What is Aegyo? – How to be Cute Like a K-pop Idol

TWICE's Dahyun aegyo (what is aegyo?)

What is Aegyo, and why is it so common in the K-pop culture?

Those are the questions most beginner K-pop fans ask themselves, and I don’t blame them.

Imagine yourself browsing through your social media feed when you see a video of a K-pop idol acting cute; what would you feel?

Either you become happy because of how adorable they are, or you surrender your sanity due to the cringe and embarrassment you feel.

Both reactions are valid in this scenario because everything you know won’t make sense when it comes to aegyo (okay, that might be a slight exaggeration on my part.)

But how did the “Aegyo” concept come this far, and why is it significant in K-pop.

We all know that K-pop has become a mammoth in the music scene.

It has ballooned into a whopping 5 Billion Dollar industry over the years.

So one can’t help but wonder why this billion-dollar genre has such a “childish” and borderline immature gesture.

Don’t worry, my adorable little K-pop stan (or even if you’re just a curious passerby,) for I am here to answer your question.

What is Aegyo?

Aegyo (pronounced as “egg-yo”), in simple terms, is defined as an act of cuteness or “acting cute” to display affection towards other people.

It is especially well-known as a part of Korean culture, particularly among K-pop idols.

Male and female idols use it as a form of fanservice.

They use it to show their fans their “cute side” and make them laugh or scream in excitement.

Of course, you can also use it to flirt with someone you romantically like.

Some people with natural “cuteness” may also use it to get what they want out of people by acting adorably in front of them.

How is Aegyo Expressed?

TWICE's Dahyun doing aegyo in a fan sign event
TWICE Dahyun’s aegyo pose in a fansign

K-pop idols express it in multiple different ways. These might include physical gestures, symbolic impressions, or a mixture of both.

Here is a list of some of the most common Aegyo acts:

  • cute/baby/high pitched voice
  • small pouty lips
  • fluttering hand while covering the mouth when acting shy
  • child-like facial expressions
  • exaggerated body motions

However, a note of caution is warranted because some people may interpret these acts of cuteness as cringe-worthy and embarrassing.

Other people may also get to the extent where they get annoyed by someone’s aegyo.

It usually happens when it is done excessively or in a setting where it is deemed inappropriate.

What is the Origins of Aegyo?

BTS Jungkook and Jimin doing aegyo
BTS Jungkook and Jimin

The concept of aegyo originated from the influence of the Japanese “kawaii” culture on the Korean mainstream media.

The country quickly adapted its interpretation of the word “kawaii.” Hence, the aegyo culture was born.

Unlike today, South Korea didn’t have any excellent pop culture to speak of long ago. Years of war and political conflict delayed the country’s advancement in all aspects. 

However, Korean popular culture has begun to fall into place and has currently spread throughout the globe. 

Initially, girl group Idols commonly used aegyo. They use it to provide fanservice towards their largely male-dominated fanbase. 

And since the debut of the first-generation K-pop girl group, S.E.S, it has become more popular. 

The song “Gee” from Girls’ Generation demonstrated it in the early days of K-pop. 

Why do Koreans like aegyo?

Acting cutely and child-like in most East-Asian countries is very common. The Japanese “kawaii” and the Chinese “sa jiao” are very prominent in their culture.

So it is not surprising that most Koreans like it, mainly because appearing much younger is considered an attractive trait for them.

That’s why Korean men and women, more often than not, spend most of their time making sure they possess a youthful visual.

The makeup they wear, the skincare they use, and the clothes they put on reflect this beauty standard.

Again, it is worth noting that not all Koreans agree with the concept of aegyo.

Some find it cringey and inappropriate, while others become uncomfortable when people act like a child around them.

So it is okay if you do it naturally or act it at a suitable place and time.

The Difference between Natural and Acted Aegyo

aespa Ningning's natural aegyo
aespa’s Ningning is one of the few idols with “natural aegyo”

As the names suggest, “Natural Aegyo” happens when the cute gestures of a person are organic and inherent to them.

These are people who are effortlessly cute in many ways.

However, “Acted Aegyo” is the exact opposite of that.

It happens when individuals force themselves to act cute and child-like for entertainment purposes.

Most of the aegyo we see in today’s K-pop scene is classified as “acted” because idols with natural aegyo are a rare breed.

Some K-pop idols that are born with it use their charm to entertain, but most of them make use of their natural gift as fanservice.

5 Famous Aegyo Acts

Now that you know what an aegyo is, here is a list of some legendary aegyo acts in K-pop.

Some are fads in Korea, and some are viral songs with cute dance moves.

1. “Shy Shy Shy”

2. Gwiyomi song

3. Ottoke Song

4. Finger Heart

BTS Jin doing a finger heart

5. Baby Shark

Aegyo for days!

As a fan of K-pop, I have to admit that aegyo is fun.

Not only do we see the cute side of our beloved K-pop idols bloom, but we can also witness male idols shatter toxic masculinity.

Outside of K-pop, seeing a guy acting like a child in front of other people might seem strange.

But for us, it has become a typical event.

It’s hard to imagine an “aegyo-less” K-pop industry because it has been an essential part of the culture.

Hopefully, this tradition never fades and is still passed on to future generations of K-pop groups.

That’s all, folks! See you at the following K-pop guide!

Comment below what you think is the best aegyo act of all time.

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