In K-pop, it is extremely easy to be left in the dust of new groups constantly debuting left and right. In times like these, singing and dancing will not get you to stand out, and for a group like T-ara, fighting these kinds of problems was nothing short of an uphill battle. T-ara’s had their ups and downs, from their lackluster debut “Lies” to their latest chart topper “Lovey Dovey.” Not only did they had a bad debut song, but their timing and luck was awful as well. Their debut performance of “Lies” was lipsynced and was criticized heavily. That same year, YG’s female group, 2NE1 was killing it with their kick-ass debut song “Fire” and the immensely popular song “I Don’t Care.” Along with 2NE1, ex-Wonder Girl Hyuna and her group 4minute debuted with “Hot Issue” and followed up with “Muzik.” So what did T-ara do to get out of their crappy predicaments?

Come up with a Kick-Ass Song to Get Everyone’s Attention

I personally didn’t fall for “Lies” and didn’t think much of T-ara — along with the majority of K-pop — but T-ara did a joint project with one of their labelmates, Supernova, with “TTL (Time to Love).” The word “kick-ass” is, if anything, a severe understatement of how awesome this song is. “TTL” managed to chart to number one, making it be T-ara’s first number one single, and got people’s attention. “TTL” Version 1.0 is an pop track that features Eunjung, Ji Yeon, Hyomin, and Soyeon — pretty much everyone who gets to sing in the group — but the second version of “TTL” features all the members of T-ara. To be honest, the first version is the better version, so if you want to save time, just listen to the first one.

Have an “Out of the Box” Music Video

Since “Bo Peep Bo Peep,” T-ara had always had something different then the usual, in-the-box music videos. The non-kid friendly music video for “Bo Peep” is very adulterated (Korean standards-wise) and a definite MOGEF banhammer worthy music video.  There’s this girl at a club and there’s this dude at a club, and they start dancing and grinding on each other. Next thing you know, they are making out everywhere from the bathroom to the car to the bedroom. The girl leaves the room to go to the club again and goes through the same process with another guy. As someone who thought kissing in Korean dramas was CRAZY, this just blew my mind.

“Roly Poly” was 12 minutes long — not unheard of, but it definitely is rare to see such lengthiness in a K-pop video. In most K-pop videos we pretty much get the same standard procedure: group shots, solo shots, and dance shots within a couple of rooms. If people weren’t fans of the song or the group itself, the music videos would get boring. So when this storyline-based music video came out, it piqued my interest. The music video consists of the ajjumma finding pictures of her younger days and is reminiscent of her earlier days. Then it takes us back to her younger days hanging out at the club with her friends. It was a good music video because it put life to the video, and it made us remember the music along with the music video.

And there is “Cry Cry” and “Lovey Dovey.” These two music videos made “Roly Poly” seem like a commerical. The music video drama was composed of two parts with “Cry Cry” and “Lovey Dovey.” The music video consists of cops, mafia members, cliches and Cha Seung-won among other over the top things included in the video. Granted that the music video contains obvious flaws, but at least T-ara opted to reach for more than the typical.

 Be Neither Cute Nor Sexy

T-ara spent quite sometime trying to figure out what kind of group they were. T-ara had a successful run with “Bo Peep Bo Peep , and it did help T-ara become a big name. But at the same time, it could be said that the group sold out to K-pop hook songs. Nevertheless, winning a triple crown is a special feature that not many groups get to do. Regardless, T-ara did win their first award with the song, so whatever they did worked. But then “YaYaYa” happened and T-ara was on their way to irrelevancy because people (as in, non-fans) were starting to lose interest and faith in the group. “YaYaYa” is definitely a catchy song, but it’s full of nonsense and random garbage. It also didn’t help that they were offending Native Americans with the choreography and costuming.

They were cute with “Bo Peep”, and then went to sexy with “I Go Crazy Because of You” to WTF with “YaYaYa,” but at least with each concept, T-ara makes a point to define what kind of group they are. T-ara is balanced between cute and sexy. Like a pH level, girl groups tend to be either really cute (acidic) or really sexy (basic), but with T-ara they are a good  neutral 7. They really perfected the balance with “Lovey Dovey” because out of everything it just looks like these girls are just having fun and nothing less or more. It can be a double edged sword, being really cute or sexy. Girl’s Day has seen cavity-worthy amounts of cute, and it helped gain them fans, but it’s significantly harder to take them seriously. Rania on the other hand is sexy, and definitely flaunts it, but it steers people away because of their projected  raunchiness.

Have the Members Do Acting Gigs

In idol groups (the successful ones, at least) there’s bound to be someone that goes in the acting route, but for T-ara all of the members (besides Hwayoung) have been in some drama. The main standouts from this category are Jiyeon, Eunjung, and Hyomin. Jiyeon has been in countless amounts of acting/variety gigs. She’s been in at least one drama every year since T-ara’s debut, and has been in a movie every year since 2010, and has starred in a lot of them including Death Bell 2, Master of Study, and Dream High 2. Eunjung is also a well-known idol/actress and has been just as crafted, if not the most crafted in acting. Like Jiyeon, she has been in numerous dramas. She was in Coffee House and won a new star award for her role as Kang Seung-yeon.

Eunjung was also in Dream High as Yoon Baek-hee. Out of all the idol actors in that drama, Eunjung’s acting was the most believable and most natural, and the difference in experience showed in the beginning. Hyomin has also her fair share of acting roles. She was in My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox and in Gyebaek. She recently last year made her movie debut in Gisaeng Ryung. These three members were also fixed members on various variety shows. Jiyeon was in Heroes, Eunjung was in We Got Married and Hyomin was in Invincible Youth. And even though Soyeon has not been given a role, she has made cameos in SBS Giants and Master of Study.

Even the overshadowed T-ara members have been in at least a drama. Qri had a role in Queen Seondeok and King Geunchogo, and Boram had a role in Purple Heeled Grim Reaper is Coming. Hwayoung has not been in a drama, but if she plays her cards right, she will follow in the steps of the other members.

I am not saying that T-ara is the only group whose members have done a good job of keeping themselves relevant. In fact, a lot of other groups have dealt with this problem. But T-ara is a group that went from a significantly negative debut to a successful career. Are they the best group ever? Definitely not, but these girls are getting there. These points have helped T-ara overcome their troubles and rise to the top, and who knows? Perhaps someday they will become the girl group to beat, so rookie groups best take notice on how to rise up from the mundane.

(Loen, CJENMMUSIC, StriderKaraUnited)