Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Hallyu (the "Korean Wave") has swept over much of Asia, with Korean movies, soap operas, and especially pop music wildly popular. K-pop is moving in on America, too: the Wonder Girls had a tour and a Nickelodeon TV movie, Girls' Generation appeared on Letterman and Kelly Ripa, and 2NE1 (love the name) is now being produced by Will.I.Am of the Black-eyed Peas.

K-pop is ubiquitous among young people here, and the vast majority of it is so plastic it makes Milli Vanilli look like Tom Waits. But I have to say that 2NE1's song Ugly has been stuck in my head for five days now. It's damn catchy; check it out here.

The applicable lyrics--in English--start at the 1:20 mark: 
"I think I'm ugly and nobody wants to love me. Just like her, 
I wanna be pretty, I wanna be pretty, don't lie to my face, tellin' me I'm pretty."

It touches on an obsession of young Koreans. The only people in the world who primp and preen more than American girls are Korean boys. The only people who primp and preen more than Korean boys are Korean girls. They obsess over their "S-line", the slim but shapely form without which they're ugly. Every block of every shopping district, and many of the posher subway walkways, have girls in minis hawking free cosmetic samples. Without the right makeup, they're ugly.

Plastic surgery is huge here: reshape those eyelids, whittle those cheekbones, lighten that skin, sometimes cut and rearrange the jaw. Next to cell phones, plastic surgeons may have more ads in the subway than any other business. The Seoul municipal government conducted a survey: 31 percent of people aged 15 and up were willing to get cosmetic surgery.

The sad thing is, of course, that they were fine before. It's an ugly obsession.

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