A good image – whether in terms of reputation, behaviour or physical appearance – is everything to a Hallyu idol. K-pop companies are notorious for doing everything in their power to control this aspect down to the minute details, such as banning photography from concerts to avoid the publication of “unglam” shots, and feeding their precious assets specific answers to interview questions (practices we are all too familiar with, but we digress).
Well, thank the heavens for variety shows and the occasional showcase treat, where the idols aren’t on as tight a leash as they would be at a press conference (at least, they don’t seem like they are). Here, some really go all out, sacrificing their so-called perfect image for the sake of giggles and merriment.
A few K-stars who have jumped on the silly train are EXO’s Xiumin, Tao and Sehun, who bumbled around on stage as a traffic light, trash can and mailbox respectively at this year’s SMTOWN Seoul – quite a different sight from their usual slick, suave dance routines. And a few weeks ago, BIGBANG set aside their swag to boogie along to 2NE1’s ‘I Love You’ at the YG Family Concert with sensual hip sways and butt shakes.
On that note, we look at some of the shameless antics Hallyu’s finest willingly get into (or not) for our viewing pleasure:
Forced, awkward aegyo
Most groups have a member unofficially in charge of dispensing the occasional aegyo (acting cute), which generally consists of googly eyes, puffed cheeks, a pout and various hand gestures close to the face. But while it’s amusing enough to see the resident cutie do it, the real fun is when the member who rarely engages in it – or better, despises it altogether – is coerced into the act.
Why fans love it: It’s cringe-worthy yet hilariously charming at the same time.
Notable example: Clearly, Bang Yong Guk of B.A.P is better off being badass: his versions of aegyo are always stiff and in his trademark deep-as-a-bottomless-pit voice (but also kind of adorable). No wonder he was fingered as the member who is the worst at the trick.
Acting like a baby
Aegyo is one thing; displaying an over-the-top enactment of a toddler is another. From merely adopting a high-pitched squeak to full-on rolling around and crying, idols – particularly male ones – have cast aside their cool, calm images to turn into bundles of bawling big babies (which, more often than not, delights viewers but makes their bandmates want to punch them).
Why fans love it: Seeing their usually hunky oppas transform into oversized infants brings out the maternal side of fan girls.
Notable example: F.T. Island’s Minhwan made a splendid spoilt child on variety show Idol Army, with his routine consisting of the whole shebang: bouncing up and down on the floor, an infantile voice and fake, dramatic wailing (because his member refused to “buy” him one of the show guests).
Donning strange, unflattering costumes
Studded leather jackets and slinky sequined dresses aren’t the only garments the wardrobe department has to deal with – more often than not, animal suits, historical garb and other random, hysterical objects (human-sized vegetables, anybody?) are part of the inventory as well.
Why fans love it: Idols always look like they’re having a whale of a time when they’re engaged in quirky cosplaying as mascots, which is delightfully infectious.
Notable example: We rarely get to see female groups going too overboard with their silliness, but Kara veered slightly off the beaten path when they turned into endearingly rotund farm critters on Japanese program Tokyo Friend Park 2.
Cross-dressing for variety shows
When it comes to gender-bending, the flower boys of Kpop-dom have it mastered down to a fine art. Slapping a long fake mane, falsies, lipstick and a skirt on a member of the male species yields two kinds of results: the revelation that your oppa is legitimately prettier than you are (cough Kim Heechul cough), or a slightly disturbing “make it stop” disaster (sorry, Ok Taecyeon).
Why fans love it: More than the fact that it brings on the chuckles, it also shows that they’re willing to have a little fun and laugh at themselves (which is sexy, ain’t it?).
Notable example: Not too long after their debut, SHINee broke out lush wigs and plaid miniskirts to masquerade as schoolgirls. Taemin’s delicate features made him especially convincing as a bob-haired lass, while Key’s natural diva attitude helped him portray his Regina George-esque (from Mean Girls) character to perfection.
