“Sexy” and “Jessi” have become synonymous in the unofficial K-pop dictionary. Since she appeared on the first season of the Korean music competition reality show “Unpretty Rapstar” in 2015, Jessi has exemplified what it means for a woman to look and feel sexy within the context of an industry in a historically conservative country that often prefers to display women as cutesy, waifish, or angelic.
Although Jessi is best known by her nickname, she debuted on the K-pop scene just days before her 17th birthday in 2005 as Jessica H.O —a play off her birth name, Jessica Ho. Since then, she’s had her triumphs (topping charts, winning awards, getting hosting gigs) and hardships (a five-year hiatus, controversies over her appearance). Unlike everyone else in the game, though, Jessi, now 34, has consistently presented herself as … Jessi. Every time she shows up to work, Jessi exudes the confidence, fearlessness, and sexual empowerment that has gotten her to this moment.
While K-pop stars typically have a new bold hair color every other month and change up their makeup based on trends, Jessi has been committed to a very specific beauty aesthetic throughout her career. Her hair sweeps past her curves with the help of extensions, strictly in shades of blonde, black, and brunette. Year after year, Jessi’s makeup remains the same, too: bronzed smoky eyes, dramatically full falsies, and voluminous lips — a signature look that exists outside the realm of classic Korean makeup styles. Jessi has never been one for the popsicle-stained lips, twinkling eye shadow, and watercolor-like flushed cheeks often seen on K-pop stars.
Because of this, Jessi had to teach her makeup artist how to achieve her aesthetic, she says. “I have a specific eyebrow and lip that I like, so I do those myself. I can’t do anything else, like lashes and liner.” Today, she’s displaying the culmination of both of their efforts: rusted smoky eyes paired with balmy rose lips. “I’m not going to lie. I put a little more eyeshadow on the top,” Jessi adds, pointing to the matte terracotta shadow on the center of her lids.
All of this brings me to one question in particular: Where does Jessi find that sexy sweet spot that is palatable for all audiences — including herself — when finalizing the visuals for “Gum”? “I think it depends on how you use your body language when you move. [For] me in general, because my boobs are big, it is going to look sexual regardless,” she says. “I always show some type of skin because I’m confident. I’m not trying to show [it to] be sexual.”