K-Pop vs J-pop: Worlds Apart. Noob Addition

If you’ve hung around the internet long enough you’ve definitely come across both J-pop and K-pop and if you’re a noob you probably believe there is no difference between them. However, they are aesthetically, and musically different and the way they are marketed is also very different.

In recent years around the internet there has been a massive flame war going on between fans of K-Pop and J-pop and non-fans about how similar they are, who’s better and what sets them apart. Whether is praising either side to the utmost or making rude or racist remarks to flare up fan hate, the debate is ongoing and in truth pointless. Both genres poses different qualities that make them stand out and here I’ll try to separate and explain just how different they

Let it be known that I am fan of both J-pop and K-pop and have no biased towards either side. Go that? Good, now let get to it.

J-Pop LM.Cs' lead singer Maya(left) and lead guitarist Aiji(Right)

J-Pop LM.Cs’ lead singer Maya(left) and lead guitarist Aiji(Right)

Members of TVXQ

Members of TVXQ

The way in which Korean Pop stars and most Japanese pop artist dress is inherently different in a rather obvious way. When comparing a group like LM.c to a group like TVXQ, Japanese pop artist dress in a manner that is heavily influenced by punk rock and Lolita Fashion which is heavily reliant on exaggerated hairstyles, hair colors and articles of clothing that would usually never be seen in public on a regular day; not even in anime typically. Korean pop idols on the other hand dress in a way that is more close to how normal people dress which makes their sense of style more relatable not only to their mother land fans but fans across the world. Korean idols are dressed in attire that their fans can wear on a normal day while still being stylish and cool. Contrary to that Japanese Pop stars wear clothes that can sometimes be borderline fetish clothing or something that a nineteen eighties final fantasy character would wear, which is fine but outside of conventions it will be frowned upon. In their music videos their styles change a bit to more glamorous attire with a lot more jewelry but the same contrast of style is still present.

Korean pop starts are marketed to the public in an image that their fans can adorn to be more like their favorite idols if they so desire. However, with a Japanese pop star, there sense of style may be socially acceptable in their native country however, international fans who want to dress like their favorite stars may hit a road block because they style in which they dress may not be a common fashion statement for their area. There is also a huge difference in the amount and style of jewelry they wear. Japanese pop stars wear more spikes and studded attire reminiscent of the punk rock image, whereas Korean pop can be seen with this same trend, although they tend to wear smoother jewelry like watches and necklaces.  If there were words to describe the styles of both genres of Asian music Korean pop music would be described as overall mature with a stylish and smooth flare and a very refined look. Japanese pop on the other hand could be described as childish or edgy in some cases with more rough features or features that are more childish in nature.

BoA in casual Attire

BoA in casual Attire

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

The music produced by Korean Pop stars is also on a different scale and draws its primary influences from a different genre than Japanese Pop. Korean pop seems to draw more influence from the nineties to early two thousand era of pop and hip hop music, relying a lot on electric beats, drums and hip hop style lyrics to produce sound. Japanese Pop on the other hand predominantly relies more of either heavy rock influence with guitars and drums or solely electric beats to give a metal sound or a kids bop type of sound. Korean pop music tends to be more aligned with today’s western pop and R&B music industries music. Japanese pop music sounds more like the punk rock era of the western music industry in the early two thousands. Even in the way that the two go about performing music videos is vastly different. In Korean pop videos the performers are the main focus of the video is the artist or band and predominantly focus on them and their music. It also incorporates a lot of complex choreography that takes a lot of practice to perform in sync as they do as seen in EXO-K’s video Mama. Contrary to that, Japanese Pop is more about telling a story with the video that sometimes and other times not explains the symbolism of the song. It uses less complicated dance moves and in a lot of cases does most of the dancing in one such as with an E-girls music video such as One Two Three.

Korean pop music is predominantly heard by people who like artist for their music without attachments to anything else. Their music is popular because of them as artist, be it for their looks or the actual quality of their music. When a K-pop artist appears in a score for a Korean Drama, they are there to help popularize the K-drama and not the other way around such as the Loveholics featuring one of their older songs Flowerpot in the K-drama Coffee Prince. Japanese pop on the other hand is more known for being a part of Japanese anime and there are several examples of this such Moan Kurosaki’s debut album HOTD being a collection of ending themes she did for animated series High School of the Dead. Another example would be LM.C sponsoring the anime Red Garden in which there logo and paraphernalia made numerous appearances and also featuring two of their singles Oh My Juliet and Rock the LM.C as the two ending themes of the series. There are some instances where a Korean Pop artist does a themes song for an anime such as TVXQ’s brilliant remix of the very first theme song of the smash hit One Piece called We Are! By Hiroshi Kitadani. It should also be noted that there are a number of J-pop artist who are also Japanese anime voice actors.

