UPDATE: T-ara’s member change

First, I would love to rub it in my non-existent denouncers’ faces that I was right about Mubank again. Post Suju/Taeyang, miss A will snap up a couple of wins, and then it’s all SHINee. M!Countdown easily went to Se7en (I’m impressed he won on comeback but if my solidifying belief that M!Countdown can be reasonably predicted by the MNet chart, then it isn’t a surprise) but remember SM is always absent on MNet.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about T-ara. In case you missed Core’s announcement of T-ara’s upcoming changes:

1.) New member Ryu Hwayoung will join T-ara as its 7th member. Hwayoung and her sister Hyoyoung appeared earlier this year on Star King and were recruited afterwards. Most of us remember Hyoyoung as the guest that fawned all over Nichkhun in Victoria’s presence. I guess Core originally intended her as the 7th member, but opted to add her into to their new mixed group that will debut later this year.

2.) Eunjung steps down and Boram succeeds her as leader.

3.)T-ara will have a new leader every year.

4.) Not really a change, but the reformed T-ara will be releasing a new album in September/October.

Being backed by one of the major media companies, T-ara was labeled the ‘super rookie’ group long before debut, and when they released Good Person for the Cinderella Man OST, I totally understood the label. First, pre-debut T-ara was 5 members: Eunjung, Jiyeon, Hyomin, who stuck with the group, and Jiae (leader) and Jiwon leaving due to ‘musical differences’ (how much musical difference can you have with a group yet to debut?). In the MV all of them looked like ulzzangs (people with great faces), had long, black hair, minimal makeup, and could ALL sing. Back then, Jiyeon was targeted as the talentless one, and compared with T-ara, heck, Kpop in general, today, we all know she’s not bad.

Since 2009 already had 2NE1, and to a lesser extent, 4minute, showing the industry rookie groups can take over from the start, this T-ara predebut sneak-peek put all girl groups on the defensive.

Then, 40% of T-ara up and left, and Core quickly found 3 replacements and debuted T-ara as a 6-woman group. What I found interesting was that T-ara was kind of a patch-work project–very few of the members were trained to debut as idol singers. Eunjung trained for acting, Hyomin for musicals, Qri for instrumentals (bass), an Jiyeon for acting/modeling. Only Boram and Soyeon had any official music experience. Boram previously released an OST and sounded pretty good, so I don’t know why people complain she can’t sing.

Park Soyeon is of course famous for being part of the SM project Super Girls, today known as SNSD, and would have debuted as the leader had she not withdrawn at the last moment. I really feel for this girl, because she must have beat herself up everyday at the opportunity she missed. Unlike other would’ve-been greats like Hyuna, Soyeon has confirmed that she personally pulled herself out because she was uncertain about idoldom and probably couldn’t take SM’s training anymore. However, I do applaud whoever recruited her into T-ara, because this girl was probably the best addition Core could’ve made–if she wasn’t a vocal powerhouse, antis would have bashed T-ara to the ground about the new members being ‘useless.’

I’ll just admit right now that I don’t understand the changes. T-ara is a very young group. Their most important short-term goal is to build up a solid fanbase and music style. With Lies, TTL, I Go Crazy Because of You, and to a certain extent even Bo Peep Bo Peep, they’ve established an electro-pop style that I personally was receptive of. However, their upcoming album is supposed to show a ‘different side’ of T-ara, and as a firm believer in ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ I don’t know what they can gain from a style change.

The member/leader change also clipped both ends of T-ara: Eunjung’s no longer the leader, and Jiyeon’s no longer the maknae. The leader change initially confused me the most. First, the position of leader in a Kpop group is largely a ceremonial one–it doesn’t mean anything anymore nowadays. Second, Eunjung’s strong personality fit very well with the leader image, so taking her down rips out part of her idol ‘identity.’ Apparently the T-ara girls personally selected Boram, but I doubt the leadership cycle idea was theirs. So I’m fine with Boram but still think the change idea is dumb.

