Kpopalypse’s mysteries of k-pop: what the fuck is “girl crush”?

Kpopalypse is back with another episode of Kpopalypse’s mysteries of k-pop!  In this episode, we examine “girl crush” concepts.  Let’s take a look!

The more mentally-challenged members of the world’s k-pop fandom have always traditionally categorised female k-pop concepts into two broad and largely inaccurate categories – “cute/innocent” and “sexy”.  This was certainly the case when I began writing this blog, and therefore I spent some time addressing the inherent stupidity of this fallacy with this post, and also covered the near-endlessly wide variety of female k-pop concepts here.  Of course these two posts are now a bit on the old side, and a new challenger has since burst onto the scene to rival the traditional categories – “girl crush”.  So what the fuck is “girl crush”?  Are there any objective criteria for this category?  Does “girl crush” actually describe a real thing, or are bored people just making shit up?  It’s time to find out!

My first search on Google led me to this article on Billboard:  How ‘Girl Crush’ Hooked Female Fans and Grappled With Feminism as K-pop Went Global in 2018.  The article is also kind of long, and right from the start the author kind of admits that “girl crush” is a hard thing to define:

Okay, so it has a “dynamic meaning”, which is linguistic code for “could mean any old shit”, but apparently “you know it when you see it”.  Then the author steadfastly refuses to define it for the rest of the article, other than making references to “fierce divas”, “female empowerment” and a lack of “hyperfemininity”, and claiming stuff like this as “girl crush”:

Now that fits well with what the author is talking about – with the obvious exception of the “male gaze” fucking nonsense, I assure you I can fap to a skin-tight leather-clad Bom as well as any Realdoll owner.  To the author’s credit, she admits that any sort of “empowerment” is quite superficial and really just confined to the girls’ image and maybe a bit of sloganeering, which shows that she’s definitely a k-pop fan who has done her research.  So I thought I understood – that is, until I read further down the article and saw some of their other examples:

None of this is particularly fierce or empowering or lacking in female-ness as far as I can tell.  The clothes are about as feminine and k-pop pervert-friendly as anybody else’s in k-pop, and lyrically they’re just whining about their relationships a lot, this also seems to be normal k-pop territory.  The only real common thread I see here is that all the girls are looking fairly morose and not smiling much.  The author was adamant that by “crush” they weren’t talking about “girls crushing on boys”, so maybe the “crush” in “girl crush” is referring to “crushing clinical depression”?  That makes sense when they also linked Oh My Girl’s “Coloring Book” as an example of something that definitely wasn’t “girl crush”, and in that video the girls pretty much do nothing but smile:

But then they also linked Red Velvet as a “girl crush” example, who can’t seem to help themselves and do crack a smile occasionally:

For something where supposedly “you know it when you see it”, I was more confused by what I was looking at than ever.  In this context, the author’s conclusion that “in essence, girl crush is just a play at changing the typical gender dynamics of fan-idol connection”, and that this somehow relates to the longevity of groups, also seems a bit abstract, because it’s not very clear what exactly is changing and how, let alone if it’s having any actual effect on anything.  Hmm.

My next search result was interesting:

The first person, their English usage is a bit weird so I’m not quite sure what they’re saying.  The second answer thought it was “sexy but not in the way that appeals to boys”, so more for other girls to look up to or something… so, apparently like Sonamoo’s “Cushion”?

So apparently when Sonamoo are singing “he’s like cushion” while shaking their ass in the chorus, this doesn’t appeal to boys?  Either today’s young men are even more emasculated than I thought, or (far more likely) this answerer just has no idea what guys actually like.  Really it just seems like a “sexy concept” with a different name.

4Minute’s “Hate” is supposedly “girl crush” too.  Okay, so I’ll readily admit that those white jumpsuits and red jumpers in the choruses probably don’t appeal to boys, but I’m pretty sure they don’t appeal to anyone else either.  The rest of the clothes everywhere else in the video certainly appealed to me and didn’t seem really any more extreme what Stellar used to wear, in terms of sex appeal.

The next result was from The Great Satan of k-pop websites.  Dare I break the Kpopalypse boycott early to investigate the trufax of their “girl crush” claims?  I turned my Adblocker up to full, loaded up my VPN so it rerouted my web traffic through to South America (sorry Brazilian readers), and updated my virus and anti-spyware to the latest versions.  Then I suddenly realised that even though I am a k-pop pervert who likes sexy k-pop concepts, I am also a man of morals who draws the line at supporting revenge porn sites.  Content from The Great Satan will therefore remain blacklisted until Kpopalypse boycott expiry date, I’ll have to do my research elsewhere.

