Two girls walk anxiously, pulling a suitcase down a dark road. What’s in the suitcase?
K-pop girl group Sistar released a MV of their new single just yesterday. “One More Day,” composed and produced by Giorgio Moroder, shows two women in love, who end up killing the abusive boyfriend of one of the women. That’s him in the suitcase.
The video is a nod to Hayley Kiyoko’s 2015 video, Girls Like Girls. Sistar’s video is so similar that it almost comes off as plagiarism: the suggestive, erotic lipstick exchanges between the women, the boyfriend’s violent hair-grabbing, and the girls’ suppressed desires in front of a heteronormative relationship between one of them and a man, who is aggressive and abusive.
What’s interesting about the Sistar video is the beginning: The frames alternate quickly between the girls, dragging the suitcase, and random men in black-and-white frames (one of the men is Moroder himself). The girls look around nervously while the men stare motionlessly, almost ominously, into the camera, holding a metal mask. The women seem struck by the male gaze in the metal mask, which follows them into their apartment, appearing on a video intercom screen, now wearing a frightening white mask.
This scene is suggestive of the suppressive, invasive reality these women face. Whether it is that of the boyfriend (saved as “Crazy Bastard” in his girlfriend’s phone), an old white man (Moroder), or a random man in a mask, the women’s relationship, subject to the outsider’s gaze, is kept secret within the confines of a dimly lit apartment.
While “One More Day” is rare in K-pop productions, which tend to glorify love between beautiful men and beautiful women, it’s certainly not the first to feature homosexuality. Homosexuality has been featured in past K-pop videos, notably K-Will’s “Please Don’t,” in which a man is in love with the groom at the wedding. Within the K-pop fan culture, homosexuality and homoeroticism are popular, appearing as frequent themes in fan-fiction and gifs. K-pop groups have even been criticized for performing homosexual gestures as “fan service,” while not actually supporting LGBT rights.
Does Sistar’s video empower the LGBT movement? Perhaps the very fact that the video was made in a country like South Korea, which is largely homophobic, is an empowering message. Perhaps the very visibility with which a different kind of romance is shown, in the hands of a major K-pop group at that, shows growing resistance against the norm.
But the actual video leaves a bitter taste. The lesbian couple, played by actress Hong Soo-hyun and model Song hae-na, find freedom in a disturbing way, fighting back against the boyfriend’s violence by killing him and incinerating the corpse. Is this true empowerment?
The violence in the video is poignant in the current context, six months after the murder of a young woman by a random man near Gangnam Station. “Women have always ignored me,” the perpetrator testified to the police, on why he had committed the crime. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but police ruled out misogyny, citing the man’s history of mental illness. The Gangnam murder gave rise to an explosive discussion about gender inequality and the prevalence of crime against women in South Korea.
“Women are usually the weak ones, exposed easily to violent situations and oppressed in daily life,” Hong Won-ki, the music video director of “One More Day,” told Kyunghyang Shinmun, a liberal newspaper. “I added the homosexual code, to dramatically convey the message that women can become stronger by being together.”
The director’s reference to the “homosexual code” is not exactly an empowering message that celebrates and explores diverse forms of love and sexual orientation. His words simplify the women’s relationship in the video to a narrative device.
The “homosexual code” is a commonly used phrase in South Korea, describing contents with homosexuality. The Whispering Corridors series, starting in the late 90s, were some of South Korea’s earliest mainstream films with ‘the code.’ Hedwig and the Angry Inch introduced the code to the South Korean musical world in the mid-2000s. There are many more, including Handmaiden, a Park Chan-wook film released earlier this year, that also contain the same.
“In the South Korean culture industry, homosexuality isn’t understood as a sentiment. It’s consumed as a tool,” wrote columnist Ji Hye-won for ize, a culture magazine. “Homosexuality should be approached more sensitively and seriously, not as a strategic code, but a sentiment that’s part of living life together.”
Her comments were directed towards the theater and musical industries, but they also resonate in the K-pop world, where homosexuality and nuanced sexuality are, more often than not, perceived as nothing more than superficial ‘codes.’
Watch Sistar’s music video here:
Cover Image: Song Hae-na, left, and Hong Soo-hyun play two women in love, killing a violent man in self-defense. (Source: Youtube)