Cross-dressing during concerts
Fans love their glitzy stage outfits (and love it when they take said outfits off even more), but seeing their oppa in a skin-tight frock and curly wig incites screams that are just as impassioned as those reserved for the sight of abs or a successfully conquered high note. Bonus points if they boogie to a girl group song in said getup.
Why fans love it: The same reason as above, except they get to witness it in person.
Notable example: At SM Town Seoul, the “Kyu Line” (a clique consisting of Super Junior’s Kyuhyun, TVXQ’s Changmin, SHINee’s Minho and EXO’s Suho) bravely sported long hair and red lace gowns to cover Girl’s Day’s ‘Something’ with hip-swaying, thigh-baring and other sensual moves. Work it, Boy’s Day!
Playing games with ugly consequences
No variety show is complete without a segment that aims to break poor participating idols out of their pretty boy/girl modes by incorporating unglamorous results or punishments. Common tricks include a sudden gust of wind right in the face (or the mouth), putting on the most ridiculous-looking props, or practically forcing them to contort into all kinds of obnoxious expressions and bizarre poses.
Why fans love it: You don’t have to be a diehard devotee of the idols involved to appreciate the hilariousness of the unforgiving results (anyone can laugh at a funny face), but if you are, you’re in for an even bigger treat.
Notable example: A side-splitting challenge on Weekly Idol had BTOB trying to burrow their faces through a sheet of plastic wrap mounted on a frame. Needless to say, their once-attractive mugs were skewed into the most grotesque expressions by the cling film. (Warning: if you want to watch the whole thing in action, be prepared for some serious LOL.)
Rapid ageing Whether you like it or not, your gorgeous oppas and unnies won’t stay flawless and youthful forever. Thankfully, the days of wrinkles and stiff joints are still a long way off for them, so we will continue to be charmed by the caricatures of their possible future selves. Why fans love it: Perhaps they like to think of it as a “preview” of what to expect after marrying and growing old with their beloved (plus they just look hilarious). Notable example: On Saturday Night Live Korea, one part featured a glance at Super Junior 50 years in the future, where they – now creaky-jointed, grey-haired senior (Super Senior?) citizens – performed a jazzed up rendition of ‘Sorry Sorry’ before some of them succumbed to their elderly ailments on the floor.
Whether you like it or not, your gorgeous oppas and unnies won’t stay flawless and youthful forever. Thankfully, the days of wrinkles and stiff joints are still a long way off for them, so we will continue to be charmed by the caricatures of their possible future selves.
Why fans love it: Perhaps they like to think of it as a “preview” of what to expect after marrying and growing old with their beloved (plus they just look hilarious).
Notable example: On Saturday Night Live Korea, one part featured a glance at Super Junior 50 years in the future, where they – now creaky-jointed, grey-haired senior (Super Senior?) citizens – performed a jazzed up rendition of ‘Sorry Sorry’ before some of them succumbed to their elderly ailments on the floor.
Subjecting themselves to torturous situations
Whether it’s munching on tongue-burning chilli, navigating through a spine-chilling Halloween attraction or being used as human guinea pigs in the name of science, idols have been put through situations that they would probably have never faced if not for the sake of televised amusement. You can almost hear Maximus’ phrase from Gladiator ringing through their minds every time they do this: “Are you not entertained!?”
Why fans love it: Everyone knows that variety shows are scripted, but the reactions from the idols – while likely exaggerated for the cameras – are probably as genuine as you can get, and are thoroughly enjoyable (so yes, we are very entertained).
Notable example: The usually cool bad boys of BIGBANG were reduced to a bunch of quivering screamers when they sat on the Takabisha – the steepest roller roaster in the world – in Japan, with cameras recording their every terrified (or adrenaline-pumped) expression and mussed up strand of hair. After that, they adjourned to the park’s haunted house and were scared out of their wits (especially poor Daesung).