King & Queen is a Kpop fan fiction drama that is released in an episodic format exclusively at Critical Kpop. Enjoy and keep tuning in for the continuing story!
JYP scuffs his brown loafers on stage. He glances left and right, looking for the smoke signal cue. He hears the familiar hiss and looks up feeling the warmth of stage lighting on his face. It’s time. JYP slowly raises his arms to catch the crowd’s attention. "Ladies and Gentlemen, of Kpop High, I present to you, your King and Queen of Kpop!"
Two hours earlier...
Ailee sits at a table by herself. She folds her hands in her lap, her fingernails colored scarlet, the color of shame. She picks at a loose thread on her dress, an unraveling perfection of rose-pink. Zico left for the bathroom fifteen minutes ago, and no one has talked to her since. She knew it was a mistake to come.
The lunchroom of Kpop High is crowded, even with the all tables pushed to the perimeter. Across the room, Bora leans her hips the other direction and seven men sway. Ailee watches JB cup his palm to his open mouth and fall backwards in mock faint, only to be caught by Jr.
The most popular girls at school, Girls’ Generation, are in disarray at their table. Looks like Jessica has been shunned, or maybe she shunned herself. She pulls her table away from her former friends, tears in her eyes. She too, will sit alone. The rest of SNSD try to keep up appearances, all smiles, “We’re fine,” they seem to say, but everything they do is tinged with sadness. Ailee can relate. It’s been a tough year, for just about everyone at Kpop High. She herself began the year in shame, ostracized from her peers for her singular indiscretion. She can’t help but wonder: How could I be so stupid? She feels like everyone is looking at her, judging her. Like they can see her naked.
And now even Zico has left her. So, Ailee sits patiently, wishing here, at this moment, to be invisible. To her left, the upperclassman of Super Junior are crying about their beloved Mamacita. To her right, Orange Caramel, clad in striped red and white shirts and overalls, are jumping up and down, back and forth, and they won’t stop. They can’t stop. They never stop.
Talk is cheap. Talk in the men’s bathroom at Kpop High is worse. It’s misogyny mixed with two shots of spite, all garnished with a spritz of sweat. Zzzzp. Flush.
“Hey, Rap Monster.”
He walks to the sink without turning. Just upperclassmen trying to get him riled up. He waves his hands beneath the automatic faucet.
“Come on, man, what you think?"
Why don’t these things ever work?
“I’m talking to you.”
In the mirror, Rap Monster watches Zico sidle over. Rap Monster busies himself with the sad trickle of water, barely enough to spread the soap around.
Zico reaches a hand over and flicks the red rose in Rap Monster’s lapel. “Who’s this for? The Queen of Kpop, maybe?”
The water stops, and Rap Monster turns for the towel dispenser, his hands in prayer. Ignore them, and they go away. Ignore them, and--
A hand grips his bicep. Zico. “Hey I’m talking to you.” Suddenly they are not alone. Taeil and Jaehyo surround him, the cronies never far away. “I want to know, Rap Monster. Which queen are you planning on taking home tonight? Who are you going to pin that rose on? Hmm? There’s plenty out there for everyone. You don’t want me stealing your girl, right?”
An explosion. “Are you fucking kidding me? What am I to you?”
Zico lets go of Rap Monster’s arm and takes a step back. He puts one hand in his jacket pocket to show Rap Monster the outline. A gun? Seriously? The message is abundantly clear, but Zico leans in close. Whispers. His breath hot. “Chew me the wrong way, and your teeth might go out.”
Then Zico smiles, and Taeil and Jaehyo laugh. It’s all a joke to them.
Rap Monster pushes through. He exits the bathroom, his hands still sopping wet and shaking with anger.
The thing about IU is that everyone wants to know her but no one has the guts to talk to her. It wasn’t always this way. When she was a freshman, she was all marshmallows and hugs. But as she started her junior year, IU’s demeanor changed. She doesn’t smile so much anymore, Ailee notices. She doesn’t dance with the boys. Mostly she sits, she watches, she observes. Zico says that she’s judgie. Pretentious. Always bringing up history and old folk songs. Many in Kpop High seem to feel that way about IU, but would never say such a thing to her face.
