Pretty much nobody in the world of K-entertainment needs a reminder of newly 7-member (8-member, if you’re counting Dani) T-ara‘s recent difficulties. Amidst heated rumors of hacked Twitter accounts, intergroup bullying, and unprofessional conduct, member Hwayoung‘s contract was officially terminated while what was left of the group suffered the aftershocks of being mired in controversy. Endorsement deals were slashed, variety show appearances were cut, internet cafes were dismantled literally overnight, and concerts were cancelled; Eunjung was removed from her lead role in SBS‘ drama Five Fingers, while Soyeon‘s drama Haeundae Lovers released a statement confirming that the number of scenes in which she appeared would be limited. Netizen anger has yet to die down, and the group’s situation seems…distressing, to say the least.
Nevertheless, Core Contents Media CEO Kim Kwang-soo opted to forge ahead with T-ara’s schedule, which included the beginning of another round of promotions for “Day by Day”‘s follow-up single, “Sexy Love.” To kick things off, the group released four new music videos for the song and has begun performing regularly on music programs. A comeback album entitled “Mirage” will drop on September 11, and CCM announced on September 10 that 50,000 pre-orders have so far been placed. This is all great news, right? The girls seem to be doing well. Maybe everyone can just forget that any of the drama ever happened and just move on — nothing but smooth sailing from here, right? Right? Right?
Well. Not exactly. T-ara is hardly recovering — far from it. In fact, things seem to be getting steadily worse for the girls as they proceed with their comeback. CCM has yet to strike a deal with Music Bank, and T-ara is currently barred from appearing on the program; no new endorsement deals are currently on the table, save for one deal with CCM-owned chicken chain Gibalhan Chicken (no surprise there); and a concert they gave on Jeju Island was met with an extremely lukewarm reception somewhat reminiscent (though not identical) to the blackout SNSD faced at the Dream Concert in 2008. Perhaps worst of all, CCM has come under fire for allegedly buying out media outlets in order to deflect negative press about T-ara. Netizens have taken note that Korean news outlet Newsen has, unlike other news outlets, consistently been releasing positive articles on T-ara’s comeback whilst simultaneously slamming fellow girl group KARA for a whole series of invented non-issues, such as wearing controversial and revealing stage outfits and refusing to acknowledge Dokdo as Korean territory while giving an interview. Netizen opinion holds that CCM’s “media play” (paying a news outlet to release certain articles that either favor one group/individual or tear down another) has only added to the label’s general reputation as untrustworthy and malicious. Even I have to wonder if 50,000 copies of “Mirage” have really been pre-ordered; with Kim Kwang-soo’s record, it wouldn’t come as a shock to find that this piece of information was as fabricated as was the lame excuse that all of T-ara’s Twitter accounts were simultaneously hacked when the scandal first broke.
All of us writers here at Seoulbeats had our say about the T-ara debacle in our Roundtable discussion last month, but now that the group gone forward with their comeback and received less-than-awesome results, I think it is fair to opine that T-ara probably could have stood to delay their comeback by a bit. Perhaps CCM had (somewhat naively) hoped that a slew of new music videos and a triumphant return to the stage would aid in mending T-ara’s damaged relationship with both fans and with the Korean entertainment industry at large, but as the old adage goes, “Time heals all wounds.” I can’t say for sure if time would have led to wholesale forgiveness and forgetting, but at least a delay in making public appearances might have led to fewer charged netizens threatening to shove rice cakes down the girls’ throats or calling them “T-Trash.”
Really, T-ara — well, mostly their piss-poor management — bucked industry precedent in proceeding with the group’s comeback, which favors the taking of a decently long break following the eruption of controversy. For example, 2PM released their album 1:59PM two months after the Myspace scandal that saw leader Jay Park make his exit from the group (in a situation that probably most closely parallels T-ara’s at present), and most entertainers facing a difficult road ahead as a result of scandal or controversy usually take a longer leave of absence from public life in hopes that the situation will die down a bit. Following the lawsuit that nearly split their group, KARA was absent from the public eye for about six months; similarly, DBSK was off of the Korean music scene for nearly two years after the lawsuit that actually did split up their group. It has been nearly a year since MC Kang Ho-dong was accused of tax evasion, and he only announced his imminent return to variety programs in mid-August. Big Bang‘s Daesung did not make any public appearances until half a year after being involved in a car accident that left a man dead. Charges of assault combined with a DUI hit-and-run led SM Entertainment to halt all activities of Super Junior‘s Kang-in, a move which ultimately led to his enlistment in the military; 2PM’s Nichkhun has not yet returned to the entertainment scene after his own DUI incident in late July.
Granted, all controversies are not alike, nor am I attempting to make the argument that they are. Some scandals certainly have a greater degree of gravity or severity to them, which obviously affects how they are perceived by the public. It is true that the ultimate outcome of T-ara’s current troubles isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a matter of life or death for anyone involved. However, regardless of whether or not the accusations of bullying or poor member relations are true, all of the T-ara members have found themselves more-or-less personally implicated in the current storm of events — and this intimate degree of perceived involvement has proved itself to be enough to land the girls on the K-entertainment blacklist for awhile. Instead of doggedly trying to ingratiate themselves with an estranged public less than a month after the initial controversy hit, perhaps they should have done as those before them have done and taken an extended break. Whether or not that option is still open to them now that they’ve begun promoting a new song remains to be seen.
What do you think, Seoulmates? Was CCM too hasty in preparing for T-ara’s comeback in the wake of Hwayoung’s departure?