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Step aside Miley Cyrus, here comes K-Porn

Some Koreans cry foul over K-Pop’s growing raunchiness. Others revel in it.

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(Illustration by Kyle Kim/GlobalPost, photographs by/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: We publish thousands of stories at GlobalPost every year. But some of these don't receive the reader attention they deserve. Our series "20 Must-Reads of 2013" fixes that problem. Here's a look — maybe a second one — at some of our best journalism of the year.

SEOUL, South Korea — Miley Cyrus may have ticked off American parents with her salacious “twerking” dance, grabbing her crotch and grinding in nude-colored hotpants.

But Americans aren’t the only ones on edge about sleazy stage tricks.

On the other side of the Pacific, South Koreans are stirring up a similar commotion over skin-boasting pop stars and their raunchy music videos.

You may know K-Pop, or Korean pop, thanks to Psy and Rain. But the industry has far wider appeal in South Korea, where training schools churn out legions of upcoming stars, urging them to get plastic surgery and dance dirty for the camera.

K-Pop has always had a reputation for risqué depictions, although the intensity of sex-charged videos appears to be on the rise this summer.

James Turnbull, a commentator on Korean gender issues, lists examples at the magazine Busan HAPS: in “Be Ambitious,” girl group Dal Shabet rips off skirts to reveal camel toes. Ladies from another troupe, After School, dance on stripper poles in “First Love.” 

Last October, one artist kicked up the steam factor even further. In “Bloom,” pop singer Ga-in played a young woman experiencing a sexual awakening, masturbating on her kitchen floor. Scandalously, the vocalist said she got inspiration from all sorts of adult movies.

Of course, such images are tame by MTV standards. South Korea is still a society steeped in traditional norms, where online pornography is blocked, and authorities can review and censor music videos before reaching the public eye. Acts that get the government’s dreaded 19+ rating are banned from airtime before 10 p.m., although many managers anticipate this and put out tamer versions for daytime hours.

Even 30-second teasers are getting adult ratings, like Seungri’s trailer for his upcoming single “Let’s Talk About Love” — which includes a shot of a man taking off a woman’s lingerie.

Some Korean pop artists, too, are lashing back against management companies that rely on sex appeal more than music. Lee Seung Chul, a 1980s K-pop veteran, tweeted in protest, “Naked legs, underwear teasers … optical illusion outfits?? TT TT. It′s not right to promote like this." (TT is a Korean emoticon for sadness.)

Even if the number of salacious videos is on the rise, Koreans have repeatedly staged uproars against pop music for the past five years or so, Turnbull tells GlobalPost — for example in 2011, when the government restricted one video simply because fully clothed girls spread their legs on the floor.

South Korea’s censorship is a lingering product of its autocratic history. For decades, K-Pop was an obscure and heavily restricted genre under successive Korean dictators. Still, early artists from the 1950s and 1960s took inspiration from American servicemen, who brought rock and roll and other popular art forms to the impoverished peninsula.

As the country rose out of poverty, K-Pop made its first footprints throughout Asia in the late 1990s, and became hot by the mid-2000s — years before the Gangnam Style sensation we know today. Today, bands have found enormous popularity as part of the “Korean Wave,” or the spread of Korean culture mostly throughout Asia.

But the notoriously cyclical entertainment industry goes through good and bad years, possibly explaining the libertine videos this summer. Turnbull says the K-Pop scene has long relied on sex to keep groups in the public eye.

Sex, of course, is appealing to the legions of K-Pop fans in their teens and 20s. Tumblr is full of micro-blogs of the men and women of K-pop, showing off their poses and suggestive dance moves in what many jokingly call "K-pop porn."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/south-korea/130828/k-porn