The K-Pop girl group 2NE1 has recently seen some success in the US with their track “I Am the Best.” The track, from their 2011 second self-titled mini-album included a number of catchy tunes including the track “Ugly” which I’m going to discuss here. It’s easy to sit and listen to catchy K-Pop tunes when you don’t speak Korean and not pay attention to the lyrics or their message. But, we should pay attention – and when artists like 2NE1 include some English lyrics, we need to examine and look at the whole message of the song. The lyrics in both Korean and English translations can be found here.
2NE1 begin by singing, “I put a big smile on, but I don’t like how I look / I’m not pretty, I’m not beautiful / Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh / I sing a song but no one listens to me / I’m not pretty, I’m not beautiful / Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh.” We get fairly quickly to the core of the song – the person singing thinks little of themselves and does not think they’re attractive. This mentality comes back in the chorus as well, but we’ll get to that.
The word speaks often of haughtiness (Proverbs 16:5, Proverbs 26:12, Romans 12:3), of thinking highly of oneself. But what of the opposite? What of thinking little of yourself? First, we need to bre reminded of a few things. We are humans made in the image of the almighty God (Genesis 1:27). Second, we are wonderfully made by the almighty God – He made no mistake in making us (Psalm 139:14, Ecclesiastes 3:11-14). And third – Christ gave it all, so that we could be reconciled to Him (John 3:16-17). In short – we’re in God’s image, we’re made perfectly by Him, and He loves us and wants us to be close to Him. We often chose not to do just that, but He wants to reconcile us to Himself regardless. But when we talk about beauty – what is 2NE1 speaking of? Humanly defined beauty. Beauty as defined by God is an inward beauty, not based on physical adornment or even physical beauty (1 Peter 3:3-5). In their piece on beauty in the Bible, GotQuestions.org wrote an excellent piece on how fleeting human beauty truly was.:
What is beautiful in God’s eyes? Recognizing the qualities God has cherished in the lives of other people is one way to determine His concept of beauty…[Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy] were beautiful to God, virtually nothing is known about their physical appearance. It was not their physique or stateliness but their faith and service that made them beautiful. The same was true of God’s beautiful women: Rahab, Hannah, Ruth, Deborah, and Mary of Bethany. Those noted for physical beauty were often great spiritual disappointments. Rebekah was “very beautiful” (Genesis 26:7), but she was also a deceiver and manipulator. Saul was a man of physical beauty, but his disobedience against God hurt the nation of Israel.
2NE1 continues, “Why am I this unattractive? / How can I smile beautifully like you? / I get mad again, why am I never perfect? / I complain again looking at my ugly-self through the broken mirror / Don’t look at me, I don’t like this feeling / I want to hide somewhere, I want to get out / This world is full of lies.” Now the singers are comparing their beauty to that of another, feeling they cannot keep up with the beauty of others. 2NE1 have created their own example of what is beauty, this “perfect” person. Now – there are a few things to note here. No one is perfect, save Christ. All are fallen, weak, and imperfect (Romans 3:23). This includes me, you the reader (sorry), and the perfect girl they are comparing themselves to. This self insult is hate of self, and that is unhelpful. It is part of the lie the world tells us – it’s definition of everything is all that matters. 2NE1 is right about that – the world is full of lies and this one is the chief among them. The world does not define goodness just as it does not define beauty; God defines it. When we have this worldly grief, when we create sorrow for ourselves by comparing ourselves to arbitrary un-Godly examples around us instead of to God’s standard – we are killing ourselves (2 Corinthians 7:10). We feel it inside when we do it. We feel the pain, the torment, the grief. It isn’t the same as Godly grief from sin, where we are grieved by our mistakes and wish to make it right. This is unholy grief which causes us deep, internal pain that there really is no solution to – apart from God.
The chorus begins with, “I think I’m ugly and nobody wants to love me / Just like her, I wanna be pretty / I wanna be pretty / Don’t lie to my face tellin’ me I’m pretty.” These are words from someone who feels rejected, broken, and destroyed by a world around them that has filled them with lies. As noted in the first verse, they want to hide and get away from everyone from how awful they feel about their appearance. It’s a sad state to be in and, frankly, it’s a state we all find ourselves in from time to time. That’s why this song, in many ways, is important because of it’s relatability.
Who among us have felt unattractive? Who has ever felt less than they were by comparing themselves to the world around them? Who has ever felt weak because the world around them looks so dauntingly strong? Who has ever felt pathetic when comparing themselves to a worldly standard of wealth and success? The answer is – all of us at one point or another.
The world is lying to us. The world around us is trying to sell us this picture of genuine perfection. But there’s a problem with this version of perfection – it’s made by man. Man is flawed. Man is weak. Man is temporal. Man is commonly wrong. One man’s version of beauty is hideous to another.
The second verse continues with the following lyrics, “Don’t tell me that easily that you understand how I feel / I might resent you with my ugly and crooked heart / Don’t talk to me, I can’t get along with you / Your cold fakeness behind your arrogant eyes suffocate me / Don’t come near me, I hate your attention / I wanna leave for somewhere and shout / This world is full of lies.” Someone is trying to help the singer feel better about herself by telling her she’s beautiful. She claims the person doesn’t understand her and that she may grow to resent the person. She claims it’s fake. Her self-esteem is so destroyed, she’s so pained from the lies of the world that she won’t even believe a person telling her they think she’s pretty. She’s given into the lies of the world and now feels alone. The devil wants us to be alone. But, with Christ we are not.
We have a God who understands our plight. We have a God who dwelt among us who suffered as we suffered, who felt loss as we feel loss, who died as we all die. But His story does not end there – it continues with the resurrection of Christ Jesus; a feat that is unique in all of human history. A feat which changed the world. We have Christ to tell us we are exactly as we were designed by Him and to look to Him for the standard, not the world. He does understand your pain. He does understand the world’s scorn, for He felt scorn like no other. He understands the world’s hate, for the world hates him.
External beauty is not what God is seeking. He sees beyond that into your internal soul, seeing the true beauty within. He sees the inner depths of your soul, all that you have hidden within the ir from the world and you know what? He loves you anyway. He is willing and capable of cleansing you of these inequities through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is willing to help remold you into that perfect version of yourself as you were originally designed. This is now worldly perfect; this is not 2NE1’s version of perfect; but Godly perfection. He is perfecting those of us in Christ to be more like Him. However, the first step is to acknowledge Christ and His Lordship over our lives. Seek Him and He will begin the process of perfection right where you are.