Fans may have anticipated Rain’s performance at August’s KCon in Los Angeles for an atypical reason: curiosity about whether audience would turn off their lightsticks and give him a “black ocean” due to his purported neglect and mismanagement of Ciipher, a boy group he created under his label Rain Company. Some K-pop sites did in fact report the response to Rain as a black ocean.

I attended the KCon concert, and it was not clear that a black ocean occurred: there were dark sections on the floor, but there were still a number of lightsticks illuminated in the seated levels. During Rain’s KCon set, many people cheered and sang along to his best-known song “Rainism.” The reception was more subdued for the performance of “Domestic,” his 2022 song from Street Man Fighter. Still, even in the darker floor area, I could see many phones out filming Rain on stage. This suggests a more complex situation than reports of a black ocean suggest – while some people do blame Rain for his decisions leading to the departure of four members of Ciipher, others support him, or simply do not know about him or his controversies.    

Sites such as SBS Star reported that Rain lost the considerable money he had invested in Ciipher, basing this headline on his appearance on the tvN show Take Care of Me This Week with Ciipher member Tan. When Sung Dong-il asked Rain how much he invested in Ciipher, Rain playfully replied, “I could have bought a house with that money.” He also reportedly made a comment to the effect of, “Sometimes, I wonder why I produced those guys.”

Fans who read such comments in isolation would understandably feel upset by them; however, one should also consider the role of humor in the context of a variety show. Rain also went on to promote Tan by saying he would be a big name in two years. While some might deem it inappropriate for Rain to even joke about Ciipher as a poor investment, there should be some nuance in evaluating his comments. 

A number of concerns about Ciipher’s management are valid. In early August, Rain Company’s announcement that members Tan, Tag, Dohwan, and Won would depart from Ciipher, leaving Hwi, Hyunbin, and Keita to continue with individual activities, as well as group activities “after reorganizing the team in the future.” This news fueled ire that Rain has focused more on his own career rather than Ciipher’s, to the group’s detriment. Ciipher did not have many scheduled activities; their one planned performance, at the K-pop All Stars Music Festival in Manado, Indonesia, was canceled in June. With unfortunate timing, Rain was confirmed to be in the KCon lineup shortly thereafter.

Ciipher has also not had a comeback since “Fame” in May 2022, and aside from “Metronome,” Keita’s collaboration with pH-1, there was little music to capitalize on members’ appearances on survival shows (Keita and Tag on Boys Planet, Hyunbin on Fantasy Boys). 

Similarly, no new content has been posted on Ciipher’s YouTube page since August 2022, which is unusual considering that posting non-musical content is a standard practice to maintain a loyal fanbase. Similarly, the group’s TikTok has only had one video uploaded in 2023, and their Instagram only had 13 posts this year. It is fair to say that the Rain Company has not been promoting the group well, especially to be able to succeed in a competitive and fast-moving industry.

Many fans who criticize Rain’s treatment of Ciipher see a repeat of his history with his former company J. Tune Entertainment and the group MBLAQ. Rain created and trained MBLAQ, but his company merged with JYP Entertainment so that he could prepare for his military enlistment. MBLAQ’s label J. Tune Camp, which was a subsidiary of J. Tune Entertainment, announced that they would not be part of the merger. Prior to enlistment, Rain reportedly told MBLAQ, “I will step back gradually and leave when you can do it yourself.”  Upon returning from enlistment, he signed with a sub-label of Cube Entertainment for his own solo career, rather than with J. Tune Camp, and had no visible involvement with MBLAQ after that point. 

As with MBLAQ, Rain displayed initial enthusiasm to Ciipher with heavy personal involvement. He appeared on multiple variety shows and music shows alongside Ciipher.  Rain’s wife, actress Kim Tae-hee, appeared in Ciipher’s debut video “I Like You”, and Lee Hyori also filmed content with the group. This level of involvement, however, waned over time, suggesting that featuring in his group’s promotions himself is not the most effective way to build a fanbase. 

There is much to criticize about Rain’s handling of his groups, but it remains to be seen how this will affect his legacy in the long term. If we take Rain’s reception at KCon as an indicator of his reputation in 2023, it is decidedly mixed: some praise him for his accomplishments as an artist and his performance ability, some are highly critical of his management of his groups, and some are simply indifferent to him. The last point is important to highlight: the other artists performing on Day 2 of KCon were 4th or even 5th generation groups who debuted from 2018 to 2023. It could be the case that fans of newer groups may not know Rain beyond “Rainism,” if they know him at all. The response at KCon could be more of a result of the passage of time than anything else.

(SBS Star, Daum, Naver, Twitter, Instagram [1] [2], YouTube [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. Images via Seoulbeats, Sublime Entertainment, Rain Company, and J. Tune Camp).