The Troubles of T-ara are the troubles of the K-pop industry

A storm is raging within the k-pop industry and it seems one of the most popular girl groups is at the epicentre.

T-ara like other girl groups has undergone changes in their line-up; it seems that resentment stemming from these line up changes has seemingly eaten away at their relationship.

The initial group consisted of members Hyomin, Jiyeon, Jiwon, Jiae and Eunjung who underwent three years of training before debuting in 2009. However members Jiae and Jiwon left the group due to musical differences which could be read as code for not liking the direction they were taken on or due to conditions at the agency.

Additions were made to the group in the shape of Soyeon, Boram and Qri and the group became a six piece. This six piece worked together for a year before a new addition was made in December of 2010 of member Hwayoung. Following reports that the girls were lazy and seemed off in their appearances and performances the CEO of their agency CCM announced that there would be an addition of two more girls making T-ara a nine member group.

Both girls were young but many questioned the motivation of adding a 14 year old girl to an already established group of twenty something year old women. Bizarrely, the CEO stated that he had scouted member Dani on the streets of New York and that she had never considered a career in the entertainment industry let alone a career in the K-pop industry but has suddenly decided that this is what she wants to do.

We all know that the training period that these young boys and girls undergo is hard work mentally and physically and sees them fighting against each other to get a coveted spot in the group. This level of competition can create negative feelings amongst the groups and if two members who had a previous disagreement eventually become part of the group it can boil over into a full blown problem.

CCM is not known for their care of their idols. T-ara worked tirelessly for years without a single break and this had a negative impact on their performances and mental state of being. Countless videos and reports of the girls working all hours of the day surfaced. Unlike other groups who seemingly promote for a long period of time and then take a break before making a return. T-ara were constantly in TV shows, dramas and performing live all in the same day with low levels of sleep. Even injury couldn’t stop them from undertaking their idol duties.

The girls even complained in a broadcast of their need for a break and the CEO Kim Kwang Soo fired back stating that new members would be added and that the girls would have to show a stronger image and he wouldn’t tolerate laziness or bad behaviour or they would be out.

Frankly their cries of a break went unanswered and the girls were forced to continue as they had begun.

The atmosphere created by CCM seems to be one of pure competition where each member has to fight for their place in the group. The girls had been a six piece and had endured tough conditions in order to be considered for the group. It seems that the addition of Hwayoung was seen as a slap in the face for the members. In essence she was given a free ride and a much coveted place in group without much fight on her part.

Of course this creates ill feeling amongst the other members and this becomes intensified when your management threatens to axe you from a group you have fought so hard to get into. Those years of hard work, lack of sleep and proper diet have taken a toll on your body all for nothing.

These ill feelings seemed to have been publicised following their concert in Budokan Japan where Hwayoung who had injured her leg could not fully take part in the performances. She tweeted “The difference in the level of one’s determination ^^ let’s all have more determination, fighting!” Members Eunjung, Jiyeon, So-yean, and Hypo-min seemed to tweet their frustrating at her level of determination as they felt that she had not fully shown enough determination to take part in the performance. Hwayoung followed by tweeting that she was hoping that things would get better and that she was upset.

What followed seems to be a lesson in bad management.

CEO Kim Kwang Soo then announced that there would be a special announcement on the 30th of July. Many speculated that it would be the dismissal of a member or even surprisingly the disbandment of T-ara. He didn’t disappoint when he announced that Hwayoung had been axed from the agency.

Although it didn’t come as a shock (there was a feeling that things were about to change for T-ara) but the choice of member to dismiss came as a big surprise. Even more surprising were the reasons. In his reasoning the CEO stated that Hwayoung had displayed bad behaviour and that nineteen staff members had spoken of her ill behaviour and that she was trouble to work with.

Hwayoung tweeted shortly tweeted afterwards “facts without the truth…” indicating that what the CEO had stated was false.

All this left netizens feeling that injustice had been served and that bullying had been rampant and the victim Hwayoung now lost her place in a successful group because of it.

