Oh, how the mighty have fallen. You once ran a proud idol machine that was rivaled only by SM Entertainment. Fostering the rise of popular idol groups from the late ’90s to the mid-2000s, DSP Media sat atop the idol game for nearly a decade producing the likes of Sechs Kies, Fin.K.L, Click-B, SS501, and Kara. How is it possible that you’ve reached such a low point?
2016 marked the end of an era as Kara officially disbanded and all of its tenured members left DSP. Not only that, but Rainbow also disbanded after serving their compulsory seven year term and none of its members remained with the agency. That leaves you with a current total of zero established groups which is highly disconcerting.
Fortunately, there’s been a few seeds planted which might begin to blossom soon if they are properly nurtured. Despite the agency’s failures in recent years, there is still hope of turning things around and making things right. Let’s go through your roster to look at what went wrong, what can be improved, and what can be done to prevent DSP from dying a slow and painful death.
1) Give Kasper something (or someone) to work with.
Great job on signing Kasper but not so great on making her debut track as mundane and listless as possible. It’s good to finally see you sign and promote an artist from a competitive reality show. Talent is something that this agency currently lacks so it’s important that you seek new avenues for acquiring talent. Kasper isn’t the most talented of the Unpretty Rapstar contestants but her stint on the show’s second season showed that she has potential.
In order to make this investment pay off, you’ll have to play to her strengths and compensate for her weaknesses. Firstly, her strength is that she’s a rapper and that means people want to see her rap. Why is there more singing in “Lean On Me” than there is rapping? Secondly, she lacks the flare and the charisma to fully make this track appealing. She’s not Park Kyung; she can’t make coffee shop music sound interesting.
Lastly, she is not popular enough to sell a track on her own. Simply look at how other Unpretty Rapstar contestants have been marketed and follow in their footsteps. Kisum collaborated with just about everyone in the year following her appearance on the show. For her first lead single, “You and Me,” she paired up with a rising male vocalist in Jooyoung. Later on she got a trending vocalist, Mamamoo’s Hwasa, to feature on her lead single “Love Talk.” Heize went down the same road and collaborated with another rising star in Dean for the two lead singles off of her latest album And July.
Pairing a variety show rapper with a trending vocalist is a formula that has worked time and again. We can thank Starship Entertainment for figuring that out with Mad Clown and Sistar’s fine vocalists. Find an up-and-coming vocalist who will sound suitable alongside Kaser’s low-key style of rap and go make a hit! May I suggest Eddy Kim or John Park?
2) Reboot A-Jax.
The beginning of DSP’s decline was with A-Jax. The group debuted when Kara was still near its peak and DSP desperately needed another boy band to replace SS501 which had left the agency two years prior. There was a lot of pressure riding on A-Jax to continue the legacy; and needless to say, they were a huge letdown. After three promotion cycles in 2012 followed by two comebacks in 2013, they were basically never heard from again. What happened? Did you just throw in the towel with this group?
I don’t blame you. There was never much potential to begin with. Aside from the marketing ploy of making “2MYX” a response song to SNSD’s “Run Devil Run,” the group never really found much traction. Now with three of its original members having left the group, and having recently added a new member, I think it’s safe to say that you’re gearing them up for a reboot, which isn’t a bad idea.
If you’re going to do a reboot, go the Dreamcatcher route and erase all traces and memories of the group that came before it by giving the group a new name. We definitely do not need to be reminded of the disaster that was A-Jax. Like Dreamcatcher, start fresh with a new image and a bold concept. Emphasize this group’s dance and hip hop prowess but do not tread too close to what other groups are doing. Carve out a niche that will set this group apart from everyone else.
3) Make April more interesting.
I hate how almost every rookie girl group wants to be A Pink. It’s such a ploy to sell albums to young girls and uncle fans, and it makes for such a boring viewing and listening experience. It’s also chasing a pipe dream of establishing a girl group that can make money through album sales. The days of Kara selling albums in the one-hundred thousand range are over. Unless you’re A Pink or SNSD, you’re not going to make a dent in album sales as a girl group. It bewilders me why girl groups continually debut with over-the-top virginal concepts when that business model hasn’t been lucrative for many years.
The group’s latest comeback with “April Story” is actually a step in the right direction with a skills-focused performance and a MV with a strong concept. While I’m glad they ditched the extra bright filters and ultra whimsical music for something less saccharine and more angsty, they’re still not quite there. I don’t want to contradict what I said about how junior groups shouldn’t replace their recently-disbanded senior groups, but in this case I seriously wouldn’t mind if April did just that.
