If there is anything that the past year can tell us, it’s that idol groups are unstable. The latest to remind us of this fact is Jessica, who recently posted her shock at being ousted from perennial favorites, Girls’ Generations. As the fifth major idol group to experience tensions between members in just the last year alone, we have to take a critical look at the group promotion system within Kpop and ask ourselves, has the idol group taken us as far as it can go? Is it time for a change?
We are complicated beings. We think, we feel; we have bad days, we need encouragement. We take pride when we do something well. We are selfish. We make friends, and we make enemies. We live, we laugh, we love, and we hate. According to Twain, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”
The thing is, a person is incredibly complex. And when you put more than one person together, say, in an idol group, you increase that complexity exponentially. By their very definition, idol groups are more unstable than solo artists. More egos mean more potential for problems.
Who stands in front during the initial choreography? Am I getting enough time on screen during the music video? Why does she get to be part of the sub-group, and not me? How come no one has ever offered to let me do a solo album? How come our profits are split nine ways?
The solo artist is much easier to keep happy. If the five groups mentioned above haven’t proved that, maybe ZE:A’s recent troubles will. Though we still don’t know everything about the situation that exploded into social media, what is clear is that the entertainment agency was not able to adequately compensate the group. When you split 30% of profits nine ways, each member makes a hell of a lot less than they would on their own.
Of course, you could argue that the members of Girls’ Generation would never have risen to fame on their own. And you’d be right. But that’s partially because Kpop has until now adopted a group-first approach. When American pop music went the route of individuality (you could probably dog-ear 2002 and ‘N Sync’s break-up as the turning point), it wasn’t a clear-cut transition. Some made money, some did not. Had ‘N Sync never existed, I’m sure Justin Timberlake would still have made his millions. The rest of them...maybe not.
It’s not a given that Jessica could have made a name for herself without Girls’ Generation. But now that she’s on her own, all she has to do is look out for number one. Whatever money she makes will no longer be split nine ways. Honestly, it’s a miracle that more idol groups have not had issues before now.
And budding stars may start to take note. Why join a group when I can become famous on my own? Why share my profits, when I don’t have to? Once artists and agencies start to weigh the potential for solo success against the risk of group issues, we may finally see the end of the idol group. Five years from now, ten years from now, will we look back at this moment as a turning point in Kpop?
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.