Korea

Organized Panel Session

2 - Amber's Gender Play: Androgynous Idols in K-Pop

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Madison B, Mezzanine Level

Many scholars have highlighted Korean popular music/culture’s potential as a site for alternative genders and sexualities. What exactly constitutes androgyny in K-pop? Does it merely refer to the blurring of femininity and masculinity or something else? What does gender play do for consumers, especially women, who make up the majority of fans? This paper explores these questions through a case study of Amber Liu, a Taiwanese-American singer and member of the South Korean girl group f(x). I suggest that Amber does not just unsettle heteronormative and homosocial spaces of the K-pop industry from within, but also redefines what (female) androgyny means. Here, I draw on media coverage surrounding Amber’s solo and collaboration projects, such as her 2015 debut album, Beautiful. I also supplement this by analyzing Amber’s posts and fan responses on social media, such as Twitter and Instagram. Beyond pure entertainment, Amber’s androgyny has more to offer than an attractive appearance. Although Amber has repeatedly had to fend off questions about her sexuality, sometimes coming out to say she likes men, whether she is straight or not has become increasingly less significant to her fans. These challenges Amber encounters while imagining other ways to be a female idol in Korea, especially in her solo work, exposes K-pop’s inclination to conform to gender norms. This study is timely for tracking female androgyny, an underexplored topic in K-pop scholarship, shedding light on media representations of gender and sexual diversity or their lack thereof in contemporary Korean society.

Michelle H. S. Ho

Stony Brook University, New York

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2 - Amber's Gender Play: Androgynous Idols in K-Pop



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