What’s in a name?
Over 800,000 registered fans and plenty of chaos.
They already had a million names, and with the creation of two member/three member groups after three decided to sue their company, knowing what to call this boy band is not getting any easier.
Originally 동방신기 (Dong Bang Shin Gi), a.k.a. Gods Rising from the East, TVfXQ, etc., often abbreviated as DBSK, DBSG and TVXQ by international fans, this five-member group rode the of K-pop for the past five or so years since their television debut in late 2004. Unfortunately, they’re under the biggest pop company in Korea, SM Entertainment, which essentially stands for the company’s founder Lee SooMan. SM is the kind of company where people love their entertainers but hate the organization; you just know there’s all sorts of dirt going on behind the scenes. Beyond the normal tidings of overworking and “slave contracts,” there have even been rumors of physical abuse. And every top group that comes out of SM seems to have an expiration date of five years/five albums.
So I guess it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise when three members Park YooChun, Kim JaeJoong and Kim JunSu filed an injunction against SM in July 2009. Since then, things have been in constant upheaval and fans (the 동방신기 fan club, titled Cassiopeia, boasts the largest number of fan club members in the world under Guinness) are left in constant turmoil but ultimately are in the dark.
The three members who filed the injunction were able to continue performing under their own volition after the first court decision was made, and eventually they officially created a new unit by commencing activities under the name JYJ, each taking a letter from their first names. Having been over a year since the first bomb was dropped, JYJ has started to establish themselves and released an English-language album this past fall, aiming at an international audience, perhaps after anticipating difficulties within the domestic market; similar situations have happened in the past with previous generations of SM idols, and as the top pop entertainment company in Korea, SM holds a lot of wield over who appears on what TV shows, gets publicity, gets to perform, etc.
But within the past week or two, the two members who had decided to stay under SM have suddenly commenced their own activities, and it’s causing a lot more waves than before. Members Jung Yunho and Shim Changmin released the title track, “Keep Your Head Down,” but even more controversial under the original name 동방신기.
In my opinion and experience, the music field of Korean entertainment is intensely personal. Having been molded for years by their company, singers tend to gain popularity more from their TV show variety appearances showcasing their “personalities” than from the actual music or musical skill. So fans feel like they know their singer and have a personal say, or even claim, to every aspect of their idol’s life. For group fan clubs, the emotions are even more complicated, and for Cassiopeia that toted mottos like 5-1=0 to express the necessity of all members being together, having two members continue under the name of 동방신기 when they are clearly not, at least by past definition, the recent events are hitting like a natural disaster, causing rifts between fans that were so intent on unity within the group and among themselves.
And the Korean music industry is personal in more ways than one. A couple of months ago, the three JYJ members opened twitter accounts and made them public. After the controversial release of the new album by the two members under the original group name this past week, JYJ member Junsu tweeted a few days ago several posts expressing seeming surprise, anger, sadness and dismay at his former co-members. And in response to that other SM singers have been speaking up by labeling him as a traitor and an ingrate in their own personal twitters. Meanwhile, no one really knows what the 동방신기 duo is feeling (they don’t have Twitter accounts), but we got to see them perform today, and it was pretty sad.
Not said in the way of their performance, I won’t get into that, but sad in that it really looks like they’re about to cry. At least in the ballad they performed.
Personally, 동방신기 is a group I really liked in high school, so since then I’ve generally kept up to date on what goes on with them. Though I’m nowhere near as invested as I was before, I have to admit that seeing things like this tugs at my affected-by-Korean-entertainment-industry-tactics-implanted heartstring.
This is a brief rundown on the background of this issue, and I will follow up soon with more of my thoughts on this issue, as well as what greater importance it has in the Korean music industry! The JYJ members seem to have an upcoming show or product release detailing more of the story behind the split, and despite strong objections from those harping on loyalty and betrayal, I for one would be glad to know more of what really goes on behind the picture-perfect plasticized screen.
Those interested in further reading can check out these links: