Dal★shabet, “Mr. Bang Bang” MV (2012)
You could certainly look at the ways that female K-pop idols are depicted and see some form of constraint everywhere. But for me, there’s a certain liberating quality in the way they can so easily switch between poses, attitudes, and personas. In the Dal★shabet video for “Mr. Bang Bang,” the girls attempt to rob a bank. They strike poses that convey strength, power, and control, attributes we might code as “masculine.” But they frequently and swiftly shift out of these poses to more feminine ones, with little sense of neurotic contradiction. They can be anything they want and do anything they want, seemingly.
Is freedom the ability to do whatever you want within a range of choices arising out of your inscribed social role, or is freedom the ability to wiggle out of your social role and put another one on whenever you want, as easily as a K-pop idol switching outfits between performances? In this video, the Dal★shabet girls can even slip out of their commitment to robbing a bank. At various points, it seems they aren’t even all that interested in it anymore, as if it was just a transgressive whim. When the cops arrive, they throw a handful of cash into the air, and as it tumbles down, the bonds of capitalism seemingly dissolve, however temporarily. They leave behind the cops and hostages scrambling to pick up the money; in this case, even the cop-robber and robber-hostage relationships are ones that can easily be broken down and reshaped according to the momentary whims of the idol.
Pop music seems to exist outside the strictures of everyday life because it is beholden only to desire and pleasure, which shift and change and, in the process, create new rules and temporary structures. Who’s to say that, in the middle of robbing a bank, you can’t just stop and dance around in cute outfits and cowboy boots? The bank robbery itself comes to stand as a ritual confirming the pop idol’s superiority and transcendence, the way she can do whatever she pleases. So that’s why the Dal★shabet girls pass around money and smile and dance around: it’s all just a performance (it’s not about the money, of course) to prove that they can do it and to prove that they can get everyone else, the cops and the hostages, to assent to the superiority of their anarchic philosophy.