Gu9udan’s Narcissus and Transnational Beauty

Gugudan, stylized gu9udan, debuted as Jellyfish Entertainment’s first girl group in June of 2016 with their mini album, Act. 1 The Little Mermaid. Their first single, “Wonderland”, was met fairly well due to the popularity of members, Sejeong and Mina, who debuted as part of I.O.I. the month prior after the reality TV show, Produce 101 (which other gu9udan member, Nayoung, was also a part of). On February 27th, 2017, gu9udan released the music video for, “A Girl Like Me,” the title track of their next mini album, Act. 2 Narcissus. Gu9udan continued their mythology them, yet they took a hard turn from the whimsical world of The Little Mermaid to a darker story about a man known for his narcissism who died staring at his reflection in a lake. Fans were unsure what to expect considering gu9udan’s initial cute, innocent concept. The video tackles the Narcissus concept head on, and depicts each of the nine girls participating in some form of what could be considered narcissism. Through a feminist lens, this provides an outlet for self love which under influences of patriarchy, addresses a radical politic. When taking a more intersectional approach, the “A Girl Like Me” music video ignores the transnational effects of White beauty standards and places these Asian girls as subjected to white, Western beauty which becomes inherently harmful to the feminist celebration of self that the video attempts to appeal to.

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The description for the video on gu9udan’s official YouTube channel says, “Narcissus is commonly referred to in the modern times through the word “narcissism” to mean
“self-love”, and gugudan reinterpreted the term to express a more positive message unique to gugudan, of loving ourselves as we are. “Narcissus” is also the genus name for the flower daffodil, which also has the flower meaning “self-love,” and is used in the designs for the upcoming album”. Jellyfish Entertainment is explicit in portraying positive self-love as the theme for this video; therefore, reclaiming the narcissism. This reclamation of one’s body and one’s image is extremely present in the video. From Mimi’s use of social media to post selfies (00:25) to showing Mina in a bedroom full of merchandise of her own image (00:47), the music video places each girl in a position to express a way of loving oneself. While some cases, like Mina’s, take self-love over the top, the message of relentlessly loving oneself shines through. The manner of shoving the self-love in the face of the viewer relays a message about how to unapologetically practice loving oneself, and this message is valuable for viewers who’s identities may be subjected to messages from hegemonic patriarchy to not be conceited. Under patriarchy, women and girls, receive mixed messages about needing makeup to look presentable but to not overdo the makeup, and these contradicting messages distort women’s images of themselves. Gu9udan radically flips the narrative and encourage women to take all amounts of pride in themselves and their image.

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Especially in the cases of Mimi and Mina, transnational relations of beauty are extremely present. When Mimi is taking all of her selfies and and posting them to Facebook and Instagram for likes, she is appealing to the ability to make her beauty be known by the entire world. Social media has really changed the way that beauty is understood and appreciated. Michelle Phan is a YouTuber that has gained over 8 million subscribers doing make up tutorials, and she has been able to make a living off of YouTube. The monetization of one’s beauty on a worldwide platform is portrayed by Mina’s room filled with pictures, souvenirs, and other forms of merchandise all with her likeness on it. Mina’s ability to purchase items with herself on them is reflective of the way people, like Michelle Phan, can monetize their beauty. Although Mina’s scenes are coming from a place of celebrating one’s image, they still speak to the powerful effect of globalization and transnationalism on beauty and displays of beauty. Both Nayoung (00:12) and Haebin (00:53) express other forms of transnational beauty through their photoshoots and runway modeling, respectively. These two forms of expressions appeal to a particularly classed form of beauty as modeling is notorious for the upper class dynamics present in the industry. While Mimi’s selfie posting on social media is a more accessible form of beauty circulation, all of these expressions are pertinent to the transnational distributions of beauty.

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The opening of the video show the statue Venus de Milo with its head replaced by an antennae television. The Greek origins of the statue fits perfectly with the Narcissus story that is the overarching theme of the video. However, this depiction of this White body in this arc about Asian women reflects a more insidious application of these beauty expressions. Throughout the video the TV screen changes to different channels that show each of the nine girls in their own spaces expressing their beauty, and often the screen shows their face so they become the face of the Venus de Milo. This presumable is meant to show the confidence the girls have with theirselves, but a closer reading can see how these moments are indeed subjecting these girls to white, Western beauty standards. The placement of their faces on the statue reflect how these Asian bodies cannot be valid unless they exist in relation to Whiteness. Similarly, in Sejeong’s room (00:38), there are two busts of Greek sculptures, like Venus de Milo. One is white and the other is yellow. Sejeong gets up close and personal to admire the yellow bust. It is unclear why this specific bust is yellow when normally Greek busts are made out of white marble. Yellowness may provide a (problematic) parallel to Asian-ness, and the reason that Sejeong can admire this bust is because she can see herself in its perfection. Again, these women can only admire themselves in relation to Whiteness, and Whiteness is something to aspire to. The placement of Asian beauty in relation to White beauty is often a symptom of the transnational circulation of beauty that is depicted in the video as well. The video for “A Girl Like Me” is meant to empower women and girls toward a more radical expression of self-love, and in some cases, it does just that. However, in other cases, the harmful presence of Whiteness in the video supersedes the positive message that was initially meant. With the largely transnational distributions of beauty in contemporary media, how can we combat the largely imperialistic nature of White beauty standards?

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