T-ara‘s resident rapper Ryu Hwayoung was officially fired from the group this afternoon following several days of unfounded speculation that she was being bullied by the other members.
In an official statement released by Kim Kwang Soo, the CEO of T-ara’s agency Core Contents Media, Hwayoung was accused of being difficult and making the agency’s staff unhappy. In another statement released shortly afterwards, Kim Kwang Soo specifically highlighted an incident from Friday’s episode of Music Bank, where Hwayoung, who was suffering from a leg injury at the time, supposedly refused to go on stage just two songs before T-ara’s scheduled performance — leaving members Eunjung and Hyomin to learn Hwayoung’s parts at the last minute to cover for her. Kim Kwang Soo continued, stating that Hwayoung later caused a scene after the performance and threatened to yell at her managers in public.
This all begun late last week, when Jiyeon, Eunjung, Soyeon, Boram, and Hyomin (literally every original T-ara member but Qri), were busted taking subtle shots at Hwayoung on Twitter for not completing a concert performance in Japan. Hwayoung quickly responded, and was backed up by her twin sister, who is a member of CCM girl group 5dolls.
But as they say, there are two sides to every story.
Roughly an hour after Kim Kwang Soo confirmed Hwayoung’s contract had been terminated due to behavioral issues, the 19-year-old simply tweeted “…facts without any truth“. A Japanese translator who worked with T-ara on a magazine shoot in February then came to the rapper’s defense on Twitter, refuting Kim Kwang Soo’s claims that she was rude to staff by tweeting that Hwa was polite and left a “good impression” during the shoot, but that she spent her time alone and didn’t speak with the other T-ara members.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there’s more to this than what Kim Kwang Soo is claiming. I previously outlined just some of the mistreatment that KKS has subjected T-ara to over the years in my April article about the group’s then impending member changes. The man has a bad rep, and he’s always in the headlines for overworking his artists or cooking up scandalous publicity stunts for promotion.
It’s not far-fetched to speculate that Hwayoung stood up to Kim Kwang Soo –as well as the other members if any of the bullying claims are true– and was then fired for her rebellion.
In fact, this whole incident is just history repeating itself. Only a few years ago, Nam Gyuri left former CCM girl group SeeYa, citing exhaustion amongst other reasons. Gyuri was then subjected to a smear campaign by Kim Kwang Soo, which included accusations that she purposely missed scheduled events (a claim she denied). What followed was a public war of words between Gyuri, Kim Kwang Soo, and her former bandmates, who took Kim Kwang Soo’s side.
As for T-ara, more people seem to be on Hwayoung’s side than anyone elses. A program director for SBS (home of music program Inkigayo), tweeted that he would no longer cast T-ara on the network; netizens have been demanding that Eunjung be removed fr0m her current reality show and drama series; J-Pop superstar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (a known T-ara fan) defended Hwayoung on Twitter today and expressed a negative opinion towards Kim Kwang Soo and T-ara, and Hwayoung’s Twitter followers have more than doubled in the past two days, taking her from the least followed member of T-ara to now having more followers than Qri and Boram.
As it stands, T-ara is currently the third biggest girl group in K-Pop, both at home and in Japan, but a scandal this damaging could potentially end the girls for good.
Their downward spiral began earlier this year when Kim Kwang Soo announced plans to needlessly add two new members to the group — one being a 14-year-old girl with no previous musical experience who was reported to have been scouted straight off the street. After upsetting fans with the news, T-ara returned at the beginning of July with a new album and their first or two new members, Areum. The lineup change had a negative effect on their comeback, with sales of their album so far being weak compared to their last one, and their current single, “Day by Day”, has been outsold by 2NE1 and SISTAR. For T-ara, who gained a reputation as Korea’s ‘digital monsters’ after the mammoth success of their hits “Roly Poly” and “Lovey-Dovey”, “Day by Day” has underperformed.
A few months ago, it looked as if T-ara were on their way to surpassing 2NE1 in popularity, and now they’re not only being outsold by the YG superstars, but also by SISTAR, too.
Hwayoung’s departure certainly doesn’t look good for the group, and it couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time. Many K-Poppers have been deciding whether or not to support T-ara with as much fervor as before now that two new faces have been added to the lineup, so a scandal this nasty could easily tip people into ditching T-ara for good.
It’s still too early to tell T-ara’s future, but a full-on group implosion is unlikely. With their music, acting, and endorsements, T-ara are CCM’s main moneymakers by a mile, and even with a tarnished image and a career-damaging scandal, they’ll still bring in more dollars than the agency’s second biggest act, girl duo Davichi, ever will. With that said, just because I don’t see them disbanding, doesn’t mean that they will necessarily continue to be as popular as they are now. They’re a top-tier group, but with the explosion of SISTAR and a scandal this big, they could certainly be knocked down a few rungs on the ladder.
In typical T-ara style, the group is set to embrace the mammoth publicity storm caused by Hwayoung-gate and proceed with their previously scheduled comeback on August 15. There’s no question that all eyes will be on them when they return — the group has occupied half of Twitter’s worldwide trending topics since this afternoon, and the scandal is absolutely dominating Korea’s major real-time search rankings.
It’s unfair to pass judgement on either Hwayoung or T-ara until more information surfaces, but it’s safe to say that the group won’t be the same without Hwa. Most considered her a useless and awkward addition to T-ara when she first joined in 2010, but as time went by, that all changed. Hwa gained confidence, she got hot by cutting her hair short, and then snatched some serious wigs the moment that CCM put her into the spotlight with a special rap verse in the T-ara and Davichi collaboration “We Were In Love”. Then came her solo moonwalk in “Lovey-Dovey”, and all of a sudden it was hard to imagine a T-ara without Hwayoung. After finally coming completely into her own with her killer opening rap on “Day by Day”, Hwa was fired and unfairly labelled a troublemaker.
With her contract now terminated, we can only hope that Hwa is able to sign with a new agency where she’ll be treated with the respect that she never seemed to get in T-ara.