LiSA single Oath Sign for anime Fate/Zero

LiSA single Oath Sign for anime Fate/Zero

The way in which Japanese pop idols are marketed is a bit different from your typical K-pop group. As far as it is known Japanese pop groups don’t have an extensive training program anywhere near as rigorous as the Chaebols systematic training system and there is also no base or upper age limit in Japanese Pop. Singers can go on singer well after their forties and there are some quite young Japanese pop artists as well. There is also a seemingly more American style to recruiting new blood into the industry because based on talent more than looks. This is not to say that there aren’t J-Pop idol groups out there though. A lot of Japanese pop groups of this day and age find their niche in the anime industry as it is one of japans highest grossing forms of entertainment and a lot of artist debut their singles as opening or ending themes for new or ongoing series; as a side not opening themes tend to be more popular than ending themes. One such example would be the solo singer LiSA debuting her 2011 single Oath Sign as an opening for the series Fate/Zero and Crossing Fields for the anime Sword Art Online, both of which were wildly popular series in 2011. There are many other veteran groups that have made a name in the fan world for performing several themes for a wide number of anime such as Uverworld and the W-inds.

Korea on the other hand has a very extensive program for creating and molding artist into the ideal artist and marking tool. Korean idols being at a young age, usually teenage years, and begin training them for a certain number of years, with regular evaluations of skill and talent before putting together a select few chosen recruits from thousands to be a new face in K-pop. They endure log amounts of dance practice because K-pop involves a drastic amount more choreography than J-pop, vocal training to assess how good their singing talent is and they also make sure they are visually pleasing to the eye. They may or may not be selected for a group and if not they continue to be evaluated until it becomes their time to shine or they are dropped from the company. There is much circulation around the net about K-pop artist having to enter into slave contracts that bind their every move and give the company they sign with almost total doctoral reign over their personal lives.

The life span of most K-pop artist is fairly short unless you’re like mega popular and transcend boundaries like Seo Taiji, in comparison to their sister genre across the way in which some K-pop artist go through a 5 year span and end up doing something else with lives like going to law school. The reason their lives as artist are so short is because they have to pay for managers of groups, good choreographers for performances, vocal coaches, and living accommodations as well as marketing teams which can begin to rack up cost; not to mention that they still have fifty to seventy other kids that are still waiting for their chance to shine. Overall the reason is that it becomes to expensive to keep up the cost of one when there are many behind them.

Although they both have strengths and weaknesses any reasonable fan  can agree that there is much fun to be had enjoying both genres of music and that neither is perfect. Hopefully this will help you distinguish between the two the next time your derping around the internet.


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South Korea: Guided and “Directed” by International Relations With the United States


South Korean media depicts the relationships that the nation has with the United States. In the film The Host and the Korean drama series City Hunter, we see multiple examples of the influence the US has in Korean media. This relationship directly influences aspects and themes in Korean dramas and films.

Given the military history between the United States and South Korea, the film: The Host shows the power and influence that the US has over Korea; even on such outrageous examples/matters as a man-eating monster on the loose. A few prime examples from the film will support the thesis above. The Host was a very interesting film to say the least. While it had a few aspects of a Hollywood ‘monster’ film, the influence of Korean culture and mindset were very evident. Seeing as it was my first Korean film that incorporated a fictitious monster, I would have to give the film a decent rating and applaud the director (Jung Ho-Bong) for not going too far over the top.

Trailer for The Host (2006).

Although I was unable to find the specific scene that I wanted through Youtube, the film is available on Netflix and I can discuss my reactions and opinions nevertheless. The first scene in The Host was set in a laboratory somewhere in South Korea.

It is all in English which makes the scene that much more important. In this scene we see an American scientist instruct his Korean counterpart to discard at least 50 bottles of Formaldehyde into the drain; even after the fact that the Korean scientist said that this was against protocol. This is the first glimpse of “power” that the United States has over Korea. After the monster attacked, the United States government steps in, as one of their military men was killed from a ‘virus’ carried by the monster. The Korean government was instructed to quarantine all individuals who came in contact with the monster, which places our main character (Park Gang-Doo played by Kang-Ho Song) and his family in quarantine. As more of the film passes, Gang-Doo is set to have surgery to extract the ‘virus’ from his brain, and the plot takes a dramatic turn.

The most influential scene and series of events, in regards to US-Korean relations comes towards the middle of the film; where Gang-Doo finds out that there is no actual virus. He manages to escape, but the fact that US government would have enough power to have the Korean government knowingly lie to their people about a virus that doesn’t exist is mind blowing. However, it makes me wonder how much of this ‘farfetched’ film is really that farfetched. The United States government is known for trying to keep strong relationships with foreign nations, and sometimes they involve themselves too much in the issues that these nations are facing. While the US’s intentions and plans may be good ones, the unnecessary influence and, for lack of a better term, nosiness sometimes backfires on own government and our people.

The film The Host shows a United States dominate relationship with South Korea, and although it was just a film, it keeps me wondering if there were to be a ‘virus’ outbreak in Korea, just how far off The Host would be.

While the events that take place in The Host are fictional, I wonder if something like this were to actually occur, if the events wouldn’t be too far off from reality. The Host showed examples of Korean’s acting based on the “orders” and “recommendations” of the United States, in contrast the Korean drama series: City Hunter shows Korean officials acting solely on the “fear” of what the United States ‘might do.’

In the first of City Hunter, we are taken on a roller coaster of emotions, situations, and are in a sense overwhelmed by the different directions that we are taken on. In the opening scenes we see “The Rangoon Bombing,” which was an actual event that occurred in Burma, and was supposedly the North Korean Government’s plan to kill the President of South Korea. This scene creates the basis for the story in which the South Korean government plans to retaliate by infiltrating North Korea and killing 30 or so military officials. This plan is even unknown by the President of South Korea. The ‘retaliation’ is the first example of Korean nationalism displayed in ‘City Hunter.’

