K-Pop Boys in Crop Tops: A History


If you’ve found yourself looking into the history of K-pop boys in crop tops, you are not alone. When the promotional photos for TXT’s latest EP Minisode 1: Blue Hour hit the internet in late September, it didn’t take long for “crop top” to trend worldwide on Twitter. The reason? Oldest member Yeonjun’s white, smiley-face long sleeve, the hem of which ended just above his navel.

It was a relatively bold yet still brazenly youthful look for rookie group TOMORROW X TOGETHER, whose previous concepts called for a more boyish, street style — like bomber jackets and colorful tees, ripped jeans with plaid overlays, baggy sweaters, and animal prints mixed with leather. But “Blue Hour” signaled a playful and purposeful new era for TXT, the “not boys, not yet men” phase of their young careers, and with it came a leveled-up wardrobe in an array of cutoff shirts.

Yeonjun’s cropped Balenciaga sweater. Taehyun’s tiny pastel pullover and exposed abs. Beomgyu’s long-sleeved Levi’s tee. With the “Blue Hour” MV, the members of TXT embrace one of K-pop’s most popular fashion trends: The crop top – a sartorial choice that, over time, has become something of a rite of passage for all K-pop “It” boys.

Some recent instances of K-pop boys in crop tops include Monsta X leader Shownu, who wore a cropped ruby suit jacket — with nothing underneath — during a recent performance of “Love Killa” on Korean music show M Countdown. In July, SEVENTEEN member Wonwoo shocked fans when he donned a midriff-baring t-shirt while promoting the single “Left & Right” (notably, it was a suggestion from leader S.Coups.) He later revisited the style in the music video for the group’s latest Japanese release “24H,” donning a classic black crop top and a cropped red blazer.

NCT‘s Taeyong — no stranger to short hemlines, cutouts, lace, and chiffon — rocked a cropped, embroidered blouse for SuperM’s “Tiger Inside” stages. Wonho left little to the imagination in a variety of navel-exposing ‘fits during the music video for his solo debut “Open Mind.” One of the looks featured an open-front sweater that echoed singer Ginuwine’s memorable plum blazer from 2000.

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Wonho during the “Open Mind” MV.SCREENSHOT/YOUTUBE WONHO

Other artists like ATEEZ’s Seonghwa and Stray KidsFelix and Bang Chan have also jumped on the trend in the past few months, following the likes of GOT7’s BamBam, Kang Daniel, the members of A.C.E, and K-pop’s reigning crop top king, EXO’s Kai. From knit sweaters and denim jackets to military-inspired vests and the more common cotton tees, Kai has graced the stage clad in almost every iteration of the garment.

Han Myung-Gu/WireImage/Getty Images
EXO’s Kai performing in 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.Han Myung-Gu/WireImage/Getty Images

While it may appear that K-pop is experiencing a “Crop Top Renaissance” as of late, men in the industry have been showing skin since the mid-aughts, when teen idol group TVXQ burst onto the scene in 2003 with their heartthrob good looks and androgynous fashion. 

Members Jaejoong and Yunho can be seen in white cropped shirts during a 2004 live performance of “The Way U Are,” and in 2005, Jaejoong embraced the concept fully, promoting “Rising Sun” in a now-famous cropped black suit jacket that showed off his belly-button piercing. A few years later, in 2009, South Korean singer Ajoo wore a sleeveless, black belly shirt that sat inches well above his navel like a proper half-shirt while promoting his single “Wealthy 2nd Generation.”

During a 2012 press conference, SHINee’s Taemin pulled off one of the more polarizing looks of his prolific career in an asymmetrical, belly-baring shirt. Taemin’s choice perhaps inspired the artist to take even more fashion risks throughout his solo career. In his new music video for “Idea,” he’s seen sporting a cozy turtleneck sweater with a peak of midriff. But even before that, the performer has become known for his more gender-neutral looks. In 2017, he told Billboard he “really wanted fans to understand that outer appearances really don’t matter.”

Taemin in 2012 during a press appearance in Seoul, South Korea.Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images
Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images

Certainly, it’s safe to say these K-pop artists all challenge today’s Western ideas of heteronormative masculinity by donning their cropped threads. But it hasn’t always been that way.





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