1. T-ara "Lovey-Dovey" (Core Contents Media)
2. Orange Caramel "Lipstick" (Pledis Entertainment)
3. Trouble Maker "Trouble Maker" (Cube Entertainment)
4. ChoColat "I Like It" (Paramount)
5. Dev "Take Her From You" (Universal)
6. Dev "In My Trunk" (Universal)
7. Cassie "King Of Hearts" (Bad Boy/Interscope)
8. Wonder Girls "Like This" (JYP Entertainment)
9. Sistar "Alone" (Starship Entertainment)
10. T-ara "Day By Day" (Core Contents Media)
1. T-ara Funky Town EP (Core Contents Media) 13 points
2. T-ara Mirage EP (Core Contents Media) 13 points
3. ChoColat I Like It, The First Mini Album EP (Paramount) 12 points
4. Neil Young Americana (Reprise) 10 points
5. Miss $ Miss Us? EP (Brand New Music/Windmill Media) 10 points
6. Serebro Mama Lover (Columbia Europe) 10 points
7. E.via E.viagradation Part 1. (Black & Red) EP (Dline Art Media) 8 points
8. DJ Bedbugs Teenpop Lock And Drop Volume 2 [self-released] 8 points
9. Miss A Touch EP (JYP Entertainment) 8 points
10. Orange Caramel Lipstick (Pledis Entertainment) 8 points
COMMENTS: Interesting the different ways the public reacts to mass shootings, depending on the setting, or on what story just happens to catch hold. Now, after those little kids were killed at Sandy Hook, it's about gun control and mental health. But back in 1999, with the Columbine shootings, the story was about teens bullying teens, the killers having responded to years of torment, the public decided. The psychology of the killers may have been no different from that of the man a few months earlier up in Greeley who'd walked into a disciplinary hearing and let blast rounds of fire, or the guy in L.A. a few months later who shot seventy bullets into a Jewish Community Center. But for Columbine, teens shooting teens, people decided to imagine where the rage comes from – one of the few instances where the public wondered what it felt like to be the shooters. One of the many notes put next to the crosses at Clement Park said to the two dead killers, "If only you could have held on for a couple of more months," the time till graduation.
When the Voice ran my Columbine piece, Doug Simmons forwarded me a bunch of emails they'd gotten in response to the shootings. I recall one of them being truly chilling: "After 50 years of oppression, this is payback." Mostly what I was reading, though, was the pain, everyone a former student, everyone seeming to have lived a perpetual gauntlet. Or that's how I remember them, maybe my own memory telling me stories.
Which I'll admit is an overdramatic intro to something that lacked violence, much less murder. But here goes:
There was a big dance hit this summer, one that broke out of K-pop and into international pop. You know about it. But that wasn't the story that obsessed the K-pop fans. Their story was something else, though it isn't a story in the sense of: here are events, here is something that happened. The obsession itself is the story, from what I can tell.
A young woman, a member of a K-pop group, writes a tweet that goes, "The differences in levels of determination ^ ^. Let us all have determination." And several members of the same group take to twitter to concur, or re-tweet, with Jiyeon's concurrence maybe taking on an edge, the phrase, "I applaud you, acting genius," seeming like sarcasm. Hwayoung, the group member whom these tweets are apparently directed at, tweets back, "Sometimes determination alone is not enough." And from here the Internet takes over, seeing this as a set of girls ganging up on another girl. And videos that were obviously faked or even more obviously taken out of context begin to appear, to support this narrative, of a gang of girls bullying another girl. Here's Hwayoung's umbrella being wrecked and no one helping her. Here she's being force-fed a rice cake on a Japanese game show. (Amazing that that's taken as bullying; I mean, it's a game show, it was broadcast on TV, when it aired thousands saw without seeing any bullying; a few minutes earlier in the very same episode, Jiyeon, supposedly Hwayoung's main antagonist, also had a rice cake forced into her mouth. Of course, the antis who distributed this as evidence of bullying edited that part out.) Here's a photo where Hwayoung was on one escalator and the other girls were on another, proof that she was ostracized, shunned.
So, there's a story basically creating itself out of air, but a story that's already in so many people, waiting for an excuse to take to the air.
Of course there was what really happened, too, not that I know, or that the public knows; probably even the participants don't know. Hwayoung's leg was hurt, as happens to so many of these performers. The dancing is at least as important as the singing, and it's strenuous. So the injured Hwayoung performed her rap while sitting in a chair, and the audience admired her fortitude. But something else had happened. One rumor is that she'd skipped rehearsal because she was hurt, wanted time off, but went to a beauty parlor, or went shopping, and it was after this that the tweets flew. Then two days later, only a couple of groups ahead of them in the queue as they're to perform on Music Bank, Hwayoung is seen crying in the hallway. And when the group goes onstage she's missing, apparently having balked with only ten minutes to go, refusing to perform. Or that's what was claimed. You can see in the playback, a couple people in the first row holding cue cards as Eunjung and Hyomin cover for Hwayoung; Hyomin, who'd written that first tweet two days earlier, stopping dead for a couple of seconds, fumbling the lines.
