The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Tag: metrosexuality (page 1 of 1)

Bulletproof Boys & Snuggle Huddles

Mark Simpson on America’s manly embrace of BTS & Korean metrosexuality

‘K-Pop’ boyband BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, have been getting a lot of love in the US this week with their week-long ‘virtual’ residency on The Tonight Show. Their new single ‘Dynamite’, their first song performed fully in English, also took the No.1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 – the first all-South Korean group to do so.

BTS (방탄소년단) 'Dynamite' Official MV

Pretty boys. Catchy tune. Sweet singing. Colourful clothes – and hair. Cool moves. Seductive smiles. What’s not to love? They look good enough to eat – like all-singing, all-dancing macarons.

And no beards. In fact, they are so smooth that just watching them probably makes your beard fall out. So of course I’m very much in favour of them.

But the beauty of the world’s biggest boy band isn’t skin deep. WWE superstar-turned-actor and all-American beefy pocket battleship, 43-year-old John Cena – who is himself suspiciously clean-shaven – is a fan of the South Korean boyish androgynes and their sensitive message of ‘self-love’, coming out this week on network TV as a proud member of the BTS Army. 

“I got interested in the music then I got interested in what the music stood for… “They advocate self-love, they advocate ‘don’t be afraid of failure’, they advocate that you are enough. They are trying to shatter all the stereotypical difficulties and uncomfortable situations that we go through and they’re catering to an audience that is living that – young people.”

This is quite the endorsement, given Cena’s formative, muscular role in shaping the psyche of millions of American men who grew up with posters of the tough wrestler flexing for battle on their bedroom walls.

The Evolution of John Cena: photos | WWE

Cena isn’t alone in his manly adoration. Doing the rounds on social media is this YouTube video, in which mostly hetero young American men, express – or perform – their fascination with and love for perhaps (it’s a close-run competition) the prettiest BTS member, 24 year-old Jimin and his ‘innocent flirtiness’. 

Jimin snatching men left and right

The way US men seem to have taken BTS and Jimin to their bosoms is quite something, especially given the way the US, almost uniquely in the world, had a chest-beating backlash against metrosexuality a decade or so ago. Then again, BTS are not American. They’re ‘exotic’.

Nevertheless, one of the salient about BTS is that unlike most other boybands, they seem to exist not simply for the titillation and wooing of female fans (though they do lots of that: see below), but are also a boyband for boys/men. 

‘BTS’ stands for Bantang Sonyeondan, Korean for ‘Bulltproof Boy Scouts’. According to band member J-Hope, the name signifies the band’s desire to ‘block out stereotypes, criticisms, and expectations that target adolescents like bullets.’ 

A feature in Metro UK a couple of years ago reported how BTS and K-pop are attracting fanboys – who claim that K-pop has ‘helped them understand themselves, and the concept of masculinity, far better’.

The well-kept, flagrant-fragrant metrosexuality of K-pop in general and BTS in particular has been documented by others:

The overall visual of K-pop is very appealing – a man, taking care of himself: having clean skin, being dressed well, using actual cosmetic products… that Metrosexual vibe… I know it’s very primal and many people say that a guy should be having a hairy chest and all of those things that make him look tough. Taking care of yourself is a great effort and a compliment for those around you.

The Korea Herald last year wrote about the ‘metrosexual image’ of K-pop, explaining it in terms of contemporary ‘genderless’ fashion brand strategy:

“With the genderless trend hitting the fashion industry, brands are rolling out lines of apparel that are not limited to a specific gender,” a fashion industry source told Kpop Herald on condition of anonymity. “Against this nonbinary trend, K-pop male idols’ aesthetic, metrosexual image matches well with what luxury brands are aiming for. They can easily pull off clothes that are sometimes too bold or colorful, or outfits largely considered womenswear with ease, while exuding edginess.”

For what it’s worth, metrodaddy agrees that BTS and K-pop are East Asian expressions of metrosexuality – using consumerism and aesthetics to widen the meaning of masculinity and nick gender styles, pleasures and feelings previously associated with femininity and/or stigmatised homosexuality.

It should be pointed out here however that for all it’s cutting-edge consumer goods success – TV and smartphone giant Samsung is based there – South Korea is mostly conservative and religious and was under military rule until the 1990s. Military service is still compulsory for males – where homosexuality is illegal.

And although homosexuality is no longer illegal for civilians, attitudes tend to be mostly negative. There are few out performers in South Korea – despite the way that male K-pop idols regularly play-act homoerotic romance on stage. (BTS are particularly known for their snuggling.)

Or perhaps because they regularly play-act homoerotic romance. K-pop’s heavy flirtation with same-sex romance is almost predicated on the official disavowal that they couldn’t actually be gay or bisexual. The homoflirtation is anyway mostly for the female fans – who in Korea, as in many other parts of the world including of course the UK, enjoy creating homoerotic fantasies about their male idols.

K-pop actively encourages and panders to ‘shipping’ narratives – far more than the UK’s One Direction did. But again, those fantasies are typically based on two otherwise heterosexual young men falling in love with one another. If they were actually, openly gay then that would be about their sexuality, their needs – not their fans’. Likewise, K-pop idols are not supposed to get married and face a bitter backlash if they do. The homoflirtation of K-pop is a way of staying faithful to the fans.

But the cultural effect of K-pop is nevertheless to widen the meanings of masculinity – and to provide more breathing space (and cover) for those who feel oppressed by traditional expectations, as well as succour to sensitive wrestlers like John Cena. Perhaps even representing a kind of masculine liberation – albeity paradoxically, given the almost feudal relationship of K-pop idols to their powerful labels. And of course that of their fans and the rest of us to consumerism.