Next article, from SBS PopAsia – 11 girl group MVs with girl crush vibes and fierce aesthetics, featured some girl groups who were “beyond fierce”.  Gosh! Who could they be?

Oh right, Girls’ Generation.  Apparently “fierce” is all about wearing black boobs-harness things and – once again – smiling maybe about 40% less than usual.

Oh and T-ara.  Having exposed midriffs seems to be very “empowering” here, although once again I’m not sure about this “not appealing to boys”.  How someone looks at this and thinks male fans aren’t gonna like it, I have no idea.

Another article called The “Girl Crush”: KPop Fashion Meets Street Fashion kind of ignored the music completely and looked at it all purely from a fashion angle, which is probably fairly sensible given how superficial as fuck this is turning out to be.  Maybe they have some answers?

Now this actually made a little bit of sense – but not much.  The author here has bought into all the fictional bullshit about how “cute” and “sexy” are the only two other concepts out there, so that kind of fucks everything up, oh well.  And then there’s that thing again about not catering to the male fans only.

OneHallyu had a thread called What is the “girl crush” concept, exactly? but they didn’t seem to know either.  The forum members who didn’t troll mainly just copy-pasted answers from the other sources I’ve already looked at.  Oh and apparently 4Minute’s “Crazy” is the “girl crush anthem”, because Hyuna has never been a sex symbol for guys or anything.

I was about to give up, but then I found a profile for the k-pop group called “Girl Crush”.  Surely a group called “Girl Crush” would actually be “girl crush”, right?  How could they not be?  I thought I’d better check out their video and find out the trufax:

Well that looks more like the old “sexy concept” from Stellar days.

YouTube comments seemed to agree!

Female fans also seemed to find these positive role models very “empowering”, which ticks off the box for not only appealing to the male fans, but giving girls someone they can look up to and admire the confidence of:

Does that mean that girl crush concepts are actually just sexy concepts?

Looking back at my research material, I think that perhaps they are.  It’s clear from my research that “girl crush concepts” have generally the following things in common:

  • girls shaking their asses a lot
  • showing lots of skin, especially midriff and legs, or at least some tight clothing
  • not too much smiling, looking annoyed at the camera
  • “empowering” lyrics about how they just broke up with some dude

There’s no difference between any of that in any of the videos above, and this:

Conclusion: the old “sexy concept” had now just been sneakily rebranded to “girl crush”, and what we’re being sold as “girl crush concepts” are really just the same old sexy concepts with a wafer-thin veneer of “empowerment” to help the media buy into the bullshit, and to help the more conservative fans who might normally be worried about “exploitation” swallow it all a little easier.

Well, I’m glad I cleared that up!  That’s all for this post!  I’ll leave you now with the fabulous Pocket Girls, demonstrating their ability to “empower” the Korean armed forces!  Kpopalypse will return with more posts soon!

18 thoughts on “Kpopalypse’s mysteries of k-pop: what the fuck is “girl crush”?

  1. I feel like people call it “girl crush” if it’s 1) not directed at a man 2) about strong women being strong and confident or 3) being about how they hate a man.
    This also includes less “innocent” outfits, and/or darker backgrounds. This is “meant” to attract women, not men, perhaps by being “badass” and a good role model for powerful women “who don’t need no man”.

    But I agree that it’s a very confusing term with no clear definition. It’s almost as though people only thought that ther were only 2 categories of GG songs, Cute or Sexy.
    And when songs were made for primarliy women to be the target audience (who obviously wouldn’t be affected by Cute or Sexy concepts, I mean what kind of women like other women to be Sexy? It’s Unheard of!) they had to make up a third category: Girl Crush.

  2. For me girl crush is a sexy concept aimed to girls, specially made to not appeal to boys and that miserably fail in that last part.

  3. This makes me think of CLC’s No, especially the line “Only the words of pure, sexy, and cute can’t express me.” When I saw that in the captions on the video, I thought it was great because it seemed to be referring to the idiotic attitude kpop fans have towards female idols. I think the point of No is that women should dress and act however they want regardless of what others want. That’s why they wear red lipstick and high heels despite saying “no” to them – the point is that they’re doing it for themselves, and not denouncing women who are different from them. I know it’s just a superficial way to market them to females and that idols don’t actually have that much freedom, but I still like it. The message, if there really is one, is wasted on most kpop fans, who will most likely just see it as “good on them for not trying to be pure, sexy, or cute”.

