ZILLY TALKZ: Very Read-Worthy Article on T-ara's Bullying Scandal

As there has been a steep rise in the number of the bullying related deaths (including suicides) in Korea, T-ara's bullying scandal has become a hot issue at the national level. Today, I'll translate one of the best-written article I've ever read since the scandal broke.  It's quite long but trust me: it's worth reading the whole thing.


Written by Kim Gyoseok
Translated by ONSEMIRO
(Link to the original article in the Enter-Media)

"Shameful Decision Made by a Bigwig in the Korean Entertainment Industry"

Here's a manager or producer named Kim Kwang-soo. He entered the Korean entertainment management industry as a road manager in 1985 and in the 90's, he rose to success with an eye for discovering fresh talent (including actors as well as singers), which gave him the nickname Midas Touch. He was at the peak of his career, when he discovered the singer Jo Sungmo, and SG Wannabe's success proved the pinnacle of his career even in the 2000s. He became one of the powerful bigwigs in the Korean entertainment industry and is considered an iconic example of a person that started at the bottom and worked his way up to the top on his own and with his own style.

Kim seems to have an aura of confidence that he can always create a new star. In an interview, he said celebs' it factor always changes; just like we buy a new smartphone and toss away an old phone, celebs are like "consumable products."  Maybe that's why, despite his own genius for discovering talents, training them and making them famous, he never has ongoing amicable relationships with them.

Along with his eye for fresh talent, another key to Kim's success is that he's really good at making "the celebs under his leadership" (henceforth, his employees) the center of public attention through a variety of media outlets he can use in the right place at the right time. He doesn't care about the future of his employees as long as he can set the trend using them and make money.  Kim Minwoo (henceforth, Minwoo), the best new Korean ballad singer of the early 90's, shows a typical example of his kind of leadership: In an attempt to make the song, Ibyeong-yeolcha Aneseo (“In the Enlistment Train”), hit the number one in 1990, Kim really talked Minwoo into enlisting; and after his release from the army, Minwoo disappeared into oblivion due to Kim's negligence and lack of care.

But when you manufacture products, some of them can show flaws, like Jo Sungmo, Nam Gyuri (of SeeYa) or Hwayoung (of T-ara).  In that case, manufacturers usually offer after-sales service but Kim Kwang-soo seems to think replacing is faster than repairing. Just like the fast fashion brands work, the secret of his success lies in manufacturing his product as fast as possible, marketing it to the public as much as possible in the shortest time possible, and replacing it with the next product as fast as possible. And whenever clearing out the old item, he shows superb crisis management skills, living up to his name - a master of utilizing the media.  Even now when I'm writing this, he's feeding the media with new press releases and interviews in hopes of tipping the scales in his favor.

And now the tragedy starts here when Kim is too sure of his own instincts. By his own estimation, he has the keenest eye of all for trends past and present and the great ability to handle crisis but unfortunately, by taking too much pride in his ability, he put T-ara in danger and the group is pretty much all his company has at present. In fact, dissonance in a team or group is a normal thing.  People face conflicts in schools, at work, or even in their families, let alone in interest groups (like idol groups)  organized and formed by their companies. In other words, an idol group is not formed with a circle of friends in the first place. To top it off, it's like the microsoms that grew up hearing people praise their beauty are gathered together in the same galaxy.  And even among the members of the Avengers, there were conflicts and a hierarchy of authority.

But the problem is, it was Kim's road map for crisis management that added fuel to the fire; T-ara's bullying scandal was started out as gossip but then came to the fore as a serious social issue.  Facing conflict is one thing, bullying is another. Wangdda or bullying is one of the most important issues that is now looming larger than ever before in our society.  And the tweets among the members at least showed Hwayoung and the rest are obviously not on good terms. Accordingly, the proofs and pieces of circumstantial evidence began circulating around the Internet and people started asking for an explanation for what's really happened.  Now the controversy became a national issue, probably bigger than the Olympics, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Kim, the issue maker.

Instead of putting out the fire instantly, he chose to add fuel to it by announcing that he would release an important statement and thanks to this announcement, T-ara attracted the attention of the whole country to become a Gukmin Geurup ("The Nation's Group").  Almost everyone knows each member's name, their company name, and even their boss's name.  Someone I know even came to know it was one of those T-ara members who played Princess Yeojin in KBS's "King Geunchogo" that went off the air quite a while ago.  But Kim's road map worked up to this point and no more, which is eventually catching up with him, his company, and T-ara.