Perhaps that’s the significance of the David Bowie posters (behind and on the left) in the attic bedroom of the milk-drinking chap at the start of video for ‘Dynamite’. Though I wonder whether they shouldn’t have been posters of the non-singing, High Street David Bowie, David Beckham – who in his metrosexy prime had a big impact in Asia, becoming the most recognised sportsman there.

BTS are mostly, and quite intensely it seems to me, about what I have always insisted was at the self-regarding heart of metrosexuality and the sensual revolution it represents. Not ‘being in touch with your feminine side’, or having facials or using product, or even ‘loving yourself’ – but rather, the male desire to be desired.

Every member of BTS radiates it, but it’s there most powerfully of course in the beatific Jimin – and the thousand seductive ways he looks and smiles into the camera. Commanding your longing.

And BTW, in case you think K-pop slightly coy about sex, it also has its oiled-up spornosexual exponents, such as 2PM:

Special thanks to Carl Rohde for nagging me to write about K-pop

Further reading:

I Can. I Will. Be Bluetiful.

James Dean, the lost bisexual love-object of the 1950s, famously denied being homosexual, but explained that he ‘didn’t want to go through life with one hand tied behind his back.’

Probably it’s just because I have a weak spot for Lee Ryan, the cheeky blue-eyed Essex boy who sings in a dreamy falsetto – and I know this makes me deeply unhip – but I rather like Blue’s ‘I Can’, the UK’s entry for next week’s Eurovision Song Contest. I hear in it a kind of metrosexual anthem, about men expressing things and having experiences that they really weren’t supposed to until recently.

Untying that hand – and waving it around a lot in time to the music.

 

I can

I will

I know

I can untie these hands

Boybands played an important role in the spread of metrosexuality, with Take That most famously evangelising the male desire to be desired in the 1990s, turning a generation on to the charms of pierced nipples, leather harnesses and eager male sex-objectification. It seems none of Take That were, despite the many rumours, gay. But Take That as a band were very gay indeed. Their gay manager took the gay male love of the male body and sold it to millions of teen girls – and boys. All that baby oil helped loosen up ideas about masculinity.

London crooners Blue were in many ways the slightly more boring Noughties successor to the tarty Manc lads. Duncan James famously came out as bisexual a couple of years back, making him one of a very small club of out celeb bisexual males (so small I can’t think of any others off the top of my head).

But it’s not as if the others, especially Lee, are acting particularly hetero in this video for ‘I Can’. At the beginning Lee appears to be shagging Duncan from behind, though never losing eye-contact with the camera of course. And in fact a year ago he admitted/boasted to having had MMF threesomes with Duncan, whom he ‘loves to bits’.

When I first began writing about the subject in 1994 I talked about metrosexuality being the male compliment of female bi-curiousness (then called ‘lesbian chic), but quickly shut up about it when I realised no one wanted to hear that. And while metrosexuality did in some ways culturally stand in for male bi-curiousness – it’s his jeans not his ass I fancy – by encouraging an awareness of male beauty and attractiveness amongst men in general it ended up making the expression of male bisexuality/bi-curiousness much easier. ‘I can’.

Blue recently did a homoerotic, Du Stade type nude shoot for Attitude magazine (with Lee looking by far the most saucy), and have promised another one if they win Eurovision. Those hands have been untied already.

So much so that when the foxy ladies join them at the end of the video, and the heavens open, suggesting perhaps some kind of pan-sexual gang-bang, they don’t really convince as objects of the camera’s gaze – next to the full-wattage metrosexiness of Blue.

 

POSTSCRIPT

I’m obviously a bit slow this week. It’s only finally dawned on me what’s going on with the lady dancers in the video.

They’re Blue’s ‘feminine side’. All tied up in bondage at the start of the video they end up ‘untied’ and freely mingling/merging moistly with the boys.

Tarty Armani’s Latest Sporno Spunk

Paolo Rumi in Milano sends this snap of Armani’s latest sporno star, tennis player Rafael Nadal, kindly offering his giant but pertly athletic arse to passers by in Armani’s home town.

In the early Naughties I described the exhibitionism of metrosexuality as ‘literally asking to be fucked’. I’m sure people thought I was being absurd and vulgar again. I was, of course.  But I was also on the money (shot).

The Daily Mail tastefully describes this saucy image of the world’s No.1 tennis player half-naked, bent over and looking imploringly at the camera over his shoulder as ‘confident’. Which is reassuringly masculine sounding enough for their readers I suppose. While perhaps implying ‘spunky’.

But let’s not pretend that this image is summed up by any other word other than ‘coquettish‘. Coquettish with knobs on. And in. It could be an image straight out of a Dieux du Stade calendar (minus the jeans).

It isn’t just the fact that a half-naked Rafael is apparently offering himself on a prop from a porno movie set (Builders’ Big Erections). It’s the smoothly inviting, defenceless musculature of his prone shoulders and lats. And the small of his back before the tempting swelling bubble of his butt filling out the product so alluringly. Along with that ‘come on big boy’ expression on his flirty face – which added all together shouts out: WANT ME!

As with much of sporno, the dynamic of the image is the deliberate provocation of an athlete who lives by ‘masculine’ ‘activity’ flaunting his flagrant ‘feminine’ ‘passivity’ to the world. And in case anyone refuses to get the message, Armani are, in this campaign, simultaneously running an image of a slightly boyish looking tattooed Megan Fox in the same pose. Lovely as it is, it doesn’t have quite the same charge as the Nadal snap, and in fact seems to have been designed to merely draw more attention to the tartiness of Nadal’s pose.

Armani5

Male tartiness, once considered perverse and unnatural is a very big very global business these days. Or as Paolo put it in his email to me with the pic attached of Rafael spread all over the wall in Milano: ‘the homosexualization of heterosexuality is complete’.