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The Wolf Cut: A Brief History of K-pop's Most Divisive Trend

TXT’s Beomgyu is leading the cut’s revival.

Nothing sets stan Twitter ablaze quite like a K-pop idol with long hair. But add a bit of voluminous fringe and some wispy layers, and it's a guaranteed firestorm. When Beomgyu, a member of TXT (Tomorrow X Together), debuted his fresh look in the promotional photos for the group's new album The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE, fans (and his fellow bandmates) were quick to collectively celebrate his hairstyle — a hybrid of a tousled shag and a modified mullet, otherwise known as a wolf cut. 

Courtesy of BIGHIT MUSIC.

If you are not a MOA, chances are you've seen this Gen Z-approved cut on TikTok, where the "wolf cut" tag has already accumulated over 230 million views. Many young people are even DIY-ing the edgy chop mainly via the “one-minute mullet” trend, with results often falling on the shaggier side of the mullet spectrum.

Named for its untamed essence, the now-uber popular wolf cut is choppy and full of texture, framed by soft, graduated layers around the face. A favorite in South Korean salons, the style is shorter in the front and tapered in the back (like a mullet) but unfussy and effortlessly piecey (like a shag). There’s certainly overlap when it comes to naming but think of wolf cuts as the in-between between the two. The layering and versatility of wolf cuts are the keys to the style. One can achieve an edgier (and more mullet-y) twist by opting to shave the sides of the head or go for a softer, much subtler take closer to a shag or a "Hershey” cut, with added length. Wolf cuts even leave room to play around with bangs and sideburns. 

Though naming might vary, nowadays, celebs like Miley CyrusBarbie FerreiraBretman Rock, and even Debby Ryan are pulling off different iterations of the wolf cut. And, in the K-pop world, Choi Beomgyu's is reigning supreme. "I think [I] really suit this hair so well," Beomgyu said during a recent livestream — and judging from the frenzied responses on Twitter, fans overwhelmingly agree. (MOAs have even created a somewhat of a sub-fandom for the cut: Wolftoris.)

The mullet and all of its chic variations — from short shags to soft-serve mullets to hime cuts and hush cuts — are undoubtedly trendy right now, but the wolf cut has been a polarizing K-pop style staple since the mid-aughts. Second-generation idols like TVXQ's Jaejoong, Super Junior's Leeteuk and Eunhyuk, and SHINee's Taemin brought the shaggy cut back to the forefront of South Korean entertainment decades after soccer star Kim Byungji popularized its most extreme version in the 1990s.

Screenshot. Courtesy of SM Entertainment.

Getty Images.

One of the goalkeeper's striking looks of choice, it soon became his signature. His intimidating 'do matched his aggressive playing style. Short on the sides, long in the back, the jarring “Kim Byungji haircut" was a major trend for South Korean men who wanted to evoke the masculine, "tough guy" image of the K-League athlete — and, believe it or not, MacGyver. 

The fictional TV hero, played by Richard Dean Anderson, was the titular focus of the primetime action series, which ran from 1985 to 1992 in the U.S. The series also became a hit in South Korea, which in turn made MacGyver's luxurious mullet a symbol of masculinity among Korean men. (MacGyver was also so popular in South Korea that Swiss army knives are also commonly referred to as 맥가이버칼, literally "MacGyver knife.") 

However, the hairstyle wasn't always the picture of machismo. David Bowie's otherworldly alter ego Ziggy Stardust was also the epitome of androgyny in the 1970s. His iconic copper high-low cut, spikey on top, was reportedly inspired by a photo he saw of a model for fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto in a 1971 copy of Honey magazine. He asked his hairstylist Suzi Ronson to recreate it. "I was thinking, "That’s a little weird — it’s a woman’s hairstyle,'" she said in an interview with The Daily Mail's You Magazine. (Actor Jane Fonda famously rocked one herself, which was forever immortalized in her 1970 mugshot. Fonda's take on the style also became synonymous with the film Klute, which earned her the Oscar for Best Actress in 1972.)

The genderless look and its stylized variants defined the decade, thanks to rockstars and punks like Keith Richards, The Sweet, and Wings-era Paul McCartney. Even back then, the spirit of the hairstyle is encapsulated as rebellious, bold, and non-conforming. (There's even enough evidence to suggest that this type of cut has been a favorite among radicals throughout history, and it's even been banned in Iran and North Korea.)  

Getty Images.

Getty Images.

Eventually, the avant-garde 'do went mainstream in the '80s, as most trends did, and everyone from Hollywood "hunks" like Patrick Swayze and Kiefer Sutherland to superstars like Cher and Little Richard had one, prompting the mullet's global ascendence. Look no further than Stranger Things' own Steve Harrington and his glorious hair. But trends burn bright and fast, and by the '90s the mullet fell out of public favor in the West, which, of course, made it cool and subversive again. To rock a mullet in any of its forms in the ‘90s and 2000s meant that you didn't adhere to trends. 

In South Korea, men started growing their hair out, which ultimately gave them more styling opportunities. The severity of a mullet, or a Kim Byungji cut as it was later dubbed, eventually transformed into something softer and more gradual. Men started embracing layers. And Pop princess BoA's hair metal-esque 2005 wolf cut during the Girls on Top era proved that women could pull it off, too. The look roared back into style in the 2010s, thanks to idols like BIGBANG's G-Dragon and WINNER's Mino

Getty Images.

Getty Images.

However, it was just as divisive as ever. In a 2017 VLIVE, EXO's Baekhyun, whose two-toned red and chocolate wolf cut during the group's "Ko Ko Bop" era is often credited with helping to revive the trend, said that he'd been rocking the cut since childhood. "I've tried this hairstyle when I was in kindergarten," he said, per Naver's subtitles. “After watching MacGyver, my mom tried that hairstyle on me. Now that I tried it [again] after more than 10 years, it reminds me of old memories. I know this might be a little unconventional. Bu this is my concept, so I hope you'll cheer for me.” They did, eventually. 

Screenshot. Courtesy of SM Entertainment. 

Baekhyun's cut was hotly debated on Korean forums, where fans criticized the “dated” look. But the daring 'do eventually started to infiltrate the streets, and the wolf cut was once again reborn as a more fluid statement cut. The look itself transcends the gender binary, which may be why it's becoming so popular among Gen Z. Many young people today embrace gender fluidity and individualism. The wolf cut isn't just a trend; it's a lifestyle. 

Love 'em or hate 'em, wolf cuts have become an integral part of the K-pop experience. Artists like SEVENTEEN's The8, VICTON's HanSe, and now also Beomgyu, are inspiring a new generation of fans to free themselves from convention and unleash their wild sides. So consider this is your sign to try a wolf cut. (It was mine.) 

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