First thing that you have to understand is that Kpop is all about the image. Sure, this is true for some of the Western artists as well, but none more so than Kpop. This is why for every comeback or debut, a concept is established. And no matter what concept they choose to pull through with, there are only two categories that those fall beneath; cute or sexy. Now, there's no such thing as too cute. But is there such a thing as too sexy?
Every idol in Korea is sexualized at one point in their concept change. I don't think that this is something that the idols have a say in because it's all a part of the formula in the successful growth of the idol's career. The funny thing is that if you have been following a group since their debut, then chances are you've witnessed their development since the age of fifteen, and to see that same fifteen year old in their late teens perform on stage without so much as a tissue paper-thin fabric that coordi noonas defend is a shirt, and jeans that are pretty much second skin... it gets tricky.
Admit it, as a fan who has watched a group blossom into adulthood, you get protective. And since we all know South Korea to carry a rather conservative reputation, we adjust our perspective to what fits. So to some of you, even if you are fans of liberated Western artists, the culture difference of Westerners to Kpop comes into play, so it's understandable that you're scandalized.
A good example is SHINee's Lee Taemin. Taemin debuted at fifteen, and when he did, he looked like the ultimate golden boy if I ever did see one. He danced well, he smiled as much as his jaw would allow, and he was pretty. Taemin then grew up, as all humans do, and in that time, filled out nicely. The company noticed and began dressing him in clothes fit for a hustler, and there were a lot of mixed reactions. While some embraced the metamorphosis from "he's so cute" to "asljdshf;dhfdjag", some weren't so happy with their baby performing all scantily clad and sexy no matter how comfortable he was under the scrutiny. And it was as though he was given a manual on how to milk this new image for what it was worth. He started taking his time as he gyrated his hips and stared at the camera. Why was this unacceptable to some of his fans?
Because he was the "baby" of the group. He was the fresh face. He was the same kid with the bowl cut who could do no wrong. And he works in an industry that is very strict on morals and where sex is topic to be discussed for a later later later... and much later time.
Is this true for all male idols that grow up before the eyes of their fans? Kim Jaejoong of JYJ, formerly of DBSK, was never truly crucified for trying his hand at the sexy image. But this was because he was never cute to begin with. Even as they debuted with their song "Hug" an all white video with kitties and milk and flowy curtains, Kim Jaejoong established an image where he was the visual of the group. And because fans were used to this, his transition into the man who can now easily show off his abs in variety shows came as no surprise. But it wasn't a big deal then and it isn't now, since half-naked men was never a topic of negative controversy in Kpop.
Now, here is where the double standard kicks in. The females of Kpop have it worse since the rules for male sexy-acceptable and female sexy-acceptable have some alterations.
Krystal of F(x) once revealed that since she was the member who wore tops that would expose her midriff at certain dance moves, her fans would get worried that she was showing too much skin. While suggestive song lyrics like Abracadabra by the Brown Eyed Girls are noticed, but not called out. One thing that could separate sexy from "too" sexy is the age of the idol. The younger the idol, the more they should lean towards cute.
A video that is said to play between sexy and pornography is Gain's "Bloom" which features her touching herself to the thought of her boyfriend pleasuring her. There is a lot more empowerment to the female audience implied by the details of the masturbation scene as well as the bed scenes, although many of those are overlooked because of its racy quality.
More recently, 2NE1 leader CL was on the hot seat for performing in what seems to be just her underpants. The controversy arose because of her position and her age. Being a leader of K-pop's most respected girl groups and also being quite young, she has some high expectations about the way she projects on stage. Was it fashionable, her panty-style for stages of "Baddest Female" or was it too much? In a promotion cycle filled with a lot of sexy vibes, CL did push the envelope a bit with this style.
There will always be mixed opinions, and there will always be controversy in a world where everyone is watching a concentrated group of young people making a career out of being watched. And I think that this proves that "too" sexy is close to non-existent in Kpop. You can choose to disagree with that, but I'm sure some won't, which further cements the thought that as long as people accept and understand what is being presented to them, whether it's in a long sleeve button up with pigtails or just lingerie, there will be an audience to entice, and "too" sexy will just be another slice of the demographic. Some like it hot, what can I say?