Block B are no strangers to controversy, but their recent debacle may be their biggest yet, with news coming out on the 4th that the group was suing their agency Stardom (formerly Brand New Stardom) for lack of pay and fraud, among other issues, and seeking termination of their contract. As Cynthia wrote earlier this week, such a turn of events occurring so soon after their successful comeback took many by surprise, including the Seoulbeats team. So for this roundtable, we’re giving our writers the chance to have their say.
What are your thoughts on: this new lawsuit; the influences leading to the present situation; how previous lawsuits will influence the direction this one takes, and finally; how these events will affect Block B and K-pop?
Nabeela: Thoughts? You want to know my thoughts?! Here are my thoughts in this particular order: NO OH MY GOD NO NOT MY BABIES NO BABY JIHOON WHY OH GOD NO NO NO NOT THIS GROUP NOT THIS PLEASE ANYTHING BUT THIS WAE OH GOD IM GOING TO THROW UP Needless to say, when the news broke I had nearly choked on the Caesar salad I was eating at Panera and then stood up and stormed around because I was having a moment. My jaw honestly dropped, because after the Thailand interview controversy I didn’t think matters could get ever get worse for Block B. Their comeback was nothing but brilliance, but I think I speak for many when I admit to being blind-sided by this news.
Given the state of K-pop, however, I like to think that Block B will come out on top of this one. There’s been a lot of talk about mismanagement this past year, so much so that I’m sure anyone with a pulse read about some sketch shit going on at an entertainment agency at some point fairly recent. I think this Stardom scandal is just another layer on the cake that’s going to have been cleaned up like all the rest. It’s fairly hard to ignore these matters once the it’s caught the attention of the public; this lawsuit will be dealt with.
Also, I think Block B suing as a group shows more unity behind the cause–there’s consensus to what degree they’ve been screwed and they’re throwing their name into this fight for a legitimate reason. And with such a brilliant comeback, I think this time around they’ve made more friend than foe out of the K-pop fandom, so bringing the lawsuit up was probably a now or never moment too. People are definitely going to stand behind them and fight for an answer.
While it hurts me as a huge BBC to know that my boys have been played big time by the K-pop machine, I’m really glad they are taking action as a unit. That way, the image of Block B can’t necessarily be altered–there can be no new Block B, no new Block B members, no Block B ‘new and improved’ so to speak, no new sound. If things go awry (GOD FORBID) when we think of Block B, we’ll always think of the same team that stuck it out until the end.
Amy: This push and pull is common in the K-pop industry (“We’re suing for fraud!” “You’re lying, we’re innocent!”) and we’ll never know the truth of what happened because reporters will never dig, but I think Block B is setting an awesome example.
We obviously know very little concrete information at this point, but it’s great to watch them do this together as one group because they’re presenting a case as a united front, and seven members makes a good united front. In situations like this, it’s always better to do things as a group than not, as we can see from the awesome and not-at-all painful to witness examples of JYJ vs. SM and even Hangeng vs. SM. It also helps that Stardom is a very small company with very brief history (thus, less clout, less ability to hush up the media).
Block B has had a rough year and it’s completely shitty that they had to take being swindled to get this out there, but I hope this is the start of some kind of chain of dominoes for other idols/groups who are unfairly treated. Obviously I doubt shadiness in the industry is ever going to stop, but so few people speak up that just one or two anomalies leave an impact.
Some people might say that this is going to damage them since they’re rookies, but I actually think it’s good they’re doing this now before they get even more established. The bigger the fanbase, the bigger the controversy, the higher the status, the harder the fall. Block B is a solidly talented group, so I think this will be a good case study to see what options there are for kids who are talented by don’t have good management, and what it means for the next company to sign them.
Cynthia: A lot of people keep worrying about how they’ll end up because they’re just rookies, but in my opinion they’re currently handling it like pros. Like Amy said, sticking together as a united front against their label can do wonders, and the timing is great too – they’re not too popular to start a huge controversy, but not too low to be completely ignored/overshadowed. And the way they firmly stuck up for themselves in response to Stardom’s statement has me impressed – they basically said “Stop lying, we’ll see you in court” to a label, and that takes some guts no matter how small the company is.
One of the things I first thought was “Wow, they’re so young to have to handle a lawsuit.” Then it struck me that Block B is now about the same age JYJ was when they filed their lawsuit in 2009 – early 20s. And while as a group Block B have not been around for very long, both Zico and Kyung have predebut experience in the music industry that has probably shaped what they are looking for in their careers and how to go about achieving it (versus just submitting themselves to all the bullcrap of the idol industry). Also, I feel like Block B might have a bit more knowledge going into this lawsuit on what to do/what not to do based on the highly-publicized lawsuits that have occurred before them.
What I’m wondering is if they manage to leave their label, where are they going to go? I’ve heard some suggestions that they get picked up by YG, or TS Entertainment so they can be with B.A.P, and I’ve even seen some say they should do a Shinhwa and create their own label. While I can’t really see them being under YG and retaining their unique flavor (I mean look what happened to Epik High), nor do I think they have the power (and obviously not the money) to do a Shinhwa, I’m not going to lie, I’d really dig them going with TS Entertainment and having some Block B.A.P action. The possibilities for great collaborations between the members (Zico/Zelo, Taeil/Daehyun, etc.) are endless. But that’s mainly the fangirl in me talking.
Amy: B.A.P + Block B would be glorious but…too many cooks in the house. I don’t think TS Entertainment has the infrastructure or manpower in place to support another group that’s even larger than B.A.P.
