It’s not a word unfamiliar to the K-pop universe as of late, because whenever you have a group from a small company see a spike in popularity, the red flags are raised for album/single sale fraud. Recently, more and more groups are getting increasingly larger pieces of the K-pop pie, be it because the K-pop market itself is increasing, or companies like JYP are have lost footing. Whatever the reason, the playing ground is evening out, and acts like Sistar, Girl’s Day, Beast, B1A4, Infinite, and VIXX are starting to see sales that potentially could rival the sales of YGE and SME.

“Sajaegi” is not a quite a blanket term for “chart manipulation,” however; rather, it refers to the process of buying back albums or songs and reselling them to rack up sales (“sajaegi” literally means “buy back”). Digital sajaegi was a hot issue last year and the year before, a controversy that spurred the Big 3 plus Star Empire to seek formal police investigation on several companies for exploiting the digital charts. In the case of B1A4, accusations started riling up for physical sajaegi when B1A4 allegedly sold 14,000 (this number keeps changing) copies of their album Who Am I?  in a matter of  3 1/2 hours, and leap frogged over TVXQ‘s Tense to the top of the charts. These complaints against B1A4 looked to be from miffed Cassies, who could not believe a nobody group like B1A4 could sell more than their oppas.

20121115_seoulbeats_B1A4214,000 copies in 3 1/2 hours over a week after the album came out does seem fishy, even with fansigning events–but it’s not something out of plausibility. Is it really that hard for K-pop fans to fathom that someone could be selling more than the traditional physical dominators? Not only would it be incredibly dumb for someone to fake those kinds of numbers given the immediate attention it would get, if TVXQ sold albums at that rate, it would be a lauded event, not the source of controversy. Yes, WM Entertainment, as a small company, has major gains by selling albums; unlike large established artists, significant albums sales are important because ad promotion and concert sales are a little bit harder. This however, does not mean that album sales are the be all end all for WM’s business. Frankly it’s quite the opposite. K-pop makes no money from album sales–album sales are merely the reflection of a group’s popularity, and the more popular a group, the more likely they are going to sell out concerts, and most importantly, become a walking advertisement.

B1A4 continues to sell well because their album was good. Period. That’s it. WM has denied that any sajaegi stuff happened (though they hadn’t presented any receipts at time of writing), and I and most of you pretty much don’t care anymore. Since it’s generally “innocent until proven guilty,” without concrete evidence for WM underground dealings the cries of protest are not going to change the trajectory of B1A4’s success. They will keep winning music shows for their well done song and well done album. Furthermore, just because B1A4 is gaining steam, it doesn’t mean the entire K-pop universe is going to turn inside out, and that all of your YG/SM groups are going to lose their artificial god-tier status.

So it looks like there’s no Sajaegi and the world has not undone itself; then, what’s the problem?

The problem is fandom. Cassiopeia and BANAs have been at each other’s throats like ravaging hyenas, and it’s totally pathetic to watch. Rather than focus on the issue at hand (that turned out to be a non-issue), both Cassies and BANAs spent their days building strawmen and throwing all of their ammunition at their hay stuffed figurines. BANAs allegedly were threatening to poison Yunho with super glue again, harassing Jaejoong (probably untrue), and Cassiopeia was spreading rumors that B1A4 plagiarized their concept art from f(x) and Shinee. All of this however, supposedly stemmed from BANAs trying to pick a fight with Cassiopeia (also probably untrue). The rumors about BANAs are clearly ridiculous, and the Cassiopeia ones are worse, because they think that calling wolf on plagiarism is something to be done lightly. Not only is all the mudslinging incredibly stupid, the fact that both fandoms take it upon themselves to serve as their King’s army for a fake enemy is baffling.


