A recent phenomena was highlighted to myself recently whilst having a discussion on my next JaK-related trip to Korea next month (more details about that later)- there have been a lot of instances recently where idol group line-ups have changed after they have debuted; both with adding members or members leaving.
What made this click for me was the news that one of last year’s most underrated debuts, Cube Entertainment’s CLC, were having a comeback. They initially released a teaser that had the members’ silhouettes… only there were two more people in the line then what was there before. A lot of people were asking questions: “Who are they?” “Are these new members?” “Why are they having more members when they already debuted?” “Where have they been all this time??” (the last one being a bonus grumble). My question was, “… again?”
Last year, Red Velvet did the same. In 2014 SM Entertainment’s most recent girl group debuted with the average “Happiness” with only four members- Joy, Seulgi, Wendy and Irene. They had a dedicated fanbase already due to them having exposure with the SM Rookies in the past. And then in 2015 they announced new member Yeri. There was confusion as to why she was added over half a year after the group had debuted and SM received some backlash for the decision with some fans even going to the extreme of trying to alienate Yeri. However, it didn’t last long as the girls scored their first mutizen with ‘Ice Cream Cake’ (a song that was playing absolutely everywhere in Seoul when I was there last April) and then achieved success once again with the brilliant ‘Dumb Dumb’. It seems that for Red Velvet the idea of adding a member worked well for them.
On the other hand it could be incredibly confusing and detrimental to the success of the group. A good example of this is the girl group 4TEN. Debuting in 2014, the group started with four members (as their name suggested) – Hyeji, Hyejin, Eujin and TEM. After a year and one release, members Eujin and TEM left and their company, Jungle Entertainment, announced they were coming back with three new members (Hio, Yun and Hajeong) under the new name POTEN (the name coming from the word ‘potential’ – potential what, I ave no idea) and were active as this for a while. It seemed like it was going to stay like that.
Or so we thought. Because earlier this year Hajeong left the group, bringing them back to four members and spurring another name change… back to 4TEN. Realistically speaking, the group were not well known enough (or from a big enough agency) to create a stir like Red Velvet did but for fans of the group were perplexed. They are now promoting their current single with their (not really) new name but let us hope that this is the last change that they will have, both name and member wise. At least for a while. Because even though they were not that well known in the first place, the amount of chopping and changing surely has not done them any favours.
So does the changing of members to keep a group relevant work? Not for KARA. Debuting in 2007, KARA were the darlings of K-Pop providing iconic hits such as ‘Mister’ (and that brilliant ‘butt-dance’), ‘Jumping’ and ‘Step’. Even back in the early days they had to deal with one member’s departure (Seungyeon) and countered that with the addition of two new girls (Hara and Jiyoung) Not only that, but they were massively successful in Japan to the point where later on in their popularity in Korea was fading they were still making waves in Japan (which was important as breaking into the Japanese market successfully meant that they were earning surplus money). In terms of overall revenue, they were among the most successful idols of the Hallyu 2nd Generation. Things were going really well for them.
So what went wrong? Despite their strength in Japan their lack of Korean releases started to make them less prominent in the overall K-Pop scene. During their “absence”, other newer groups such as A-Pink, Sistar and Girls Day were strengthening their fanbases and relevance. KARA was slowly becoming a part of a by-gone era of K-Pop and they were not able to keep up with the changes that were occurring in the industry thanks to the successes of the 3rd Generation. Members Nicole and Jiyoung left in 2014 after deciding not to renew their contracts (an event foreshadowed by the contract dispute the group had with DSP Entertainment back in 2011), and new member Youngji joined much to the chagrin of fans. It didn’t help though, despite several media appearances, releases of new singles and a Japanese concert at the end of 2015, KARA officially disbanded in 2016 without so much of a fizzle of interest from the K-Pop community. A sad end for one of K-Pop’s all time greats.
But are there groups that could make it work? Let’s take a look at After School, who employ the Japanese-style ‘Graduation System’. The original five members, or first generation, of the group were Soyoung, Bekah, Kahi, Jooyeon and Jungah. The latter of the five left at the beginning of the year leaving no remaining original members of After School in the group. It certainly helps keep a refreshing outlook on the group with the option of trying out new concepts with newer generations that older members may not have been able to do but it does leave the option of fan interaction quite cold and sparse as you never really feel you can create a strong affiliation with a member that you like in case they choose to leave.
So it is successful for After School, right? Well, yes and no. After School sub-unit Orange Caramel, which consists of third generation members Nana, Raina and Lizzy, are always super popular when they have their releases due to their colourful style heavily influenced by J-Pop so the group are never really our of your mind for too long. On the other hand, After School as a whole have not had a comeback since 2014- their last single was the pole-extravaganza “First Love” and since then there has been silence. There has been a petition set to the attention of Pledis Entertainment for After School to have a comeback once it was announced that they didn’t have enough funding for a full group comeback. An excuse for not knowing what to do with the girls now? Perhaps, considering that they recently debuted the 13 member boy group Seventeen but it could genuinely be that Pledis are struggling as that group was in limbo for many years and they haven’t promoted NU’EST as heavily as they have done in the past. Whatever the reason, it seems like the graduation method does work but with no money to promote, After School are in danger of being another KARA, even with Orange Caramel still in the ranks.
So what is next? CLC are currently promoting their comeback (which isn’t making too much of an impact on the charts it must be said). Also it turns out that one of the two new members that was due to be put in is currently in Produce 101 so her image actually cannot be used for promotion… so the extra ‘hype’ was a waste in the end. I wish the girls well though- ‘Pepe’ was one of my favourite singles from last year and they have the chance to be something great.
… let us hope that Cube knows what they are doing with them.