Given that most know and understand the relationship, or lack there of between North and South Korea, the reaction by the South Korean Government to the North plotting to kill the President, makes sense. The South plans to go in and kill 30 North Korean Military Officials in order to “get back” at the North Korean Government for their actions. During the episode we see the South training a special task-force to take care of this issue but then hit a “bump” when the President of South Korea finds out about the “Top Secret Operation.’

This is where we see the second example of “nationalism and international relations” come into play. The South Korean President decides to cancel the mission of taking out the North’s military officials, and implement a plan in which the members of the “task-force’ would not be returning to the South. This is due to the fact the President was worried about the political implications of the mission, and the realization that the mission would cause South Korea more harm if the world were to find out about it. Much to Choi Eung Chan‘s dismay and disproval of the President’s choice to cancel the mission, a ‘counter-mission’ is set into place, where the submarine at the rendezvous point, would not allow the ‘task-force’ on board and would instead kill the members of this team.

Although the South Koreans killed a number of their own men, the status and fate of the country became better off with the mission going ‘under raps’ and the lives lost, were but a mere setback, to the amount of political retaliation and withdrawal of foreign nations’ supporting South Korea. This is how South Korea, even to this day deals with a lot of their political problems. In order to keep the North ‘at bay,’ South Korea must rely on other nations such as the United States and their allies.

City Hunter conveys a sense of acting based on international relations with the United States throughout the entire series, however in the first episode, we are hit with a devastating decision for the good of the relationship. The fact that such a mission would be planned without the South Korean President’s knowing put the nation at risk, and in order to maintain the country’s relations with the United States, the government had to sacrifice it’s own men for the good of the nation.

These two works of Korean media are definitely good examples of the influence that the US has in the formulation and storytelling in their respective plots. However I think that there is a deeper connection between the relationship of the two nations and the popular culture that goes along with both countries. I almost see the United States as a big brother of sorts. They were there assisting South Korea during the Korean War, and since then in their never ending ‘battle’ with North Korea.The United States has assisted South Korea when they need it the most, and have provided countless number of troops and battle stations at the DMZ.

To conclude, I feel that the United States’ relationship with South Korea has influenced the development of the media and ‘hybridity’ of their culture. South Korea definitely has been impacted by this relationship, and will continue to be in the future.


Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun; Lee Kang-ro, “Critical Analysis of Anti-Americanism in Korea,”
Korea Focus 13 (March-April 2005): 74–98, online at
view.asp?volume_id=39&content_id=143&category=G (accessed June 20, 2005).

Hyuk, Jin dir. City Hunter. Seoul Broadcasting Channel, 2011. TV series.

Joon-Ho, Bong dir. The Host. Showbox, 2006. Film.

Lee, Sang-Dawn. Big Brother, Little Brother: The American Influence on Korean Culture in the Lyndon B. Johnson Years. Lexington Books, 2002. Print.

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South Korean Media Representations of North Korea

North and South Korean maps representing the feud between governments

North and South Korean maps representing tension between governments

Representations within the South Korean media paint a picture of a negative relationship between the governments of North and South Korea. However, the South Korean media does not represent a negative paradigm of the people of North Korea.

Tensions between North Korea and South Korea are quite high currently, and have been high for the past couple of decades. It makes sense why South Korean media would place North Korea in so many of its films and K-Dramas with all of this tension. Rather than ignore it and pretend like it doesn’t exist, K dramas instead find ways for the tension with North Korea to be a motivation force in some of their blockbusters and television shows.

The tension comes from both the negative relationship between the North and South Korean governments as well as the human dilemma of those who have lived in North Korea but find love and potential for new life in South Korea. South Korean media does not paint those who are from North Korea as wrong (like they do with the North Korean government). Rather the media shows that these are good people who are associated with a bad government. City Hunter, Shiri, and Spy Myung Wol are three forms of South Korean media (two television shows and one movie) that each exemplify a different component in the representation of the relationship between North and South Korea.

K dramas are one of the most useful sources of media because they are so integrated in the South Korean culture. Lee Min-ho is an ultra star in South Korea, largely because of his fame in K-dramas such as City Hunter.  Because of this, we know that the South Korean media’s view on the North Korean government in a show like City Hunter is being watched. Especially now, when K dramas are no longer just for South Korean viewing, but instead are exported around the world so that more people understand South Korean media view on the North Korean government.  In a show like City Hunter which when it first premiered almost had twenty percent of Seoul watching, we can deduce that South Koreans will understand the negative view of the North Korean government.

City Hunter looking for revenge

City Hunter looking for revenge

City Hunter is a K-drama that came out in 2011 staring Lee Min-ho and Park Min-young. The general genre of City Hunter is a revenge drama, paired with the development of the love interest of the two protagonists. In one of the first scenes of City Hunter a South Korean delegation is bombed in Burma and the North Korean government immediately take responsibility.

Within a series of cut scenes to show the passing of time, the audience is then introduced to a council debating what to do about the attack on South Korean officials. For political reasons that involved South Korean relations and foreign nations, their plans to assassinate North Korean officials in Pyongyang must remain between the five of them. The show never exactly specifies why they cannot let the current president know about the black ops mission, but never-the-less it is decided to send a team to retaliate against North Korea.

