In my expedition through the subconscious territories of today’s consumer trends, I have come to admit to one of my guilty pleasures which I so often buy into, baring all in the name of critical thinking. But before we go on to critique my sinful ways, let me first compensate with beginning this post on a scholarly note.
It was the late 1980s when Joseph Nye of Harvard University coined the term ‘soft power’. Not wanting to bore you, it is simply the ability (of a government mostly) to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. And at this, I ask you, what could possibly be more appealing and attractive than seven flawless-skinned, tone-bodied, choreographically-synced men mouthing their no-more-than-2 lines-worth-each of their lead single titled ‘Beautiful’?
You’ve guessed right, I am what people call a Kpop fan. But in my defence, I strive to be a critical Kpop fan. These men, among boatloads of their manufactured kind, have indeed shaped my preferences towards singing the South Korean tune, and so is the rest of the world. Within about a week of debuting their single, America’s Billboard writes, Monsta X Scores First No. 1 on World Albums Chart With ‘Beautiful’ LP; Soompi reports the same, MONSTA X Tops Various Korean And International Charts With Their First Studio Album. Global fans (the result of soft power) are definitely buying into their new act and they are definitely selling. So what is it about these idols that irk me?
Their PREPACKAGED IDENTITIES!
Only if we’re willing to concede to the fact, we’d know that these idols are merely money-making puppets to the capitalistic masterminds of Korean talent agencies like the juggernauts of SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. And if these bourgeoisies are capable of determining the style, the songs, and the work schedules of these idols, think what more they can do in determining their identities (for public consumption). More often than not, I have come across interviews and variety shows participated by these idols that scream preconditioned. It would abide the sacred sequence of statements introducing themselves, discussing their charming characteristics and good physical traits, and ends with displaying their one specific skill (e.g. being cute). These two-dimensional identities set up for Kpop idols only highlights the ideals that masses are assumed to prefer, the model image of humanity without the complications of other intricate human behaviours (e.g. having flaws). I could only imagine the repercussions as the consuming idol worshippers harbour unrealistic standards of what constitutes beautiful identity. On the flip side, without giving these capitalists too much credit, we consumers may just be more than appreciative of the attractive and appealing because who doesn’t love looking at a pretty face? Right?
But yet, critique as I may about this consumption habit, there is no denying that South Korea has the winning algorithm to producing profitable popular culture, much to their advantage of expanding soft power across the globe.
Regret not understanding 90% of the lyrics to ‘Beautiful’.
Sources: foreignaffairs.com; YouTube; billboard.com; soompi.com; uio.no