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(G)I-DLE has some asking can a song be sexy and send a message?

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Girl group (G)I-DLE's concept image for "Nxde" (2022) [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]
Girl group (G)I-DLE’s concept image for “Nxde” (2022) [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]

“Yes I’m nude […] I was born nude, The pervert is you.”

This is the chorus of girl group (G)I-DLE’s chart-topping hit “Nxde,” released on Oct. 17. The dance number proclaims that the members are comfortable in their bodies without needing external validation; if others view them with an objectifying gaze, the shame is on them.

The powerful message and equally striking visual presentation resonated with many listeners, as shown by the song’s success on the charts as well as among the general public. The Marilyn Monroe-inspired theme, which combines retro Hollywood and pin-up elements, reinterprets Monroe as a misunderstood talent who was only judged for her outward appearance.

Young female fans have especially given positive reviews for “Nxde,” citing its refreshing message of empowerment against unwanted sexualization. Soyeon, the leader and producer of (G)I-DLE, has been widely praised as a genius for creating the girl group’s music and concepts. Such message or visual presentation would indeed have been unimaginable a few years ago, when female K-pop idols were expected to portray a conventionally innocent and submissive image.

A scene from a dance performance video for "Nxde" [SCREEN CAPTURE]
A scene from a dance performance video for “Nxde” [SCREEN CAPTURE]

However, the hit dance number is not without criticism. The skeptical feedback stems from the fact that a long-standing problem in the K-pop industry has been the sexualization of women — adult women and underage girls alike — often by dressing them in revealing clothing or assigning suggestive choreography.

Although now adopted as a power anthem by female listeners, in terms of those two aspects, “Nxde” may seem not too different from the sensual concepts many K-pop girl groups have been doing.

“What is the point of singing about ‘the real me’ while dancing in lingerie?” asks a recent online post that sparked a heated discussion among netizens.

Some acknowledge that bringing the topic of sexualization to the surface is a meaningful first step in K-pop. However, they add that “Nxde” has taken the form of a provocative visual presentation. While the song proclaims women’s freedom to dress and behave how they want, skeptics say it fails to consider why revealing clothes are mostly worn by women in society. In that case, they question, how truly “free” are women’s revealing fashion choices?

(G)I-DLE discusses its latest lead track "Nxde" during a press event on Oct. 17. [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]
(G)I-DLE discusses its latest lead track “Nxde” during a press event on Oct. 17. [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]

Supporters of the song rebut that such criticism only proves the message of the song; that “Nxde” precisely intends to elicit such reactions of shock. Protesting against unwanted objectification by others is the main point, they argue, and highlight the fact that Soyeon herself selected the concept. Nonetheless, opinions are divided on whether presenting oneself in a sexualized manner can be just as degrading.

“Marilyn Monroe’s image was simply consumed as a blonde bombshell, bimbo, or sex symbol,” Soyeon said when explaining the Monroe-inspired aesthetics during a press conference last month. “But in real life, she was deeply interested in philosophy and was an avid reader. People face different kinds of prejudices toward their outward appearance, depending on the time period. We feel like we’re going through a similar experience as celebrities.”

She also addressed there that had been talks within the girl group’s agency, Cube Entertainment, in regards to concerns that the song was provocative.

 A scene from a dance performance video for "Nxde" [SCREEN CAPTURE]
A scene from a dance performance video for “Nxde” [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“[The agency] was against this being the lead track,” Soyeon said. “But when they called it suggestive, it actually made me want to go ahead with it more. I didn’t think of the word ‘nude’ as something erotic; it’s just the way we are since we are all born nude. I wanted to show that it’s not a suggestive word.”

“[The criticism] focusing on the outfits seems a little one-dimensional to me,” said music critic Park Hee-a. “I believe it should take into account the song’s entire context of performance and message […] But it is also understandable that some are expressing discomfort about (G)I-DLE incorporating pin-up elements, or asking if revealing fashion was really necessary, even if it was part of the concept.”

Nonetheless, Park believes that the song has had a meaningful impact on the public as well as the current K-pop scene.

(G)I-DLE's concept image for "Nxde" [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]
(G)I-DLE’s concept image for “Nxde” [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]

“’Nxde’ visually expressed its message in an explicit way,” she said. “The song title and the teasers were perhaps intentionally a bit misleading to come across as simply suggestive. But it turned out to break the expectations people have of girl groups, and the fashion was sort of a device for the plot twist. It also makes a big difference that Soyeon and the members actually decided to take on such presentation, rather than it simply being given to them.”

BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr]