One of the major hallmarks of Korean pop music is the art of the music video, typically punctured with intricate choreography and mind-blowing visual experimentation. The choreography, more than anything, usually takes center stage as it also permeates into live performances – which often set the Korean music scene apart from its Western counterparts. A major point of discussion, thusly, is which groups have the best choreographies which, unsurprisingly, leads to pointless fan wars.
Not too long ago, EXO’s lead dancer Kai and GFRIEND member Yerin led the K-pop fandom into a bit of a kerfuffle after the former implied that GFRIEND’s dances weren’t as hard as Yerin made them to be, only as a response to Yerin implying that her group outputted the most difficult choreographies amongst girl groups.
This conflict lead to various questions: Are GFRIEND’s dances really that difficult in their own merit? How do girl groups’ dances (and even musical sounds) differ from each other? What are the biological and aesthetic differences between boys and girls? All these are interesting questions and the OH! Press team sat down to voice their own opinions on the subject matter.
I am no dance expert, so to speak. Instead of clamoring for a consensus on this matter, I want to talk about the term ‘difficult’ itself, and how it correlates with choreography for both gender. I believe my fellow writers have their own opinions on this matter. It’s going to be very different from me as well. First of, this issue is an inane drivel. It can be taken out of context and as is the case with K-Pop, the bandwagon train will operate 24/7. One must not take everything too seriously, and small banter (if even) between Kai and Yerin feels nothing more than just trivial banter, even though it did bring a good question to light. What is difficult for them?
If Kai feels that boy group choreography is hard, so be it. He’s the one who dances to it. The same goes to Yerin. To measure difficulty, several attributes both for the subject and matter should be taken for consideration. For an average dancer, a choreography can be very hard for them but for a gifted dancer, it could be just a walk in the park. That is talent you are born with. While on the other hand, some choreographies have more swashbuckling movements with florid maneuvers that require sheer athleticism while some focus more on artistic and storytelling. Both are easy and hard in their own ways, to different kind of people.
It is not wrong to say that boy groups have more difficult choreography if we simply judge them by the repertoire of movements. It is true. But what of it for girl groups? For them, we have to take often forgotten factors into consideration. Female idols – both now, and then – have to perform in outfits that, most of the time, make it very difficult for them even to move, not to mention that many of them perform on stage while wearing high heels. It is only normal for choreographers to make it less hard for them because the conditions they are in are already tough to begin with.
Again, I want to reiterate that this issue is so overblown, it should not be mentioned again. I said that but here we are talking about it in an editorial. Actually, we already started working on this piece long ago, but sadly most of our authors were busy during those time. Yeah. Peace no war, my fellow K-Pop fans. Let’s enjoy the things we love and don’t taint it with negativity.
In my humble opinion, the Yerin vs. Kai ‘controversy’ was blown way out of proportion. On the one hand, Yerin implied that GFRIEND’s choreography was ‘harder’ than most groups’ (which is actually true), but she said it in a manner that may have been off-putting for fans of those other groups. She clearly meant no harm, and I do not for one second believe that she meant to belittle her peers. Kai, on the other hand, stated something that is intrinsically true (girl group dances might not be necessarily difficult to boy groups), but he said it in a manner that seemed to degrade what might be hard for girl groups themselves. However, I do not believe that he is a ‘terrible meninist’ which is an alarming overreaction that has plagued ‘Stan Twitter’.
Either way, the issue that I want to focus on has to do with girl groups so that we might try to understand why some girl group fans were offended. One thing that I have noticed with a good number of male idols is the seeming disrespect toward girl group choreographies. A male idol covering a girl group song is often laced with over-exaggeration of the dance moves, which often indicates that said male idol is not taking the song seriously. This is quite different from male idols covering each other’s songs, since those are taken seriously. Seventeen is one of the only boy groups – I know of – that takes girl group songs very seriously (as proven time and time again).
One could say that it’s had for boy groups to truly do a girl group song justice as that would require them to being effeminate, but I do not have sympathy for this argument. Going back to Seventeen, they managed to create a more masculine atmosphere to girl group dances. Look at this girl group medley; in no way did they degrade or overly exaggerate the girl group dances. It may have not been ‘tiring’ for them but they gave them the respect they deserved. Sadly, this practice is not common and most boy groups refuse to follow Seventeen’s stellar example. In light of the Kai vs. Yerin issue, I do hope that people become more respectful towards girl group dances because they seriously deserve it.
I’m going to speak not about the Kai versus Yerin controversy, but the debate that their interactions spawned and the question it raised: is girl group choreography systematically easier than boy group choreography? As someone who ultimately got into K-Pop for the choreography above anything else, my answer is yes. And as someone who spent a significant part of my preteen and teenage years dancing competitively, my answer is still yes.
