In the last 12 months, T-ara have undoubtedly become one of the most successful acts in K-Pop, period. “Roly Poly” was the biggest song of 2011, the group became Triple Crown winners, “Lovey-Dovey” became their fourth consecutive single to top the GAON chart, they made chart history in Japan, and in December, an official Gallup Poll of the Korean public ranked T-ara as the second ‘Most Outstanding’ girl group of the year, trailing behind SNSD, but beating out top-tier superstars like Wonder Girls, 2NE1, and KARA. Not to mention the triple-threat of Hyomin, Eunjung, and Jiyeon, who have all become stars in their own right thanks to expansive solo activities that include popular K-dramas, movies, and variety shows.
So, what does Kim Kwang Soo, CEO of T-ara’s agency Core Contents Media, go and do? He decides to expand T-ara to a 9-member group, and then publicly threatens to replace any original members who dare to step out of line.
Check out his official statement below.
“In July, T-ara will release and promote a new album with new members. They’ll change how they are to fit the 9 of them together.”
He continued, “A lot of fans are worried and concern for the changes happening to T-ara, but our management knows very well what can happen if the changes aren’t made. T-ara will be in a situation where there will be very intense competition, and we don’t want to think that they’ll not be able to grow. T-ara went through a lot of hard practice to debut as idols. They need to continue to constantly work harder and take on new challenges.”
Kim Kwang Soo also wanted to emphasize, “T-ara’s controversies including greeting problems, stage attitude problems, etc.. as T-ara’s CEO, I’m sorry to the fans. Core Contents Media’s staff and T-ara are working very hard to make sure to avoid all controversies.”
“If the members are lazy, or harmful to other members including the new members, we’ll make the bold decision to remove and replace them with new members.“
Now, I know what you’re all thinking. “9 members? Isn’t that SNSD’s trademark?” I feel your pain, but normally I wouldn’t be against something this drastic. After all, T-ara is a group known for their ability to constantly transform, and a shocking member shakeup feels strangely logical for K-Pop’s biggest shape shifters. But how do you add members to a group that doesn’t even utilize the ones that they already have? Qri got two spoken lines in “Cry Cry”, and let’s all be honest here: nobody even cared about Hwayoung until she cut her hair short and finally got some solo shine in “We Were In Love” and “Lovey-Dovey”. And then there’s poor Boram, who showed some promise in her pre-debut days, but has since been demoted to singing literally half a sentence in T-ara’s most recent hit “Lovey-Dovey”.
Kim Kwang Soo has tried to soften the blow of the member change by revealing that the additional members will be “good in singing” and will help take the burden off Soyeon as the group’s main vocalist, but in reality, T-ara is not Davichi or Brown Eyed Girls — we don’t come to T-ara for powerhouse vocals. We come to T-ara for their catchy K-Pop and exciting concept changes, and the fact that they’re not perfect has always been a big part of the group’s appeal. Plus, Soyeon is essentially the distinctive ‘voice’ of T-ara now, while Hyomin and Eunjung are both very good singers (and rappers — remember “Time To Love?”), so messing with such a strong formula can only be counteractive to the group’s working dynamic.
And then there’s the terrible track record that all non-SNSD 9-membered groups have experienced. 9 Muses faced criticism upon their debut for ‘copying’ SNSD, while having 9-members in the constantly-changing lineup of After School sure as hell didn’t help them during the “Shampoo” promotions.
T-ara currently hold the advantage of being the only 7-member troupe in the top-tier of Korean girl groups, but if they add two more, they’ll be closer to becoming the new After School rather than the new SNSD, and Kim Kwang Soo can’t possibly think that’s a good idea.
So that leaves the question: Why does Kim Kwang Soo want to mess so drastically with the successful formula of one of Korea’s most popular acts, even going as far as to threaten to replace existing members of the group? It’s simple. Kim Kwang Soo wants to punish the group and bully them into obedience.
During their rise to the top, T-are not only gained popularity, but also a reputation as one of the most overworked groups in K-Pop — and a lot of that reputation has stemmed from the member’s own words. In January, when asked during an interview whether she had any complaints about the CEO of her agency, Soyeon sternly claimed that T-ara hadn’t received one vacation since debuting in 2009, and then went on to state that the group hadn’t even had one day off in 12 months. In that same month, an ill Boram tweeted about feeling “depressed” and like she would “explode from the inside”, while Hyomin wrote that the group were “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” in a public letter to her fans.
T-ara’s schedules have taken a huge physical toll on the group in recent months. The talented Eunjung sprained her ankle in early January and was still made to participate in T-ara’s shuffle-dancing “Lovey-Dovey” performances with the aid of painkillers and pressure bandages, before eventually rupturing her knee later in the same month, leaving her unable to perform or even walk without the aid of crutches (her recommended six-week recovery period was later cut short due to heavy schedules). Jiyeon suffered some trouble too, collapsing directly after a “Cry Cry” performance on Inkigayo, which led to her being hospitalized briefly for fatigue. A few weeks later while promoting Dream High 2, she expressed her jealousy over minor laws portrayed in the series, stating, “In the drama, there are special laws protecting minors in the entertainment industry, and I wish those laws existed in reality.”
The following month she was interviewed on MBC and claimed that T-ara once had 12 schedules to complete in one day, and then said that she hadn’t seen her family in months.
Exhaustion, IV drips, and being severely overworked is a well-known part of the K-Pop industry, but c’mon! Shuffle dancing on a sprained ankle? 12 schedules in one day? An entire year without one break? T-ara is the most overworked girl group in K-Pop, and you know that things must be really bad when these obedient and well-trained little idols are publicly complaining about it whenever they’re given the chance.
Rather than listen to the concerns and complaints of the group, Kim Kwang Soo’s response to their cries is to try and make them work even harder by fostering fierce competition amongst the members, with the added threat of firing members if they don’t comply. This way, they’ll be scared that if they speak up they’ll end up be jobless. It’s deranged, tyrannical, and harmful to T-ara both emotionally and physically. The group should be positively encouraged to work together towards a shared goal, not pitted against each other like an idol edition of Battle Royale.
[T-ara members struggle to stay awake during Japanese "Roly Poly" promo spot]
Kim Kwang Soo’s made his feelings on disruptive idols known in the past, publicly declaring that the members of KARA who briefly left the group during their infamous contract dispute should be blacklisted from the entertainment industry, and that any companies supporting them should be boycotted.
This is a man who doesn’t like to be defied. He’s completely copped out though, trying to attribute the member shakeup to controversies surrounding T-ara’s “attitude problems”. T-ara’s last scandal regarding this kind of behaviour was over 6 months ago when the girls apparently caused offence by looking disinterested during a performance, but their slate has been clean since then. Plus, who can really blame them for slipping up sometimes when their schedule is so packed that they only average between thirty minutes and two hours of sleep per night, according to Soyeon?
If Kim Kwang Soo isn’t careful, he’s gonna have T-ara pull a KARA on his ass and take some legal action of their own. You can only get away with treating somebody terribly for so long until they snap, and if that happens, CCM’s star act will be gone and nobody is going to get enjoy the awesomeness of T-ara any longer.