HyunA made her 10th anniversary comeback with “Babe“, and while musically it wasn’t the most engaging piece to me, the subject matter was a different story. In many ways it reminded me of IU‘s “Twenty-Three“, and hopefully this was subtle enough to not get hit with an idiotic witch hunt.
On the surface it’s a song about a relationship, but if you read into it just a bit, it’s fairly easy to see the parallels between her significant other and the public and/or the industry. Instead of being like IU and literally just out and out saying everything, HyunA at least sorta couches her point behind something, which hopefully spares her any mess.
Why do you have that creepy smile?
Like this, huh? Like this, huh?
This basically establishes the metaphor, questioning the gaze put upon her by the public and having her life dictated to her by the industry, basically having to be in a state of a constant need of approval.
Take me with you and spend time with me,
Why do you treat me like a baby?
I can’t tell what my age is when I’m with you,
Did you cast a spell on me?
I am anxious because of you,
I am pining for you every day,
Why does my body keep squirming babe?
Yes, I am being like a baby, pamper me.
After framing the lyrics within the concept, the allusions become rather clear.
Of particular note is how the lyrics reference doing sexy concepts, but that she still has to act like an innocent girl to appeal to the public.
How am I? Babe, babe, babe, babe,
In front of you, babe, babe, babe, babe,
I never knew I would change like this,
When I look at you I unwillingly change,
I must want to hear it,
Tell me I’m your babe, babe.
The hook revolves around needing approval, changing against her will, and being infantilized.
(More than yesterday) I’ve become stranger,
(Today as well) I am not like myself,
(When tomorrow comes) Unimaginable myself,
Someone I don’t know, someone you don’t know,
I’ll have changed.
The lyrics here talk about the struggles HyunA deals with due to her personality not matching the industry standard and having to alter it to meet expectations. It also references concepts that were forced on her, thus making her unrecognizable to herself. These lyrics track what the music video does at the time she’s saying them, which seems relevant as well.
HyunA in the white dress represents her current self throughout the music video…
…and as she’s saying those lyrics the plot goes back into her past, showing a scene where she’s guided into a box and is literally trapped in it…
…and she’s then shown dancing sexily behind the screen…
…but when she’s revealed to us, she has mature makeup and hoop earrings on but also has pigtail braids and is riding a tricycle like a child would.
The duality she’s using here is what reminded me of IU’s concept on ‘Chat-Shire‘ and “Twenty-Three”. However, unlike IU popping off at people who infantilized her cause that image got their rocks off, HyunA’s case is interesting because she has a heavily sexualized musical image but is also considered “clean” and relatable because her persona away from that has a lack of scandal and therefore has presentability to it.
Through the lyrics and music video, HyunA expresses this duality by depicting her sexuality as literally being hidden, and when she’s revealed to the public she gets a rather childish image with elements of maturity. However, she’s saying that none of the ever-changing concepts given to the public are her true self in totality, but rather that she’s all of the things shown and people shouldn’t trap her in one convenient box or another.
From my observation, there seems to be this phenomenon with HyunA where the public will defend her sexy persona but only because her image is “clean”, as if to say “acting like a whore is terrible but she’s not REALLY this slut like it looks”, thus what she does is okay. HyunA would then basically be making the point that all of it is a part of her, not just the stuff people enjoy seeing.
I am just 26, 26, 26,
I’m just 26, 26.
You make me 25, 25, 25,
You make me 24, 24, 24,
I feel like 21, 21, 21.
You make me 19, 19, 19,
You make me 17, 17, 17,
I feel like 15, 15, 15.
As she works backwards through her career, HyunA progressively gets younger and younger, appearing to reference the known expectation that she needs to continue to act and look young as she ages.
In the music video, when the age gets down to 15, HyunA looks incredibly uncomfortable and rejects it, setting out on her own (literally seeming to be in her own world).
It’s simply a rejection of being infantilized.
Hell, it feels like the outfits of her backup dancers are shading the dog-whistle innocent concepts as well…
…showing what they are really about.
The maturity of her sound on “Babe”, along with the depth of the concept, seems to be an indication from HyunA that she is leaving all the bullshit from her past behind and is turning a new leaf, all while primarily making a forceful point about her relationship with the public eye.
Most of “Babe” is vague or couched enough that I think she can continue on with claiming that it’s just about a relationship, especially if most K-pop stans missed the point of even the overt “Twenty-Three”. And while perhaps some of this is reading into it too far (interested in your thoughts on this for once), there are parts of the song and music video that are too symbolic or metaphorical to believe taking this at face value is the correct way to consume “Babe” (Like leaving the studio in a huff is about a relationship? Really?).
Anyway, interested to see where she goes from here.