The scene in which the bomb goes off is incredibly bloody. The President’s body guards are shown walking through the wreckage and the audience sees bloody body parts everywhere. We also see people in incredible pain, shaking, clearly burnt from the blast. The production team at City Hunter was clearly trying to make a point about the brutality of the attack. Innocent cameramen and women were hurt rather than simply the officials the North Korean government was aiming to get. Compare this to the South Korean attempt at retaliation which was meant to retaliate against officials only in a special black ops mission that hopefully, no civilians would get hurt. As an audience, we can already see a negative perspective on the North Korean government being exemplified in the South Korean media.

This attack, while sparking outrage in South Korea did not seem to surprise those on the council in South Korea. They were outraged of course, but there was no sort of despair or shock in the actions of the North Korean government. This also exemplifies a representation of a negative relationship in the North Korean government via the South Korean government because it is shown that North Korea’s attack wasn’t completely unfathomable. Any two nations that are so willing to go back and forth with attacks clearly do not have a very strong relationship, and City Hunter portrayed this very clearly.

Shiri is a blockbuster that came out in 1999. It stars Min-Sik Choi, YunJin Kim as the female antagonist. North Korea’s special forces steals a shipment of CTX, high volitile liquid explosive material and two South Korean special agents are tasked with tracking it down. This is partnered with the fact that one of the main snipers for the North Korean special ops team, is a ruthless woman who has tricked one of the special agents into falling in love with her.  One of the important things in this movie is to remember that this takes place during the Cold War, and the motivation of North Korea stealing CTX is to turn the Cold War into a hot war.

North Koreans being killed by their military

North Koreans being killed by their military

One of the most important reasons to remember that Shiri takes place during the Cold War is because it simplifies who the good guys are and the bad guys. In Shiri, the North Korean government (as represented by their military) are seen as basically evil. “The troops are in ragged uniforms and eat a communal meal of what we can only assume to be gruel. The troops use their bare hands and knives for much of their training. Their targets are other humans, and are dispatched with methods that are pre-modern in their savagery.”

The state of North Korea is shown to be desperate while compared that to the South Korean shots in which Seoul looks like almost any western city filled with fast food and stylish and beautiful people. This is important to note because the makers of Shiri are already painting a negative picture of North Korea before the film even gets into the grunt of the action.

If North Korea is that horrible of a place filled with brainwashed and desperate military, the government is clearly not a place that should be trusted, especially with the CTX, so South Korea is completely within its rights to chase it down in whatever way possible. Shiri also pushes the negative view of the North Korean government because of the sheer amount of South Korean bodies the North Korean special ops unit takes out. Clearly, these North Korean military personal are so brainwashed and cruel that they have little humanity left. The only person we see a sparkle of humanity is the main antagonist Yoon Gin-Kim who we do not know her true alliance for most of the movie.

While it may initially seem like the South Korean media is painting a negative picture of the North Korean people, that is not what they are doing at all. In the initial scenes where people are used as target practice for the poorly supplied military, the audience feels sympathy for the people. North Korea is shows to be a basic desolate depressing place, and that causes further sympathy for those who have to live constantly in those conditions.

Furthermore, those who are the cruel and bad North Koreans are a part of the North Korean military, essentially representing the North Korean government. Shiri does a very good job at showing the level of brainwashing that occurred in North Korea for the agents who have stolen the CTX, especially the female antagonist. In this way, Shiri further serves as a tool for the South Korean media to show that the relationship between the South and North Korean governments are strained but there is still sympathy for the people of North Korea.

The humanizing romance of Myung Wol

The humanizing romance of Myung Wol

Finally, a K drama called Spy Myung Wol came out in 2011 that paints an incredibly human picture of a spy from North Korea. Myung Wol and her partner are sent to kidnap a K-pop star to interrupt the Hallyu wave that is finding its way into North Korea. While Myung Wol is incredibly capable as a spy, she has one very critical weakness: she is incredibly curious. Things get further complicated when she falls in love with the K-pop star Kang Woo instead of remaining emotionless as she has been taught to be. Her job was to marry Kang Woo and have him defect to North Korea, but instead she ultimately allies herself with South Korea because of her allegiance to Kang Woo.

This show was an incredibly poignant view of the state of the human dilemma facing many North Koreans. The South Korean media did not paint Myung Wol as a cruel spy who wanted nothing but vengeance for her country. No, instead they show her as a beautiful girl who is in some ways more vulnerable than most girls because she has never experienced love the way that Kang Woo shows her.

The audience’s heart breaks for Myung Wol when she first experiences a gift from Kang Woo and she expresses that this happens so rarely in her life and she is very close to tears. Myung Wol is not looked upon as the enemy by the audience at any point in this show, in fact she is the shows protagonist. In a way, it seems as if the South Korean media is reaching out to the North Korean who may see this show and tell them that they are not blamed and in fact, are still family.

They are still family. We see this in Spy Myung Wol when she actually marries Kang Woo at the end of the series and there is love and support from the friends and companions she has made along the way in South Korea. In Spy Myung Wol the South Korean media is showing a clear difference between citizens of North Korea and the government of North Korea. In Spy Myung Wol there is still an underlining theme that the North Korean government is not to be trusted, however the citizens are just people forced into a tough situation and are still metaphorically and literally, family.