Of course reports and rumours have been flying around back and forth and even though it is difficult to substantiate them it does not come as a surprise. Hwayoung has always been seen as the outsider as she joined the group in the late stages when they had become established. Furthermore you can’t fake a lack of chemistry and even though they had permanent smiles on their faces (as all K-pop idols do) they could not hide their discord.

Rather than keeping mum on the situation the CEO has seemingly made things worse by talking to the media and leaving his ill mannered comments and I do agree with the theory that this provided him with the perfect excuse to get rid of Hwayoung and make it look like it was her fault.

Granted there are two sides to every story and as we haven’t personally spent time with the girls or the company we can only speculate it does however lead to the question of bullying and the nature of the K-pop industry as a whole.

The nature of the industry is based on competition which seems to reflect the competitive Korean culture. It is either fight to get noticed or stand back and let others take over your position.

The busy schedules that these idols have to undertake on a daily basis does not create the best environment in which communication and understanding can take place.

Lack of sleep and food can make the average Joe miserable, irritable and lash out at others. Imagine the pressure cooker atmosphere of an idol group. There is bound to be fights and misunderstandings, the threat of bullying is very real.

Of course some members will get on better than others and may even create their own cliques in order to have someone to share their experiences with, someone that understands what they are going through. The downside of this could be tactic of ganging up with the others in order to isolate another member that they feel is not pulling their weight or they don’t like.

I’m pretty sure that all idol groups have experienced arguments and even in the male groups physical fights. But most have seemingly put their grievances to one side or even talked out their problems and come up with solutions to keep everyone happy.

This is the downside of the industry. With so many new groups debuting every week or so; the pool of idols is getting larger and larger. Each group has to fight for relevancy in an already over saturated market. These youngsters haven’t got the maturity to deal with their own emotions let alone others.

So what needs to happen to prevent this from happening?

Companies must make sure that they do not only train their idols in singing, dancing and acting but also on life skills such as conflict management. They must be given a space in which they can talk out their issues and find ways to deal and prevent issues from getting larger. Most importantly they must be giving a break from their heavy workloads so that they can clear their minds and come back stronger to deal with anything comes their way during their activities.

What next for T-ara?

I’m afraid their CEO has caused them a great deal of damage. Their endorsements have been cut and the fans are not pleased with the way things are going.

Although their management has cut their promotional activities and appearances until after they release a new album it can only hurt the group further. They are already online petitions asking for them to disband, the fan websites are beginning to shut down and it has even reached the point where fans that bought tickets for their latest performance are returning tickets and asking for their money back. Furthermore it seems a quest for ‘the truth’ to be revealed has been ignited with many people joining websites dedicated to revealing what truly happened with Hwayoung.

They have two options. First disband and please all of those crazy excited netizens. Of course the girls that do get along could form their own new group and I see the key members such as Eunjung and Jiyeon not finding it hard to maybe even move outside of the idol platform and experience other areas of the entertainment industry. The down side of coming as a new group is that they could be seen as a controversial group for a long time. .

The second option is for the group to well regroup under new management or find another staff member to manage their image.

Whoever said silence is golden was correct. The band should release a statement and then fall out of the limelight for awhile until everything blows over. Work on creating a new image and use this as learning curve a la G Dragon of Big Bang. Furthermore they must make sure that the next dose of music that they deliver is truly outstanding.

If I was head of their PR I would personally contact the holding company of CCM and ask for Kwang Soo’s head to roll so that he never comes into contact with another idol gorup again. In fact I would ban him from ever working in the idol industry.

What next for Hwayoung?

The best thing for Hwayoung to do would be to go on a vacation and regroup. Take her mind of things and focus on what she wants her music career to be. She has the talent and could possibly do great things with the right company that harnesses this and carves a niche for her in the idol industry.

This T-ara saga has brought out the ugly side of K-pop to the forefront of media attention. The world it inhabits is one of happiness, eternal youth and perfection. This has been broken and the real face behind the K-pop mask has been exposed for all of us to see.

What do you think, can they recover?

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