Member line-ups as a general rule of thumb, aren’t subject to frequent changes. However, there are always exceptions, such as After School and KARA and, in fact, none of Jewelry‘s original members remain. Member change-ups within any group are bound for some fandom drama, be that fans expressing their disappointment in bidding a favourite farewell, or raising their eyebrows to any newcomers who may threaten the sacred chemistry within the existing group. Such turmoil would naturally be something to avoid, especially for T-ara who has only recently experienced a significant leap in popularity, meaning that what footing they have found is far from stable. So why, why on earth would anybody make the decision to introduce fourteen-year-old Dani along with a yet unnamed member to the line-up?
Indeed, what is most questionable about the addition of Dani to T-ara may as well be age. Fourteen is a tough number to swallow, and all the more so with a group like T-ara, that has executed some more daring concepts in the past. While many maknaes in idol groups have a reputation for being some of the ‘sexier’ members around, seeing a girl barely in puberty (let alone out) strutting onto stage in sky-high stilettos and too-short hot pants has to be somewhat unnerving. Of course, it’s unlikely that CCM would be baiting the netizens, always ready to launch their vicious criticisms, by sexually objectifying what is ultimately a child. In fact, T-ara’s management does seem to recognise that holding back Dani’s official debut with T-ara is a better option, not only so that she can further improve (as stated officially), but also so that she’s older.
Another restricting factor with age would be Dani’s relationship with the other members of T-ara. Including more members in a group will generally lead to an increase in the inherent competition to gain more screen time or more lines in songs and performances. However, an age gap would indeed raise issues with a group’s cohesion in terms of inter-member interactions. K-pop is an entertainment industry with roots embedded in variety, meaning that having solid variety presence or ability is almost proportional to an idol’s success. Having a new maknae aged fourteen and a leader in her mid-twenties doesn’t seem quite like the recipe for success in terms of inter-group relations. However, having such a wide age gap may also lead to the girls playing on a mother-daughter-esque relationship, which may prove itself an interesting talking point for the K-fandom, if anything.
Looking at the situation on a larger scale though, CCM may be gearing up to solidify T-ara as a girl group with a significantly longer lifespan. Idols don’t have the luxury of a long-time career in the entertainment business, at least, not as an idol. Especially not when youth itself is a selling point, something that is lost as time passes and really cannot be countered. However, Dani’s entrance into T-ara significantly lowers the group’s average age, and also sends off the vibe that T-ara as a whole is youthful, if only because their maknae is indeed that: young. Of course, such a venture — maintaining a group’s ‘overall youth’ — isn’t something that can be taken care of in one go. If T-ara were to outlast other groups with age as a determining factor, this would mean a near-constant switch-around of members. Something that K-pop seems to be picking up from Japanese idols (Pledis being the first ones to adopt the ‘graduation’ system). Of course, more frequent and ‘accepted’ member change-ups is a concept relatively foreign to K-pop, considering the former fandom dramas over group line-up changes (indeed, Henry still doesn’t get the warmest of welcomes onstage when performing on Super Show 4).
Dani’s entrance into T-ara’s line-up certainly raises a lot of eyebrows and makes us draw a lot of question marks. T-ara becoming nine is a concept that’s tricky to stomach, but as always, we’ll just have to see how it unravels. Perhaps this unorthodox change will come to be an improvement for T-ara, will K-pop fans be surprised with a new unlikely maknae to shower with love (and become a guilty pleasure)? Who knows, only time will tell — and honestly, we can’t judge a book by its cover. Maybe Dani will surprise us, maybe.