  4. I think you made a mistake at the beginning of this article. There are not just two girl group concepts, Cute and Sexy. There are three: Cute, Sexy, and Cool. “Girl Crush” is just an evolution of the Cool concept. The Cool concept has been around for a long time and was more popular in the first generation. A Cool concept is one that markets the group as girls that other girls want to hang out with and be friends with. Cool girls aren’t concerned with attracting guys. They do their own thing and if they’re interested in a guy, they aren’t shy about making the first move. This is “Girl Crush”. Most concepts aren’t strictly either Cute, Sexy, or Cool either. Most of them are some kind of mixture or hybrid of these elements. There are Sexy/Cool hybrids like Blackpink and Apink’s %%, and there are also Cute/Cool hybrids like ITZY and Cherry Bullet. So no, “Girl Crush” is not a sneaky rebrand of the Sexy concept. It’s a resurgence and rebrand of the Cool concept.

    • Yes but k-pop girls are ALL marketed as girls that other girls would/could/should like. With the only exception being the tiny minority of Pocket Girls type groups (that obviously don’t bother as they aren’t really in the idol game anyway), I can’t think of a single girl group of any notoriety, at any stage in k-pop’s history, that isn’t or wasn’t. A category literally means nothing if every single thing fits into it.

      • I agree with your last statement, but I don’t think the Cool concept fits that description. There is nothing Cool about pure Cute concept groups like GFriend, April, and early Apink. As well, there is nothing Cool about pure Sexy concept groups like 9Muses, AOA, and Stellar. If “Cool” was an attribute stat, all of these groups would have zero points in it, or close to it. Since none of these groups have it, then the Cool concept is obviously something different. I argue that it’s a third, completely separate, base concept and that Girl Crush is an evolution of that concept. Besides, none of these groups were marketed as “girls that other girls should like”, so I’m not sure how you can say that ALL groups are marketed that way. If you think they were marketed that way, you’ll have to explain it to me, because I don’t see it.

        • Probably the best way to see this in action is to look at some of the non-MV content that labels produce for these girls. Gfriend’s videos are an excellent example of this. I mean they’re hitting the “relateable to girls” button REAL HARD there, so much so that even some of my own readers are fooled. 🙂

          If you watch the livestreams I’ll talk about this in today’s.

        • I think girl crush is often used to mean sexy, cool, or confident, but that the original meaning is more literal. Women like Moonbyul (from Mamamoo) or SinB (from Gfriend) are always referred to as “Girl Crush”. They are women who accidentally tapped into the fangirl audience — their body language (off stage) isn’t girlish or sexy, but a little on the boyish side (as though they’d been raised by a father who wanted a boy). I think the appeal is on a subconscious level — the fangirls see SinB or Moonbyul and think that they’d like a boyfriend like her.

          The fangirls like the sexy, cool, and confident women because they’d like to be sexy, cool, and confident; they like the Girl Crush women because they’d like to date a boy like them (and it’s easier for them to admit those feelings for a girl than for a boy).

          And I think Jeongyeon was JYP’s attempt to capitalize on this market, but Jeongyeon doesn’t really come across as authentically girl crush.

  5. I thought that “girl crush” just meant “pretending to be aggrieved for some reason.”

  6. Can’t continue our previous thread, so I guess I have to start another. Anyway, I watched the livestream vod when I woke up. So your basic point is that visually, there is no real difference bewteen these videos, and anyone who’s not familiar with K-Pop would agree that they’re all the same. Therefore, none of these other concepts exist. First of all, that’s some serious moving of the goalposts and even still it’s a terrible argument.

    If someone who’s not familair with video games saw you playing Skyrim, Battlefield, and Portal, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They’re all in first person. They all involve shooting something. To an outside person, they are basically identical. Clearly, there is no such thing as genres like RPG, FPS, and Puzzle games. They are all just the same video game concept and anyone who doesn’t see that has been immersed in the video game world for too long and just needs to get fucking out of it and start looking at it from the outside.

    Surely you can see how incredibly weak and flat out wrong that statement is. We’re not talking about people who aren’t familair with K-Pop. Their ignorance of the details of K-Pop does not make classifying it moot or incorrect. At a very base level, it’s true that there is just one concept and that is Sexy, but that is only because all dancing is inherently sexual and all of pop culture is marketed with sex appeal. But speaking about K-Pop at that level is pointless and has no utility in conversaiton. If someone said, “I really like Blackpink, can you recommend me some more groups like them?” and you just respond with “It doesn’t matter mate, check out April, Stellar, and Davichi. They’re all the same sexy girls concept.” Obviously, that’s bullshit and is totally useless advice for that person. We group together similar things and give them labels because it’s useful to us to communicate.

    Let me give you another example. I have no idea what the difference is between Deep House, Trance, and Dubstep. It all sounds like WUBWUB music to me, but that doesn’t mean those classifications don’t exist or are meaningless. I understand that for the people who are into that thing, there are important differences between them and I am just ingorant of it. Likewise, if someone is ignorant of K-Pop concepts that doesn’t mean different concepts don’t exist.

