Don't look now. But A.KOR came back a few weeks ago. Something that even we egregiously missed, but don't blame us. Who would think they'd have the gall, and perhaps the undeniable gumption, to show their faces here?* After Kemy's diss track of 2NE1's beleaguered Park Bom, and the Blackjacks' disproportionate reaction, we thought that A.KOR's story would only end in their abrupt and quiet disappearance. We even wrote a stirring piece on that sad story here.
But you can look now. Because unlikely as it is, A.KOR is back.
Don't Call it a Comeback
And in reality, they never even left, which is just as unbelievable of a story. Kemy's diss track was one of the most disastrous stories of this year. Dissing an established and beloved Kpop idol, a senior, not even a rapper, when you haven't even officially debuted yet? In a culture that gives complete deference and respect to those older than you? You just don't do that here.*
DOO Republic responded with more of an explanation than an apology, the diss track apparently being a submission for a rap competition, before pointing out that an 18-year-old girl (Kemy) was in shock over the reaction, and, as expected, they stopped promotions after only one week.
Kemy? She gave no apology. Instead, just a few weeks after this story blew up, she released this:
To thousands and thousands of YouTube dislikes. If that wasn't enough, A.KOR quickly regrouped, added members, and released a steady stream of videos, including a rather sophisticated cover/parody of Little Mix's "Word Up," which, as expected, received two dislikes to every like on YouTube. And still, they continued, they continue. Can you even believe that they're doing this here?*
It's disrespectful that they even exist as a group, isn't it?
True, A.KOR's not exactly burning up the charts (they are a rookie group), and they're not redefining Kpop with their music, nor are they saying anything revolutionary. But by simply existing and making music, so soon after public calamity, is an act of pure defiance. And to not apologize, to not shrivel and grovel and beg for forgiveness? That's unheard of. Also: Refreshing.
If there's one thing that Kpop agencies expect from their idols it's good behavior. The slightest mistake or perceived insult will lead to apologies and soul searching. Remember: Taeyeon apologizing to fans...for having a boyfriend? Reported here by the Korean Herald:
“I know I let you down. You might feel disappointed and mad. You might hate me... I know you have mixed feelings about it. I can accept that. And I want to say sorry. I know (you are hurt) because you have trusted and supported me.”
Let's reiterate that Taeyeon did nothing substantively wrong here. She apologized, essentially, for being in love.
Or what about After School's Raina apologizing to her fans after a misunderstanding left them star-crossed:
"I'm sorry. I feel like its' my fault that I've hurt those that came to support us. I'm sorry I wasn't a more considerate singer. It must've been hard, but thank you for believing in me and coming this far with me."
This was an apology over a misunderstanding. The thing is, pretty much any apology in Kpop is going to read like this, no matter what the degree of the wrongdoing. It's a formula, it's manufactured, and it's banal. But it's completely expected that our idols be apologetic, at the mercy of fan and agency and society.
Eat the Old
The blowback against Kemy for disrespecting her senior has been severe, with death threats and death wishes. And a constant murmur of anger, from even more reasonable fans. Kemy is disrespectful. A.KOR just wants attention. They need to know their place. They don't belong here.*
But maybe Kpop needs some disrespect. Just a little bit. Maybe Kpop needs some infusion of brash. The same deference to elders has led many young Korean idols into slave contracts, to immense mistreatment by their agencies, all in the name of respect. Knowing your place. We're just starting to see the cracks in the system, especially this week and Starship Empire's conflict with Z:EA's Lee Hoo. Maybe Kpop is big enough to have some rebelliousness, maybe it can survive if a young idol says something outlandish, and maybe Kpop will not crumble if that young idol doesn't feel sorry.
Maybe, every once in a while, the young should try to eat the old. Old, as in the old guard. Maybe some rookies shouldn't enter this world crawling. Maybe, maybe, maybe. These are all hypotheticals. But they're interesting hypotheticals, aren't they?
I can't help but have a western perspective. I can't help but think about punk rock, of the Sex Pistols singing "God Bless the Queen. The fascist regime." Or Eminem calling out celebrities, his wife, himself, to disturbing degrees. Or N.W.A's emphatic "F*ck the police." The odd thing is that the most fervent A.KOR haters are western fans, who should be familiar with the power of musical discord. Or maybe that's why they hate them so much. For many, Kpop serves as an escape from that pop aggression.
A.KOR isn't the Sex Pistols or the Ramones or N.W.A, obviously. A.KOR is here.* They already have a body of work, with covers and disses and solo tracks and now, a second promotional single, which, if you give it a chance, is actually a solid Kpop song. A.KOR is brash, they're rude, their new video is borderline torture porn. They're playing with fire, literally, in the video for "But Go." What if we Kpop fans, for once, let that flame ignite?
*here being the metaphysical world of Kpop, which has no walls or safe haven from agencies, fandoms, or societal expectations, etc.
Timothy Moore writes from Chicago. He blogs at Read My Blog Please, and edits at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His biases are T-ara, Block B, Nine Muses, Brown Eyed Girls, and Girl's Day.