Similar to the compendium of the doll motif in k-pop, evident in pictorials, music videos, and concept photos I did a few weeks ago, I have compiled another in the same spirit, based around fairy tales, and by extension, Alice in Wonderland.
Although this particular theme is not used as much as that of the doll, it was frequent enough for me to take notice. As with the doll motif, this naturally begot the question of what exactly is the appeal of this theme for k-pop?
The question does not lend itself to a simple answer, and if anything has more variations and gradations than the doll. Here is not simply the singular ‘doll’, but a multitude of stories with different characters, each treated in a different way, some faithfully, and some changed to suit a purpose. Than of course there is the question of tone. In some, it is clear that they have taken a page from Disney, doing much more cutesy concepts, like Orange Caramel’s music video, “Aing!”. Conversely, others go the opposite way, making it much darker, like in the pictorial done by Brown Eyed Girls for CJ Premium TV Magazine Hello TV, where they portray different females from fairy tales, like Rapunzel. Hence, to trying to come to a conclusion, like with the doll motif, is a fool’s errand, as there is just simply too much that is incongruous from one to another, and thus each should be dealt with individually, rather than collectively.
Even without completely understanding the rationale behind the popularity of these subjects, there are a few interesting observations that can be gleaned from the evidence I compiled. Firstly, unlike the doll motif, where the majority of the sources I collected depicted only women, in this case a few males appear. It is necessary to make a distinction. Like the doll, which is a very gendered object, fairy tales here are treated in the same manner, retaining their strong female association, cultivated in an age of Disney princesses. Yet with Alice in Wonderland, there is evidence of it not only being used for female idols, but also males, like in the case of GD’s music video for “Butterfly”.
Returning to my point about fairy tales being traditionally female, while this holds true for most of the evidence I found, there is also a certain deviation within it that bears mentioning. Although the fairy tales are only used for female idols, there is of course the problem of male characters. Instead of strictly adhering to the traditional ascribed gender of a character though, females take on male roles. For example, in SISTAR’s CF for Solar C, the fairy tales they enacted were those that required a male lead, yet instead of having an actual male do it, one of the members of SISTAR took on the role. Furthermore, the fact that it was someone from SISTAR, and not a male, within the role was not hidden, but emphasized, as the appearance of the member was not played down, and the girls all wore heels.
In addition to not adhering to traditional sexes of characters, there also is some fluidity in the proscribed gender roles of fairy tales. In fairy tales, women are generally placed in one of two roles, the pure maiden, who is often the victim, or the femme fatale, who seduces men to their destruction, and that isn’t what is being portrayed in these. There is little to no evidence to indicate that any of these women or in need of being rescued, or are the victim. Furthermore, there is little in the way of the femme fatale either, with the closest being the evil queen/witch in Davichi’s “Time Please Stop”, and only two even slightly reminiscent: Wonder Girl’s Yenny as the White Queen in the Alice in Wonderland shoot for Vogue, and SNSD’s Yoona in her concept photo for “The Boys”. Instead, it is much more ambiguous, a matter of interpretation, leaving it to the viewer to decide, if they fit in either role.
Addendum - 6/14
I recognize that I did not adequately explain the rationale behind the fluidity of gender in some of these examples, this was not negligence, but rather done purposely. At the time I was writing, I did not feel I had a satisfactory answer, although now after having spent some time mulling it over, I remembered an interesting corollary. Adrian Randolph, an art history professor at Darmouth who writes on Italian Medieval and Reniassance art, wrote an article, “Gendering the Period Eye: Deschi da Parto and Renaissance Visual Culture”. Deschi da parto or deschi, are birth trays that were created to commemorate a child’s birth.
The object itself has little to do with my idea, but rather the Randolph’s argument about the imagery, which often featured scenes in which “gender hierarchies” were reversed. Randolph argues that these while probably simply intended to be humorous, playing on stereotypes, may also have held a very specific message for women. While I do not mean to suggest that this argument can simply be pasted on to the examples issued above, or that this is even the possible meaning. If anything, it means that their existences cannot be explained away so easily, and that the lack of clear gender roles may be more telling than evident on the surface and it was wrong for me to leave it so open-ended as if it was.
Below is a list of all of the evidence I have collected where the fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland motifs are used. I interpreted both ‘fairy very loosely, not limiting myself to Grimm fairy tales, and similarly, left Alice in Wonderland broad, including anything that includes elements related to Alice in Wonderland.
I have identified the exact fairy tale being referenced only if the song/music video/pictorial used one fairy tale; in the case of multiple fairy tales, I simply labeled them under the broad categorization of fairy tales.
Pictorials, Concept Photos, & CFs
2NE1 & YG Family, “Fairytale Gothic”, for Elle Magazine (Video) (Fairy Tale)
Brown Eyed Girls for CJ Premium TV Magazine Hello TV (Fairy Tale)
Dal Shabet for Sn@pp (Alice in Wonderland)
Go Ara for Singles Magazine (Fairy Tale)
Han YeSeul for ‘Elloise’ (Alice in Wonderland)
Park Eun Ji –Alice in Wonderland
Orange Caramel – Second mini album concept photos, Source #2, Source #3
SISTAR Solar C CFs (Fairy Tale)
SNSD – “The Boys” Concept photos (Fairy Tale)
SNSD’s Tiffany and Jessica, “Coco in Wonderland” for Vogue Girl (Video) (Alice in Wonderland)
Wonder Girls for Vogue (Alice in Wonderland)
Various Artists – Lotte Duty Free CF (JP Version) (Fairy Tale)
Music Videos & Songs
Davichi – “Time, Please Stop” (MV) (Snow White)
G-Dragon – “Butterfly” (MV) (Alice in Wonderland)
IU – “Cruel Fairytale” (Song) (Fairy Tale)
IU – “Ugly Duckling” (Song) (Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale)
- What are the Five Hidden Fairy Tales in IU’s Cruel Fairy Tale? (Allkpop)
Orange Caramel – “Aing!” (MV) (Fairy Tale)
Seo in Young – “Cinderella” (MV & Song) (Fairy Tale)
Seungri – “V.V.I.P.” (MV) (Alice in Wonderland)
Sunny Hill – “The Grasshopper Song” (Song & MV) (Aesop’s Fable – “The Ant and the Grasshopper”)
I have made a YouTube playlist of all of the above videos listed above, which I have embedded below:
I’m including this for comparison purposes: 130 Years of Brother Grimms Visual Legacy (Brain Pickings)