Myung Wol wedding Edit. Online video clip. Youtube. Apr 29 2013.
(Marriage of Myung Wol and Kang Woo, edited to highlight the romantic parts)

The reason that Myung Wol was sent to South Korea was to interrupt the Hallyu wave. One of the most important components of the Hallyu wave is music, and interestingly enough there are reports that North Koreans are listening. In 2002 South Korea began broadcasting Korean Pop music over the border through the airwaves.

While North Korea has promised to destroy any speakers near the border, it is rather difficult to monitor and there are reports that North Korean people and officials actually enjoy K-pop. By broadcasting K-pop across the border, the South Koreans are sharing a part of their culture and showing their support for the North Korean people. South Koreans are trying to connect with their North Korean counterparts in any way they can, and this is one of the most ingenious methods to date. The media is not representing a negative relationship between the people of North and South Korea because on South Korea’s side, there does not seem to be any negative relationship.

The relationship between the North and South Korean governments portrayed by the South Korean media is rather negative. In both City Hunter and Shiri, the North Korean government is shown to be ruthless and cruel, and South Korea is always trying to retaliate but never starts the battle, just ends it. However, the people of North Korea are exempt from the negative view of the South Korean media. In fact, the South Korean media seems to go out of its way in shows like Spy Myung Wol or broadcasting over the boarder to attempt to connect with the people of North Korea and to show them as victims rather than like their government.

In this way, it is clear that while the government of North Korea is represented in a negative light the people of North Korea are not.


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Wikipedia contributors. “Shiri.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “Spy Myung Wol.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

“Korean Film Shiri.” Shiri. 29 Apr 2013. Web. 29 Apr 2013.

“Spy Myeong Wol” Spy Myeong Wol Wiki. 29 Apr 2013. Web. 29 Apr 2013.

“Shiri is a Korean Cold War Thriller.” 2007. Seattlepi. 29 Apr 2013. Web. 29 Apr 2013.

“South Korea Blasts Pop Music.” NY Daily News. 2002. Web. 29 Apr 2013.

“Korean Tension Rises Between North and South.” Stuff Co. 14 Apr 2013. Web. 28 Apr 2013.

Kim and Ryoo, “Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: The Case of the Korean Wave”

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Femininity and Lee Joon-gi.. What’s the connection?

In today’s ever-changing and ever-evolving modern society, new definitions for what is considered feminine are being created as the once clear and definite line between femininity and masculinity becomes blurred. In the world of Korean movies and Korean dramas, actor Lee Joon-gi exhibits feminine qualities in his career that has in turn influenced his rise to stardom.

Today, the differences in what is seen as distinctly feminine and distinctly masculine have changed. This is why it is so important for actors to embrace roles that show both qualities. A perfect example of this is embodied through Korean actor Lee Junki, now referred to as Lee Joon-gi. Ever since his breakout role in the blockbuster, The King and The Clown, where he played the effeminate clown, Gong-gil, Joon-gi has been labeled the pretty boy of Korean popular culture by his fans and the media. Although he doesn’t carry this feminine aspect into all of his other works, it’s hard to get rid of such a powerful label and change the way the he is viewed by the public. One way he did this was through his role in the Korean drama, Iljame, which will be discussed later.

Why, you ask, is Lee Joon-gi called pretty? Well, after seeing a picture of him, it becomes pretty clear why he is referred to in this way. Typically speaking, when someone is feminine looking, they have features such as long hair or a smaller bone structure. Joon-gi clearly fits the description for this with his small frame and delicate features.

Lee Joon-gi

This picture really exemplifies his feminine features.

Born in Busan, South Korea in 1982, Joon-gi didn’t always know he wanted to be an actor. It wasn’t until he saw the play, Hamlet, in high school that he showed an interest in pursuing an acting career. After high school, he worked random jobs until he got into the Seoul Institute of the Arts. His first breakthrough role came in 2005 when he landed the part of Gong-gil in The King and The Clown. Soaring to fame after the immense success of The King and The Clown, Joon-gi went on to have roles in the movie Fly Daddy Fly and the television series, Iljimae.

Going off his newly found fame, Joon-gi went on to star in other Korean and Japanese films. By doing this, his popularity in other countries continued to grow. Joon-gi also won best actor in the television drama, Time Between Dog and Wolf. Now a fully-fledged movie star, Joon-gi landed the main role in the TV series, Iljimae, where he played a character similar to Robin Hood. The show was such a success that it won the Top Excellence Award at the 2008 SBS Drama Awards and also began airing in Tokyo, thus expanding his international stardom.

Unfortunately, in 2010, Joon-gi had to begin his mandatory military service. While gone he was stationed in the public relations department of the Ministry of National Defense. Although he was gone on military leave, he did not cease his passion for acting. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, he co-starred in a musical titled Voyage of Life. After being discharged from the military, Joon-gi wasted no time in getting back to work. In fact, the day he was released, he held a fan meeting and soon after went on a fan tour.

You would think that serving in the military would help get rid of his feminine image. Unfortunately, you thought wrong.

