Aegyo (Hangul: 애교; Hanja: 愛嬌) in Korean refers to a cute display of affection often expressed including but not limited to through a cute/baby voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Aegyo literally means behaving in a flirtatious, coquette-ish manner and it is commonly expected for both male and female k-pop idols to behave this way. However, it is not uncommon for everyday people to behave in such a way, and is widely used as an expression of affection to loved ones, families, and friends. Aegyo can also display closeness with others, which can possibly bring people together. The word is often translated as cuteness in English and can be compared to the Japanese concept of kawaii or to the Japanese equivalent, aikyou (愛嬌, あいきょう).
Aegyo plays a huge role in South Korean popular culture, especially in idol girl groups. The higher-registered girl voice popular in girl groups in Korea has been dominant since the first successful female k-pop group S.E.S. emerged in 1997. This style has grown in popularity since then. A famous example of that exaggerated cuteness that is aegyo is the Girls' Generation music video for "Gee", which features much use of hands pointing at, touching and framing the face when showing the girls in turn. The first of their many song & dance videos, many of Gee's dance moves are based on aegyo. Aegyo as a personal trait of Girls' Generation member Sunny was described as "cuteness that calls for a punch," not as an actual complaint, but as a recognition of the degree to which aegyo can be taken.
Although more common among female idol groups, male groups often perform aegyo as part of their fanservice. The maknae, or youngest member of a group, is often (but not exclusively) the one encouraged to perform aegyo. Another member may get a better response from fans, or be better suited due to physical or emotional characteristics. For some performers, aegyo is merely an extension of their own normal behavior, encouraged by the groups' producers.
As performers evolve from "atul" to "young adult" images, the aegyo in their performances often evolves, becoming an almost-nostalgic homage to the performers' earlier stage image. They will "put on the character" briefly for fun and to satisfy fan expectation, in the same way they will sing their earliest hits. Some traces of aegyo will continue as persistent traits.
Puzar argues that aegyo in popular culture affects how young South Korean women act, especially in romantic relationships. Using cute hand gestures and expressions in photos, for example, are commonly seen behaviors in many young women in South Korea.
- Sun Jung (1 November 2010). Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Oldboy, K-Pop Idols. Hong Kong University Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-988-8028-66-5.
- Christian Utz; Frederick Lau (2013). Vocal Music and Contemporary Identities: Unlimited Voices in East Asia and the West. Routledge. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-415-50224-5.
- Puzar, Aljosa. “Asian Dolls and the Western Gaze: Notes on the Female Dollification in South Korea,” Asian Women 27.2 (2011): 81-111.
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