerful, but not too powerful.

Anthems for women these days are anthems that make us feel good. That voice our insecurities and let us know we’re accepted. That prove we’re aren’t the only ones who are angry, and ultimately, provide hope that maybe change will soon come.

If you need a pick-me-up or you’re fed up with the way things are and want to feel that your anger is valid, here are my Top 10 Anthems for Female Empowerment. Clench those fists, clamp those eyes shut, and channel your inner rock goddess as you hit play:

  1. WAP – Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion

The discussion this song has generated earns it the top spot on this list. One of the best parts about WAP is that is has enabled people to realise the double standards placed on women in music. In truth, Cardi and Megan have made a song that nobody would have batted an eye to had they been men. Case in point: in 2018, Kanye West and Lil Pump dropped I Love It. A song that repeatedly calls women “hoes” among other NSFW lyrics, yet it was received by the public with minimal outcry. Cardi and Megan, on the other hand, made a song that many women were afraid to make out of fear for how it would be received. Now, that song is now dominating the charts and paving the way for future feminist anthems.

  1. Boys Will Be Boys – Dua Lipa

As far as Dua Lipa goes, this is some of her best work. This is one of those songs that makes you angry, but that’s exactly why you love it. In Boys Will Be Boys, Dua takes aim at the archaic notion that boys behaving poorly is just “boys being boys.” Repeatedly, she states “the kids ain’t alright,” urging people to change the way that they are raising their children. All in all, this song is poignant and well written. It’s a ballad that I can’t listen to without feeling fully invested. No matter what mood I’m in, I always find myself singing along.

  1. Fall in Line – Christina Aguilera and Demi Lovato

Given that it’s sung by two powerhouses who have dominated the industry for years, I’m surprised that this song hasn’t received much attention. Fall in Line ultimately rejects the idea that women exist to be sexualised for male entertainment. Addressing “little girls,” it says, “you do not owe them your body and your soul.” As two women have gained recognition in an industry that so overtly sexualises women, it’s not too far-fetched to think that this might be why the song hasn’t garnered much success. In the song, Christina and Demi even address how Fall in Line may generate anger for calling out the industry, with the lyrics like “I’m gonna pay for this. They’re gonna burn me at the stake.”

  1. Homecoming Queen – Thelma Plum

This song provides insight into how young Aboriginal girls feel growing up in Australia, where mainstream media is so whitewashed. Thelma sings about how she rarely sees people who look like her in the magazines, but she doesn’t need to in order to feel powerful or beautiful. She will be her own homecoming queen.

(Sidenote: make sure to keep supporting our homegrown talent – the Australian music industry has taken a hit this year!)

  1. Soulmate – Lizzo

Lizzo’s entire body of work consists of anthems focused on empowering women, so choosing just one was difficult. While most of her songs are about being confident and loving yourself, Soulmate shows a different side to Lizzo. Essentially, the song is about how self-love can still be difficult, even for those who seem to be the most sure of themselves. Soulmate is raw and emotional and honestly, it’s right up there with some of her better known music.

  1. L.U.T – Bea Miller

Some say being a slut is a bad thing, but this song tells a different story. In S.L.U.T, Bea Miller takes back the label. The first line, in fact, is “I love myself.” If that doesn’t tell you what kind of song this is and why it’s on this list, I don’t know what will.

  1. A Scary Time (For Boys) – Lynzy Lab

Another song that will make you super angry, but in a good way. It’s a scathing response to men who feel under attack by the Me Too movement, riddled with sarcasm that will make you giggle but then shout “EXACTLY, THIS GIRL GETS IT!”

  1. Lady Powers – Vera Blue

Another prime example of the homegrown talent we are lucky to have here in Australia: Vera Blue. The title of this song speaks for itself, and more than justifies its spot on my list. Lines like “not gonna beg for your respect, I won’t be defined by your eyes,” demonstrate exactly how this song encourages self-love and finding your worth.

