Last Friday, Luhan of Exo-M filed for contract termination against SM Entertainment. The move was sudden, catching everyone off guard, including fans. This is the second such lawsuit for a member of Exo-M in the last six months. Perhaps more worryingly for Kpop fans, though, is that this news comes soon after Jessica’s forced removal from Girls’ Generation, Sulli’s uncertain hiatus from f(x), Sera’s supposed graduation from Nine Muses, and disturbing allegations against Star Empire of unfair treatment of ZE:A. And now Lee Joon of MBLAQ may be joining the list. The high volume of change to so many established groups has left fans in shock, many fearing the worst for their beloved genre.
We make the reference to Exodus as more than a clever pun on Exo’s name. Exodus (from the Greek, ἔξοδος, going out), is an apt description for the recent flurry of idols leaving their groups, many under the suggestion of harsh working conditions and unbearable contracts. In the Book of Exodus, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt after years of slavery. The allusion is a simple one to make.
We have to view recent events as more than a collection of unrelated tragedies. Something very real is happening in Kpop. Something is happening to Kpop, and the agents of change are the idols themselves. Whether or not they’ve found their Moses (the same lawyer representing Hangeng, Kris, and now Luhan?), or whether the voice of one has given confidence to others, it hardly matters. Kpop is changing. And that scares many people. But it shouldn’t.
Change is a necessary part of life, of Kpop. Without change, progress is impossible. Without change, we would still be watching Kim Jong-Kook dance in a surprisingly baggy suit singing Turbo songs. We would have less than ten idol groups to watch and obsess over. But how, how, you might say, could the recent changes possibly be conceived of as progress? I ask you a question in return. Do you honestly believe that Girls’ Generation can perform as a unit forever?
Everything we know and love is the result of some change. There is no such thing as “normal” in Kpop. It has been evolving since the very beginning. If you allow yourself to believe that nothing in Kpop will ever change, you are only guaranteeing yourself a lifetime of disappointment. Change is coming. And it’s not all bad.
I say this not out of crassness or a lack of sympathy. My bias, f(x), stands on the brink of dissolution. There is a very clear and definite hiatus which the members may never regroup from, at least not in any recognizable unit. My second bias, Block B, very well could have disbanded in 2013 when they filed a lawsuit against Stardom Entertainment. I do not support the downfall of Exo. I am not in favor of the women of Girls’ Generation going their separate ways just yet. But I’m not opposed to it either.
We have to learn to accept that Kpop is evolving. It will have ups and it will have downs. It will change. Fearing that change, or refusing to believe it possible, will only make the future harder to embrace. That may be a future without Exo, without f(x), without Girls’ Generation, Nine Muses, or MBLAQ. But we’re going to be okay. I promise. We’re going to be okay.
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.