Now, before you call me a victim of internalized misogyny or even worse, an oppapologist, I’m going to say right now: there exist exceptions to this trend. The existence of exceptions does not, by any means, negate the fact that there is a trend and that is what I’m going to argue.
Let’s consider, for a moment, the most iconic point dances attached to popular songs from the recent years of K-Pop history. Think of some girl group dances, say, Twice’s “TT” or SNSD’s “Gee” or Wonder Girls “Nobody.” Now imagine some point dances from boy group choreography, i.e. EXO’s “Growl” or B2ST’s “Fiction” or TVXQ’s “Mirotic.” What’s the difference?
The difference, in my opinion, is that the girls’ point dances – the most key, memorable part of the choreography – tend to be primarily stationary. As girl groups do have to rely more on their memorability with the general public, and not as much as the loyal fanbases attached to the most popular boy groups, they need something simple yet fun that is going to stick with people. Girl group choreography as a whole tends to rely a lot more on posing, and while I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, it’s an indisputably less physically demanding action than something like intricate footwork.
Perhaps it’s the choreographers’ fault, perhaps it’s the GP that continues to encourage and popularize machinations like the “Shashasha” phenomenon. I don’t know. I know that exceptions have always existed, and with the inundation of more and more K-Pop groups to the industry more of these groups have to rely on something that sets them apart. Lately, choreography seemed to be one of those factors. But I believe that the stereotype that girl groups tend to have less challenging choreography exists for a reason, and it doesn’t reflect poorly on the girls themselves, no matter how defensive up-in-arms girl group stans will get about this nonissue.
I think something that some K-Pop fans tend to ignore with regard to the level of “talent” that dancers have is that dancing is a skill. And like any skill, increasing practice is also going to increase the level to which an individual performs it. Even more significantly is the fact that dancing can be a highly demanding physical activity, one which involves building the necessary muscles to complete choreography to a certain level of technique or with a natural finesse. A dancer that practices for hours at a laborious choreography is going to be more competent than a dancer that spends hours practicing jazz squares and quirky poses.
This isn’t me saying all girl group dances are easy, mind you, or even that any of their dances are easy. But comparatively they are easier. I do believe these girls, when given the right training and enough practice, are capable of pulling off boy group choreography if they were to be pushed in this direction. And while I personally enjoy girl groups that pursue challenging choreography, I don’t look down on girl groups that don’t because it’s entirely undeserved.
Choreographies are difficult in different ways. It can be technically, visually and/or emotionally challenging. It is fair to say most girl groups are not marketed to perform choreographies that are of super high difficulty. Meanwhile, the majority of boy groups in this day and age have fast-paced, impactful and intricate dances.
EXO, BTS, and Seventeen lead the way for the boy groups who continuously deliver intricate and well-planned dances. Girl groups like GFriend and TWICE generally go for concepts and moves that are easy to follow and have impact rather than those of extreme difficulty. These idols all have to spend weeks or months of hard work and effort to perfect their dances. But the difference is still there, and it does not come down to how competent each dancer of either gender is. It comes down to what image the group is going for.
Countless times, lead dancers of groups have complained that their choreographies are too easy, or they had to tone down their power. Most of these dancers have the opportunity to show off their superior skills on the individual stage. So, there shouldn’t be such a fuss made amongst groups about the difficulty of dances because each group has their own niche.
Have you ever watched a male group’s cover of a difficult female group choreography? Or vice versa, seen a female group cover a male group’s choreography? What I’ve noticed from watching them over the years is that the difficulty level seems to differ when the opposite gender performs the choreography. Namely when a female covers a male group choreography, it almost seems as though the choreography has become more difficult. And when you watch a male group perform the choreography of a female group, the choreography that you once believed was so difficult seems like it was performed with ease. This may not be the case every single time, but there’s definitely a reason to this.
Being a fan of miss A, I’ve witnessed that it’s very commonly noted on Korean variety shows that female choreography is generally known to be easier. So I really don’t understand the controversy that has arisen from these statements by Kai and Yerin.
As mentioned by the others, male groups and female groups market to a different demographic, and this is reflected in their choreography. By appealing to the general public, female idols are expected to always look beautiful and have choreography that contains movements that lead an untrained dancer to believe they can replicate it. APink’s Eunji once said she found it difficult to balance passionate singing and always looking beautiful on stage at the same time. As female groups are held under the pressures of society to always emit beauty and elegance, I believe their dances are also generally toned down, so they don’t end up horribly messing up their hair or outfits during their stages. However, since the demographic that male groups appeal to are fans, they work on painting these images of admiration through impressive stage performances. Which are delivered through a mixture of more intense choreography and stunts.