Let’s add gwiyomi to the long list of things I enjoy about Korea but will never fully understand (including selca and cutesy emoticons). Gwiyomi is a Korean cuteness craze, sweeping everything from photos to music videos. The word gwiyomi (귀요미) is a combination of the adjective ‘gwiyeo-un’ (귀여운) meaning ‘cute’ and the personifying suffix ‘mi’ (미) and together gwiyomi means a ‘cute person’ or a ‘cutie’. So any time you feel like posing for a photo with a wink and a little salute, you’re a cutie taking part in the gwiyomi trend, and if you’ve mastered the art then you’re a ‘cutie player’! Have I activated your gag reflex yet? If not, read on!
In the same way that everyone outside of Korea learned about Seoul and the high-end Gangnam area from Psy’s catchy super-anthem “Gangnam Style” so too did the world learn about gwiyomi through a viral pop song. Gwiyomi gestures and the art of posing adorably for photos had already taken hold of our hearts here in Korea well before K-pop singer Hari released her digital single “Gwiyomi Song” (귀요미 송) in early 2013, but hey, nobody’s judging if you’re late to the game.
The song itself was inspired by another singer Jung Ilhoon (정일훈) of the boy band BtoB. He was seen on the band’s reality TV show “MTV Diary” counting off numbers with cute hand gestures, which apparently sent the idol-worshipping world into a tizzy. Soon everyone wanted to be a ‘cutie player’ just like Jung and his gwiyomi hand gestures were imitated on cable channels across the land, most popularly on the variety show “Weekly Idol” (주간 아이돌) where different stars took part in the segment ‘Aegyo Battle’ or ‘Cuteness Battle’. A year after that madness passed, Hari’s “Gwiyomi Song” was born, with Jung Ilhoon releasing his own cover of the tune soon after. Just a few months following the song’s release, video channels were saturated with fan covers and ‘gwiyomi’ was trending on social networks throughout Southeast Asia.
Jung Ilhoon of BtoB showing his “cutie player” skills
Singing “1 plus 1 is cu-tie. 2 plus 2 is cu-tie,” the “Gwiyomi Song” captured the imaginations of poets and the mathematically-challenged everywhere. I’ll admit I was stuck after 3 plus 3. Did you have any idea that cuteness could add up so quickly?! I most certainly did not. Watch below as Hari sings a song for her love, enumerating the ways she loves him and begging him not to leave in the cutest fashion possible. Or don’t. I’m not here to tell you what to do.
Hari singing “Gwiyomi Song” in the original clip released by Sports Seoul TV (Video Credit: 스포츠 서울)
The song inspired lovesick teenagers across the globe who in turn produced videos, internet memes, and photo montages dedicated to the world’s most adorable art form but as I noted earlier in the article, gwiyomi was hardly new. I’ve mentioned in other articles that I remember being struck dumb at all of the adorable poses I would see my Korean friends and students making for photos. There were little V-signs, puffed-out cheeks, flower poses, and too many winky faces to be counted. Each time I thought I’d learned it all, some six-year-old walking by would school me in pro photo poses and then compound the hurt by offering to show me how to use my cell phone after seeing me struggle. At any rate, gwiyomi cuteness is constantly evolving, so if you’re curious about learning a few of the gazillion popular photo poses making their rounds in Korea, you can take a peek below. I would have made my own version for you if I weren’t afraid of scaring you away. You can thank me later!
This video could easily be titled, “30 Korean Poses”. (Video Credit: Ahanhbarbie34)
As you can see, it just takes a little practice to become a ‘cutie player’ like in the video above but if you really want to impress people, then we’ve got one more slang term you need to know. Do you remember when I introduced ‘Aegyo Battle’? Aegyo (애교) is a child-like way of speaking and is often accompanied by those cutesy affected hand and facial gestures we studied earlier. While some think aegyo is cute, others find it a bit… grating. Aegyo is characterized by affecting a baby voice and shrieking raising your pitch, particularly at the end of a question. Popular with girls and young women, aegyo used on the right man will apparently melt his heart with cuteness so that he grants you your every whim and request. Use it on the wrong dude though and he’ll head for the hills! It’s a risk, but for some the payoff is too good to pass up. You can read more about the dynamic of Korean couples on Suzy Chung’s blog here. As far as aegyo is concerned, decide for yourself whether it’s irritating or worth imitating.
Armed with your new knowledge of gwiyomi gestures, poses, songs, and aegyo, you are ready to conquer the world or perhaps impress someone at your next K-pop themed dinner party. So what do you think? Are gwiyomi and aegyo for you?
Words and art by Jessica Steele for The Korea Blog. Videos credited to original source. May not be reproduced without permission.