Lee Joon-gi Military

This picture shows Joon-gi in his military uniform, yet you can’t stop thinking how pretty he looks under that hat. It even appears as if he is wearing some kind of lipstick as well. This is just one more thing, whether he wanted it to or not, that adds to his feminine image.

Since starting his acting career in 2004, Joon-gi hasn’t stopped. Not only has he dived into movie acting, he has also dabbled in some television acting as well. First, though, we’ll start with his movie acting.

The role that shot Joon-gi in to stardom, as previously mentioned, was that of Gong-gil in The King and The Clown. In it, he portrayed a traveling clown in ancient china that exhibited extreme feminine qualities. He and his troupe of clowns would preform comical acts to the public as their means of making a living. In each act, Gong-gil would always dress up as a female because he not only looked the most feminine, but was also the best at acting so. In fact, the king actually goes after Gong-gil because of his strong feminine appearance With his long hair and pale skin, it’s impossible not to notice the feminine qualities he exhibits.

doll playing_king's man

Starting at 3:00, the clip above shows a scene where the troupe acts out a little skit for the king. In the skit, Joon-gi portrays the king’s mistress.

In the scene, he wears a crop top and a skirt that has the bottom stuffed to make him look bigger in that area. It’s almost freaky how well Joon-gi acts like the mistress in his movements and mannerisms because most don’t even know how to move like that.


This video shows a collection of various clips from the movie. It’s clear in every scene just how feminine Joon-gi looks because of his hair as well as his clothes.

Responses to this movie and Joon-gi’s exemplary acting were overwhelming. Suddenly, in nearly every review, post, or blog, Joon-gi became known as the pretty boy of Korean stars. In the DramaFever blog, KrisE wrote:

This movie not only became the most popular in Korean history, but it also showed the beauty that is Lee Jun Ki. With delicate features and beautiful eyes he completely embodied the role of a feminine-looking court clown during the Joseon era who becomes the “favorite” of the King.

Clearly, fans are loving Joon-gi’s femininity. According to AsianWiki, Joon-gi was extremely dedicated in making his character in The King and The Clown as feminine as possible. For the part, “Joon-Gi spoke in a higher pitched voice and acted effeminate even when not in front of the camera to stay in the character of Gong-gil”. Now that’s dedication!

Although Joon-gi’s fame grew in part because of his femininity, he didn’t want to be known solely as that nor did he want to only be cast in only feminine roles. In an interview, he explained how he tried to separate himself from his character:

     “Lee said Gong-gil’s character in The King and the Clown felt like a foot chain for him so he

      wanted to escape from it, stating, “After my performance in The King and the Clown, I found

      myself at the forefront of this ‘pretty boy’ trend, whether or not that was my intention.”

Success at being seen as something else came when he was cast as the main character in the drama, Iljimae in 2008. In it, Joon-gi plays a Robin Hood-esque character that is quite the opposite of his The King and the Clown character.


This video is the first episode of the series and just within the first 10 minutes, Joon-gi (playing Iljimae) shows more masculinity in these scenes than he ever did in The King and the Clown.

Even though Joon-gi’s fame grew tremendously from his more masculine role in Iljimae, which received extremely high ratings, he still couldn’t shake the pretty boy stigma. Four years after Iljimae was aired and seven years after The King and The Clown was released, another blogger on DramaFever also wrote about Joon-gi’s attractiveness, saying that he “is considered to be the first original “Flower Boy”. How frekkin pretty is he?!”. Wikipedia even writes, “After the film, Lee became “an icon” of the South Korean “pretty boy” aesthetic”. Although Iljimae wasn’t enough to make fans stop thinking of Joon-gi as feminine, it didn’t hurt his fame or career at all. In fact, it actually made him even more popular than he was before the series.

No matter how fans perceive Lee Joon-gi and call him a pretty boy, it will not have a negative effect on his career. It’s part of the reason why people are so crazy about this star. Take Leonardo DiCaprio, for example. When he first started off acting, he had very feminine features. However, just like Joon-gi, his feminine looks didn’t hurt his career at all. The picture below shows just how pretty Leo was during his teen years. Gaining his fame from The King and The Clown, Joon-gi was immediately praised for his pretty looks. Even after attempting to stray away from feminine roles, Iljimae still couldn’t make fans forget how good looking Joon-gi is. However, no matter what direction Joon-gi decides to go in, his pretty face will always help, and never hurt his evolving career.


“Lee Joon-gi.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

“AsianWiki.” Lee Joon-Gi –. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Dan. “Lee Jun Ki: Knowing Him Is a Must!” DramaFever Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

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Generalization of Plastic Surgery in Korea

Pretty in “plastic”

Appearance in Korean culture is important, especially in media. While some think of it as shocking, most of people consider it to be no big deal. In fact, the concept of getting plastic surgery in Korea has become generalized, and is now exposed to even young generations.

In the past, getting plastic surgery or revealing the fact that one got plastic surgery done used to be uncommon in South Korea because it applied to such a small number of people. These people, such as actors, actresses, announcers, and other famous professionals, constantly appear in the media. However, currently, “South Korea has the highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens worldwide” and one out of every five women in Seoul, South Korea has undergone plastic surgery. This trend is also becoming popular in the male population, and many men have gone under the knife. The addition of the male population to the trend goes to show how common plastic surgery has become in South Korea. In the past, the most popular operations were eyelid surgery, which is designed to make the eyes appear larger.

