It's official, straight from the horse's (Star Empire's) mouth: Jewelry has disbanded. At this point, this could be considered a mercy killing. Technically, they are Kpop's longest running Kpop group, having been around since 2001. But not really, because none of the original members remain - they've been completely phased out by 2009 (to be fair, Jewelry's lineup history has always been tumultuous). Still, there is significance to such a long running group disbanding, and a warning to other agencies: it's not the name that engenders loyalty from Kpop fans, it's the idols themselves. And while fans can stomach, begrudgingly, a lineup change occasionally, to dissolve the original core so ruthlessly will only result in resentment.
Unfortunately, that resentment can be directed at the remaining members, which is why, one can suppose, that this iteration of Jewelry never took off. How can new members prosper under the shadows cast by the old? The name is a reminder, a tombstone that the idols had to occupy. We're bracing ourselves for Nine Muses' comeback, with three of their most popular members recently leaving, and have our fingers crossed for After School, who will return from limbo with only one of their "original" members (now that Juyeon has left).
But let's talk about the idols themselves here, and the song that should have caught on. This final iteration of Jewelry comprised of Yewon, Baby J, Eunjung, and Semi. They made their comeback (in this form) in 2011, with "Back it Up," which is actually a very solid song, a throwback with elements of trot and some soul. Who knows how their careers would have prospered if they debuted as a rookie group instead of as a continuation of a pop institution? Can you imagine SNSD phasing out their members with little warning? How could fans view these new idols as nothing but replacements? Or worse: impostors?
Jewelry's last song was "Hot & Cold" in 2013, which was actually a modest success, landing on the top ten of many Korean pop charts. Star Empire never capitalized on this, which shows that they had lost faith in this experiment, letting these girls languish for a year before letting them go.
Star Empire is just not a good agency. If they were, "Hot & Cold" could have been the single that set them up for a bigger release right after. When a group has surprise success, the agency should capitalize, and build on that. But even before that debacle, "Look at Me" should have been the hit that brought Jewelry back to legitimacy.
Don't believe me? Watch this video.
"Look at Me Now" has the soul of this Jewelry's other songs, but with just that extra spark that elevates it to an anthem, to a powerful, demanding plea of recognition. Though I doubt that Jewelry or Star Empire were being deliberately meta here, listening to this song within the context of their fan apathy can give this song a subversive dimension - a rift against (or even for) image consciousness, where the idols literally spell it out to you: LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME NOW.
This song reminds me of Girls Generation TTS' "Twinkle," released the same year, and could be its leaner, meaner cousin. This is the type of song that should be used for workout videos (and in a way, it has been), movie montages where our heroes misbehave, or at Karaoke bars across Seoul.
The idols are on the top of their game. Baby J is amazing in this video - her voice in her solo rap is iconic and doesn't feel oddly inserted as some rap solos can. Yewon is adorably feisty, Semi is stunning, Eunjung's charisma holds the group together.
By all rights and pop logic, "Look at Me" should have been huge. It has all of the ingredients to capture the nation. But it didn't. It barely caused a blip.
So what went wrong here?
Was it as we all suspect, that the use of the "Jewelry" name doomed this latest version from the start? Or was it bad marketing from a questionable agency? Or maybe it was the lack of compelling choreography and a sub-par (though I'd argue intriguing) music video?
Or maybe "luck" has as much to do with idol success, what I like to call the unpredictable intangibles that make a song either a hit or a bust. Maybe this Jewelry, like EXID, was one fancam away from hitting it big. The song is just as catchy as "Up and Down," and even has a patented butt wiggle that may have been ahead of its time. The scariest part for Kpop agencies must be how little difference there is from a song that becomes a smash hit to one that is an embarrassment. Scary? Make that terrifying.
Whatever the reason, "Look at Me" never took off and Jewelry is now history. They will not be mourned by many. Sadly, very few will remember them for anything more than a once popular group that suffered from member change. But I'll personally remember them for "Look at Me," and how that song will keep returning to me, years from now, and that tells me that the disbandment of Jewelry, even this Jewelry, is truly a loss.
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.