Three days later Hwayoung is fired from the group, the label CEO making defamatory comments about her. And what had so far been standard carping and crabbing and viciousness by Netizens suddenly turns into a conflagration. Because, as I said, T-ara, the group, and nineteen year old Hwayoung, and Jiyeon, also nineteen, whom the Internet has designated Queen Bitch, aren't the real story. They're just the hook that kids hang their fantasies on, Jiyeon's beauty and slightly detached air and Hwayoung's bit of franticness in performance. From here it's children crying. I can't say who they are. I don't speak Korean so I'm seeing those who post in English, which is the language the international fans use, fans and antifans in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Canada, the U.S., Chile, Peru, Britain, France, Turkey. International pain, forums and comment threads full of protest and full of protests against the protests, kids I'm guessing -- I assume they're mostly teenagers, the majority girls, but I don't know; I mean, I'm in my late fifties, and I'm there, too, watching, fascinated.
It's no news that crazies show up on the Internet, that anger and pain flow from post to post, comment to comment. What's interesting here, though, is that, from what I can tell, the mob isn't just the trolls and the bullies; it's also people well-disposed towards T-ara who are confused, and credulous, as the words "T-ara Bullying Scandal" repeat over and over and the fans wonder; they see the concocted videos and, incredibly, are taken in; they wail, they demand to know what really happened. The word "bullying" elicits so much. And the mob has countercurrents, counter stories, you-who-are-calling-them-bullies-without-k
Back and forth, anger and anger back, daily people waking up to go online and to cry and fight, to throw forth argument, pain sloshing up and above, mass grief and dissension over... what? that fate is unfair, that people are not always nice, that teasing is pervasive, that everything hurts? Hwayoung tweets an apology to her former label and bandmates and tells her supporters, "To my fans, you've loved me until now, and I'm sorry that I've only given you disappointment. Please stop now." They don't stop. Netizens discover that if you line up some of the Hangul characters in Hwayoung's tweet vertically, there is the secret message, "only fans know," proving that she didn't mean it and had been forced to write it against her will (allkpop.com, in reporting this, notes that how the characters line up depends on what browser you're using; but they run the piece anyway, knowing it'll give 'em clickthroughs, leading with the claim and waiting a couple of 'graphs for the debunking). My favorite comment here, "CRAZY PEOPLES. DON'T YOU HAVE ANY ACTIVITIES, JOB OR SOMETHING IN YOUR REAL LIFE !!!?!?!??!"
Jiyeon keeps her acting gig but Eunjung is fired from hers, and loses a couple of endorsement deals; Soyeon is in a car crash and some Netizens post that the crash was engineered by the label boss to build sympathy for her and to distract from the Hwayoung controversy; alternately, that he sabotaged her car in order to kill her or punish her for allowing to be interviewed on the subject without his permission; the TV producer of the show Soyeon's on, acknowledging the insanity of these claims, of the whole uproar, nonetheless cites the pathology of this response as a reason to limit Soyeon's lines – as if to say: that this is so irrational and screwed-up, it just proves that things are extreme and therefore we have to give into it. What can you do when the mob is baying?
I'll say that K-pop is the world's best music,* and T-ara are K-pop's best musical group, and this summer they were almost destroyed. In the wake of "Gangnam Style" there were stories over here in America about how well the Korean Wave markets itself to the world, how for better or worse its system of production delivers: performers starting as trainees and worked as if they're prodigies and athletes, long hours and oppressive contracts as they wait for their chance, but dazzling performances, stunning outfits, elaborate sets, high-production videos. But here's K-pop not working, the label CEO screwing up daily and none of the young women in T-ara able to step forward and take charge and counter him, to figuratively grab the mouthpiece, no one in authority anywhere willing to tell the mob to stand down, no one being responsible, no one a genuine authority. Indie rapper E.via tweeted, "Is witch-hunting your hobby? I, too, feel terrible for that person and am curious for the truth, but [demanding the truth] like this will only increase the number of people in pain." And Kahi, former member of After School, wrote, "Either way, it doesn't seem like someone else's business." But no one else in the biz, no one with anything to lose (or even anything to gain), said a damn thing. The biz was silent, and this all played out. The counter-currents and arguments from fans themselves, those are what ended up blunting some of the hysteria. The actors union weighed in on Eunjung's side when she was fired from Five Fingers, her TV drama. But overall, adults were absent.
So the story here is what welled up in the youth. A group arose called "We want to know the truth about T-ara," but what's there to know? Breakups happen and this was like a breakup. It's like asking Mommy and Daddy why they got divorced. You're not going to find out. If they're decent they know they can't tell you, and if they're not, what they tell you will be bullshit. A girl whose Tumblr is called hyotheleader, who went on to patiently expose and debunk all the faked videos and false rumors, posted early on, "Heartbreaking... (╥﹏╥) Hwayoung is my 2nd bias after Hyomin and I shipped HwaMin like crazy after Subyung so I'm speechless right now. It just like you want me to choose between my dad & mom, who I want to die first!" And then as she sifted through all the lies and rumors, she in essence was telling a story too, that people on the Internet are mean – which is a variant of the story these Net people were telling themselves, too: "They kicked her out because she wasn't the popular one and it's a mean girls thing the other members got bad attitudes... It's all bullshit" wrote one kid about an hour after Hwayoung was tossed out. Another went, "i mean they are all bitches but srsly make the other members suffer as well for bullying her and shit but in return they make the victim leave the group!" It's their own story they're telling, a wrongness in a world that's supposed to be right.
*[EDIT: Which is actually a ridiculous claim, since I have no idea what happened in music this year in Pakistan or Trinidad or Finland or almost anywhere else, including almost all the specialty genres in the USA.]
UPDATE: I did a slight rewrite of these comments (tweaked a few sentences):