Nowadays, eye jobs are considered as ‘routine’. The public does not even consider this procedure to be surgery. Neither nose jobs nor the paring down of cheekbones are popular procedures for South Koreans, but “double-jaw surgery” has drastically increased in its popularity recently. So how has the idea and practice of plastic surgery become so generalized by the South Korean population? I would say by the incredible and drastic rise of K-Pop’s world and media influence. At first, most people had negative comment on k-pop idols getting plastic surgery. However, as the time goes by; more idols are debuted that already had plastic surgery. This has made the concept of getting plastic surgery a general practice, deemphasizing the seriousness of the surgeries. It is true that most of K-pop stars “are recognized not only for their music, but also for their physical appearance,” and “most K-pop idols are features like double eyelids and high-bridged noses, facial features that many East Asians aren’t necessarily born with.”

Brown Eyed Girls in 2006

Brown Eyed Girls Present

The image above showcases “before and after” pictures of members of the popular music group, Brown Eyed Girls. Surprisingly, regardless of the fact that we are not professional plastic surgery doctors, it is easy to recognize the difference of their faces between the past and the present. It is a general principle that “to succeed in the pop industry, you must be beautiful, in other words you must have those aforementioned features that define beauty.” Today, Brown eyed Girls are K-pop super stars. However, Brown Eyed Girls were not as popular as there are now when they first entered the music scene in 2006. Originally, they were called “faceless singer” unknown by the public because of their plain looks. Their songs were powerful and well known, but not many people knew or liked how they looked. However, after their transformation, they were fully acknowledged as a powerful and beautiful singing group. Therefore, the group used plastic surgery as a way to achieve their goals of success and fame. Using their surgically provided make-overs as a way for the girls of Brown Eyed Girls to achieve their goals is another way in which the practice of plastic surgery has become generalized

Past pictures of Girls’ Generation members

Girls’ Generation present

In addition, one of the top three most famous and popular idols in Asia, Girls’ Generation (Images above), was the main motive and influence of plastic surgery industry in South Korea. Each member has dealt with multiple rumors of whether she is naturally beautiful or went under the knife. As a result of the rumors, people started to post ‘before and after’ pictures, thoroughly comparing them and making assumptions on which members have gotten plastic surgery or not.

For instance, according to an anonymous tumbler user:

I am not a fan of SNSD, but I think I’ve figured out their sugery:

1. Sooyoung – nose job.

2. Jessica – Definitely the teeth. Possibly surgery to shave the her nasal bump.

3. Taeyeon – Nothing obvious. Her eyes are makeup and false lashes.

4. Yuri – Double eyelids and skin lightening. Possibly a nosejob, but it is really good.

5. Sunny – Eyelid surgery and nasal implant.

6. Yoona – Definitely a nose-job.

7. Sooyoung – eyelids and I think TWO nosejobs. Her first implant and narrowing (?) wasn’t too great.

8. Tiffany – Eyelids, nosejob and whitening. She smiles too much in variety shows, so I suspect SM has driven her insane.

9. Sohyeon – No obvious changes, but listening to her talk on variety shows, she has definitely gone insane thanks to SM.

Interestingly, as the time goes on, people tend to question “where” those idols got plastic surgery rather than criticizing “which idols” got plastic surgery. Since most of k-pop groups and actors look “perfect” with double eyelids and high-bridged noses, and soft facial features, people started to compare their own faces to those idols. When one is constantly surrounded by this culture through the media, it is hard not to become a part of it. In fact, they wanted to look similar to the way that they look. Now everyone looks the same with the combination of big eyes and high-bridged noses. Do people care if they look the same? No. They wanted to look prettier than their natural selves and beautiful just like K-pop groups and actors portrayed in the Media. The image below has headshots from all the women from the Miss Korea contest in 2013. This is a great example of people do not care about looking alike. Can anyone tell which one has “neither big eyes nor high-bridged nose”? Probably not.'s+generation&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=3zx_UfWHH6HSywGomoDQDA&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1366&bih=673#tbm=isch&sa=1&q=korean+miss+2013&oq=korean+miss+2013&gs_l=img.3...106043.108871.0.109051.,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.aWc&fp=a385694d467cf241&biw=1366&bih=673

Korean Miss Contest in 2013

Generalizing the concept of having plastic surgery also influences the actual TV programs in South Korea. In the past, K-pop performers and actors’ truths of getting surgery were secretive and hidden. However, since most of the audience can possibly find those actors’ “before and after” image via the media, they are no longer hiding the truth, and are instead admitting to what they have done. One of the k-pop idol, Kwang Hee from group ZE:A confessed in MBC’s “Golden Fishery-Radio Star,” stating that “I had plastic surgery done on my forehead. The pain was unbearable” He even joked about it when one of the comedians revealed his plastic surgery truth. He responded “I haven’t done many surgeries! Ahh… I guess I did a lot. I even threw away all of my child-hood pictures before I did my plastic surgeries.”

