Fans Debate the Meaning of 2NE1′s “Ugly”
Yesterday, Korean pop powerhouse 2NE1 released the much anticipated music video for its song, “Ugly.” Around the same time, 2NE1′s PR Director Sandra Park announced that a “Not Ugly” campaign was in the works. So just what are they really trying to say?
Though the creators may have their own intentions in mind, meaning becomes negotiated and subverted by the audience, who often enter into networked exchange on forums, blogs, and social networking sites. The recent talk surrounding “Ugly” has become a space to not only assess the video, but also reflect on notions of beauty, identity, fandom, and even the K-pop industry itself.
The song itself seems to have provoked a deeply mixed reaction. A far cry from their previous hit single, “I’m The Best,” “Ugly” is seemingly as self-deprecating — even self-loathing — as the title suggests. The chorus, for example, repeats these words (in English, no less):
I think I’m ugly and nobody wants to love me.
Just like her, I wanna be pretty, I wanna be pretty.
Don’t lie to my face and tell me that I’m pretty, cause I know that I’m ugly.
On 6theory, one disgruntled fan (aegyojewels) writes:
If you ask me, now that I’ve read the lyrics, it sounds like some Hot Topic emo’s journal entry. It sounds really self-pitying (why not say something like “I may be ugly on the outside, but baby, you’re ugly all over”, just something other than “I think I’m ugly and everyone hates me,”) and whiny[...]
For those who previously found themselves empowered by such lyrics as “Whoever looks at me can see I’m kind of fabulous alright / Even if you were me, you’d be envious of this body alright,” this complete turn can be alienating. Others, on the other hand, claim that the entire song is meant to be facetious:
The song uses irony to get across it’s meaning. It’s not coming out and saying “your not ugly and everyone is beautiful” because if you get the meaning, you’re more likely to remember it. You can tell by their tone that they are speaking from the perspective of an insecure girl who is, in fact, pretty and that the true message is to just love yourself instead of putting yourself down!
To forumgoer KpopMonkey, the song can be seen as a self-reflexive statement on the K-pop industry:
I think that 2NE1 acknowledged that they may not look like other girl groups (hence their very vivid outfits vs the backup dancers) and though they are like that they are okay with it. It’s their own way and they’re gonna do it their own style.
The music video adds an entirely new layer that complicates the discussion. There is no obviously coherent narrative to align with the lyrics. Instead, the women of 2NE1 merely strut through an environment of urban decay. Dressed in distinctive, colorful, punk-like regalia, they dance, throw glow-in-the-dark paint around, destroy glass storefronts, and scratch up cars. You can watch it in high-definition below, complete with English subtitles:
One might say that 2NE1 seems to be rejecting the K-pop aesthetic: the grooming, the clean production, the well-packaged idol image. But their torn, unkempt clothing isn’t so much punk as it is Ke$ha; they remain fully in the mainstream. Considering all that we know about the monolithic power of Korean entertainment companies, “ugly” might only be another word for “money.”
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TAGS: 2NE1 • k-pop • Ke$ha • Korean entertainment • Korean Girl
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