As we get more and more desensitized to everything around us these days, it’s hard to find anything that will shock us. Especially on TV: there really is more sex, drugs, and violence than ever before, and much more out in the open.
But not every country is like the west and their loose approach to censorship. Some, like South Korea, can get pushed too far. And when that happens, music videos like these get pulled off the air…
The band behind the scandal is a long-time South Korean favourite, Dal Shabet. A supergroup made up of four of the country’s finest pop stars, they’re no stranger to fame – or controversy. But mostly fame.
they’re worth millions of dollars each, and their concerts and videos attract millions of fans. But that doesn’t mean they can get away with everything…
It was their latest single, Joker, that caused the biggest waves of their career. From their eighth studio album, Joker Is Alive, the single instantly went to the top of the charts upon its release.
It’s pretty typical for a pop song, with lyrics about getting with guys and falling in love and all that jazz. But that wasn’t all it contained.
The music video was also just about as steamy as you can get. Imagine four of the most beautiful women in the world, gyrating and dancing in tiny skirts and dressed as harlequins, and you get the idea.
Add infamous South Korean actor Lee Seung-ho as the object of their affection, and you’ve got something pretty close to pornography.
The music video itself would be enough to raise eyebrows in many countries, and in its home country of South Korea, it was met with heavy criticism.
Within two weeks of its first airing, it was pulled from the air and banned by KBS, Korea’s largest media company. As it turns out, though, it wasn’t just the short skirts that did it. There was something far worse…
Take a look at Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus – hell, even Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears back in the day. They’ve all stepped in front of the camera (or the stage) wearing next to nothing and shaking their bits, and they’ve gotten away with it. Some people might complain, but right now it’s pretty much the accepted state of affairs.
We mentioned Aguilera and Spears, but the truth is that this trend goes back far longer than that. Even in the seventies and eighties (massive fluoro leg-warmers aside), ladies were stripping down to the bare essentials to show off their musical talents, and the men weren’t far behind. There’s a simple reason for it…
Yep: we hate to be the bearer of obvious news, but sex sells, and nowhere more obviously than in pop music. Musicians aren’t just the artists that they once were, appreciated for their musical talent.
Now, they’re a brand more than a singer – a cash juggernaut that needs advertising and hype to feed it. And there are only one-way advertising works, and that’s by selling us that most basic of human desires: sex.
Really, it’s no surprise that K-Pop (what the worldwide fans call Korean pop music) would follow western values in their pursuit of success.
Since the growth of the mid-1990s, K-Pop has become a billion-dollar industry and one that’s firmly swerved away from traditional music and values. With all that money flying around, they’ve done the only sensible thing to make it work, and that’s to look at how the west handles it.
Dal Shabet has been around for the last six of these K-Pop glory years, and in that time they’ve actually had other controversies. Critics were fierce about the music video of their single “Be Ambitious”, which featured the girls flashing their skirts and underwear open and closed. Many said that it was sending a message that encouraged rape.
But Joker was even less subtle than that. The problem with the video was actually not so much the action of the music video, but the lyrics. What’s wrong with “Joker”? In South Korean, so, so much.
Alright, so the “Joh” part means penis in Korean. But what about “ker”? Well, pronounced by Korean person, it would be “kuh”. Which means “big”. Put the two together, and you don’t just get a Batman nemesis with badly-applied makeup. You get “big penis”. And that is something that the west has never inserted into their music videos. Yet.
Listen to the full lyrics and it becomes super clear why KBS wanted this off the air. Here’s a sample of the filth: “Joker, I want it, I am out of breath, baby good night.”, “Your scent is in my clothes, my silhouette is trapped in your eye”, and the very unambiguous “fill up my heart”. Sexual enough for you?
Once the song had been banned, Dal Shabet had no choice but to change the lyrics. As the biggest media company in the country, KBS had the power to ruin them if they didn’t comply. So they toned it down, keeping the “joker” part but not making it so obviously sexually explicit. Like: “Hey Mr Joker, you are a bad boy,” which on second thoughts is kinda just as bad.
You know that old saying about bad publicity? Well, it definitely applied here. All the media attention given to the single meant that pretty much everyone in the world knew about it, and everyone was buying it to see what all the fuss is about. Hundreds of thousands of album sales later, they’re still killing it…
A couple of months on from the scandal, the four girls are doing better than ever. A ninth album is in the works, and one of the members has just been drafted to judge a South Korean version of American Idol, called The Unit. It just goes to show that when it comes to sex, you really can’t do anything wrong.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE: