“I’m not a little girl. I’m not a super star. Unpretty Rapstar.”
Unpretty Rapstar is a Mnet hosted Korean reality show that started airing every Thursday from January 2015, and now has become really popular among Korean netizens. The content of the show consists of a fierce competition between eight female rappers, but in the beginning, many of the rappers weren’t even confident the show would be produced. They aren’t doubting for no reason: top Korean rap competition shows like Show Me the Money predominantly feature male rappers, and there are very few famous female solo rappers in the Korean music scene.
I really love that this kind of show made it to the top of Korean TV show rankings, and some songs produced from the show made it to the Mnet Music Top Rankings these past months.
One song is by Yuk Ji Dam, an 18 year old rapper, called “Stayed Up All Night”. The lyrics are super inspirational and tough, not victim to Korean popular standards for girls. Indeed, most of the kpop scene either applauds “aegyo” style cute girls or extremely sexualized girls. Click here to have a listen.
I also am in love with Kisum (Musik spelled backwards, gasp). She participated in Show Me the Money, but was told by her mentor to “not focus too much on your appearance, but on your rap skills”. So, she came back onto Unpretty Rapstar as a tougher rapper with rougher edges and a more carefree style. Click here to listen to one her raps Superstar – featuring San E, a famous Korean rapper!
Of course, this show has some flaws too. For one, it is really dramatic, at times almost reminding me of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – the necessity that a reality show involving girls must have cat fights and overly dramatic hatred needs to stop – it teaches girls that the only way to survive is to beat other women up.
Also, there has been some controversy over the fact that the male host of the show, San E, showed a particular affinity towards Jimin, the only female rapper who belongs to a girl group rather than rapping solo. During the first episode, he called her a “pretty rapstar”, to the offense of the other female rappers, and then supported her in her competition. The fact that this judgement of Jimin basically helped her win the first competition of the show is disappointing to many viewers.
However, all in all, I’m proud that South Korea of all countries not only pulled off this show, but made it a nationwide hit. First of all, this finally gives Asian girls new role models in the music scene that allows themselves the freedom to be famous without signing any contracts into companies that starve them, make them do plastic surgery, then compose all their songs for them. It gives girls with a music and performance passion a new, more unprocessed way of expressing their style and emotions.
Secondly, I admire the fact that this reality show does not appropriate African American rap too much in a superficial manner (although I believe it is still prevalent in the show) – no one pretends to be super “ghetto” or “thug-like” in the American rapper sense. This makes the female rappers have a more authentic feel, in my opinion, while taking on this American genre. These rappers were born in Korea, raised in Korea – they take pride in their own country.
Lastly, even though the show is called “Unpretty” Rapstar, clearly the rappers on the show are beautiful in their own way (look at Yuk JiDam slaying that selfie) – being a tough rapper and making/producing your own songs doesn’t necessarily make you “unpretty” – this show clearly expresses that. In the end, the impression I get is, you can have a “beautiful” face or not – it’s ultimately the lyrics you write that gets you the grand prize.
Now that is a message worth spreading.
Check out the a fun clip from the first episode to get the feeling of their rap style: