GOT the beat has some fans feeling like they've taken a 'Step Back' in time
New female supergroup GOT the beat dropped its first single “Step Back” on Monday. GOT the beat is the first unit launched under SM Entertainment's “Girls On Top” (GOT) project, which presents combinations of members from different girl groups managed by the K-pop powerhouse. While the music and performance are receiving praise, many fans say the lyrics are not quite the “girl crush” they expected.
The combining of seven of SM’s female idol superstars — BoA, Taeyeon and Hyoyeon of Girls’ Generation, Seulgi and Wendy of Red Velvet and Karina and Winter of aespa — raised expectations among fans and GOT the beat was dubbed the “female avengers.”
However, “Step Back” raised eyebrows when it was first performed on Jan. 1 during SM’s online new year concert “SMTOWN Live 2022: SMCU Express @ Kwangya.”
The song is from the perspective of a woman (members of GOT the beat) accusing another woman of flirting with her boyfriend, warning her to “step back.”
“I’m sure you flirted quite some bit,” the lyrics proceed, to explain why the boyfriend once had a crush on the other woman in the past. “My man is on another level [...] You’re like a poison to good boys [...] Boys are the same, all eyes are on me when I appear,” the song continues.
The lyrics baffled many fans, especially since the song was introduced as an “ode to women who are always proud and full of confidence.”
“For a song about confident women, I lost count of how many times they mention men from beginning to end,” reads a top comment on an online community.
The song’s melody itself is seeing overwhelmingly positive reviews as members flaunt impressive high notes. Nonetheless, a chunk of fans lament that “everything is perfect except the lyrics"; not because the lyrics are innately problematic, but because many are perplexed as to why this song was introduced as a girl power anthem.
“With such a good lineup and majestic music, was ‘stay away from my man’ the best lyrics they could come up with?” said a 24-year-old long-time fan of SM Entertainment’s idols, who wished to be identified only as Chung.
“I expected a song about the members 'flexing' their talents and beauty. But in the song, they keep mentioning male attention to validate their confidence. The narrator actually sounds insecure about her relationship, and the lyrics feel so out-of-trend.”
Some point out that the lyrics are “anachronistic” rather than controversial per se.
“We have seen a lot of lyrics like this, mostly in the early 2000s,” said pop culture critic Kim Heon-sik. “Women firmly telling other women ‘Don’t touch my man’ was once a trend back then. But the female narrative has evolved to women openly expressing their desires and opinions, or at least past the point of two women fighting over a man. I’m not sure if this [‘Step Back’] portrays the confident woman that people want to see in this day and age.”
Another reason why many found the lyrics of “Step Back” disappointing was because SM’s female artists have already received praise for singing about confident and independent women. BoA’s 2005 hit “Girls On Top,” after which the GOT project is named, is about a young woman who refuses to be confined to what other people expect of her and is still one of the best-known K-pop girl power anthems. “Next Level” (2021) and “Savage” (2021) by aespa sing about not giving up in the face of adversity, and Taeyeon’s “Weekend” is about not hesitating to do what one loves. Considering such track record, many fans point out that “Step Back” is more old-fashioned than the 2005 hit.
Some are not only disappointed, but also criticize that the lyrics display internalized misogyny by antagonizing another woman and accusing her of being flirtatious — in short, pitting women against each other. The criticism claims that the lyrics perpetuate the age-old saying “women are women’s worst enemies,” which has been used to suggest that women are incapable of forming genuine social bonds or truly supporting each other.
“Sometimes, an idol group’s supposed concept and its actual storytelling don’t line up,” said critic Kim. “They [GOT the beat] wanted to portray independent and self-assured women, which is a popular concept today. But just because a woman is confidently telling another woman to back off, it doesn’t mean female fans will like it and think that’s confidence."
As narratives focusing on women have risen as the trend in Korean pop culture over the past few years, Kim expects small controversies of this kind will continue to pop up.
“There will be songs, movies and series that will try to hop onto the trend, but not quite grasp what a female narrative really is,” he continued. “Subtle differences and context are very important. If [content producers] don’t properly understand how the female narrative has evolved, they will make misjudgments like this.”
BY HALEY YANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]