A Brief Look at Lesbian Baiting in K-Pop

Touch by Anda is for lesbians

When I was in high school, K-pop was a niche interest. You knew a few kids who liked it. And if you’re Filipino, your aunts and uncles danced to “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls at the family function. But ultimately, K-Pop artists were never as big as Fall Out Boy or Taylor Swift in the US. Fast forward a decade. Everyone and their grandma has their favorite K-pop boy group member. BTS is consistently in the US charts. And Blackpink has their own Netflix special. But what does this have anything to do with lesbians? Well, did you know there happens to be a lot of lesbian baiting in K-Pop? Now you do! It’s time we took a look into the lesbian baiting phenomena in K-pop.

What’s the Lesbian Baiting?

You know exactly what lesbian baiting is. It happens to us all the time. The trailers, ads, social media posts make us believe something will have lesbian content. But it’s all lies and deceit. So how does this play out in K-pop? Well, generally a girl group will put out a homoerotic music video or they’ll be a little too handsy during a live performance. So what’s the difference? Well, we know this is bait. Nothing more. Nothing less. You know exactly what you’re going to get so there’s no disappointment. You might be thinking, “maybe your last lesbian brain cell is looking for something that isn’t there because you’re so starved for representation?” First of all, we’re not here to expose me. Why don’t you take a look for yourself.

“Touch” by Anda

There is a lot going on in this music video. The background imagery had me doing a double take. This isn’t even subtext anymore. There isn’t much else I can say that the video doesn’t already show. Then, there’s the lyrical emphasis on the phrase “if you’re gonna be mine, then you don’t have to take your time” after the repetition of “touch.” Along with the visuals, it would make lesbians wonder if she’s singing about how it takes 3 years and a peer reviewed research paper for lesbians to accept a woman has feelings for her. 

“Gashina” by Sunmi

The title of this song is a shortening of the Korean phrase “gasinayo,” which loosely translates to “leaving.” But, the word “gashina” itself could also be used to address a girl in a playful, and at times, disrespectful manner. In the song itself, Sunmi is upset that someone has left her despite saying they would not. One interpretation would have us believe she was calling a woman who left “gashina.” And why not? Sunmi has held up pride flags during her concerts. Is it so absurd to assume she did this song for the lesbians? Plus she plays a mean bass, which is arguably the most lesbian of the stringed instruments. If you disagree, we will require you to provide your evidence for a more lesbian instrument in the comments.

https://www.instagram.com/p/ByOV39PDKHw/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

“What is Love” by TWICE

This video is a bit more PG than the previous two. But it does something interesting. It takes iconic film scenes and reimagines them with same-sex couples. How many times have we lesbians said to ourselves, “this would’ve been better with lesbians?” It’s true and we should say it. Many of us were only exposed to heterosexual love stories for a majority of our lives. It only makes sense that these movies influence our own same-sex romantic fantasies. And TWICE gave us a glimpse of what that might look like. 

“Wish Tree” by Red Velvet

You don’t have to understand Korean to know what’s going on here. Who amongst us hasn’t secretly been in love with our best friend? But you might be asking, “is that what’s really going on or did your lesbian brain cell project your own experiences onto the song?” Let’s take a break from dragging me to look into the lyrics. The singer asks to hold hands as they make their wishes. She first wishes that she and her friend will be this happy all the time. Her second wish is that they spend every winter together. And the third, is for the first two to come true. That’s lesbian activity.

Irene and Seulgi

Speaking of Red Velvet, two of its members formed a sub-unit. Their album, Monster, was released earlier this year and features the songs “Monster” and “Naughty.” These two women had a bit more creative control over this compared to Red Velvet projects. In several interviews, they said they hoped to show fans another side of themselves (a lesbian side!?). They also mentioned that when choosing the album cover, they emphasized which aspect of the other’s face they love the most. How do I know this? I did a YouTube deep dive where I found several interviews in which they gush over each other. You might also wonder, “did you give these two their own section because you now have a crush on Irene?” Maybe so… And what of it?

“Monster”

“Monster” is the first video off their album. As the two women describe it, it’s about something awakening within them, haunting their dreams, and taking over their thoughts. Even the dance choreography suggests one of them taking over the other. There’s a “monster” they seem to embrace. Based on the video, is it so outlandish for a lesbian to assume that this “monster” is love for another woman? Hasn’t that always been demonized because it’s different? And something we’re initially afraid of when it first starts blossoming? As the song suggests, why don’t we embrace it instead?

“Naughty”

There’s no way I can talk about Irene and Seulgi without mentioning “Naughty.” This song would kill it in the gay clubs, you know, if they were open. The song itself is about the tension one feels with their romantic interest. And then there’s the choreography. The precision. The chemistry. The hands. And if there’s one thing we lesbians are all about, it’s hands. Irene and Seulgi really said “we’re going to give the lesbians everything they want.”

Why All This Lesbian Baiting?

I didn’t feel comfortable answering on my own as a casual fan with little understanding of South Korean culture. So I asked my Korean-American friend, let’s call her L, to talk to me about why it might be happening and what factors we should consider when watching these videos. Firstly, same-sex marriage or other forms of legal partnerships are not available South Korea. And based on my conversation with L, general awareness of homosexuality remained low until recently. She also mentioned religion’s role in feeding homophobia in South Korea. So why the sudden boom of lesbian baiting? Let’s look at a few reasons.

Simple Engineering

As L and I were talking, she mentioned how many of these performers start training to be pop stars as early as middle school. In most cases, almost every aspect of a K-pop group is carefully engineered and managed to be as profitable as possible. And as much as I hate to say it, sometimes it’s catering to the male gaze and their disgusting fantasies. But L mentioned something else of interest. Many girl groups have what they might call the “girl crush” or the “husband type” member. Her outfits are edgier than the other members, and often times she dresses more masculine. This member is supposed to embody what female fans might think is cool. In fact, having this member may be more profitable because they act as, what L would call, a “stand-in boyfriend.” Here is where homophobia rears its ugly head. As L said, “same-sex relationships aren’t considered real.”

But things Are Changing!

But it might not all be bad! The South Korean Human Rights Commission Act does state that “no individual is to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her sexual orientation.” And recent polls show that the general public is in favor of more protections for gays and lesbians. She even told me about a few lesbian bars she went to during her last visit to Seoul. So, this could be baby steps towards real representation.

L mentions that what we in the States might see as baiting is actually a lot in terms of representation in a place where it’s been virtually unheard of until recently. And we both felt that, statistically speaking, there has to be a few lesbian and bisexual K-pop stars. They simply aren’t in a position to come out. So making this type of content could be their only outlet to express that part of themselves.

Additionally, there’s been a surge of feminist activity in South Korea that is affecting women of all walks of life. Even K-pop stars. Irene of Red Velvet mentioned having read a feminist novel. Which of course angered male fans enough to brag about burning her merch online. But enough of men’s irrelevance. A K-pop star doing something like this is unheard of. It’s simply not done. But she did that. And Queen Irene is thriving. Is it then so outlandish to have lesbian and bisexual K-pop stars?

We’ll Take It!

To us, they may be crumbs, but to others it may be one of the only types of representation they see. And apart from the baiting, don’t we lesbians love to support female artists, anyway? Sure, it’s great when we get something like “Touch” or “Monster,” but sometimes it’s just nice to appreciate great choreography and an absolute banger of a song. So go forth lesbians, open up your musical mind and give K-pop girl groups a chance. You never know when you might find some more lesbian bait! And if you do, be sure to let us know. You might now be thinking, “are you going to watch Naughty for the 80th time?” You know damn well I will. Respectfully, of course.