Learning to leave with dignity

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Learning to leave with dignity

Jessica’s departure from Girls’ Generation stirred the K-pop scene last week. While the former girl group member, third from left in the photo, claims to have been ousted from the group, management agency SM Entertainment announced she left voluntarily, with the contradictory stances confusing fans. Jessica’s case is not the first discord seen in idol bands. TVXQ and Wonder Girls, a leading boy band and girl group in the 2000s, met dramatic ends.

TVXQ had entered the Japanese market while Wonder Girls advanced into the U.S. music scene. The five members of TVXQ split, and two of the originals became a duo of the same name while the other three formed JYJ. Wonder Girls dissolved when a member got married and the others went into acting. They had been top stars in Korea, but they must have experienced considerable hardship while trying to be pioneers overseas.

There is no way to know whether the members wished to expand abroad or if this was the agencies’ ambitions. Recently, the leader of nine-member boy band ZE:A criticized his agency’s CEO on social media for mistreatment, reconciling a day later.

The currently screening “Nine Muses: Their Survival” is a documentary about the hidden sides of K-pop idols. Director Lee Hak-jun worked as a manager for over a year and chronicled a girl group’s harsh debut process. Agency officials told them, “If you feel mistreated, you’d better become a star. Then you will get the VIP treatment,” or “Pretend to be pretty, nice and not so dumb.” Out of frustration, the members said they would leave.

An edited version aired on the BBC last year included a scene that was not in the theater’s version: an agency CEO slapping members’ faces with sheets of paper. “It wasn’t really slapping them on the face,” said the director. “The relationship between the idols and their agency is not that between victims and inflictor. They need each other for their own ambition.”

In other words, discord and trouble arise when ambition and desire don’t match. The Girls’ Generation controversy began when one member’s personal matters, including a fashion business and marriage, clashed with the team’s activities.

“In Japan, departures of idol group members are celebrated as ‘graduation,’” said one social media post. A “graduation concert” is held when members leave a group, and fans also support the decision. After all, no idol group can last forever, and members cannot ultimately share the same ambition. Agencies and groups need to learn to part well, just as they worked hard together to rise to stardom. They should save fans from the shock of seeing them turn against each other overnight.

*The author is a culture and sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 4, Page 31

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