A little over a month ago now, the biggest story in Kpop was a feisty rapper named Kemy, from a rookie group called A.Kor, leaving a diss track for 2NE1’s embattled Park Bom.
Fan reaction was, of course, understated:
"This Kemy girl who is dissing Park Bom is seriously seeking her own funeral.. Bye b*tch!!"
"Kemy i hope you die. We blackjacks will seriously burn you. I swear to God there will be time you'll die."
"Kemy, I just you to know that I will fucking cut you into pieces and burn you as well. Fame whore.”
And those were the nicer tweets.
We covered the story extensively in a post we titled, Kpop #trending: The Sad Story of Kemy and Park Bom. We called this a sad story, and it still is. Wishing death on a human being, especially a young one, is never a worthy endeavor.
Fast forward a month, and the Kpop world, already reeling from news of EunB’s death, just yesterday has learned that fellow Ladies’ Code member, RiSe, has passed away from her injuries. Here it is, real death, in a story that isn’t just sad, heartbreaking in every way, but undeniably tragic.
In an industry so new that its veterans, like Lee Hyori, are only in their thirties, real death is not a topic broached with regularity. American pop, which has had so many stars (mostly far too young), die and then lionized, has a national narrative in place to mourn the loss of their artists. But Kpop, regarded as safe and relatively airy, does not have that same experience with grief.
In fact, death in the industry has been scarce, but not unheard of. Solo artist U;Nee’s suicide in January of 2007 was met with sorrow, but her management company still released her third album, just five days later. Iris’ lead vocalist, Lee Eun Mi, was murdered, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, in June of 2011. Before either of their deaths, way back in June of 2000, the boy band NRG’s Kim Hwan Sung passed away from viral pneumonia. There have been tragedies before and since then, but Kpop and its idols have thankfully lived in relative security, something the industry and the fans often take for granted. Because tragedy is inevitable.
The Sewol ferry disaster of April 16th of this year shocked Korea, the death of nearly 300 people, mostly secondary school students, brought the entire nation into a prolonged mourning period. Instead of responding to the tragedy, Kpop came to a screeching halt. Music shows were cancelled, releases delayed. It was a classy move done out of respect for the many victims, but the message was clear: Kpop has no narrative to handle real tragedy. Kpop is merely pop.
Now, if Kpop is really as light and ultimately inconsequential as it is supposed, how should the industry react to these deaths? What responsibilities does it really have? No music shows were cancelled with Ladies’ Code’s accident, though idols responded with condolences, many attending EunB’s memorial. The media, for its part, responded with a customary lack of restraint, valuing sensationalism over dignity in the many pictures and videos that were published. We’re sure RiSe’s passing will be met with the same grace from idols, but also the same vulgarity from the press. We’re almost surprised that there haven’t been more gruesome pictures released of the accident, but maybe we’re speaking too soon.
Kpop fans will have to come to terms with reality broaching their fandom, and they will have to evolve in their discourse and knowledge to truly respond to substantial issues like blackmail, abuse, and death.
Because maybe Kpop will not respond to these things. Maybe Kpop is really so unimportant that it is ill equipped to tackle the actual world we live in. The industry that shut down during the Sewol tragedy, will likely give condolences and offer video retrospectives on their music shows for EunB and RiSe. And then?
And then, quite possibly, nothing.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Because we believe that Kpop can and does mean something. We believe that Kpop can be substantial. We believe that Kpop can help us mourn. We believe pop doesn’t have to be a slur. We watch Ladies’ Code’s “Hate You” and “Kiss Kiss” and what do we see? Young artists. Yes, pop. But also: Immortality.