Ailee sees IU walk into the lunchroom and it’s like she’s parting the seas. Girl’s Day backs away from her. So do Got7. It’s a mix of the reverential and the abhorant. Love and hate are so intricately linked that they may as well occupy the same space within one’s heart, thinks Ailee. Maybe that’s why she feels so much empathy for her former rival, because though they have gone on dramatically different paths, Ailee understands, better than anyone else, the quintessential loneliness of the solo idol’s life.
IU sits next to Jiyeon and Suzy, who were in the middle of conversation, but stop immediately. Ailee can’t help but watch. They’re so close that she can hear everything.
“Are you okay?” Jiyeon asks IU.
“You always ask that,” IU says.
“And I always mean it,” Jiyeon says.
“Im fine,” IU says. There’s a weight, Ailee knows, that brings down IU’s shoulders. She can see it.
“Did you get your victory speech ready?” Suzy asks, gulping her Sprite.
“Don’t say that,” IU says. She’s tired.
“You deserve to be Queen this year,” Suzy says. There’s a seriousness in Suzy’s voice. Is there a tinge of jealousy that Ailee hears?
“No one deserves anything,” is all IU says.
Rap Monster paces in the outer hallway, fuming. His knuckles burn from where he just punched the wall. He made a dent in the bulletin board, and now the flyers begging everyone to vote for King and Queen are askew. He’s got to cool down. When someone opens the door to the cafeteria, a few chords of “Very Good” escape.
Think about something else, anything else. On either side of him are glass trophy cases full of silverware and old photos. Rap Monster stops pacing and inspects, surely for the first time, what all of it means.
There’s a platinum record with H.O.T. embossed on the side. Beside that is a giant gold chalice for Sechs Kies, faded ribbons tied to the handles. There are trophies of various shapes, sizes, and metals for all the early graduates: S.E.S., Fin.K.L, Shinhwa, g.o.d. Back when Kpop High only opened its doors to the sons and daughters of the Korean elite, before they began extending scholarships to rappers who couldn’t rub two won together.
The next trophy case is full of photos of the early days. Pictorials of Kpop High’s most successful students winning award after award. And look, a whole section devoted to photos of the Kpop High prom, what tonight would have looked like twenty years ago. Those suits. What was Kim Jong-Kook thinking? And there it is, a year-by-year snapshot of the King and Queen of Kpop High. Familiar faces, all of them. The most familiar faces in all of Korea. Look, there’s Lee Hyori winning four years in a row, her smile not fading, still expecting another win. She smiles that way still, even now as principal addressing her pupils. Is anything about that smile real?
Rap Monster wonders, not for the first time, what he’s doing in Kpop High. The only thing that used to matter to him was the music. Performance. When did it become a popularity contest? When did it all get so complicated, so confusing? He remembers, like it was a dream from long ago, busking on the streets. He remembers having fun.
“Is this seat taken?”
Ailee is startled when she realizes the voice is directed at her. It’s IU and she’s pulling up a chair next to her, without waiting for Ailee’s reply.
“I hate these events,” IU says. “I wish Principal Hyori would stop throwing these. Don’t you?”
Ailee doesn’t know what to say. So she says, “Everyone else seems to love it.” To one side, she notices some of the Bangtan Boys trying to get the dancing started.
“They seem to,” IU says, “but they’re all fakers. Every single one of them is out for themselves. That’s Kpop High. Whoever gets King and Queen is really getting a bullseye.”
“Everyone wants to be on the top. Whoever is in the way, is an enemy. Can’t you see?”
Ailee looks at IU, who is staring at her intently. Though she has girlish features, she’s marked by a serious wisdom, in her voice, in the curvature of her eyes. What happened to her?
“What about your friends?” Ailee asks. She used to have friends once. Surely, friendship can conquer all.
“What friends?” IU asks, genuinely confused.
