Fierce Females: Hypersexualization in Taiwanese Mandopop Music Videos

Introduction:

 

Mandopop is influential in the lives of many people inside and out the Sinosphere, Mandopop music videos are particularly popular among young adults in Taiwan.  There is a lot of consideration that goes in to making each MV- the storyboard, directing, producing, lighting, songwriting acting, editing, and marketing are some of the elements needed to make a hit music video. The images created in the music video can reflect a singer’s appearance in the public, and therefore be influential to men and women in Taiwan[1]. With this paper, I want to investigate how females in these music videos are portrayed, with a focus on the sexualization of female singers. My research question is, “How are Taiwanese women hyper-sexualized in Mandopop music videos?” I will look at two popular female singers, Jolin Tsai and Elva Hsiao as cases for my research. My hypothesis is that due to a historically patriarchal society, women have been marginalized, thus bringing gender inequality dynamics to the present day. Also, deeply rooted Confucian societies like China and Taiwan are often mentioned as a factor of gender discrimination in political and economic sectors[2]. Also, females such as Jolin Tsai and Elva Hsiao have been hyper-sexualized in part because of their ethnicity. As minorities to Han Chinese, both females personify the sexualized “other,” while still being considered Chinese[3]. Both of these aspects are important to understanding what ways women are socialized in Taiwan in terms of beauty norms, in addition to the “right and wrong ways” to perform as a female in society.

For the purpose of this study, I define hyper-sexualization as women being depicted or treated as sexual objects. It also includes sexuality that is inappropriately imposed on women through media, marketing or products directed at them that encourages them to act in adult sexual ways[4].

 

“Fierce Female” Introductions:

Jolin Tsai was born on September 15th, 1980 in Taipei County, Taiwan. She is known as Asia’s Dancing Queen because of her extensive dance background in pole dancing, ribbon dancing, and gymnastic movements[5]. She is also a singer, actress, designer, author, and model. She began her career at 18 by singing in a MTV competition. Her biggest era of influence was between 2002 and 2006 when she released her fifth, sixth, and seventh albums, along with a greatest hits CD. From 2006-2009, Jolin’s popularity soared. She began her Dancing Forever World Tour, performing in Asia, Australia and North America. One of the most shocking events of her tour included the other women I chose to study- Elva Hsiao. The women shared a kiss on stage.

Jolin Tsai. Image from images4.wikia.nocookie.net.

In 2007, Tsai won the Most Favorite Female Artist and Best Mandarin Female Singer at the 18th Golden Melody awards[6]. However, this drew much criticism from the industry that thought her voice was sub-par compared to her nominee counterparts[7]. Later in 2007, Tsai released one of the MV’s this paper is analyzing- Agent J. The music video is a three part series, and about 70 minutes long. It was produced in France, London and Bangkok. For this music video, Tsai learned two new forms of dance: aerial silk dancing and pole dancing. It became the number one best seller for two weeks, selling 65% of all Mandarin album sales in Taiwan[8].

Currently, Jolin Tsai is working on her 13th album, which is set to release in 2014. She is the richest singer in Taiwan, earning an average of US $64,721 per day. She provides an excellent case study for the research question because she has a strong public image, is looked upon as a role model for her beauty[9], and has a long history of hit music videos.

Elva Hsiao was born on August 24th, 1979 in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. She is a popular Mandopop singer who has a contract with Sony Music Entertainment[10]. Hsiao also has done TV commercials, movies and TV series acting. She began her education at in Vancouver, British Columbia and attended the New Talent Singing Awards Vancouver Audition. She was not a finalist, but had a chance to improve her English so it is fluent in written and spoken forms. Since then, Elva has released thirteen Chinese CD’s and one English album. She has won numerous awards for Song of the Year, Best Singer Dancer. Best Female Singer and Best Asia Singer[11].

All has not been well for the singer, however. When she signed with Warner Music Taiwan, the company was facing issues of executives resigning and a major change of staff members. Her much anticipated record was delayed from September to December. To many disappointed fans, Warner eventually announced the album would be indefinitely put on hold. The disappointed fans took matters into their own hands, and spammed the forums of Warner Music, causing the website to shut down for a week[12]. The next song didn’t debut until the next June.

Elva Hsiao. Image from carteblanche-x.com.

Currently, Elva Hsiao is promoting her self-created fashion line[13]. She is also a suitable representation for the research because she has a long history of influence in Taiwan, dating back to 2001. She is often in Taiwanese media for mobile phones, jewelry, make-up and brands such as De Beers, Sprite and Pantene. Her public image is absorbed by many people, inadvertently creating standards for female norms in Taiwanese society. One such reinforced standard of beauty that Elva Hsiao has admitted to is receiving double-eyelid surgery. This gives the look of a more Western eye set, as well as bigger eyes. It is a common procedure in East Asia, with many people believing that it will give them better job prospects and a higher standard of living[14].

