By now, most have heard of the storm ZE:A‘s leader Lee Hoo (formerly Junyoung) released on Twitter. He called out the group’s company Star Empire Entertainment and the CEO in particular about the unjust treatment of ZE:A. This ranged from assault to being taken advantage of financially.
It’s easy to sit here as bystanders and pass judgement. We really don’t know what exactly happened and only can make a call based on the information being given. But Star Empire doesn’t have a great track record. If you’ve watched the BBC documentary about Nine Muses’ début, you know the group was harassed, assaulted, and subjected to intense scrutiny. Additionally, Jewelry member Yewon has talked about being told to eat nothing before début. Therefore, the allegations put forth by Lee Hoo aren’t that far-fetched, and I’m more inclined to believe what he says. And these statements add up to a whole heap of horridness.
Here are the allegations (some are inferred):
- Initial “slave” contract (12 years) changed to 9 years (including military service), with profits split 70% to CEO and 30% to the group
- Multiple instances of the leader being slapped by the CEO
- Possible assault of other members
- Alluding to the CEO using Taeheon as a pawn in gaining more money from MMA — essentially letting him get beaten badly by a veteran fighter for ratings (and maybe also encouraging the other fighter to do so)
- Members going through emotional turmoil caused by the company
- Lying by the company and KBS’ Dream Team about Lee Hoo’s promotion-halting injury two years ago
- Television appearances being bought
- Other bad behavior by the CEO of Star Empire and other agencies
Star Empire hasn’t really done much to negate the allegations either. If anything, their relative silence regarding the issue, and how quickly a truce was made, compel belief. You would expect the CEO to put up a much bigger fight, or at least have representatives employ some sort of defense strategy, instead of chalking it up to a financial issue. Their statement following the meeting with the CEO only mentions the resolution of misunderstandings and little else.
Eventually, Lee Hoo revealed that he had met with the CEO and the issue had been somewhat resolved. Kwanghee also revealed that all of ZE:A had actually participated in that meeting. The group as a whole confronted the company regarding their complaints and actually succeeded in getting something. ZE:A’s income distribution has flipped, the group getting 70% and the CEO 30%. Lee Hoo’s tweets also seem to allude to the group becoming more autonomous.
There are still talks going on, and the issue hasn’t been fully resolved as of yet. What effect, if any, this will have on other Star Empire artists remains to be seen, too.
Respect should be given to Lee Hoo (and the rest of the members for standing by him). He’s a true leader, who risked it all for the sake of his group. He even mentions attempting suicide. This took a lot of courage. Additionally, the fact he still holds some affection toward the CEO – enough not to completely destroy him yet – shows that he has a good, strong character. It’s not surprising he’s the leader.
Naturally, people have different reactions regarding the situation. Some are firmly in support of what he has done. Others, not so much.
Some say that Lee Hoo is being an attention whore, childish, and tactless at that. If it was that bad, he should have sued. Granted, Twitter isn’t the most sophisticated way to air grievances, but desperate times call for desperate measures. As we’ve seen, lawsuits won’t normally accomplish much when it comes to agencies. Companies will just go back to doing what they’ve always done.
And this situation is not simply one member getting fed up and wanting to walk away. Lee Hoo was standing up for the entire group’s fair treatment, not his own. Additionally, given the claims of physical abuse, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of those instances came from Lee Hoo and the members actually making complaints.
To add insult to injury, claims of him being a sellout are thrown around. After saying that he would reveal mind-blowing claims, following a meeting with the CEO, he backed down. It was as if Lee Hoo got paid to shut his mouth or only used threats to get paid. Wanting rightful pay and getting it doesn’t make you a sellout. It means you managed to get what you knew you deserved.
Others are positing that, as an idol, he knew things were going to be hard when he signed up for it and decided to become a trainee. The victim blaming should stop. No person should be okay with physical and psychological abuse of anybody. Nobody should be excused for slapping, sexually harassing, sexually assaulting and dehumanizing another.
In the context of K-pop, shouldn’t fans want their biases to be protected and healthy? Even more so, wouldn’t companies want their little money makers to be that way as well? Companies should sit up and pay attention. Artists know the skeletons in the closet and could possibly destroy everything, that is, if any of them have the courage to do what Lee Hoo has done.
From a bystander perspective, I hope this happens. The seemingly rampant and systematic mistreatment of idols and trainees (most of which starts when they are mere children – let that sink in) needs to stop. It is horrifying and abhorrent. There have to be better ways to train future acts.
How much dirt does Lee Hoo really have? Whatever has happened seems to be pretty damaging, and Lee Hoo appears to be holding all the cards. It’s a wait-and-see game in knowing what will ultimately happen regarding this issue. If nothing else, at least ZE:A is getting paid more.