Making those that bloom, blossom: Ga-in from Brown Eyed Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Kpop

by Raizel Liebler

This discussion of Ga-in is part of a series of posts about gender and sexuality in K-pop.

If you’ve ever seen PSY’s Gentleman video, then you’ve seen Ga In (가인). She’s the one doing the same dance from her group Brown Eyed Girls’ Abracadabra video – and the implication of simulating … something with a fish cake covered in mayo (not how it is usually served).  Ga-in’s interaction with gender and sexuality is some of the most directly confrontational of any female k-pop star.

As with many k-pop stars Ga-in has solo recordings, but her start was with the group she is still part of, Brown Eyed Girls (BEG). Of any k-pop group that isn’t really rap/hip-hop, Brown Eyed Girls pushes the envelope the furthest, the most – and in thoughtful way, rather than merely being provocative for shock value. Examples include actual simulation of sex in “Abracadabra,” themes of maturity v. immaturity in “Cleansing Cream,” and critiquing media’s limiting women’s self-worth in “Sixth Sense.” Her group mates performed an aggressive, profanity-laden critique of those who comment about those who get plastic surgery, set to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. All of the members of BEG have received plastic surgery, but their shove-back to their haters is notable within a culture that requires politeness from stars.

But Ga-in really pushed the envelope in terms of sexuality with her solo project, leading the music video for Bloom (피어나), to be banned. The lyrics compare her to a flower in bloom, a young woman discovering her sexuality. Unusually, the sexual elements aren’t intended for the male gaze – instead, the focus is on her enjoyment, including possibly the first inclusion in k-pop of both female masturbation and orgasm. And not just the once! While this video was banned, Hyuna’s Ice Cream, a similarly themed “I like the sexytime” song released at the same time, was not – leading to criticism of the government censors for banning a video that spoke positively to female desire.

Of course, there are varied ways of interpreting this video – one is of showing sex as positive, enlightening, and life-changing. The video tells the narrator’s story of a girl moving into being a woman falling in love, including seeing her desires for her lover grow. Unlike media directed at the male gaze, the focus is on the inclusion of storytelling within desire.

Some of the most in-your-face aspects of the video are how it turns so many overused metaphors back against themselves. The male dancers vogue; the cutesy dancing in front of flowers implies her good times; and the stripper pole is not about the man at all. All with lyrics that are less child-inappropriate than almost any pop song on the U.S. charts.

But Ga-in’s Bloom performance also speaks back to the virgin/whore (or good girl/ bad girl) dichotomy where women and girls are either viewed as a innocent and delicate bud with no knowledge of the sexytime or a seductive aggro flower in bloom ready to pounce on her next victim, black widow style.

This does not mean that Ga-in hasn’t been slut-shamed, similarly to many other k-pop stars. However, since she is now seen as classy – and dare I say it – artistic – then she, too, is used as an example of showing female sexuality in a positive way, unlike her déclassé peers. Whoops, correction – her class is gone now that she lowered herself to make a crude sight gag in the PSY video! Once again, proving that if one is a woman in the public eye, there is no way to be oneself, especially regarding sexual expression, right?

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