Scandals reveal management loophole, cracks in unity
By Park Si-soo
Is Girls' Generation in crisis? Will it disband in the near future?
Eight years have passed since the nine-member K-pop girl group burst onto the domestic music scene. During that time, it has grown up as undisputed K-pop kingpin adored by scores of fans at home and abroad thanks to their cute and sexy image powered by addictive songs and fascinating choreography.
Last November, it won the best music video prize with its song "I Got a Boy" at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards in New York, a landmark achievement signaling that the group has ample potential for success in the U.S. and other countries.
But for now, the girls' lives are "maturing": teens when they debuted, the girls are now women in their mid-20s. Possibly the management agency SM Entertainment has been lax in its management or the members are collectively resisting the agency's rules designed to forestall public love affairs or unsavory scandals.
Citing tepid public response to its latest song "Mr. Mr.," many critics argue that the group's popularity has already gone into a tailspin. Those with radically pessimistic view even say Girls' Generation may break up in two or three years. But SM has vehemently denied the rumors.
The "crisis" started in January with news that Yoona, 24, had been dating ballad singer Lee Seung-gi, 27. SM instantly confirmed their relationship, making her the band's first member taken — officially — since its debut in 2007. The two had been dating since September, the agency said.
Only two days later, another member Sooyoung was confirmed to have been emotionally engaged with actor Jung Kyung-ho.
It didn't take so long for the band, whose members are aged between 23 and 25, to have a third member taken: Tiffany. It was confirmed last week that she was romantically linked with Nichkhun, a member of popular K-pop boy band 2PM.
Their agencies said the two stars have been close friends since they first met in the United States when they were still budding singers. "They recently started dating," said JYP Entertainment, Nichkhun's agency.
Just days before the news of Tiffany's dating spread, Hyoyeon was embroiled in an alleged assault case, for which she was called into the Yongsan Police Station last week for questioning.
According to police, a man filed a report around midnight of March 30, claiming that Hyoyeon had hit him in the eye when a simple joke went amiss. Investigators said Hyoyeon had feigned the act of jumping off a second-floor balcony and the man sustained the injury while trying to stop her. The complainant later withdrew his report. Police also found no illegality liked with Hyoyeon and wrapped up the case.
A surprising finding by the probe was that the complainant, identified as Kim Joon-hyung who penned a famous autobiography demonstrating his tenacious efforts to succeed, was her ex-boyfriend. Police said they recently broke up after dating for nearly two years.
This incident went viral on the Internet. Some bloggers spread rumors that the incident took place when she attempted suicide because she had been bullied by other band members. Claiming these rumors baseless, Hyoyeon is now considering taking a legal action against the rumor mongers.
What's interesting is that all of these scandals have only intensified in the last four months. As of now, only five members — Taeyeon, Jessica, Sunny, Yuri and Seohyun — remain "scandal-free." Taking into account the relatively short span of time, industry insiders are suspecting there might have been a big loophole in SM's management of the band's members.
"It's quite unusual," said a K-pop label representative with his name withheld. "I personally suspect that SM has drastically loosened its grip on Girls' Generation members or they were out of control."
He added it's also questionable whether the other five unaffected members really don't have dating experience since their debut.
Dating is not wrong for sure. But it sometimes turns out to be a destructive blow to top stars in Korea, especially female entertainers whose fans want them to stay young and untaken forever like a Barbie Doll.
In fact, several K-pop divas found their fan base collapse after announcing their dating. Some of them ended up bidding unwanted permanent farewell to their colleagues and fans. For that reason, many agencies typically prohibit their entertainers from dating through a strict regime of regulating their daily lives.
Against this backdrop, Sunny dropped a very thoughtful message during a recent interview with Sports Hankook, a sister paper of The Korea Times.
"You are watching us grow, the unedited version," she was quoted as saying in an article released on Wednesday. "I turned 25, not young anymore. I have many married friends, including those with babies."
Sunny went on, "Perhaps there are people who have difficulty in accepting the fact that we are getting mature. But that's true and an undeniable reality. Personally speaking, I'm positive about becoming mature."
Another K-pop industry insider said her comments hinted that the band' members have secured "complete freedom" when it comes to dating.
"That may be welcoming news for them. But we need to know why SM lifted the (dating) ban despite knowing that a dating scandal only carries a negative impact on their popularity," he said. "My premature conclusion is that the band's life is coming to an end."
The average lifespan of K-pop girl group is five years.
SES, one of the first generation girl groups, made its debut in 1997 and broke up in 2002. Its biggest rival Fin.K.L was formed in 1998 and disbanded in 2002.
Wonder Girls, which made its debut here in 2007 and became the first K-pop act to enter the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2009, has stayed idle since early last year when one of its members, Sunye, married a Christian missionary and then moved to the U.S.
Another member Sohee left the group early this year. She signed BH Entertainment the following month to become an actress.