In the wake of EJ Music Entertainment‘s announcement that its new girl group QODES will be releasing a “queer-coded” music video, the agency has come under severe criticism for openly queerbaiting LGBTQ+ K-Pop fans.
Four-member hip-hop girl group QODES debuted on February 1 this year. In a recent statement, EJ Music Entertainment announced that the group’s next music video, “LALALA”, would target the LGBTQ+ K-Pop fandom. According to the agency, the music video is “centered around a queer-coded relationship” and “features acting that is directed to be homosexual.”
In the idol industry, the ‘queer code’ has become a source of contents of its own. Even in the times when genders [and sexualities] did not come as clearly defined as they do now, fanfictions about same-sex relationships between idol group members served as one of the main ways fans consumed the ‘idol culture.’
— EJ Music Entertainment
Shortly after the press release was published, fans began heavily criticizing QODES’s agency for blatant queerbaiting.
As the name suggests, queerbaiting is a term used when content creators try to attract (or “bait”) an LGBTQ+ audience by dropping hints of same-gender relationships that never really happen. TV shows, books, and more can all be guilty of queerbaiting, which usually involves inserting queer subtext or romantic tension between two heterosexual lead characters.
The relationships between Glee‘s Rachel and Quinn, Riverdale‘s Betty and Veronica, and Supergirl‘s Kara and Lena have all been interpreted as queerbait in the past. Typically, creators bait their queer audiences to cash in on what’s known as “pink money”—the buying power of the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, the LGBTQ+ market was estimated at approximately $3.7 trillion USD.
In this case, the material in question is QODES’s upcoming music video for “LALALA”. Members Delta and Lambda portray the aforementioned queer “acting” in a teaser clip uploaded ahead of the full music video’s February 17 release. Since neither of the members spoke on their sexualities and EJ Music Entertainment refers to the on-screen relationship as a “performance“, the music video appears to fall under the definition of queerbaiting.
Fans across the world have expressed serious disappointment that EJ Music Entertainment is reducing the LGBTQ+ sexuality spectrum to nothing more than a concept for financial gain. The company’s admission to using “queer-coding” as a source of content has shocked and offended many, with numerous fans calling the move WLW (women-loving-women) fetishization—reducing queer women to a source of entertainment and titillation for others.
what the fuck is an lgbt concept, this is just fetishization https://t.co/nqKXynPfS0
— jo⁷ (@_SHAD0WS) February 15, 2021
People are furious at how lesbian can be a "concept". But let's be honest, queerbaiting in K-pop is nothing new. https://t.co/rGDG6sCHVW
— Raphael Rashid (@koryodynasty) February 16, 2021
so queerbaiting and fetishization.. i love being reduced to a concept/aesthetic like im not an actual fucking human person 😍 /s https://t.co/OFBe6KKJNE
— chai 🌟 wooyoung bi (@hunbyuls) February 15, 2021
LGBTQ+ fans and allies are also pointing out the inappropriacy of using a lesbian storyline as a marketing ploy when openly gay stars in Korea—such as singer Holland—have faced rampant homophobia in the past, and still do today. QODES’s controversy comes just days after SBS was condemned for cutting out and blurring same-sex kiss scenes in a broadcast of the hit movie Bohemian Rhapsody.
Given the typical response to outward displays of homosexuality in South Korea, some have even suggested that QODES’s music video could be a form of outrage marketing—aiming to anger a homophobic audience in the hope that they spread your content.
I still suffer from PTSD and depression because of the trauma I faced when my friend told the whole school my secret, and I became the victim of homophobic bullying… The people who bullied me are promoting as idols and actors just fine.
— Holland, Kyunghyang News
On top of that, numerous LGBTQ+ K-Pop fans themselves have suffered bullying, ridicule, shame, and mental and physical harm because of their sexualities. In South Korea, WLW and MLM (men-loving-men) couples cannot get married, have legal partnerships, adopt children, seek IVF or surrogacy, or serve in the military. In a 2016 survey, 16% of gay people in the country revealed they were recommended to undergo conversion therapy after coming out.
To use the queer community as a prop to rack up music video views, fans say, is inappropriate, offensive, and ignorant of the past and current struggles the community itself faces.
As of yet, EJ Music Entertainment is yet to issue any follow-up statements on “LALALA”.