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What do you know about ‘aegyo’?

Aegyo is a key element of K-pop idols’ popularity

A screenshot shows actor Cha Eun-woo presenting his aegyo on tvN drama “True Beauty.” (tvN)
A screenshot shows actor Cha Eun-woo presenting his aegyo on tvN drama “True Beauty.” (tvN)

The inclusion of “aegyo” among 26 Korean words and phrases added to the Oxford English Dictionary in October brought renewed attention to the word.

According to the OED, aegyo is used to describe the “charm and cuteness, especially of a sort considered characteristic of Korean popular culture.”

It means behavior regarded as cute, charming or adorable as well.

The word is commonly used in association with adorable babies or cute pets.

Traditionally, aegyo is associated with women making cute gestures, speaking in high pitched voices and using the third person, but the word has taken on a new meaning as a wider range of television celebrities are showcasing their aegyo, regardless of their gender or age.

Many talk show and variety programs, including MBC Every 1’s “Weekly Idol,” even have dedicated segments during which celebrities can freely demonstrate their aegyo, hoping to charm viewers.

“Ottoke Song,” (unofficial translation) created to showcase aegyo, is widely used by television celebrities when asked to show aegyo to fans.
A screenshot shows K-pop girl group Aespa perform the “Ottoke Song” on MBC program “Weekly Idol” (MBC)
A screenshot shows K-pop girl group Aespa perform the “Ottoke Song” on MBC program “Weekly Idol” (MBC)

Because the music naturally allows even veteran actors and artists, who typically have strong personalities and aloof manners, to show off their charming sides, it has become part of regular many programs‘ music repertoire.

While actor Cha Sun-woo and singer Key of Shinee showed off their versions of “Ottoke Song” in a recent online fan meeting and radio program, respectively, actor Cha Eun-woo performed the song in the tvN drama “True Beauty” to win the female character’s heart.

As the impact of aegyo became more pronounced, making special gestures, like a finger heart, during an interview, press conference and award ceremonies became part of a routine for the Korean celebrities.

Aegyo provides a chance for entertainers to close the distance and build an intimate relationship with their fans, while keeping their true personalities – and the risks associated with revealing too much -- mostly hidden from the public.

In K-pop, most idols perform aegyo for their fans as a way of selling intimacy and maintaining close relationship with them.

In the ever-growing K-pop market, 62 K-pop idol groups made their debut this year, bringing to total 150 new bands in the last three years. With competition like that, only a few can succeed.

And amazing vocals, addictive hit songs and spectacular dance moves aside, aegyo has become another necessary element for an idol group to survive the fierce competition.
A screenshot shows Hyeri on the 2014 MBC program “Real Man,” which catapulted the singer to instant stardom. (MBC)
A screenshot shows Hyeri on the 2014 MBC program “Real Man,” which catapulted the singer to instant stardom. (MBC)

After her debut as a member of K-pop girl group Girl’s Day, Hyeri rose to instant stardom after showing her aegyo on MBC’s hit reality show “Real Man,” a program that follows the life celebrities as they join the army as new conscripts, in 2014.

Star director Shin Won-ho later revealed that he decided to cast Hyeri for Deok-sun’s role in tvN’s hit series “Reply 1988” after watching the singer’s aegyo on full display in variety shows such as “Real Man.”

In “Reply 1988,” Hyeri’s first drama, she came to represent the series as a lead character.

“Cheer Up,” Twice’s breakthrough song, became a national sensation in 2016, bringing the band multiple awards and trophies.
A screenshot shows Sana of Twice talking about her famous line in “Cheer Up” on the MBC talk show “Radio Star.” (MBC)
A screenshot shows Sana of Twice talking about her famous line in “Cheer Up” on the MBC talk show “Radio Star.” (MBC)

The addictive chorus played a huge role in the song’s success, but the public recognition of Twice skyrocketed as Sana made countless media appearances, singing her famous line in the song, “shy shy shy.”

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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