SuPearls – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
So if you haven’t heard, SuPearls–the girl group formed on the reality singing show K-pop Star who eventually got picked up by YG Entertainment—disbanded, and every member but Lee Hi had their contracts terminated. According to YG, the disbandment was the girls’ own idea (a statement that many including myself find dubious) but whatever the reason, the girls were dropped from the label, much to the disappointment of everyone who had been looking forward to this talented group’s debut. And while K-pop has survived plenty of pre-debut disbandment—a lot of our favorite idols were originally in bands that never debuted–I feel like the loss of SuPearls in particular is setting the industry back in many ways.
The most obvious setback concerns the members who got dropped. Where are they going to go from here? It’s been over a year since the girls’ famed stint on K-pop Star, and while I’m sure that other labels were waiting to snatch them up while they were on the show, now that they’ve been out of the spotlight for a year it’s probably going to be harder for them to get offers. And who knows when will be the next time we ever hear from any of them? Secret’s Hyosung was originally scheduled to be in a girl group under Good Entertainment back in 2007, but after the group disbanded pre-debut, she ended up not making her official entrance under T.S. Entertainment in the K-pop scene until 2009. And she’s one of the luckier ones – no one knows what happened to the other members of Smile, the five-member boyband Donghae and Leeteuk were in (before Super Junior) that disbanded because SM wanted to debut TVXQ instead. And it’d be a huge shame to see these huge talents just fade away into the realm of K-pop acts that should have succeeded but didn’t.
Not only is SuPearls disbandment holding back the members, but it is also holding back social progress in the K-pop industry. I’m sure some of us were disappointed when Michelle Lee first got voted off of K-pop Star for reasons that might not have been purely based on talent. As previous writers have noted, her official debut would’ve been a sign of continual progress in K-pop concerning biracial members, who previously have not been given the best of treatment in Korean society. Having someone who looks more “foreign” but can’t be reduced to the gimmick-y “token foreign member” role (after all, she’s still Korean, born and raised) could have brought up some great discussion on ethnic identity and the treatment of Korean’s minority population. But as SuPearls’ run on K-pop Star begins to fade from memory, without the security of a K-pop group backed by a huge label it’s going to take Michelle Lee even longer to gain her footing in the K-pop industry and have the rest of society warm up to her.
Also, I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s kind of shady that no matter how much YG Entertainment is so obviously influenced by black music and black culture, it can’t be bothered to have a black person under the company. Taeyang’s allowed to set a black caricature of himself as his Twitter icon and make terribly uninformed hair choices in the name of hip-hop, but there is no room for an actual black girl who can channel Aretha Franklin like no other? Really?
But aside from the personal and social setbacks, one of the biggest disappointments concerning SuPearls disbandment is how it represents K-pop’s continual shafting of musical talent. As we always point out, musical talent is not always a priority in the K-pop world. As a result, we get a lot of bands with “black hole” idols who just don’t bring anything to the table musically, and we have lots of super talented idols who are forced to sing basic but catchy songs that don’t showcase their talents at all. Yes, we have some powerful idol singers who shine when separated from their groups, and we’ve got some powerful solo singers such as Ailee and now Lee Hi. But while solo singers are great, there is so much more musical potential in a vocally-packed singing group.
SuPearls displayed the full range of talents voices can have when combined – they went beyond the standard ad-libbing done by every band and learned how to sound good together via blending and harmonizing. As a group of only vocalists, they could have had the ability to perform some more complex arrangements than other pop groups – just look at the rich sound SM’s project group SM the Ballad pulled off when the singers were taken away from their respective pop groups. And since they would’ve been debuting under one of the biggest K-pop labels as well as getting limelight from their K-Pop Star days, SuPearls could’ve challenged the status quo of image over musical talent and made other groups/labels reconsider their priorities. Power soloists alone don’t have the same effect because they’re not exactly competing in the same arena – no matter how good a soloist sounds, groups have the marketing advantage of having more voices to listen to, more faces to watch, more personalities to fall in love with, etc.
Look YG , you’re not exactly known for having stellar vocalists outside of Big Mama, and we all know you didn’t give them the publicity they deserved, hence them leaving your label. But with Big Mama disbanded, and groups like Piggy Dolls nowhere to be seen (no really, what happened to them?), you had the potential to release the next generation of power vocal groups in mainstream K-pop. Instead, you’re making room for an “SNSD-like” rookie group with a “unique YG style”. We already have an SNSD and a bunch of SNSD spin-offs – do you really think this industry needs more groups known for their looks? What we really need are the girls who blew an SNSD song out of the water, a group that could rightfully be marketed as talent first, image second. As much as you want to say SuPearls’ disbandment was the girls’ own decision, the way you hyped up your new girl group’s image at every chance while not mentioning SuPearls for ages tells me where your priorities are. But as long as you and other labels continues to focus on new style over new talents, K-pop will never be taken seriously as a music genre. YG, SuPearls was the best idea you ever had, and frankly, you blew it.
(KBS, SBS, Asia E)