Kwang Hee’s capture image from TV show

Kwang Hee has also mentioned about this extensive plastic surgery experience via another TV program, KBS 2TV’S “1 vs. 100” on April 3. He said “Basically, everything you can see on my face has been retouched. I had my nose done, work done on my forehead, and oh, my eyes, too.” He even joked by saying “I thought that my eyes needed to be subtle in relations to other features. Wouldn’t have been too much if my eyes looked super enhance? I’m a man who knows moderation.”'s+generation&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=3zx_UfWHH6HSywGomoDQDA&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1366&bih=673#tbm=isch&sa=1&q=solbi%27s+past+and+present&oq=solbi%27s+past+and+present&gs_l=img.3...303744.307002.2.307096.,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.aWc&fp=a385694d467cf241&biw=1366&bih=673

Solbi’s past and present

There is another singer, Solbi, openly talked about going under the knife on the latest episode of SBS’s ‘Strong Heart’ on the July 17th 2012.

During the program, one of the guest-feature, Kyuhyun slightly teased Solbi by remarking, “She is becoming more and more beautiful. I am impressed with her ever-evolving beauty” And then MC Shin Dong Yup also tease her by saying “We have to give her an award for her ability to save money. She saves, and saves and thus, is able to invest in more surgeries.” Solbi showed her good nature and her comedic side as she refuted “ It didn’t take that much money.” Shin Dong Yup further asked, “Don’t you still feel great when people mention that you’ve gotten prettier?”, to which Solbi replied, “That’s why I got it done!” causing the set to roar in laughter over her frank and honest confession.

Following those two confession, Kara’s Goo Hara and Afterschool’s Uee confessed their double eyelid surgery in different TV programs. More k-pop idols and actors began to reveal the truth and it is no longer hidden issues but rather part of joke in the media.

A teenager is having a plastic surgery talk

The rise of K-pop and generalized ideas on cosmetic surgery from the population as a whole has also have encouraged teenagers from South Korea to go under the knife. Today, more and more Korean teenagers decide to get plastic surgery in pursuit of beauty. Due to easy access to mass media, the concept of plastic surgery is exposed easily. The plastic surgery population is mainly dominated by women in their twenties; however, teenagers have recently been over coming twenty year old females. According to an e-Seoul survey, “41.4 percent of teens interviewed said they were “willing to have plastic surgery for beauty.” This trend is also reaching to young girls. According to JoongAng Daily “Even middle school students, female students mostly, are choosing to get their face surgically altered.”

The most popular surgery among young students is double eyelid surgery. This is due to its low risk and high reward. In case of operations that involve certain bones, such as for nose jobs, it “is not advisable until the student has fully grown because there could be dangerous side effects”. Furthermore, “If plastic surgery is performed on young bones it can trigger problems in the future and may require more surgery.”

According to a famous cosmetic surgeon from Grand Plastic Surgery, Dr Rhee, in the last five years, he has seen an increasing number of young people getting surgery. “Ninety percent of the clinic’s clientele are under the age of 30 and of them, half are under 18.” He also points out that it is mostly by K-pop influence. Dr. Rhee says “K-pop stars and Korean celebrities have influenced the younger generation [to get plastic surgery]. For example, if you look at the before and after photos of K-pop stars you’ll see they have gotten prettier. When people see this change, they want to be pretty as well, they want to look as good as them.”

Dr. Rhee also says that most of the young people come for double eyelid surgery; “where a second eyelid is created to make the eyes look bigger.” Generally, the number of student patients peaks during school vacation season in December and January. “During school holidays, half the class would come in and get surgery done and when they go back to school, their friends would see that they’ve become prettier so in the next break you would have the other half of the class coming in.” Another manager of cosmetic surgery clinic in Apgujeong-dong in Seoul also says that “The overall client age group has decrease. Among teenagers, high school students were the main clients, but these days, an increasing number of middle school students aged 15 to 16 have been visiting the clinic.”

Surprisingly, some parents have a powerful influence on whether their children get plastic surgery. “A female high school student, Lee, got her double-eyelid surgery done and said “My small eyes were the cause of low self-esteem.” “My mom and I made a deal that if I did well on my midterm exams, she would let me have plastic surgery.” In addition, a survey of 250 mothers in Korea by Dove showed that “one if four moms suggested their teenage child get plastic surgery.” When the older generation of Koreans is generalizing the trend in plastic surgery, it has a direct effect on the younger generation. Therefore, the popularity of plastic surgery has increased.

Looking perfect  as one of the k-pop idols is impossible. However, Korean women’s efforts to be “looking like them (k-pop idols and actors)” is possible through plastic surgery. Since the idea of getting plastic surgery has become generalized, most of Korean women try to get plastic surgery to be looking “pretty” and it is considered to be no big deal.


“Anonymous said.” Nellanablog. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.


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Hotshotlover30. “ZE:A’s Kwang Hee Reveals His Post-Plastic Surgery Forehead.” Soompi. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.


KoreAm. “December Issue: Korea’s Plastic Surgery Boom Attributed to Rise of K-pop.” KoreAm. KoreAm, 26 Dec. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.


Lee. “Solbi brings laughter with her honest confession about plastic surgery on ‘Strong Heart.'” allkpop. 6Theory Media, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.


“More Teens Having Plastic Surgery.” JoongAng Daily [Seoul] 18 Feb. 2011: n.pag. Print.



Youtube. The K-pop effect – South Korea.

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