B1A4 haters, here’s a quick lesson on plagiarism. This here, is not plagiarism. Yes they’re both ‘Y’s, yes they both have geometric elements, but the key here is intention. They have their subtle differences in style, but most of all, they’re really isn’t any intention of “being the same.” One is blockier, the other more skeleton like; one is a person’s logo, the other acts to embody the album’s name. I highly doubt Younha is going to seek out Jaejoong for “taking her stuff”; because not only is it totally hard to prove when it’s a broad concept that’s “taken,” it’s against the nature of art itself. Art has been replicated across time to an astounding degree, but that’s only because art is about innovating, not inventing. You can write 100 songs with the same chords, and they can all be different! Yes, you can integrate a popular melodic style/motif/theme if that’s what makes your song work (see IU‘s “Red Shoes”)! The point of the matter is, B1A4 did not copy either f(x) or Shinee for having some minor elements of similarity. Sketchy album artwork and taking pictures on patterned cloth was not invented by Shinee.

When TVXQ pulled out of the music shows this past week, despite not considering the obvious (the duo need time to prepare for upcoming Japanese promotions), the conclusion the sensationalists came up with pervaded the social media airwaves: SME most definitely was putting up a strike against WME for selling albums illegally–because that’s what happened.

The sun revolves around Earth Cassiopeia, I agree.

Putting the B1A4 controversy aside, there’s a bigger problem that pervades all of K-pop, and it’s the “I’m holier than thou” syndrome. I confess right here and now that I don’t like “Lonely,” don’t feel anything about Who Am I?, and think “Something” is a better song performance-wise. This however, gives me no right to bash B1A4 for stealing “my precious TVXQ’s” music show crowns, and I have even less right to be finding ways to sink their rising ship. This case with the sejaegi is all extreme, I know, but the issue continues to exist. Day in, day out, fans are fighting over the webs about how much better my favorite artist is, and how your favorite group’s company sucks, and that my beloved idol self-composes…

20140113_seoulbeats_tvxqStop. Right now.

Listening to K-pop is about listening to the music you like, watching the performances you like, and being among the fans you like. This is not a competition to tear off another fan’s head, and no matter what you think, creating strawmen or attacking a person for her opinions is not, in any shape or form, appropriate. Am I preaching to the choir here, given Seoulbeats caters to more neutral fans? Sure, in some respect, though the “holier than thou” still prevails among these kinds of fans too. The Woollim/SM merger was looked upon with hatred without actually knowing the events; and now collaborations between SM and Woollim groups are attacked (case in point: Woohyun/Key). Why are they hated? Because SM’s the big bad wolf of K-pop.

When I came across this scandal, the dominant opinion seemed to be less of “sajaegi makes no sense given the circumstances (timings, fanmeets, etc.)” and more of “B1A4’s album was sooooo good, and TVXQ’s was mediocre. This is stupid,” “Believe in WM Entertainment and the B1A4 boys. Be strong, BANAs!,” and “TVXQ are the Gods of K-pop, to be beaten by a nugu group is unfathomable!” These, folks, are nonsense arguments. No fundamental law of the universe says sajaegi do not exist if and only if an album is good. You can have a fabulous album and sill have sajaegi. You can have a terrible album and not have sajaegi. You can be unpopular and not have sajaegi. You can be popular and still have sajaegi. Most importantly, your favorite group is not infallible! The issue is whether the evidence against them adds up or not, and in B1A4’s case, it did not (for now).

Morals of the Day:

  • Don’t let subjectivity and objectivity mix too much, and make sure you know where those lines between them actually are, because it looks like a lot of people don’t.
  • Please be more cognizant of your biases–just because you like something and it has objective merit, doesn’t mean that you can shut down other people for something inherently subjective. (I need to work on this too!)
  • Idols are not your personal responsibility.
  • Realize that no company in K-pop is actually better than the other. All companies have their pros and cons, but don’t stand on high ground and say that WM Entertainment is the bestest K-entertainment company and/or that you’ll believe whatever they say. That’s naiveté. On the same note, please don’t blind yourself to the truth, whatever it is.

(Netizen Buzz, Starship Entertainment, SM Entertainment, WM Entertainment)