Controversial for all the wrong reasons

2NE1 – “Go Away”:

I don’t know what to make of this. Rather, I know what I’m supposed to make of this – which is the problem at hand, I guess.

Look. As a K-pop fan, I like 2NE1. Their music is catchy (when it’s not awful), their stage presence is strong (when it’s not obnoxious), and they’re pretty to boot (when their stylist isn’t trying too hard to make them ‘fierce’). And the fact that they pushed their way to the forefront of the K-pop scene within months of their debut is impressive. Of course, being the flagship girl group of a major entertainment company probably doesn’t hurt, either. Or maybe it does.

2NE1 can push the “strong girl” image as hard as they want, but in the end, it’s still an image – an image of so-called “feminism” sculpted by men who aim to earn money off this image. It’s their job, after all. They can’t help it if young girls everywhere are buying their product – and thus, buying into their image. They can’t help it if their product turns out to be marketable for all the wrong reasons. Whatever puts cash in the bank, baby.

Korea’s culture is historically shaped in a way that ingrains male dominance and female subordinancy into the ethnic identity. This is nothing new – just ask Confucius. Maybe it’s just the perpetual pessimist in me speaking, but I don’t think that this mindset will be changing anytime soon, if at all. Perhaps it’s more subject to change than, say, the problem of racism in Korea, but if you want to change an entire culture’s perception of gender, you’re asking it to retire its age-old philosophical ideals, revolutionize their social atmosphere – perhaps even change the rules of syntax in their language.

My point is, a K-pop girl group will not change the feminist ideal (or lack thereof) in Korean culture – not if money-minded men are the ones crafting role models for young girls. 2NE1 might be the leader of the “girl power” image in K-pop right now, as reflected in their debut piece:

But you’ll notice that “Fire” is completely insubstantial in terms of promoting a “strong girl” image, aside from 2NE1’s crazy clothes and sharp dance moves and hands on jutted hips. The lyrics are an inadequate match to this “girl power” concept – that is, if you find the line “shake your booty booty booty booty” a testament to female empowerment.

“Fire” promoted an image, not a message. If 2NE1 is just meant to be a fun, “fierce” girl group, then that’s fine – K-pop doesn’t have to be a vehicle for sociological change if it doesn’t want to be.

But if that’s so, then videos like “Go Away” shouldn’t exist. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I really don’t know how I feel about this video. There’s some stuff in there that’s absolutely unnecessary – most notably, CL’s character’s physically abusive relationship with her now ex-boyfriend. CL’s main reason for leaving Boyfriend was because of his infidelity, not the fact that he’s physically abusive. (Final scene, right before the race begins. Boyfriend + New GF interation = angry CL. Nothing else.) If the directors chose to include that scene outside of Boyfriend’s trailer, then the physical abuse should’ve been the principal reason for the breakup. Otherwise, the abuse scene’s sole purpose is for the shock factor. And that’s just stupid and insensitive and underrates everything about the tragedy of domestic violence. (It’s also very typical of K-pop.)

“Go Away” seems to present a rather bipolar image. The idea of CL’s neediness for her jerk of a boyfriend is realistic, but completely incongruous with 2NE1’s “strong girl” image. Whatever. We’ll just call that ‘variation in attitude’ for now. But what is with spending five minutes of the MV moping around in a drunken stupor trying to get Boyfriend back, then turning around and spending the remaining minute trying to kill him?

I have a really hard time believing that there’s any sort of metaphor in there – it’s K-pop: where artistic style has to be kept in black-and-white so the little kiddies won’t be too confused. If the car crash was a figment of CL’s imagination, there would’ve been some tacky CGI effect and a hazy camera filter to indicate it as such. No, I’m pretty sure CL killed the guy. Once again, if the primary reason for CL and Boyfriend’s breakup was over physical violence, then okay, maybe. But CL was mad because Boyfriend was cheating on her with that tramp goddammit and now Boyfriend must die.

Car crash = shock factor. That’s all.

So I guess I can conclude that “Go Away” was YG’s attempt in trying to soften 2NE1’s image and address a “serious” issue. In the end, both attempts proved to be pathetic failures. For one, CL killed the guy in the end for no reason other than to assert her own ‘female empowerment.’ That’s scary, no matter how you look at it. More importantly, the video cheapened the tragic nature of an abusive relationship just to ‘impress’ fans and viewers by the apparent sociological depth of the piece, when in fact the video possesses anything but.

At the end of the day, 2NE1 is just another girl group with an image that’s crafted by men. 2NE1 never set out to revolutionize the female image in Korea, as evidenced by the vapid lyrics of “Fire.” But the producers found that 2NE1 was becoming a role model to impressionable and marketable young girls as a promoter of a so-called “feminist” message. So they upped the sociological ante, and made “Go Away” a six minute long crusade for female empowerment – a six minute long crusade that was probably still conceptualized, written, and edited by men. K-pop is 90% image, 10% substance, true – but it’s a problem when producers try to add substance to an image completely in the wrong ways.

Technically speaking, I fall into 2NE1’s target demographic of impressionable and marketable young girls, and it’s kind of appalling to see this warped image of feminism being pushed directly in my face. If this MV is telling me, a teenage girl, to follow CL unnie’s footsteps in clinging to an unfaithful boyfriend and then explosively break up with him at the last minute because that’s what “strong girls” do, then that probably explains why this MV bothers me so much.

Of course, it’s not to say that the messages of other girl groups are any better or worse. The fact is that as long as men craft the images and concepts of girl groups, and as long as young girls adopt these girl groups as role models, this problem will continue. 2NE1’s situation is that much more alarming because we’ve already got a ton of girls speaking out against SNSD’s image, and its so-called detrimental effect against female empowerment has become an obvious fact of life in the K-pop community. 2NE1 might be “fiercer” than SNSD, but at the core, the two are not any different.

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  • yeah

    Actually, if you watch Go Away properly, CL’s car explodes = she dies. I’m not gonna go into an analysis for you because you’re clearly stupid.