 

Case Studies:

The first music video to be analyzed is Agent J, by Jolin Tsai. The plotline of this music video is that Tsai is an assassin who lost all her memories. The first kill the viewer sees is her undercover as a stripper. She kills five men with knives by throwing while performing. After, we see her miss an attempt to kill a man, who is later revealed to her a past lover. She eludes him and continues on to her next kill is in the subway. Her ex-lover continues to look for her. We find that her last target is her ex. The music video ends ambiguously- we see her point the gun at him, but never hear a bullet being shot[15].

In this music video, Tsai wears three different outfits. Her main outfit during her assassin scenes includes over the knee, black leather boots, leather shorts, and a tight black, mid-driff bearing top. Her second outfits, worn during her stripper scene, consists of a small red skirt and a red bandeau top. Much skin is exposed during this scene. Her last outfit goes with a rope dance scene, where she wears leather pants and a white and black tube top. Her hair in the video is either long or shoulder length, never shot. The makeup is also minimal, consisting of mascara, skin tone glittery eye shadow and lip-gloss. In this video, Tsai embodies her reputation of lamei.

The second video used a case study of Tsai’s is one of her more recent hits, Beast. It was produced in 2012, and put online March 13, 2013[16]. The lyrics tell the story of a girl who is subordinate to her boyfriend, and how the girl shouldn’t stay in the relationship. In this music video, Jolin is alone, no background dancers at all. She is portraying an alien in a future world. She rises up out of red glitter to begin the music video. She also uses pole dancing in the music video. Her outfits are again, very sexual in their nature. One outfit is covered in glitter. It is a red tube top, heels, cape, short shorts, and tall boots. Her second outfit is a red leather boy outfit, very tight and leaving nothing to the imagination. Tsai’s makeup was very heavy, including a red mask around eyes, hairpiece, red lipstick, fake eyelashes and red lip-gloss.

Elva Hsiao’s Biao Bai is about a girl who wants to tell a boy she that she likes him, but is too afraid and shy to reveal any true feelings. The lyrics include sayings like, “I really want to confess my love to you,” “I’m usually not afraid to say what I want, but when I’m by your die, I suddenly feel really shy,” and “I want to be your girl, I’ve always wanted to ask you[17].” The music video is of Elva going out to the club with friends, who are white females. She ends up talking to a male who she thinks is cute. She takes him home, only to be a tease and not kiss him. A majority of the video is of Elva dancing with background dancers.

In this video, Hsiao had five different outfits. One she wore was white dress with “flirty” bottom, over the knee socks. Her second outfit was a pair of black overalls with front cut out, white top exposing mid driff. Her third outfit was a vertical striped grey/black/white sparkly dress with tights and heels. Her fourth outfit was a short white skirt, tank top with scarf. Her fifth and final outfit was a red skirt with red vest, black bra and leather leggings with tall black boots. Her make-up was minimal, nothing more than eye makeup, foundation, and lip-gloss.

Elva Hsiao’s other music video for this research is Miss Chic. The lyrics allude to a situation where she wants her crush to admit that he likes her, while she tells the world that she does like him, “我 喜歡 你。“  Elva appears to be dominant in the lyrics, telling her love “Say you love me, don’t be quiet about it,” and “Don’t stifle your emotions.” The scenes of the music video were a mixture of dancing and a storyline of Elva kicking butt.  “Saving my love,” was her mission in the music video. The video was very futuristic and used a lot of technology such as holograms and lasers.

The music video consisted of two outfits. The first was a pair of black pants, with a long sleeve top with square cut outs on the arms and shoulder area. The second outfit was a striped dress with tights, heels, a futuristic scarf, and a pair of gloves that go past the elbow, that also consisted of cut outs.  Her makeup was very heavy in this music video. She wore fake eyelashes, eyebrow pencil, white and grey eye shadow, nude lip-gloss, and a light foundation. Her hair was short, almost to her chin, with blunt bangs just above her eyes.

From all four of these music videos, one can ascertain how female Mandopop stars dress, what they sing about, and whom they choose to dance with them. In these four cases, Jolin Tsai and Elva Hsiao both wore clothes that objectified their body, and danced in provocative ways. Because of their popularity, it is also important to point out how these behaviors accepted by a wider population. Seeing women in little clothing in music videos is the norm for these celebrities, making a more natural cultural discrimination against women.

 

Relationship with ASIAN 280:

The sexualization of women is not uncommon throughout the world. We see this phenomenon in many industrial and postindustrial societies today. China in particular has a strong history of portraying minority women as erotic, and sensual[18]. Gladney claims that these portrayals do not apply to Han (the ethnic majority in China) women, “who are generally represented as covered, conservative, and ‘civilized’ in most state populations.”