    The Reddit post you viewed from NudePenguin that has the additional concept breakdowns is excellent. It’s an additional layer under the three main concepts that I outlined. They make a lot of sense and are very useful. It’s no different than the sub-grenes and sub-sub genres of electronic music above. Then instead of realzing that you’re totally wrong and rethinking your position, you spout off “Nobody outside of the realm of K-Pop gives a fuck about any of this and it’s not worth caring about”. This is you realizing you’re about to be checkmated and then flipping the table and walking away while declaring victory.

    • Except the differences between Portal and Skyrim exist, and the differences between 4Minute’s “Hate” sexy attire and Nine Muses’ “Wild” sexy attire don’t, and that’s clear to anybody. We’re not talking about k-pop really – we’re talking about fashion statements. Anybody can detect those, you don’t have to be a fully invested k-pop fan to know what a black dress looks like.

      • Except the differences between Hate and Wild exist, and the differences between Portal’s perspective and Skyrim’s perspective don’t, and that’s clear to anybody. We’re not talking about video games really – we’re talking about perspective. Anybody can detect those, you don’t have be a fully invested video game fan to know what first-person looks like.

        See what useless drivel you just wrote? Surely you understand there’s more to a K-Pop concept than the clothes. Are you being fecious on purpose? Saying Hate and Wild are the same concept because of similar clothes is no different than saying Portal and Skyrim are the same game genre because they’re both first person games. Obviously there’s more to a game genre than the persepective and obviously there is more to a concept than the clothes. Do I need to explain that a “K-Pop concept” encompases everything from the fashion, musical style, lyrical message, and attitude? I know you know this, so why are you ignoring all that now? If you can watch the MVs, listen to the songs, read the lyrics, and watch the live stages and still tell me that Hate and Wild are the same concept, then you don’t understand what the word concept means.

        • You can certainly divide things up into concepts if you want, using whatever bizarre minutae that you choose to give a fuck about – and I have done exactly this in the past, I did a whole post about it which is linked in the article, which should illustrate the arbitrary nature of it. However the same shit is going on underneath the surface, it’s not reaaallllly “conceptually” different at all. I guess it’s all about how fussy about details you want to get and what you consider a “concept”, we could probably argue all day over that. How boring though.

  7. I like Sullenmuskrat’s point about Moonbyul and SinB being boyish, and thereby tapping into the subconscious fangirl’s friendship fantasies. Even me as a guy related strongly to both these girls (as well as Hani) because they are so cool, confident and friendly; I contend we ALL want friends like them, they’re so fun and perfect! Look at SinB’s relationship with the cute, aegyo-heavy Eunha, she teases and mocks our cutiepie mercilessly, like a boy would, and I could list lots of ways SinB acts more like a boy than a girl. She’s confident, powerful, assertive, and actually fights with the group leader sometimes. She’s the one who voted to bungee jump and paraglide.
    …If this is girl crush, I’m all for it!

    • “fangirl’s friendship fantasies” while this is true to some extent I don’t think groups like 9Muses, EXID, and Mamamoo have large female fanbases only because of ‘friendships fantasies’, tbh a lot of girl crush concepts are (likely unknowingly/unintentionally) appealing to lesbians (except for Sunmi who knows EXACTLY what she’s doing). Things that straight men and gay women find attractive in women doesn’t always intersect which is why even though girl crush concepts are ‘sexy’ concepts rebranded they are still different from ‘appealing to men’

  8. I’d say, the girl crush _originally_ is supposed to reflect lesbian vibes in fan-idol relationships.

    When applied to a specific idol: if the girl is so hot and – what’s important – quite androgynous or tomboyish in appearance or mannerisms, that the girls are attracted to her, and not the boys, then it’s a girl crush. [Also, my two cents about Twice — Jeongyeon was wrongly picked for this role, she is anything but a girl crush, the real girl crush in Twice is obviously Momo.]

    When applied to a visual concept: same, girls must find the concept alluring.

    When applied to a choreography: intense, brash, explosive, with little usage of feminine-sexy moves. My usual go-to example (not the perfect one, but very satisfying) is “Fingertip” by GFriend.

    When applied to a group concept: I don’t think a solid example exists.

    But the girl crush (in the original meaning) can be found once in a blue moon. Now, with this beyouncification of kpop, the girl crush is all about the “edgy” costumes (leather, straps, black, ripped, etc.), which somehow renames usual “sexy” as “girl crush”. Nowadays, this concept reflects not the swooning effect a female idol has on female kpop fans, but a female kpop fan’s feeling of being represented — while watching a confidently sexy female idol perform.

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