Nabeela: In regards to shitty management on Stardom’s part, it doesn’t really surprise me, but it still does, a little a bit. I’m sure laundering happens in K-pop way more often than we think it already does. Part of me wants to say why would Stardom do this, they’re such a small entertainment agency, but then again, in reality, I doubt it makes a difference how big or how small you are, if you can take the money and run it really doesn’t matter where you are.
I’m glad Block B is sticking up for their rights as artists, like Amy mentioned, before they really get established. The boys are so talented and many of them are so involved with their music that I don’t doubt that they could succeed anywhere. But really thought how awesome would Block.B.A.P. be like c’mon TS make your move Secret really isn’t going places, now’s your chance. Woollim might be a fun place, or maybe J.Tune even? BlockBLAQ anyone?
Ambika: Stardom Entertainment seemed a bit off because Block B got less time on music shows with “Nillili Mambo” than 2012 rookies from smaller companies; likewise, EvoL was short on airtime; and that lawsuit against Brand New Music about Miss $ seemed like it was really reaching for straws–or I guess a cut in the profits in that case. I get that the group had their Thailand scandal, but even before that, with “Nanrina,” their screen time was ridiculously small and a frequent complaint among fans. Even with that, the great extent of the dissatisfaction and shade that seems to be surrounding events of the past year or so is shocking and an eye-opening way to start the new year.
What has been reassuring about this incident is the quick action that Block B’s side is taking to fight back against Stardom’s claims. Block B’s representatives responded to Stardom Entertainment’s official position within the same day, addressing each point of Stardom’s position and ending with a warning against believing every word the company puts out. At this point, it seems like Block B will come out on top of this one whole as long as they can follow through with their position. As to which company might take them, I just want one to.
Mark: I suspect there’s been some funny business going on with Stardom ever since its split with Brand New Music. It seems that Brand New Music left with all the veteran artists, leaving Stardom with mainly Block B. I find it particularly curious why companies quarrel over small amounts of cash. How hard is it to pay the members their monthly salaries?
It can be deduced from Stardom’s statement that there is possibly some conflict between wages being withheld from the members during the April to October 2011 period when the company had yet to reap in a profit. Even if Stardom wasn”t sure whether they were going to be profitable in the first six to seven months and did in fact withhold wages from the members without their acknowledgement, the least they can do is pay them back those wages so they can bury the issue. As for the other grievances, the whole money swindling and laundering by said CEO is quite egregious. Aren’t they headed by Cho PD? Where is he in all this?
Lindsay: If, in fact, shady business has been going on with Block B’s company since the group’s debut it would explain a lot. It always seemed strange to me that I hadn’t heard of them sooner, but their lack of participation in the larger variety circuit is certainly partially to blame for that. And speaking of fans calling for more Block B screen time, the group didn’t appear in any of the end of the year gayos. I don’t know about you guys, but I saw multiple comments on the world wide web from Block B fans noticing this. Seen in the new light of this recent issue, it is hard to say whether them not being present in the gayos had to do with the company’s poor promotional scheduling, or if the group and the company had already had a falling out (halting their activities completely) and simply didn’t make it public until now.
Fatouma: My first reaction to this was not again, and sobbing. I haven’t been a BBC for very long so I didn’t see any signs of this at all. All I’m really thankful now is that they’re doing this as an united front and are not divided. But I’m really worried for Block B surviving this debacle with their company, they’re not as established as let’s say JYJ, Shinhwa and JTL from H.O.T was when they split from their companies, so I wonder if they have strong enough support to move on from this and I wonder what entertainment company would be willing to take thim because of their issues last year. Kudos to them for taking this on so early on in their careers, but hopefully it doesn’t bite them in the butt in the long run. Fingers crossed for Jungle Entertainment to take this kids under their wings or perhaps Jay Park‘s label, SidusHQ?
Sophia: I for one cannot fathom how a company that is claiming low returns can have the gall to launch a new girl group? If you don’t have the funds to pay your existing acts, don’t waste money trying (and failing) to make an impact during the most debut saturated year of the them all. I guess I agree with Nabeela though, if there was a time for Block B to come out about this, post-Blockbuster was it. Even if P.O. had to pay for the stage-outfits out of his own pocket (good lord I hope that’s just a rumor because I’m getting teary just thinking about it). That, and the fact that it could have had a bearing on the Thailand incident.
Here’s hoping they find an agency willing to take them all and not screw them over. Maybe an adoption campaign is in order…
Nicholas: As much as I like the idea of an idol group where fans appear to run things, it appears more like a nightmare particularly where many things that happen in K-pop function in such a mutually exclusive way, and when fans come in there is room for so much conflict.
Take for instance musical development. On one hand there are fans who are pleased with anything and everything their idols put out, then there are those who believe that the music should always aim to be better. Or even media exposure. While some fans prize their idols being in the spotlight constantly as a sign of popularity, there are those who would rather let the poor saps get some rest and not constantly be pressured into a comeback.
Add to that fandom at times being like touch paper on top of TNT and I kind of prefer my idol groups run by some company. In fact even for groups that claim to be fan oriented its often The Powers That Be who make key decisions.
Collectively-run talk aside I am wishing Block B would make it past this. They have too much left field appeal to be forgotten easily, as well as hoping someone would note how in some ways the idol game is so unfairly stacked against the performers.
(Images via: Stardom Entertainment, SM Entertainment, TS Entertainment, Sidus HQ)