[ENTERTAINMENT]H.O.T alumni, agency, fighting it outKorea's top boy band of the late 1990s, H.O.T, is gone, presumably forever. The quintet, now in their 20s, went defunct officially last summer when its managing agency, SM Entertainment, decided not to renew its recording contract. SM's reasoning? The two most talented members of the group were waffling about their future plans, and the agency had no faith in the other three.
When H.O.T disbanded, fierce protests arose from their obsessively devoted fans. The two stars, Kang Ta and Moon Hee-jun, shed crocodile tears before signing back on with SM and promptly recording solo debut albums, each of which sold more than 300,000 copies. Kang is known for his songwriting skills and critics like his forays into jazz and rhythm and blues, a risky move for a boy band graduate. He asserted his independence in the song "Twenty-three," when he sang, "Don't forget, the true conqueror is me."
The local music scene, meanwhile, pitied the other three members as mere leftovers. The hapless trio, Tony Ahn, Jang Woo-hyeok and Lee Jae-won, were angling to sue SM for ending the contract, but later signed on with a smaller agency. After getting their teeth-gnashing out of their system, they began work on an album of their own. At the end of last month they settled on a new name: jtl － derived from the given names of the three.
Their fans seem to have stuck with them. As their album was being released, the band's new fan club numbered 500,000 members, and sales of the new album, "Enter the Dragon," hit about the same number in its first week in stores, though some critics say most fans bought it without considering its musical value.
While their two former comrades Kang and Moon tried to slough off their boy-band image and distinguish themselves as more mature musicians, jtl chose a safer route. They kept and even reinforced their image as a dance group. As a result their album sounds like a Korean version of the latest Backstreet Boys sound warmed over. Instead of setting off for new musical territory, jtl leaves the listener with the impression that it is emulating other boy bands, which are basically working the rap/rock angle. The members of jtl contributed lyrics for some of their songs, but wrote no music. But they have progressed as artists, according to what their spokesman apparently meant as praise: "They can sing and dance live on stage, which was impossible before when they could only lip sync."
The group has yet to embark on a media blitz. SM Entertainment has engaged them in a power game by pressuring television stations to never allow Kang Ta, a big favorite on TV programs, and jtl to appear together. "The custom in the entertainment business is that any singers with unresolved problems with their former agencies cannot appear on TV shows," said an SM spokesman. Jtl bristled at that move, saying that they will not ignore such "unfair acts."
A few years ago, fans of different boy bands often physically fought each other. Now it seems the bands themselves are set on taking over the brawling duties.
by Choe Jae-hee