Since Rainbow’s disbandment, there’s been an unfilled hole where this group used to occupy. Never failing to satisfy with its sultry image, Rainbow group brought it both musically and visually with every comeback. I’m not asking for April to copy and paste Rainbow’s sound and image, but they should draw inspiration from their predecessors and pay homage to a group that never reached their true potential. April can continue the legacy of Rainbow and maybe, in the end, they’ll find their pot of gold.
4) Give us more Chaekyung.
There’s something about Chaekyung. Her name has been floating around a lot lately. For someone who’s technically just debuted, she’s built up quite the resume. She’s already been a part of three other groups — Puretty, C.I.V.A, and I.B.I — she’s participated in Kara Project and Produce 101, she’s starting to become somewhat of a variety show staple, and now she’s debuted in her fourth group as a member of April.
I don’t know what it is but people seem to gravitate towards her so do everything you can to keep her in the spotlight. If she starts to lose steam, debut her in another group to get people talking again. Since she’s already on April, that leaves just one other group she can possibly be on. K.A.R.D!
5) Play your K.A.R.Ds right.
You’ve whet our appetite with “Oh Nana” and now it’s time to satiate our thirst with a full debut and promotion cycle for K.A.R.D. Enough with the V App, mannequin challenge, and behind the scenes stuff. We get that you’re trying to sell them as individuals before you sell them as idols, and it’s great that we get so much exposure to the members via these alternate channels, but now we want to see the idols be idols. Stop promoting them like you’re some no-name company and get them in the music show circuit as soon as possible.
Co-ed groups are very much an uncharted territory and, though there is risk involved with the unknown, the payoff for breaking through with the first successful co-ed idol group would be huge. Market this group to an older, more mature, and more open-minded audience that can handle idols being sexual around the opposite sex. Take a page from Troublemaker and use the risque factor to your advantage.
Utilize the gender dynamic to pull off concepts that have never been done before. For example, you can have the members portray couples and depict images of real-life relationships: hooking up, quarreling, making up, and breaking up. These are all themes explored by other groups but how often can you dissect them from the perspective of both genders? K.A.R.D is certainly a wild card at the moment but the jackpot is within reach if you’re not afraid to roll the dice.
6) Make Youngji a more visible member of K.A.R.D.
I don’t know what it means to be a ‘hidden member’ but if it means that we’re getting less of Youngji, then that makes absolutely no sense. Youngji has been a variety show monster since her debut with Kara and she’s likely the only one generating any sort of revenue for DSP. So why not use her to draw more attention to K.A.R.D?
Being a star variety idol, Youngji’s musical talents shouldn’t go to waste. I understand that you don’t want Youngji overshadowing the other members of K.A.R.D, and I agree with using her sparingly for now. I’m just worried that being a ‘hidden member’ means that we’re not going to see much of her later on, and that would be a mistake. Give K.A.R.D a year to blossom and, when the time is right, bring Youngji back as a permanent member. Adding Youngji’s loveable personality to the mix will certainly enhance the group’s candid interactions and bring the group further opportunities to promote on variety shows.
7) Re-sign your artists.
Last but certainly not least, you have to retain at least some of your veteran artists. Do not simply let them walk away after their contracts expire. There’s been so much talent that’s passed through DSP over the years and almost none of them have renewed their contract. As a result, there’s a dearth of veteran talent and leadership at the agency.
A big reason why artists choose to leave their agency is a lack of creative freedom. You have to remember that aside from being idols, each artist is a musician. They understand that they can’t be idols forever and that they must grow as musicians in order to continue in the industry. Giving your idols more creative control isn’t a bad thing, and it’ll persuade them that you have their best interest in mind.
The problem with DSP is not a matter of finding and crafting new talent, it’s a matter of retaining that talent in the long run. Imagine a future where your veteran artists continue to profit while your newer groups are mentored under their wing. How much better would your current brand be had you been able to keep Kara, Rainbow, and SS501 all under the same roof? In order to grow, you have to literally grow the size of your roster. In the case of DSP, it’s a matter of retaining older talent while making the most out of newer talent.
A Concerned Friend
What companies, groups, or idols would you like to see fixed? Let us know in the comments!
(Images via DSP Media)