My first interaction with Kpop (or Korean pop music) came with a girl group known as f(x), which left me somewhat unimpressed. But, to please a friend, who was (and is) obsessed with Kpop, I decided to look into her recommendation of listening to this group, 2ne1. I found some of their more popular, electric, auto-tuned hits before stumbling upon this gem, “Ugly.” And I fell in love. (And subsequently my own obsession with Kpop started.)
2ne1, pronounced twenty-one, is a Korean girl group consisting of four members: CL, Minzy, Dara, and Bom. They hit the music scene with their single “Fire”. They are under contract with the YG Entertainment company, which states that the group “used their unique style and sound to poise themselves as a girl group different from the rest. Their songs reflect the members’ independence and confidence as women…providing the anthems for females of all ages.” 2ne1 is one of the most popular Kpop groups not only in South Korea, but around the world. They have even collaborated with the Black-Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, among other Western celebrities. This song, “Ugly” is featured on their 2011 EP (extended play) album, the cover of which features mini cartoon heads of the members and crossed bones.
2ne1 is different from other Korean girl groups, which tend to alternate between being overly sexy or adorably cute and girly. 2ne1, on the other hand, has successfully stayed away from both of those tropes. Instead, they show themselves as both edgy and classy. This is reflected in their fashion and appearance too, which strays from the conventional look. Unfortunately, because of their difference, the members have been called ugly, even by their own director (shame on him).
“Ugly” is sung in Korean with the chorus in English. In “Ugly,” the members reflect upon their (apparent) ugliness, while also hinting at the ugliness of society, “2NE1 is just like YG Entertainment’s idea of a powerful idol group: they change, develop, and always try new things. This is what UGLY represents. In a world where “beautiful is better”, and the mentality is to always stay thin and thinner, 2NE1 stands out. Their song is an anthem to the girls who see stick-thin idols who refuse to show their flaws at all costs. 2NE1 has flaws and that’s OK. We have flaws, too.”
There is increasing pressure for girls to fit society’s ideal of beauty; an ideal that transcends all cultural and racial boundaries. For in all cultures, the ideal beauty shares these three traits: she is tall, she is thin, and she is fair-skinned (or as fair-skinned as possible). It is an ideal constantly propagated by all media and girls who do not fit this ideal are looked down upon- it is wrong to be different and to deviate from this ideal.
And “Ugly” reflects this, also giving implications of the consequences of being “ugly.” One is that the person feels ugly and angry inside:
I’m getting angry again, why can’t I ever be perfect
I simply put the blame on my ugly appearance in this broken mirror
Don’t look at me, I hate this feeling right now
I want to hide away somewhere, I want to escape
This world is full of lies”
Problems arise from appearance and these problems create shame and anger, causing the person to want to hide away from the world. As a result, the second consequence comes into being:
I’m trying to sing but
No one is listening
I’m not pretty, I’m not beautiful
[Chorus and Verses 10-12]
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 cuz I know I’m ugly
I’m all alone x 2
There is no such thing as warmth
There is no one by my side
I’m all alone x 2
I’m always alone
There’s no such thing as warmth
Next to my side, there’s not even anyone to embrace me”
Because the person is considered ugly, she is all alone. Regardless of her other talents (singing, etc.), no one cares because she is not beautiful. Thus, she is ignored and no one wants her. She must either fit in (as most South Koreans, even non-celebrities, notoriously do via plastic surgery and skin bleaching) or accept that she is ugly. There is no in-between.
It is pretty depressing stuff and unfortunately true. What is one thing we always talk about when we discuss women? Their looks. No matter how much talent, or intelligence, or whatever a woman has, it all comes down to her looks and whether she fits the ideal or not. And if she doesn’t, well, then, no one care about her other traits. A woman could be the most intelligent person in the world, or the best writer, or singer, etc, but if she is not pretty, none of it matters. Society defines women by their looks, and if they do not fit the mold, then they degrade her.
Yet, even though the lyrics and meaning are depressing, the melody of the song is ironically upbeat and fast-paced, which I feel is appropriate. Rather than being a sad, heartbreaking complaint about their ugliness, the song has a triumphant tone. It’s almost as if the members were saying “Yeah maybe I am ugly, but you know what? F— you!”
I always feel better after listening to this song. I feel as though I could conquer the world! I’ve always struggled with accepting my appearance, especially because I don’t fit society’s ideals and never will. But this song lifts my spirits up so much, that sometimes I forget that these girls are singing about how “ugly” they are! No matter what, society is always going to judge women for their looks. But that shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goal or showcasing your talent, as these girls have done and continue to do despite all the haters. And I will do the same too. I might be “ugly” but my looks aren’t the only thing that define me; I have many more talents, ones that make me “beautiful.”