Mamamoo’s Troubling Performance of Race and Sexuality

     One of KPop’s biggest girl groups, Mamamoo, had their fourth comeback on November 7th, 2016 with their mini-album, Memory. The main single for this album is titled “Décalcomanie” which is a French word that refers to a technique in art where prints and engravings are transferred from one surface to another. Mamamoo’s song metaphorically speaks to this art form by using the word, décalcomanie, to refer to the pressing of two bodies in a sexual encounter. This highly provocative metaphor is reflective of the mature sound and concept that Mamamoo is known for. The song stays true to the powerful vocals and the throwback musical genius that fans associate with Mamamoo, and it does not disappoint. However, the music video displays a troubling performance of race, sexuality, and belonging influenced by Whiteness. There are people that have noted the role of sexual assault and sexual violence implicit (or perhaps explicit) in the music video, but have failed to include the role of race. Because Mamamoo’s performance of sexuality is heavily influenced by race, there are discussions of the effects of race on their cultural capital, or non-economic forms of social mobility, to be had. The role of the intersection of race and sexuality in the “Décalcomanie” music video contains harmful implications about the bodies of these Asian women because it places their bodies under the domineering force that is Whiteness.

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     The most immediate display of race interacting with sexuality is seen at 00:15 when the love interest shared by the four (beautiful and talented) members, Solar, Moonbyul, Wheein, and Hwasa, reveals himself as a (quite boring looking) White male. This is the first time that the love interest in a Mamamoo video is not Asian. On the surface level, this may seem to be insignificant, but the impact of race in a romantic/sexual encounter cannot be ignored. As expressed in the documentary, Slaying the Dragon, there is an age old trope of White men attempting to acquire Asian women for the sake of sexual pleasure, and this is directly related to expressions of colonialism and war in the region of East Asia. South Korea is not excluded from this narrative, and the inclusion of a White man as the love interest for this KPop group is not much different. In the video, the women hint at their interest in the man, but he clearly is the one making advances. 

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     An epistemic understanding of the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality suggests that White men can use the bodies of non-white women exclusively for pleasure, and the music video for Décalcomanie reinforces this understanding. Issues of consent are common in the music video. As referenced above, the issue of sexual assault reared its ugly head when the original version of this music video had to be taken down because of backlash the company received due to an eleven second scene where the man quite literally manhandles Solar in the elevator in order to kiss her. CW: sexual assault. Here is a comparison of the unedited and edited version. The scene in question is shown at 4:21-4:32, and it is quite unsettling. Similarly, at 3:51, Wheein stops the man from kissing her by placing her finger on his lips, but he then goes to take her hand off his face to go in for the kiss. The lyrics (generally) speak to a consensual sexual experience with someone, but the music video is a stark contrast to that by placing these women as object to the White man which invokes an extremely racialized dynamic of power and agency (or lack thereof). This reinforces a culturally hegemonic value of Asian women through the violence imposed on the bodies of these women by White men. It can be assumed that the company included a White love interest not with the intention of catering to these stereotypes, but a close reading of this music video displays a problematic understanding of these Korean women in relation to Whiteness.

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     From 3:13 to 4:42, the song stops abruptly after a climaxing belt from Solar to present a minute and a half of soft piano playing while each girl gets kissed by the White man. Once these kisses occur, scenes of fruits being smashed and squeezed are presented as euphemisms for orgasm which can be tied back to the origins of décalcomanie, the pressing of a print on to a surface. With that being said, the metaphor of the White man imprinting on these Korean women evokes an interpretation of imprinting Whiteness on to these women. After he kisses each of the four women, there are scene (like in the gif above) of each of the girls pulling their black veil off. With the focus on the eyes, these women are finally can experience the world once they were kissed by a White man. The implications of imprinting Whiteness on to the bodies of Asian women are troubling because they suggest that only through forced Whiteness can these women be legitimate. For the women, this performance creates a kind of false sense of agency, but in reality they are still subjected being seen only through their relation to Whiteness. This video, though visually appealing and musically fantastic, places an incredible amount of value on Whiteness which forces the presumed stars of the video, Mamamoo, to be positioned under the secondary character on the basis of race and sexuality.

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