When people wanted an explanation, Kim announced that he was kicking Hwayoung, a presumed victim of bullying, out of T-ara. And the reason for her exit was, according to him, the fact that, regardless of whether she had been bullied or not, she is actually a horrible snob. Yet, he said, the rest of the group wanted her to stay but he chose to let her go for the sake of the company's suffering staff.  When she immediately refuted such claims on Twitter, he pushed her into a corner, blaming her for playing the victim. He said though being the youngest member and the weakest link of the group, she's been bossing around the poorly paid staff members who are putting up with very poor working conditions. And he added she was expelled from the group because she had broken a promise to the fans by refusing to perform on live TV.  But I see no causal relationship (between the alleged actions and the alleged agent of those actions).

First of all, even though it may be true Hwayoung is being a diva (or maybe all T-ara members are being divas), it has nothing to do with the welfare of the staff members.  It's Kim, their boss, who has his say on their pay or their working conditions.

Secondly, I wonder if he would still have kicked her out of T-ara on the grounds of refusing to perform on live TV on the 27th (of July), had it not been for the controversial tweets published on the 25th. People are curious to know whether Hwayoung has really been bullied, not what kinds of arguments or fights they've had. However, she was axed on grounds totally irrelevant to the issue.  It would've been more honest to admit that he chose to send her home due to disharmony among the members, at the very least. Then it might have been dismissed as just another gossip as only those involved know the real reason.

Since then, however, unfair news articles written almost entirely on information from Kim have been pouring in, which is now backfiring on him and T-ara; such reports have increased animosity from the public towards them.  They absolutely stand in the proximate relation of employer and employee where the former is a bigwig in the entertainment industry and the latter is just a 19 year old (Western age). And as this bigwig is bombarding this girl with false images, confusing messages, and media manipulation, people have become more sure than ever that Hwayoung has been bullied and furthermore, they regard Kim's way to solve the problem as "pushing the weak down and then putting the boot in."

Such an undesirable outcome was caused by Kim's inability to keep up with the spirit and sentiment of the age.  I don't think he realized that this scandal belongs to the "social issues" category; and he seems to believe that his media strategy is superb and still works perfectly.  Yes, it used to only before Evan Williams, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Some say there's far too much fuss being made over disharmony among the members of an idol girl group while others suspect conspiracy.  But the things is, so many people are taking an interest in this incident not because they are a bunch of busybodies or flibbertigibbets but because it showcases the dark sides of human beings and atrocities in our society. It's already shocking enough to learn that the smiling faces on TV may be the bullies and the bullying victim. Adding insult to injury, however, Kim's way to solve the problem reassured them of our corrupt, irrational society where the wrongdoers discredit their accusers and the bullying victims, not the bullies, have to transfer to another school. It's easy for them, especially the teens and their parents, to feel empathy for Hwayoung, a presumed victim of T-ara's bullying scandal.  They fear our society will only get worse if they can't win the fight for her because the T-ara bullies are teen idols.

This incident highlights one of the fundamental problems in Kim's road map.  Just as he has treated his employees like "consumable products," he thought he could keep his latest hit product undamaged by axing Hwayoung.  However, today's masses want to hear those "products" tell their personal and emotional stories and that's why today's idol stars appear on TV talk shows or entertainment shows to become popular. Furthermore, the fans want to get actively involved in building up the "brand" story and that's why the reality singing auditions have become a phenomenon.  A coming of age story to share with the fans is what today's entertainment industry needs.

Out of tune with times, however, Kim not only added new members to already successful T-ara for no reason but announced he would make them compete against one another and in a worst case scenario, he would replace the weakest link of the group.  It was a silly decision made out of touch with reality, even without communicating with the fans.  The key difference between Kim's Core Contents Media (CCM) and Korea's three major agencies (JYP, SM & YG) is that CCM lacks strong unifying forces or bonds between the company and its employees, hence is devoid of tradition and management system.

In fact, it's no wonder the fans harbor great antipathy toward Kim, a grownup who doesn't act like one.  How dare he throw the girls under or barely over 20 down in the cutthroat competition and keep them all booked up to their eyeballs all year, yet without trying to intervene when there is any type of conflict among them and even without caring about their life and future?  Even when the bullying scandal first broke, he chose to just wipe away pus when the wound is festering  underneath.

Hwayoung (or the rest of the group) might have been merely a cash cow or a lucrative product for Kim, but she's a human being who has a life to live day by day.  Disharmony in T-ara and bullying are totally different issues and people are feeling bitter about his violent solution to such a serious problem and his cruel decision to manipulate media to get rid of her.  And that's why they are empathizing with her.