The past year has not been good for established girl groups as many have faced member departures if not complete disbandment. With Secret’s Sunhwa being the latest to join the parade of female idols leaving well-established groups at the end of their contract, it’s time to look into the causes of the Seven Year Curse. The standard idol contract keeps the idol under the company’s direction for seven years, generally from the time of debut. At the conclusion of the contract, the idol and company may come to terms to renew for another set amount of time, or they decide to part ways. In some cases, the entire group chooses to renew and continue promoting as a group but that is generally not what happens with girl groups.
In most instances, certain members of the group will renew and some will depart. In a best case scenario, the majority of members will renew and continue promoting as a group, as in the case of Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, and Dal Shabet. However, the departures of Jessica, Minzy, and Jia from their respective groups prove that even the most successful groups from the biggest companies aren’t immune to the Seven Year Curse. In a worst case scenario, the majority of members will not renew and the group will cease to exist, as was the case with Kara and 4Minute.
It’s important to note that the Seven Year Curse is mainly applicable to girl groups, but that is not to say that all boy groups are immune to it: Hyunseung left Beast after his contract expired; the departure of Joon and Thunder has jeopardized the continuation of MBLAQ; SS501 has yet to reunite; and there’s also the curious case of TVXQ.
Nevertheless, most boy groups find it mutually agreeable to stay together because of the income distribution. Since a bulk of the income in a boy group comes from selling concerts and merchandise, it’s likely that the income distribution among members is a lot more even and every member profits equally from the group’s success. On the other hand, girl groups earn a large part of their income from endorsement deals which generally do not require the participation of all the members.
Therefore, income distribution tends to favor the few members who are receiving endorsement deals, leaving the remaining members to seek better opportunities upon the expiration of their contract. Hence, boy groups are more likely to make it through the contract renewal process as a complete unit while girl groups tend to lose members or disband.
Now that we have a better understanding of what the Seven Year Curse entails, let’s look at seven girl groups who are next in line to deal with contract expiration. As their debut contracts draw to a close, we’ll see that some of these groups are more equipped to deal with the Seven Year Curse than others. Along with my analysis, I will predict how each of these groups will fare in light of their looming encounter with the Seven Year Curse.
1. T-ara — Debuted July 27, 2009
T-ara actually reached their seven-year mark in late July but apart from a now-deleted tweet, there’s yet to be news on what’s going on with their contracts. This could mean that either their debut contracts were longer than the standard length of seven years and that we’ll hear news on it sometime next year, or that all six original members have renewed.
Considering how in late 2014 the group signed a $4.8 million contract with a respectable Chinese entertainment company to promote inside China, I would say it’s more than likely that the contracts of the six members were extended in the process. Despite suffering at the hands of a bullying controversy at the peak of their domestic popularity in 2012, and having undergone minor lineup additions and deletions, T-ara has clearly recovered and has found a footing in a market that’s harder to make inroads in than the US market. As the idol group with the greatest success in the lucrative Chinese market to date, I’d be surprised if they squander that potential by displacing any of its current members.
Prediction: All six members will resign to long contracts if they have yet to do so. With a prosperous and extensive career in the Chinese market, T-ara will be the longest running group of their generation though all they will be remembered for in Korea is for the events surrounding the departure of Hwayoung.
2. f(x) — Debuted August 24, 2009
f(x) is another group which has exceeded seven years, yet their status still remains heavily in question. Even after the departure of Sulli from the group — though she technically still remains with the company — f(x) pushed forward, promoting “4 Walls” as a quartet. There’s been some inspection and worry that either Krystal or Victoria may not renew since the departure of one more member may sound the death knell for the group. Furthermore, Krystal and Victoria are the endorsement queens of the group and thus they have the most leverage when it comes to contract talks. Since there has yet to be any news on the status of the group’s contracts, they’re likely under heavy negotiations and we will find out very shortly on the status of f(x) going forward.