“Friends?” a familiar voice, crawling behind Ailee’s shoulders, an arm grabbing her waist, lifting her from her seat. “I’m not your friend. I’m not your family either. I’m not your colleague. Chew me the wrong way and--”
“You can stop,” Ailee says. It’s Zico. He’s back and he’s riled up. He seems to always be riled up. She could use a friend right now, thinks Ailee. Maybe IU can help her out of this mess she’s gotten herself in. One bad mistake after another. But Ailee looks at the table and IU is gone. Was she even here or did Ailee imagine her?
“Where’ve you been?” Ailee asks coldly. Zico grabs Ailee’s right arm, looks her up and down like she’s a new car.
“Girl, you fine.”
“Let go of me.”
“Come on, baby. Let’s tear this place up.”
What does that even mean? Zico seems to always be on. But on what? Ailee wonders, constantly.
“Let go of my arm.”
“Not until I have the next dance. This one’s my favorite.”
2PM’s “Go Crazy,” is playing. How appropriate. It could be Zico’s anthem. Ailee struggles away from his grip, but he won’t let go. Others are watching. Murmuring. She sees the freshmen Lovelyz, in their school uniforms, giggling in a circle. About her? Zico is making a scene and Ailee doesn’t want to be a scene, now more than ever. Was IU right? Is everyone from Kpop High out for themselves? Do they shudder at success, revel at other’s pain? She doesn’t want to be here anymore. She is stronger than this.
She takes her free left hand and slaps Zico across his face, so hard that it snaps the music off. Zico drops to the ground.
“Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!!!” he screams.
The six Nine Muses are shocked, mouths agape. Freshmen Winner can’t believe what they just saw. Ailee sees IU with Suzy and Jiyeon. Suzy gives Ailee a death stare. IU shakes her head.
Not a single friend. Not here. Ailee does all that she can do. She runs out of the lunchroom, in tears.
Rap Monster finds his crew in the cafeteria. J-Hope and Jimin are trading half thought-out dance moves, waiting for someone other than them to get on the dance floor. The rest are huddled together, pointing out their elders with wide eyes. Rap Monster braces himself against the wall and sighs.
“Look, there’s Sooyoung! And Sunny!”
“I heard Taeyang was a lock for King.”
“Did you hear about Jessica?”
“I bet she gets Queen now.”
“No way, she’s out.”
“Have you guys seen Hyoseong tonight?”
Five voices groan in unison.
“Jungkook, you have to give up on Hyoseong. She’s a Senior.”
“Maybe she finds this Freshman irresistible.”
“Suga, how can Jessica possibly win Queen? She’s out.”
“Let me drop some knowledge on you, V. There’s nine girls in Girls’ Generation, right?”
“And now it’s eight.”
“Now it’s eight. But even with eight, you line them all up in a row, how are you going to choose just one?”
“None of them is Hyoseong.”
“I am being serious.”
Five voices groan in unison.
Suga continues. “You can’t choose just one. They’re all beautiful, they’ve all got talent, they’re all popular.”
V inhales quickly and Suga nods.
“You get it now?”
“The paradox of choice.”
“Exactly. Suddenly, one has broken off from the pack. Jessica hasn’t been ousted, she’s just become the most noticed girl in Kpop high…”
Rap Monster mimes banging his head against the wall. He imagines his brain exploding in a floral pattern of deep red. To his right, Ailee sits at a table. He should just walk over to her. As simple as that. Just walk over and say hello. Ask her...ask her anything. No, tell her how beautiful she looks. That’s what he should do. He’s going to do it right now. Just as soon as IU leaves the table and Ailee is alone. Shit, IU is leaving the table. Okay, this is good. This is what he wanted. Just go talk to her.
He freezes. What is Zico doing with Ailee? Why is he touching her arm like that? Is he her...date? No, no, no, no, no. Not him. Anyone but him.
He can’t do this. He can’t watch Zico with Ailee. The way Zico looks at her. Like she’s his. He can’t watch.
“Hey man, are you okay?”
Rap Monster pushes through his friends before it gets worse.
“Yeah, yeah. I just...don’t feel so good. I need some air.”
To Be Continued...