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The Sexualisation of Underage Idols in Kpop

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nanyang Tech chapter.

“Looking at my cookie, the scent alone will make you see. You can’t stop at one bite with me.” “Take it, don’t break it, I wanna see you taste it.” 

If the above lyrics sound suggestive to you, you’re not the only one. ‘Cookie’ by sensational Kpop girl group NewJeans has stirred up quite a controversy amongst international and Korean netizens alike. 

Songs filled with sexual innuendos are nothing new to the industry. But what’s bothering the fans is the disturbingly young age of the girls. Imagine parading 14 to 18 year old girls in skimpy outfits to perform a provocative song. All of whom are considered underage in Korea, where the legal age is 19. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wearing whatever you want in this day and age; and it’s great to get in touch with your sexuality at a young age. What’s concerning is that the Kpop industry has a long history of the fetishisation of minors, which poses many dangers to their (young) fans who aspire to be like them, the idols themselves, and society in general as the culture of fetishisation and sexualisation of minors gets normalised. 

Capitalising on Fetishisation 

Scroll through the comment section of any young Kpop idol group on YouTube or TikTok and you’ll definitely read things like ‘her legs are so long and sexy’ or ‘the duality of XXX he can be cute and sexy all at the same time’. What doesn’t quite sit right with me is that these are grown adults drooling over idols who are literally 14. How are you able to read – or worse, write – 18+ smutty fanfic about minors? 

And yet, what the Kpop industry does so well is the glamourification of adolescence. They purposefully endorse and promote idols who’re underage to showcase their innocence and sexual appeal at the same time. Especially with the recent proliferation of audition TV programmes, producers put hopeful underage trainees in school uniforms, then proceed to make them perform highly sexualised songs. While it might sound contradictory, the sexual appeal of purity – especially from girls – can lure in fans greatly, as they feel desired and wanted by these young, naive girls.

The appropriation of this sexualisation culture goes unnoticed to the desensitised public – in fact, fans actively engage in it (like writing 18+ fanfics). Plus, it’s no revelation that fan culture in Kpop can be quite obsessive, so they’ll just demand more and more (inappropriate) content. That’s what encourages companies to keep pushing out idols that are getting younger and younger. 

Plus, it’s difficult to separate art from the artiste especially in the Kpop industry. The industry is selling you the image of them being your close companion, so they go ahead with fanmeets, fan calls, and variety shows. So it becomes difficult to disjoint the craft and the celebrity altogether – encouraging adults to continue sexualising these young boys and girls.  You don’t have to be a Kpop fan to know of the huge sex scandal involving Big Bang’s Seungri that shook South Korea, and the world. The culture of sex trafficking by elites becomes especially worrying, especially when Kpop idols often cross paths with wealthy and well-connected businessmen, who can easily exploit these impressionable teens. 

The Dangers to Young People 

Impressionable teens – who are mostly confused about sexuality at such a young age – will simply follow the footsteps of their idols and form the dangerous notion that you have to be (overly) sexual to be desired. It exposes youths to sexual grooming and exploitation, which is a grim reality in Korea and often swept under the rug. Meanwhile, adults who lust over children might become perpetuators of sexual abuse, and are deprived of the ability to form healthy relationships with youths and people of their age. 

Underage idols are likely to be unaware of the dangers that they’ve been exposed to. With such a long history of the debut of young idols, they simply conform to the norm in hopes to gain skyrocketing fame and money. And they idolise their seniors too – who have gone through similar paths and behave the same way. And what they face could very possibly be traumatic. Obsessive fans invade their privacy and stalk them to no ends, and this could all be very confusing for a young teenager. 

As a society, the way we perceive relationships become distorted as we rationalise the sexual gaze from ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ fans, who then impose their impossible standards on young kids in real life. These minors also give themselves immense pressure to “come out of their shells” even if they’re not ready. This unhealthy perception of sexuality is bound to be a recipe for disaster. 

Expressing Your Sexuality 

It’s important to reiterate that everyone is free to discover and express their own sexuality, regardless of age. 

But what we need to do now is to be aware of the dangers posed by the oversexualisation of minors, especially by an industry that garners so much attention from youths all over the world. 

Zhi Yi Ong

Nanyang Tech '24

Loves to sleep so much that she spends more time being asleep than awake. When she is actually awake, she enjoys watching films and writing about culture.