  1. Hey Girl – Lady Gaga and Florence Welch

If ever you’re having a down day, pour a glass of wine and turn on this song (better yet, listen to the entire Joanne album – it’s genius.) In Hey Girl, two of today’s greatest singer-songwriters came together to bring us a song about women supporting women. “If you lose your way, know that I got you” are the supportive words every girl needs to hear from her girlfriends. This song makes me think of the support system that I am lucky enough to have every time I listen to it, and it always makes me feel better.

  1. Salute – Little Mix

Really, there are a lot of songs by Little Mix that are deserving of a spot on this list. Shout Out To My Ex turned the archetype of a breakup song on its head (Perrie Edwards really said “why do I have to write a sad ballad about being heartbroken?”) These women managed to become a global sensation in a society that historically would rather support male groups (for every Spice Girls, there was an NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Boys II Men, Take That, and so many more). Salute deserves its spot on this list because put simply, it screams girl power. Its message is like that of Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls) – x10.

Give it a listen if you need a hype up. Give all these songs a listen if you need a hype up!

Header image by Dakota Corbin via Unsplash.

interview with o-week folk-pop performers parkville

Author: Tina Tsironis

Swinburne students won’t be enjoying a regular O-Week anytime soon – that much is clear. But thanks to the beauty of Zoom and social media, events we would normally attend face-to-face will next week be streamed directly to our living rooms.

One such event, a live-streamed show by folk-pop band Parkville, is one of the SSU’s most anticipated virtual O-Week activities. When you listen to the wistful yet majestic sounds of guitarist Liam Bell, pianist Michael D’Emilio and violinist Dylan Knur, it’s not difficult to understand why.

SWINE Editor Tina Tsironis spoke to Parkville ahead of their July 27 O-Week performance, talking musical influences, the challenges of working as an artist amidst COVID-19, and the emotionally taxing nature of writing and recording music.

T: How did Parkville initially form?

Parkville: The three of us went to school together in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We were in different years, but we met because we were all involved in the music theatre shows at the school. After Dylan graduated, we had a few jams to keep in touch, and then we just… never stopped, and now it’s almost six years later and we’re still playing!

T: How have you found performing to an audience who isn’t standing directly in front of you, in the wake of COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns?

Parkville: It feels much more like we’re just in our rehearsals – even though there is an audience on the other side of the screen, we can’t see them so it feels like a low-pressure situation where we can relax and enjoy the experience. I think this means our livestream viewers are getting more of a look into how we are when we’re just being ourselves and having fun.

T: What other roadblocks has the pandemic presented to you, especially as live performers?

Parkville: A lot of musicians, as well other kinds of artists, are struggling at this time – being an artist often means living on a very low income, which makes artists especially vulnerable in times of economic turmoil. I encourage you all to, if you have the means, support your favourite artists of all kinds financially by purchasing from their online stores, subscribing to their Patreons or spreading the word about their art.

T: Your lyrics are so poignant and emotionally raw – and this is a compliment! To what extent does the process of writing, recording and performing a song fulfil a therapeutic function for you all?

Dylan: I can’t speak for Liam, the other songwriter of the band, but I find that I often discover how I feel about something as I’m writing about it. That said, sometimes the process of writing and recording is incredibly frustrating and demoralising and is the reason I need to take therapeutic measures in the first place! So, there’s a kind of back and forth to the role that being creative plays in my life.

T: What kind of musicians, or artists in general, is Parkville inspired by?

Parkville: Lots of them! Liam grew up listening to a lot of Motown and older pop music like Stevie Wonder, Dylan got very into alternative rock bands like Radiohead when he was younger, and Michael listens to a lot of Hans Zimmer film scores. Recently, though, the three of us have all been really influenced by the Punch Brothers, a contemporary bluegrass band who’ve really impressed us all with their ingenuity and attention to texture.

T: Did you engage in the arts at all, as university students? Can you tell us how immersing yourself in music, or other creative fields, may have enriched your university experience?

Dylan: I did a degree in jazz music, so my entire university experience was art! It was amazing to study these theoretical music constructs and work hard to develop technical ability during the day, and then go to see live music at night and be in awe of the amount of incredible musicians that call Melbourne their home. Watching live music was a strong motivator, reminding me of what I was working towards.

RSVP to Parkville’s show here.

More information on Parkville is available via their Facebook page.

Header image supplied.