As a majority group, Han Chinese have the privilege to “Other” groups who they deem to be minority or lesser status on a personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural level. To “other” a group is to categorize people based on certain physical and biological characteristics and seeing one group as superior to all the others[19].  Physical features such as color of skin, eyes, shape of nose, shape of lips, type of hair and size of skulls are a few signifiers that can make a person seem different in a society[20]. An example that demonstrates this from our Unit Two is a folkloric dance show Mengbalanaxi. This is a popular dance by the Dai minority. It features Dai women with provocative smiles, while recreating their river-bathing custom. From the reading, “The Folkloric, the Spectacular, and the Institutionalized,” we learned how women’s bodies of ethnic minorities allure especially men of Han ethnicity because they fulfill the role of an eroticized Other. We also learned that not only do they fulfill this role, but are made deliberately sensual to sustain appeal, thus perpetrating Otherness. Also, we discussed how women were made to be more commercialized, to be able to appeal to a wider audience. In this way, the ethnic minorities are commoditized, losing agency as a human being.

This was not the last time in class we learned about ethnic minority women being sexualized. In Unit three, we watched the 2012 Fourth Minorities Art Festival of China. There was one act that featured women in short shorts, something very curious to me personally because I had not seen such clothing in any of the other acts. It also didn’t seem normal because of knowing the more conservation background of Chinese families. Again, the idea of women as objects to look at and minorities fulfilling the role of  “Other” are prominent with this in class example.

Unit Five’s content can also strongly relate to the topic of Taiwanese women in Mandopop because the unit was based on popular culture. We learned about the themes of Mandopop such as the tenderness of men, using the music as personal expression, and how the music can transcend place and identity by its ability to influence the entire Sinosphere. We also read about representation of women in Mandopop, which was how I originally was interested in the research topic. From the Marc Moskowitz reading, we learned that male and female characteristics are traditional and conservative. Men are portrayed as hard-hearted, generous, and gentle. Women are portrayed as always following a man’s lead, placing their needs as secondary to men’s, having illogical emotions, and needing to endure hardships. The books goes as far as to say that women are being molded by men, who write the songs, for male pleasure. From the case studies above, one can see the connection to Moskowitz’s ideas. Jolin Tsai and Elva Hsiao sing about their love lives, enduring feelings of resistance from men, disappointment of a current love, and represent many of his other ideas of representation.

While watching Jay Chou’s World Era Tour, I was shocked by the role of back-up dancers. This is where I saw the most gender sexualization in the class, mostly of the women dancers. About 10 minutes in, Jay Chou performed “Snake Dance,” a duet with Lara from Nan Quan Mama. The outfits of the females were skimpy at best, and the dancing was provocative. Having a women dance around Jay showed him in a very dominant role, which reminded me of Moskowitz’s point to as men being able to do what they want for their own reasons, while the women are simply waiting for the man’s decision, in this case, Jay Chou. The small outfits did not stop there- Hip-Hop Stewardess, Time Machine, and Mr. Magic all had women in small outfits with tall heels, while the men remained covered from head to toe with suits.

Conclusion:

      The question of how women continue to be hyper sexualized in Taiwanese music videos is shaped through representations of ideal beauty, female cultural norms, and historic gender dynamics. It can be further studied by examining other variables that relate to both the cause and effect of media imageries. For future studies, I recommend examining other areas of media representation such as movies, commercials, newspapers, online forums, and magazines to evaluate the sexualization of females. These mediums can help future researchers better determine qualitative sociological significance and gain new insights for discussions on media images in East Asian societies.

 

 

Endnotes:


[1] Moskowitz, M. L. 2010. Cries of joy, songs of sorrow: Chinese pop music and its cultural connotations. Pg. 81.

 

[2] Kyung, Lee Jae and Gyong Park Hye. 2011. Measures of women’s status and gender inequality in Asia: Issues and challenges. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies 17(2). Pg. 55.

 

[3] Moskowitz, pg. 82.

 

[4] 2012. Hypersexualization of young girls: Why should we care? Canadian Women’s Health Network.

 

[5] Jolin Tsai. Wikipedia. Accessed 12/13/2013.

 

[6] See Endnote #5.

 

[7] See Endnote #5.

 

[8] See Endnote #5.

 

[9] Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai. (2013.) “There Are No Ugly Women, Only Lazy Ones”: Taiwanese Women’s Social Comparison with Mediated Beauty Images.” Advertising & Society Review 13.4. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

 

[10] Elva Hsiao. Wikipedia. Accessed 12/12/2013.

 

[11] See Endnote #8.

 

[12] See Endnote #8.

 

[13] Elva Hsiao Prays for Jacky Chu. Asian Pop News. 2/14/2013.

 

[14] East Asian Blepharoplasty. Wikipedia. Accessed 12/16/2013.

 

[17] Lyrics, Biao Bai. http://www.jpopasia.com/lyrics/15053/. Accessed 12/16/13.

 

[18] Gladney, Dru. 1994. Representing nationality in China: Refiguring majority/minority identities. The Journal of Asian Studies, pg. 104.

 

[19] Ghanbarinajjar, Mohammarea. 2013. Race as a cause for discrimination and “othering”, Bernard malamud’s the tenants a case study.” English Langauge and Literature Studies, (3)2, pg. 1-8.

 

[20] See Endnote # 16.