“Show Me the Money 4” controversy questions cultural insensitivity in hip-hop


“Show Me the Money 4 (SMTM),” a televised rap competition series produced by MNet, has been garnering popularity in Korea. According to Neilson Korea, viewer ratings have been steadily increasing from 1.6 to 3.5 percent since it first aired in June. As the show continues to bring a level of media coverage unprecedented for a cable TV program, controversies over levels of appropriateness have sparked fervent debate. Although sexual lyrics and personal attacks (called “disses”) amongst rappers had previously been generally overlooked by the public, one performance from Mino, a Korean pop idol on the show, triggered a nationwide debate regarding the blunt language used in hip-hop.

On an episode of SMTM that aired on July 10, Mino presented suggestive lyrics regarding a woman visiting a gynecologist. Soon after the show was aired, Mino received widespread criticism for his sexist remarks about Korean women, who already struggle with the common Korean stereotype that associates young women who visit gynecologists with pre-marital pregnancy. Earlier this year, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs released its annual report citing a survey that showed 56.9 percent of 699 Korean adult single women were reluctant to consult a doctor primarily because they believed it would damage their social reputation. In fact, such stereotypes were so prevalent that in 2012 the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (KAOG) attempted to legally change the name “obstetrics and gynecology” to “women’s health,” believing that this change would help alleviate the social and psychological pressures that single women feel when pursuing healthcare.

“Such stereotypes begin from ignorance,” said Ruth Poulsen, English teacher. “In a way, it reminds me of the issue of birth control in US politics. There are many negative stereotypes regarding birth control, even when there are so many cases of it around us. Choosing to generalize about birth control ignores individual cases of women who need birth control for their own health and reinforces the stereotype.”

Controversy regarding Mino’s lyrics was aggravated when official institutions called for apologies from both Mino and SMTM. On July 13, the KAOG released an official statement on its website that demanded a formal apology from Mino and the show, declaring that Mino had not only humiliated Korean women, but also offended hard-working Korean obstetricians and gynecologists by mocking their profession. On Aug. 13, the Korea Communications Standards Commission announced their unanimous decision to fine the program as punishment for its failure to censor questionable content.

“I did not find the lyrics in question essential to Mino’s delivery of his message,” said Ray Lee (10), a regular SMTM viewer. “Insulting females is not a necessary component of hip-hop, and although Mino faced high pressure and competition, he was never obliged to use those particular words. He is free to say what he wants to, but he does have to deal with the consequences.”

The issue has further shifted to whether SMTM should have aired content that was clearly inconsiderate to social circumstances when the average SMTM viewer is aged 15 years old and up, to which hip-hop fans have voiced their concern that blunt expressions are an essential feature of hip-hop.

“As much as I disagree with what Mino’s lyrics suggest, I do not think the show should censor certain messages,” Eileen Cheong (11) said. “The use of blunt language makes hip-hop unique among different genres of music because it allows rappers to discuss cultural issues evaded by other genres of music. By censoring lyrics, producers of SMTM would create an inaccurate portrayal of hip-hop and influence how viewers perceive hip-hop. Also, censoring certain messages in songs would let songs only reflect what we want to hear.”

Dongchul Han, MNet’s chief director, said that the objective of SMTM is to publicize hip-hop and incorporate it into mainstream culture. Although its impressive viewer ratings may suggest that the show has indeed publicized hip-hop, continued controversies may backfire by steering the public to associate negative stereotypes with the genre.