I've been burning with anticipation for Hyomin's solo debut since it's announcement. This year has already seen impressive debuts from Jiyeon and Hyoseong. But now it's finally Hyomin's turn. Let's take a look!
If you didn't know this already, Hyomin has a nice body. And the videos for "Nice Body" highlight that. Knowing Hyomin's history with T-ara, this should have been expected (and accepted, really). She holds the title of Visual and is called upon to keep her weight down far more than other members in T-ara so viewers can be mesmerized by her hips and legs. With that in mind, it's appropriate that her concept would revolve around fitness and her renown body. The video has so many shots of Hyomin's curves that it probably makes Hyuna blush.
And yes, it's absurd.
But absurdity is what makes Kpop so wonderful. The fitness theme isn't absurd as much as an act of brilliance though. The very best Kpop concepts are fleshed out and built not just into the song and music videos, but also in the outfits, choreography, and props. "Nice Body" has all that and more (Notice the tape measure that Hyomin swings and shakes her hips against? Of course you did).
The "Nice Body" concept also gives Hyomin the perfect excuse to wear a wide swath of outfits, something that we need from our resident fashionista. This concept works with Hyomin's idol persona perfectly.
There's a reason I'm talking about the concept before the music. "Nice Body" as a song is fine, but nothing special. Hyomin has never been known for her singing, but the Brave Brothers really could have done more with her here. I'm warning you, don't listen to the music sans singing. It's maddening, like elevator music from a David Lynch film. That synthesizer's repetitiveness and prominence is lacking a significant musical arc, and the song only really builds at the end. Loco adds much needed spice and contrasts well with Hyomin's softer voice. The song isn't terrible, it's just flat. And a bit boring.
"Overcome" is a far superior song. The song has far more energy than "Nice Body." If you just watch Hyomin's singing it live (just below) you can see that it requires her to have more emotion and intensity.
Still, it's understandable that Core Contents Media would promote "Nice Body" over "Overcome." It fits with the summer season and establishing Hyomin's image as a solo star. What doesn't make sense is why they would choose "Nice Body" over the fantastic "Fake it," since it's easily the best song out of the whole "Make Up" mini-album. It's a beautiful duet and one that I hope we see performed at some point. It's just too good to be lost in the shuffle. Sadly, "Nice Body" is forgettable, but "Fake it" and "Overcome" make "Make Up" worth the purchase.
The Music Video is...Problematic
In reviewing Hyomin's debut, we have to address the MV. Alone, a fat suit is not a problem. Alone, a sexy fitness concept is not a problem. Alone, lyrics like: "I’ve gone through so much. You don’t know hard I worked because of you," wouldn't be so cringe-worthy. But put that all together with a Barbie doll serving as a role model, and no matter how one can spin this, there are issues here, complicated ones.
What's troubling here is that all of these things associated with body image are used in this video with an alarming simplicity. The message of the video is: Work out, eat well, and you'll have the nice body you deserve. But the miscommunication lies in the delivery, and some viewers will not get the intended rush of motivation to better themselves, they'll only feel the insecurities that media and society place on them on a daily basis.
The more complex question here is if our western perspective is a fair barometer to judge Korean media. South Korea, as everyone knows, is obsessed with image. If you watch variety shows you will be shocked to see how frank commentators and idols are when judging and analyzing physical appearance (often their own). On some programs, there are even plastic surgeons picking at the flaws of our favorite Kpop stars. Looking at "Nice Body" through this odd microscope, the music video makes complete sense in the context of the society it's born from. So how do we judge a video based on those expectations? Do we westerners have the perspective needed to fairly analyze the cultural significance? And, maybe most importantly, if we outsiders did have that perspective, would we still have any right to judge?
Stick with the Dance Version
If you do have moral qualms with the MV, but still want to watch Hyomin, I recommend sticking with the dance version. You get to see more of Hyomin's inventive choreography without the complications the main video (or is it drama version?) has. This song didn't need the controversy, and surely CCM wasn't seeking it. Hopefully, Hyomin's live performances in the coming weeks will overshadow the problematic video.
Timothy Moore writes from Chicago. He blogs at Read My Blog Please, and edits at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His biases are T-ara, Block B, Nine Muses, Brown Eyed Girls, and Girl's Day.