I will, however, not understand why T-ara, or any Kpop group, for that matter, feel they need to add a member (notice I do not mean replace. Replacements for departed members are an entirely new matter). If the addition means a boost in talent (Kyuhyun in Super Junior), then people will get over it, but as After School has shown, when the new members don’t do much, fans have a much harder time accepting the addition. After School for me has changed toward a direction I don’t really like from their debut. Originally they were the strong, sexy, mature group with 5. Even with Uee I tolerated it. But I swear, if it wasn’t for Because of You, I would have turned my back on After School so fast after Raina/Lizzy/Nana. Nowadays I appreciate Raina’s vocal addition and even periodically defend Orange Caramel, but Bang! was a mess, and the Ah!-era After School has largely vanished, their group unity gone with the introduction of subgroups, and this recruiting a 9th member business just goading me on to abandon After school.

We shouldn’t judge Hwayoung until she officially debuts (considering she’s already getting hate just from Nichkhun lovers for being Hyoyoung’s sister/Jiyeon lovers for being born later than Jiyeon…), but the way Core is currently marketing her (pretty-face instead of vocal/dance skills), I feel she may just be another good-looking filler.

As a group, T-ara shocks me with the division of its fanbase (do they have an official fanclub name? I know Diadem is their international forum but come on people…). Usually new groups initially have a strong, unified base, but T-ara’s fanbase has always been a loose confederation of the fans of each individual group member. In particular, there’s a sharp contrast between the popularity of the ‘old’ T-ara and ‘new’ T-ara. If you check any T-ara forums, you’d realize the old members (plus Soyeon) always have the most active threads and sections. Boram’s election as leader has to be to boost her visibility in the group, but the position of leader, despite its lack of meaning, really has to be earned. I already saw Forever Leader Eunjung threads starting in AKP…

Another of T-ara’s problems is that the activity levels of the members are too different. The first casualty is the sense of team unity. Usually, each group has one or two members who venture into acting/modeling/MCing, mainly to get the group name out there. However, for Eunjung and Jiyeon in particular, with all the performances they missed, though understandable, make their membership in T-ara seem like a side job–they seem to be actresses first, T-ara members second. Again, since T-ara is a new group, it will be very easy for members to become bigger than the group itself, which will totally sink the ship for the rest. For the ‘hidden’ members, Boram, Qri, and to a lesser extent, Soyeon (at least she sang an OST for Death Bell and did the occasional variety shows), they were literally invisible–they become the members no one remembers. I appreciate that Qri is starting to act soon, but this move is months overdue.

Despite all my gripe, T-ara still remains one of my favorite groups. Three of them are exceptional singers, two are okay, I like their music, they have all the ingredients for success, and have so far been very successful. The next move I want them to make is to release a solid second album. I want a full album that shows individual improvement, style development (more I’m really Hurt, less Bo Peep Bo Peep, which was a necessary evil), and strong live performances to show that they have improved or at least remained consistent after their change. If they can accomplish 80% of what I want, then they will be fine. But please, no more new members.

Contrasting against Jpop groups, an appeal to Korean music groups was the stability of the groups and the belief in growth and development as opposed to member shifts to create changes in musical styles. That was once upon a time, I guess. *brings on Hyuna* Ch-ch-ch-change, baby.

Credit: Sookyungie, LeeHoKa

EDIT: Looking back, I realized I never really talked about Hyomin. To me, Hyomin is what’s keeping T-ara together. She’s the full package–good looks, vocal talent, and broad appeal (thanks to Invincible Youth, she’s gained lots of Sone fans and pity fans…poor folding screen XD). Honestly, the constant references Hyomin makes to T-ara songs during IY and how she kept on filming despite clearly being uncomfortable made me respect her a lot. I think T-ara would be fine with Hyomin and another member doing the majority of the individual activities, but eh, the T-ara girls are ambitious. But now Hyomin is filming for My Girlfriend’s a Gumiho? Omg…no one listens to me.