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K-Pop Frenzy Fuels Makeup Market for Men

Image: K-pop boy band EXO perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 17th Asian Games in Incheon

K-pop boy band EXO perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 17th Asian Games in Incheon September 19, 2014. ISSEI KATO / Reuters

SEOUL, South Korea — Rapper Kwon Ji Yong, who goes by the stage name “G-Dragon,” is among South Korea’s most prominent male sex symbols, winning over fans with his suave, boyish looks and chic dance moves.

Often surrounded by a bevy of female dancers, G-Dragon greets screaming teenage audiences in token rapper style, showing off arm tattoos, garish earrings, and hair colors that vary from beach blond to bright pink.

What is K-pop? 1:25

But it’s G-Dragon’s other trademark that has the cosmetic industry taking notice: He’s an ostentatious applier of makeup. And forget about the fringe gender-bending realm of 1980s pop stars like Boy George and David Bowie. The massive popularity of K-pop is fueling mainstream emulation.

The result: South Korea is home to a booming market for male beauty products.

Image: Image: KCON, celebrating Korean pop music
Jihoon Kim, left, came to KCON 2014 to serve as a model for a hair salon, but a resemblance to K-pop idol G-Dragon kept him busy. "They did the makeup and people say I look like him so I've been standing here for three hours" shooting selfies with fans. John Brecher / NBC News

Of course, male makeup sales pale next to the market for women, and only a minority of Korean men apply a raft of products such as “BB Cream” on a daily basis. Last year, South Korean men spent $635 million on whiteners, lotions and skin creams — second only to China, according to research firm Euromonitor, in a region that makes up about two-thirds of global spending in this $3.3 billion market.

“The market for male cosmetics has definitely been expanded in the last couple of years,” said Kim Tae-young, a make-up artist at an Olive Young branch in Hongdae, an indie nightlife district in Seoul.

“Things are very different from the past, when cosmetics were associated exclusively with women,” she said. “I get the feeling that there is a lot less self-consciousness about those gender divisions among our customers these days.”

Image: Image: KCON, celebrating Korean pop music
Kheyon Green, John Reyes and Irvin Jerez dance to "The Boys," a song by K-pop group Girls' Generation at the dancing tent at KCON 2014, the largest U.S. convention for K-pop fans. John Brecher / NBC News

Even then, wouldn’t the average dude shun this trend for being “feminine?”

Not exactly, according to enthusiastic cosmetic artists and their male customers interviewed by GlobalPost.

Legions of K-pop fans adore G-Dragon and his peers. So much that swarms of men want to be them, they say.

That’s because, staying true to the masculine roots of gangster rap, G-Dragon has managed to inject what fans call an iconic flair into his thick eyeliner and lipstick, wowing the throngs of starry-eyed young females who swear allegiance to K-pop.

Image: K-pop boy band EXO perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 17th Asian Games in Incheon
K-pop boy band EXO perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 17th Asian Games in Incheon September 19, 2014. ISSEI KATO / Reuters

At beauty school and through YouTube tutorials, male fashionistas inquisitively study and apply these K-pop influenced beauty masks and gels. Many take cue from G-Dragon’s advertisements for deep red lipstick — and a host of other endorsements for gels and lotions by the well-paid men of K-pop.

Trickling down to the mass market, most makeup-wearing men aren’t so flamboyant, simply choosing to brush up every morning with hints of whitener and eyeliner. “My supervisor encourages it, to appear nice for our customers,” explains Park Jae-hyeon, 28, a banker wearing subtle eyeliner. “This is the 21st century. Men need to look good too.”

It’s the younger guys, who don’t have to worry about their professional appearance, who have the luxury of sticking out with more extreme looks. That’s why students and recent graduates are “following what they see on TV,” said Kim Tae-young of the Olive Young store, looking up to their favorite idols and celebrities.

Image: South Korean artist Kwon Ji-yong, stage name G-Dragon, poses during a photocall before the German designer Karl Lagerfeld Spring/Summer 2015 women's ready-to-wear collection show for French fashion house Chanel in Paris
Kwon Ji-yong, stage name G-Dragon, a member of K-Pop idol group Big Bang, poses before the German designer Karl Lagerfeld Spring/Summer 2015 women's ready-to-wear collection show during Paris Fashion Week September 30, 2014. CHARLES PLATIAU / Reuters

This story first appeared on GlobalPost.

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