Prediction: Victoria will leave. SM has a sorry track record of not being able to retain its Chinese idols and Victoria will find much more success under Chinese management than even Lu Han has. Krystal will renew and f(x) will lure Sulli into returning with a promise to revive her acting career. After a stint as a four-membered group, Krystal and Sulli will leave to focus solely on their acting, leaving Amber and Luna to promote as a duo.
3. Rainbow — Debuted November 11, 2009
Surprisingly, Rainbow is the only girl group still in existence that debuted before 2010 and has yet to undergo a single member change, nor have they yet to win a number one on a music show. Labelmates and second fiddle to Kara for many years, Rainbow has managed to continue promoting for nearly seven years without making much of a splash. Their members have branched into acting, variety, and modelling, yet none of them have risen to spectacular fame. Their music has been consistently good but they’ve never generated that one big hit to push them over the top. In fact, their last two comebacks could barely crack the top 40 on the digital charts which is really awful by girl group standards. Moreover, given their company’s horrible track record at retaining anyone — see Kara and SS501 — there will be no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
Prediction: There will be an announcement in November that the group has disbanded and all seven members have elected to not renew their contract.
4. Sistar — Debuted June 3, 2010
Aside from Girls’ Generation and 2NE1, there’s probably not a more popular girl group of this generation than Sistar. From 2011-2012, their songs dominated the digital charts with millions of downloads per single. Since then, they’ve experienced diminishing returns with each comeback though their aptitude for creating summer hits has kept them in the public eye. But like I said, even the most successful groups aren’t immune from the Seven Year Curse.
Whereas Hyorin and Soyu are highly talented vocalists who have become mainstays of the industry, the same cannot be said about the other members. Bora and Dasom receive their fair share of opportunities but their skillsets are not well-suited for an extensive career in music. Furthermore, Dasom has had lead roles in film and dramas. Her talents are better suited elsewhere.
Prediction: Dasom will leave. Like Sohee, formerly of Wonder Girls, Dasom will seek to join an agency which will allow her to mainly pursue acting. The remaining members will resign and continue promoting as Sistar with Kim Tae-ha, one of the Starship Entertainment trainees from Produce 101, joining the lineup.
5. Girl’s Day — Debuted July 5, 2010
Having not gained their footing until 2013 with an infamous change in image, Girl’s Day’s popularity may be more due to their variety appeal than anything. Each member has become a mainstay on the variety circuit and Hyeri has become an endorsement giant. Along with Minah, Hyeri has received lead roles in dramas which, as indicated by my predictions above, does not bode well for her wanting to stay in the group.
Prediction: Like Dasom, Hyeri will leave the agency to further her acting career. Sojin’s contract will not be renewed due to her age. The group will disband and Minah will continue her career as a soloist and actress.
6. A Pink — Debuted April 19, 2011
A Pink is an oddity among girl groups because they actually have many female fans. They’re modeled very closely to Girls’ Generation in that not only do they appeal to older male fans, but also to younger female fans. Much like a boy group, they are able to boast a high number of physical sales and conduct world tours. As a result, they also have the staying power of a boy group.
The more popular members — Eunji, Naeun, and Bomi — will choose to stay because being in the group ensures them a steady stream of income while they can also earn additional income via acting, variety, and modelling. The remaining members will also stay because they are able to earn a decent living from group activities alone.
Prediction: Each member will renew and A Pink will continue promoting soft, mid-tempo pop tunes for as long as they can sustain their pristine image, or until a dating scandal rapidly escalates their decline.
7. Stellar — Debuted August 21, 2011
Stellar is the only group on this list which I’m not sure will even be around at the seven-year mark. In fact, it’s surprising how they’ve even made it this far. Before capitalizing on the sexy girl group trend in 2014 with “Marionette,” nobody had any idea who they even were. Aside from “Marionette,” none of their songs have even come close to charting in the top 40. They’re still promoting two tracks per year to fight against irrelevancy. Constant promotion is a sign that the group has yet to break a profit and the company is doing all it can to ensure that it regains the money it made on its investment.
Prediction: This being a non-profitable venture for both the company and the idols, disbandment is quite inevitable.
Readers, do you agree with these predictions? Let us know in the comments!