The ideal K-beauty look of pale skin, straight brows, and doe-like eyes may be changing. With edgy images of hip hop girl power flooding TV screens, Korean women are venturing into alternate styles.

Mainstream Makeup

From China to America, the international beauty community has been swept up by the K-beauty industry that combines wish-granting formulas with adorable packaging. One quick glance at these products show an evident mainstream beauty trend that every brand caters towards.

While every person has their own unique features and skin tone, the majority of Korean beauty products facilitates the acquisition of moist, glowy and youthful pale skin, tinted lips and enlarged rounded eyes. However, like most trends, they eventually die and are replaced with a newer, better and even more modern look.

Women In K-Hip Hop

As hip-hop music increasingly tops the Korean charts, so does their non-conforming style. While mainstream Korean female actresses and idols are required to look pure, sexy, or cute (or a combination of them all), hip-hop rappers must be strong and confident, whether they are mainstream beautiful or not.

Korean female rappers wear heavier eye makeup and more punchier tones. CL (previously leader of 2ne1) became immensely popular for her rap skills, and as her music and popularity swelled, so did her aesthetic appeal. Despite lacking the ideal physical appearance of mainstream beauty standards, her industry credibility made her a beauty icon and she is now a spokesperson for international brand Maybelline.

But, it’s not just celebrities. The birth and rise of hip-hop competition shows such as Mnet’s ‘Show Me The Money’, ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ and JTBC’s ‘Hip Hop Tribe’, have introduced into the spotlight, previously unknown talents from the underground scene who have not been polished by the K-pop music machine.

The female rapper Jessi was launched into fame from ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ and received huge popularity for her aggressive, realistic personality, and even sparkier rap lyrics. Her tan skin, bold makeup, and sharp features were eye catching and became a physical embodiment of her inner power.

Hip Hop Beauty and Style

The popularity of K-hip hop female rappers spawned two popular beauty terms; ssen unni (쌘 언니) meaning ‘tough older sister’ or ‘bad girl’ and girl crush (걸 크러쉬) meaning a tough looking woman who is admired by other women. This makeup look involves bronzed skin tone, smokier eyes and contouring.

Korean beauty gurus and bloggers are embracing these bold looks. There are hundreds of tutorials online, all boasting a sharper and stronger look than what Korean mainstream beauty used to be. Trending images on social media platforms such as Instagram, show that more and more young women are wearing this makeup style.

Even brands are adapting to these new changes by producing contouring sticks, darker foundations and using advertising models that have more angular features. The show ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ even launched their own makeup line that sells the cool charisma of female Hip-hop starlets.

Music, Media and Future Trends

The culture of media mass consumption in Korea gives a lot of power to entertainers. Everything in a celebrity’s life, from what they do, to what they eat, wear and look like, heavily influences the public, especially young people. As female hip-hop icons grow and challenge popular ideals, young viewers are being titillated away from conforming to tradition.

K-Hip hop is more than just a music genre. It is a lifestyle based on being strong and an individual. While Korean women try to achieve physical perfection, in the hip hop world, imperfections are seen as strengths. As more female artists succeed in the K-Hip Hop industry, they become social influencers that diversify Korean beauty ideals and makeup styles.


  1. December 21, 2016 at 2:41 pm — Reply

    Interesting read. Sounds like it is a positive move for the Korean beauty market as well as Korean women. Much more inclusive of all women instead of just those that fit a certain standard/ideal.

  2. Tiny-SKWAIR
    December 22, 2016 at 1:58 am — Reply

    Best of luck to all my korean rappers. Keep it real; Stay in touch.


  3. December 22, 2016 at 10:15 pm — Reply

    As a hip hop enthusiast, I dig the beats in K-hiphop. They’re fun to dance choreo to! I wonder if the edgier look will really pick up among Koreans. Or if the pale skin, red lip look will remain forever.

  4. December 26, 2016 at 1:03 pm — Reply

    Really fantastic breakdown of how the k hip-hop scene is disrupting the conformity! As a Filipino-American, living in comparison to Korean beauty standards was truly a struggle. Filipinos tend to idolize Korean beauty ideals, which go against biological physicalities like skin color and face shape, but being American, we celebrate diversity above all things. So in Korea, I had a hard time contending with the prescribed notions of beauty thinking I should strive harder to look like them while failing my American mentality that differences are beautiful. I’m excited to see if this really changes society on a grand scale!

  5. December 26, 2016 at 2:51 pm — Reply

    Cool post, Nicky! And kudos to you for expanding outside of your own blog. I personally love that hip hop is starting to influence Korean culture because a little diversity in the beauty/fashion realm would be very welcome! And, I actually enjoy K hip hop a lot more than K-pop haha

  6. December 26, 2016 at 4:32 pm — Reply

    Too bad you didn’t mention about the male fans. Did you know that there are eyeliners, bb creams, etc for men as well? I know a singer who wants to look more Korean so he uses those products, haha. Great read 🙂

  7. December 26, 2016 at 11:53 pm — Reply

    Great read! Wish there were some specific photos to really show who and what you’re talking about. Korean music and styles are ever evolving. Its an exciting time to be in Asia, that’s for certain!

  8. December 27, 2016 at 1:01 am — Reply

    With all of the negative attention fashion, kpop, and superficial beauty receive these days, it’s refreshing to see such a positive take on its effects here in South Korea and abroad. Hopefully this trend toward empowerment continues!

  9. December 27, 2016 at 10:15 am — Reply

    I love how the K-hip hop scene is bringing more overall diverseness to Korean fashion and beauty. Plus, it’s making it easier for me to find things like bronzer here! I was addicted to Unpretty rap star and found it so refreshing to see a complete change in fashion to the usual bubblegum pop look that has been the norm here. Great right up, I found this really interesting!

  10. December 27, 2016 at 10:51 am — Reply

    Cool post! Because of those people who always conform to the beauty standards, sometimes I feel that they all look the same. In SM Town at COEX, they have a studio there where you can get makeup and hairstyle like the Korean idols.

  11. December 27, 2016 at 12:16 pm — Reply

    Too bad that there are no images in this post to compare the difference you talk about. I have yet to see such looks on the streets of Daejeon, but I know that it’s more conservative than other cities.

  12. December 27, 2016 at 4:11 pm — Reply

    Post updated with photos

  13. December 27, 2016 at 11:00 pm — Reply

    I don’t dig Kpop and K-hiphop but I’m into Kbeauty ~ business that is. I haven’t really noticed the difference of Kbeauty style though. I thought everyone looks the same but when I saw movies from the 90s that’s when I really noticed how K makeup style has changed. Back in the 90s, red lipstick and fair skin were in vogue and I still see that among middle-aged Koreans.

  14. December 28, 2016 at 2:11 am — Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. Having lived in Korea for a few years now, it can definitely get a bit monotonous seeing how many girls look and and dress the same way. Understandable it’s part of the norm here but it’s nice to see that it’s changing a bit and that maybe in the future, Korea will be more accepting of individual differences and self expression. Thanks for sharing.

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