(This began as a comment on this post by the Grand Narrative blog.)
Nowadays, so-called “sexy dancing” (the quotation marks are to show that they aren’t really that sexy) is ubiquitous, but how did it all start?
In the mid-1990s, Jeon Ji-hyeon starred in a commercial in which she was dancing to music. I think that it was an ad for some kind of sound system, headphones, or walkman. Things were being bounced up into the air by the beat of the music. This was the commercial that got Ms. Jeon noticed. I’ve looked for the commercial on YouTube, but haven’t been able to find it.
Soon afterward, Ms. Jeon appeared in commercials for Samsung printers, a first one in which she wore a white t-shirt and slacks, and a second one in which wore some kind of leopard- or tiger-print clothing. (Incidentally, it was rumored that her bust had been enhanced through video manipulation.)
The commercials were a big success, but this kind of dancing was yet to find its way into Korean pop music and pop culture. The big girl groups at the time were S.E.S. and Fin.K.L, and you can see how moderately dressed they are in these videos, from 1997 and 1998, respectively.
Around the mid-1990s a singer named Park Jin-young (who now calls himself JYP) was pushing the envelope in terms of sexual imagery in his videos. Look at this video for “Elevator” from his second album, Tantara.
This is tame by today’s standards, but in 1995, this was definitely risque. Later, Park started his own management company, and one of his protegees was a young female singer named Park Ji-yoon.
She was on the top of the game in 2000, arguably the most popular female singer in Kpop at the time. In 2003, uncomfortable with the way her image and career was being used as one of the frontrunners in pushing sexual boundaries (JYP’s goal/tactic at the time) with songs like “Adult ceremony” and “Do you know how to…?”, the singer left Kpop and basically fell into obscurity.
[ snip ]
2009 is a very different climate than the ironically, more boundary pushing/shocking atmosphere of the early 2000’s. Can you imagine the Wonder Girls or SNSD (who are the same age that Park Ji Yoon was at the time) headlining such sexually provocative songs (not just as remake performances) today?
I have to disagree with the author here when she says, “Can you imagine …?” I, for one, can. Does the writer forget that when the Wonder Girls debuted, three of them, Sun-mi, So-hee, and Hyun-ah (who was later replaced by Yu-bin) were 15 years old at the time, and that it was those three who wore shorts and mini-skirts in promotional pictures?
Park Ji-yoon’s song “Adult Ceremony” (“Sung-in-shik” in Korean) was about a young woman who had just reached legal age, and she’s singing to her boyfriend about how, now that she’s a woman, she’s ready to “do it” (to “do it” is a euphemism that has the same meaning as in English). Look at the video. Her abdomen is visible, as are the strings of her thong underwear. That was pushing limits back in 2000. Young Korean women had been wearing miniskirts for years, but they never showed their midriff (sort of like how they are still very conscious to not show any cleavage, even if they have little cleavage to show). So-called “granny panties” were (still are?) the preferred type of underwear. If you did wear thong panties, you would certainly try to keep it a secret! Also, notice how, at one point in the choreography (4:25), she squats down, quickly opens and closes her legs a few times, and then stands up again.
And yes, its the same song and choreography that Jae Kyung of Rainbow performed when JYP drooled over her.
However, the person who really put “sexy dancing” on the map was Lee Hyo-ri. Fin.K.L broke up in 2002. Oak Joo-hyun was the only really good singer in the group. The other members were just different flavors of eye candy. (S.E.S. followed the same formula. Bada did the heavy lifting, vocally, in that group.) So how could she ensure the success of her solo career? The answer came in the video of her first solo single, 10 Minutes.
Today, it may not look like much compared to, say, the Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra” but back then, in 2003, trust me, it scorched your retinas. The fact that she showed off her midriff made a big impression. Of course, as I mentioned above, that had already been done three years earlier in Park Ji-yoon’s video for “Adult Ceremony.” I think that Park Ji-yoon’s video may have gone a little too far, too soon. Lee Hyo-ri’s video was the right one at the right time. It wasn’t too far ahead of the curve. Also, let’s be honest about this: Hyo-ri has a more voluptuous figure than Ji-yoon, and the clothing that she wore showed it off. That had an influence. Thus, Hyori’s video was the one that made it into the common consciousness. It made so much of an impact that the phrase “Hyo-ri Syndrome” was coined to describe her ubiquity. Ever since, everyone has tried to be “sexy” like her, though not many have succeeded.
And now you know.