Challenging Censorship in Korea
K-pop, Korean pop, is a rapidly growing industry, reaching vast audiences across the globe. If anything, k-pop has more popularity internationally than they do in its own country. With more global influence and the shift to cater to international audiences, k-pop groups have moved to more risqué concepts that suit less conservative audiences. However, Korea still has heavy control over what is broadcasted in their country, censoring a large amount of what is performed on television. In early 2015, a girl group called EXID’s popularity skyrocketed with their song “Up and Down.” Its sexy concept sparked issues with Korean broadcasting companies and performance was deemed inappropriate for broadcast. When k-pop groups release new songs, they will usually perform weekly at various music programs and most groups will have intricate choreographed dances they perform along with singing live. With EXID’s “Up and Down,” the broadcasting companies had not raised issues with the group’s risqué dance, but as soon as the song gained a large amount of popularity, EXID was forced to alter parts of their choreography that were deemed too sexual for television. Not backing down, they only slightly changed the choreography, still using sexual moves, but it was just enough to be okayed for music programs. After “Up and Down,” EXID released a new song with a similar vibe to “Up and Down” titled “Ah Yeah.” With what had happened to “Up and Down,” EXID chose to mock Korea’s censorship in their new music video. Throughout the whole video, there are little touches that poke fun at their over-the-top censorship rules. In one shot there are naked mannequins with ribbons over the breasts and private areas with “NO” written across them, and many scenes contain blurred, “inappropriate” images. The most obvious jab at KSCS, the Korean Communications Standards Commission that enforces censorship, is the blurring of the girls’ pelvises as they show shots of their dancing. The moves that were censored were the same or very similar to the ones that were altered from “Up and Down.” When the same clip clears up at the end of the video, the focus of the move changes from their pelvis to their legs, and the caption in Korean changes from “19 and up” to “General audiences.” Above, another caption reads, “Good Enough,” just like the slight change in their moves for “Up and Down” was good enough to be performed on music shows. Towards the end of the video, all the scenes that were originally blurred clear up and shows that what was originally censored was not even that bad to begin with. This video compels the viewers to question Korea’s censorship laws and mediocrity in them. The final part where everything is finally uncensored points out that oftentimes censors imply something that is worse than what is actually being blurred out. Furthermore, regardless of the blur over their pelvises, the move can still be depicted, implying that censors do little-to-nothing in blocking what is deemed inappropriate. This video is especially timely as many people are beginning to point out the double-standard that exists in Korea when censoring k-pop groups. Girl groups are censored much more than male groups, males being praised for sexual body rolls and thrusts while women are shamed and censored for similar moves. Other questions begin to rise at this thought. Was EXID, along many other girl groups, censored because it is actually sexually inappropriate or because women are doing it? Not many women idols have chosen to express their sexuality, but as k-pop is becoming heavily influenced by international audiences, a new wave of girl groups are presenting more sexy concepts. EXID, so far, has been one of the few to make a direct jab at KCSC and shed light on the double-standard that exists in Korea. With EXID being one of the groups on the forefront of this movement, I think censorship laws can continue to be challenged and, hopefully, changed for the better. Censorship has such a heavy influence in Korea’s broadcasting industry and, in result, creativity is heavily restricted. I think k-pop, with its large international support, has the power to influence KCSC and open up the country’s mind about more creative freedom. Overall, EXID chose excellent timing to address this issue, taking advantage of the large amount of popularity they had recently earned. After watching the video multiple times, I noticed how well thought-out the video was, many minor details being included. The video challenges the stigma surrounding women expressing their sexuality and the censorship that comes with it. All of this is done while still maintaining an upbeat, satirical approach which is what I think makes this video so successful in Korea. It does not push too far but subtly points out the problematics in the country’s heavy use of censorship.