Just when you thought that girl idol groups in Korea were reaching every area of the populous and setting records while doing it, we now have a new youngest group that beats the record set by members of a group called i13 (yes, they had 13 members and three of them were 12 when they debuted in 2005) and matched by GP Basic‘s Janey who was 12 when they debuted last summer (she’s a whopping 13 now!). i13, if you care, fell off the map.
But on to our new record holders Girl Story, whose two youngest members are nine with the elder members of the group coming in at 10 and an aged 11. The group launched into the Kpop scene at the end of December with the debut song “Pinky Pinky” and are being labeled, appropriately, kid idols. Some detractors have, amazingly, popped up voicing discontent and disgust with such young girls entering the market when they should be doing other things like being girls.
Their supporters say they are doing what they love and that they already know the business as they were actresses before with three of them taking roles in an SBS drama called “Ja Myung Go” (see two pics here). The good news for the girls is that they are now on vacation from annoying school and thus can happily work on their real passion. Reportedly they are working under the tutelage of the same trainer who trained After School (don’t ask me who the two young girls with bare midriffs in the video are) which makes one wonder what moves they’ll be busting in videos and on stage.
Yes, I know, there are already young girls in groups like Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, 2NE1, F(x), Brown Eyed Girls and so many others I have no idea about. But, if this is an excuse, all of those groups had debuts with their youngest members around 16. That puts them in about the same boat as Britney Spears or, if you wish, Miley Cyrus. Without a doubt most of these girls were in some sort of entertainment like the Mickey Mouse Club or on shows like Star Search and American Idol. They weren’t in short shorts and tights shaking their hips and puckering their glossy lips for the camera, all for a record label.
Now in Korea it seems like the show Star King is pushing the limits with its young performers who imitate the idol stars. This is not the Mickey Mouse Club or Hannah Montana. Something seems weird about it, kind of like when a parent lets their 8-year-old wear a bikini to the beach or when mothers drag their daughters to beauty pageants for 6-year-olds. But it goes beyond that because the children are acting in a promiscuous and seductive manner that is surely not a way they would naturally behave. It’s one thing to put the girls in the outfits. It’s another to train them to gyrate their hips and ogle the camera.
Perhaps I am dating myself but I recall the Spice Girls way back in 1994—they called themselves “girls” even though their youngest member, Baby Spice, was 18 when they started out. Their oldest, Ginger Spice, was a girlie 22. In Korea you could look to 1998 when the group Fin K. L. debuted featuring Lee Hyo-ri at the age of 19 with three other girls, two 18 and one 17. And they weren’t exactly raising too many eyebrows with vampish outfits and alluring choreography. Backwards baseball caps, loose jeans, t-shirts, dresses well below the knees don’t exactly scream salaciousness. Sure, Hyo-ri went on to push the limits of skin exposure and one might blame her for setting a bad example for the youth. By becoming the highest paid female singer in 2006 at a time when many of the now leading girl groups were in their infancy, she epitomized what would get a girl paid: catchy, simple lyrics and lots of skin. It was almost impossible to go anywhere in Korea and not see an ad with her showing off her curves (some rumors say she had her breasts augmented but who really cares). She set the standard for what seals the deal and the younger idol stars surely paid attention.
Though I would be naive to think that this skin sale was organized by the singers themselves because it is a well known fact that the entertainment agencies are constantly doing whatever they can to increase the bottom line. The heavy hitters of S.M. Entertainment (BoA, Girls’ Generation), JYP Entertainment (Wonder Girls), YG Entertainment (2NE1) along with others like M-Net, which took in Hyo-ri, have massive scouting teams along with countless auditions and competitions where they can screen for the best talent. Any girl that shows up at a competition or audition knows what the judges are looking for and if she doesn’t, someone will surely tell her.
On the business side of things it’s hard to argue with the entertainment agencies who are trolling for young, cute, talented girls because they then have years to mold them—the mold of current stars being the model which can be reached with plastic surgery if necessary (and it usually is even if it isn’t)—into the ultimate idols who are used to the regime of 16 hour practice days, grueling tours, endless marketing blitzes, and, really, are an amalgamation of super model, school girl, ballerina and Go-Go girl.
The question in the last year has been how far can the music industry push the bill. Videos, concerts and marketing campaigns now routinely test the limits with sexually fueled content from simulated sexual acts to lyrics laced with salacious suggestion. Male singer G-Dragon was famously summoned by prosecutors for having a bed on stage where he acted like he was going at it with a female dancer while moans and growns poured out of the amps. Girl groups have put lines like, “Don’t hesitate. You can have my lips,” (2NE1) and, “You can climb on top of me, and then I will climb on you, too. We will be out of control in the end,” (Brown Eyed Girls) in their songs painting a pretty clear picture. Though I highly doubt they are penning these songs .
How much racier can the choreography get? Not much. See the splits, high kicks and butts in the camera by some of the newest groups like HAM in their video “So Sexy.” The lyrics and videos are where the difference can be made. So far that only applies to the adult girl groups and we can hope that it stays that way as the government has shown some signs of its patience waning with the no-holds-barred business strategies of the agencies—a female lawmaker proposed a bill late last year to ban late working hours for underage performers and to prohibit excessive forced skin exposure (I’d like to see who draws up those specifics). The ultimate question is whether the government will set limits on the ages of these kid idols, the outfits they are made to wear and the choreography they are expected to perform. The last six months surely show us that the entertainment agencies aren’t putting the brakes on anything. Calling all 8-year-olds.