Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who Are All These White Chicks? GD&TOP's “High High” MV


The hype has set in, sleep has been lost, late night rants have been posted and VIPs have been waiting with bated breath – finally, the first stage of the Big Bang comeback cycle has arrived with GD&TOP’s “High High” MV.  And there are a TON of white females in it. More after the jump.

For a general discussion of non-Asians in Asian music videos, check out my post on the topic here.



The first thought I had about this video was that it was one of the few k-pop videos I’d seen where people were just in the club having fun. If k-pop videos are anything to go by, nothing good happens at the club: people get dumped, people find their girl/guy with someone else, trifling boyfriends get their just desserts, etc. But here, they’re just getting crunk. I’m a fan of this shift in focus, especially since GD&TOP seem like the best people to go out with.

My second, and more pressing thought, however, was that there was an overwhelming presence of Caucasian women in the video. In a careful study of the clip (i.e. I watched it twice), I found that the ratio of shots of Asian women compared to those of Caucasian women, either alone or with G-Dragon and TOP, is about 1:6. While taking screencaps of the video, the Asian faces came out of the woodwork, but in a casual viewing of the video, which most people would do, only the Caucasians stand out. In fact, the “High High” video looks awfully similar to the ad below in terms of population:

Source: Somang Cosmetics via The Grand Narrative
To me, there is no difference

So the big question is: why?

It’s no news to anyone that there is an abundance of non-ethnic Koreans in South Korea, especially in places like Seoul, but what makes this video unusual is that they’re usually not all gathered at the same club on the same night. I’m not in Korea so I haven’t seen firsthand the clubbing crowd, but Jun Areia, (an awesome k-pop remixer) posted links on Facebook to some collections of photos from popular clubs in Seoul, and the population looks… well, very Asian.  Also since this is a music video, people were cast/invited to be at this party and to participate in the shoot, meaning that a considerable number of Caucasian women were specifically cast for this video, as opposed to them showing up by chance. Even if the casting wasn't biased towards Caucasian women, the editing of the video favors them: Asian women appear far less often, and almost never in close up. If you still need to be convinced that this isn’t normal, then check out this Big Bang music video from 2008, where they are also in a club, but surrounded by mostly Asian women:


As I speculate about the reasons behind this creative choice, I can’t help but remember some of the writings by James Turnbull over at the Grand Narrative, indicating the hyper-sexualization of Caucasians in South Korean advertising. Until recently, you were more likely to see a Caucasian woman in skimpy clothing or in a sexually suggestive pose (often with a Caucasian man) as opposed to a Korean woman, which I witnessed myself while looking for a photoshoot on the Cosmopolitan Korea website: it's all Asians until you get to the Love and Relationships section, then suddenly some white people pop up - half-naked, as that section of Cosmo usually goes.

I'm guessing then that “Caucasians Are Sexy” was the casting concept for this video: Caucasian women are sexy, therefore if you have a ton of white women in your video, you must be the shit, or you must be in America/Europe, which makes you even cooler (Is it a coincidence that the invites to the party / video shoot were passports and plane tickets?). Not only does this reduce the white woman to a prop or a trophy simply put there to elevate the Asian man's status (especially when they’re all dressed in identical outfits as in the screencap below) but it also pushes her towards the “bad girl” category, which few Korean women would willingly associate with, and few Korean men would look upon favorably, if this translation of the lyrics for Miss A’s “Good Girl, Bad Girl” is anything to go by. A little more support for this idea would be the backlash against white women blogging about their dating experiences in Korea. It would seem that a lot of Koreans consider white women to be more sexual, i.e. sluttier, than Korean women. (link via The Grand Narrative)


This concept of the Caucasian woman as the "bad girl" makes more sense when you think of other Caucasian women featured in k-pop music videos: again, Big Bang’s video for "Beautiful Hangover" features a white woman who cheats on Taeyang with G-Dragon, and then ends up leaving G-Dragon too (ostensibly for TOP); then U-Kiss’s latest single, “Shut Up” – the lyrics indicate they’re tired of the girl’s games, though the music video is just one big ol’ tease. Another, slightly less relevant example is Winterplay’s video for “Touche Mon Amour” where an Asian husband and Caucasian wife get into a physical fight because she won’t stop watching Winterplay on TV. In sum, white women are hardly ever seen as a positive love interest in Korean music videos. So it’s not like Asian women have been replaced with a better alternative – it's more like they’ve been replaced with a less valuable, but possibly more visually appealing substitute. (If anyone has seen a counterexample in a Korean/Asian music video, please let me know!)

Posts like this often get dismissed as the ranting of a sore woman who feels ugly and unloved who is taking out her anger on the pretty people. But to be honest, I’m not upset at Caucasian women - I’m upset on their behalf, as well as the many gorgeous Asian women and women of other races that I’m sure got passed up in the casting and editing for this video. It may be a form of Western/white worship but it by no means puts white women in a better position than their Asian counterparts. Though I won't say white privilege is completely absent in this case - in the end Caucasian women are still considered prettier than girls of other races, or else they wouldn't be there in such high numbers. I spied only ONE black woman in that entire video (at around 2:01) - I'm surprised she was even there at all. So it's this weird combination of objectification of white women and bias against them - they're pretty, but they're only good for the club and not for the home or for a relationship. Whichever way you look at it, though, the director of this music video definitely deserves the side eye for this one.

Post your thoughts on the video in the comments!


EDIT- 11:57AM: So on Modest-Goddess's suggestion, I checked out noonablog.com, written by one of the white girls from video - her name's Paula (or 우리), she's Swedish, and she's the short haired girl in the photo at the top. If you want to read about her experience at the shoot, check it out here and here - there's an interesting little bit about bunny suits in there. Anyway, it turns out she got an invitation because she's friends with people from the Seoulcialite Agency, "a boutique marketing and event planning company which specializes in high profile and exclusive events within the music, fashion and entertainment industry". They planned the party and the shoot along with YG Ent. On their website, the have a bunch of photos from the shoot - still a ton of Caucasian women, but lots more Asian women. This indicates again, that the editing of the video was biased towards Caucasian women.


Thanks to Modest-Goddess for her suggestion, and James for all his awesome insights.

9 comments:

  1. OK that woman with short hair in the first photo looks like one of the bloggers I used to read that is living in Korea now and working as a model. Ok I just checked it is her. Maybe she has some insight.
    http://noonablog.com/

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  2. wow, so fast! Thanks for the link - will definitely check it out

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  3. This also reminds me of the episode of Boys Over Flowers where they went to Caledonia. Two white women were randomly there hanging out with the main cast. They never had any lines and they always had on bikinis while the Korean women were wearing more clothes.

    http://www.dramafever.com/drama/26/5/Boys_Over_Flowers/?ap=1

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  4. @modest-goddess true! also, did you ever notice that in Asian dramas the white girl is often the consolation prize for the second lead who didn't get the girl? e.g. Joon-gu's new girl in Playful Kiss, and Ji-won's new crush in Coffee House? This goes even further than I originally thought.

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  5. I loved the Joon-gu actor, he needs to star in his own drama.

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  6. While there may be an underlying tone of the "hyper-sexualization of Caucasians in Korean advertising," I read the sudden inclusion of white females in YG videos as an appeal to international entertainment. Perhaps they're only trying to allow the rest of the world to relate to K-pop videos? But then again why don't we see white males in 2NE1 videos? It will also be interesting to see how we'd interpret the videos if black females were included...

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  7. @ The Entertainment Geek - you've pretty much hit the nail on the head - it wouldn't be a questionable move had it been both men and women, or an equal distribution of the sexes. But the fact that it's primarily white women raises flags.

    There aren't white males in 2NE1 videos, but there are white men in other videos - one by SES that I can't remember, and one by Narsha that I blogged about here. It's never a harem of white dudes, though, only a few - and as far as I know, only Narsha's features a white dude that's there as a romantic/make-out partner. I haven't looked into why this is, but a link via The Grand Narrative makes an interesting argument for the particular reason white guys were included in the "SES video. I guess my point is there seems to be a lot more at work than simply desire to appeal to an international audience.

    Also, it there were black women in this video, it would have opened a whole other can of worms - I don't think this blog is ready for the rage that would emerge from my fingers if that happened, lol.

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  8. Hey mellowyel!

    I mentioned this post in my blog post here:
    http://fanboyfangirl.blogspot.com/2011/03/fanboy-fangirl-discuss-non-asians-in_14.html
    Me (Fangirl) and my co-author (Fanboy) give our thoughts about what we think of non-Asians appearing in Korean MVs.

    Would you mind taking a gander at it? Your thoughts would be appreciated!

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