[Oh poo. YouTube killed the embed. Well, try this version of "Lovey-Dovey" with lots of fan chants.]
At the end of the year I was going back to the very same clips and it was like watching T-ara suddenly caught in the headlights, the half-second before they register surprise and fear. You wonder what's really there, Hwayoung flinging her leg sideways in the performance's showpiece, dance after dance after dance, four nights a week, Eunjung dropping out 'cause of a broken kneecap, others missing this or that show owing to schedule conflicts or minor injuries, the dance formations being reworked to accommodate.
But back in late 2011 I was already wondering about T-ara, who are they, why are they so good? 4minute, with engaging and accessible sex-bomb Hyuna at the center and the 2-yoons as vocal powerhouses, and a push-and-pull of appeal and rebellion that is a lot closer than T-ara are to my own sensibility, and who work with some of the same producers and songwriters, reach me in maybe one out of every three songs. Whereas T-ara have no bad songs,* except perhaps a Xmas throwaway here or an OST side project there, and even most of those are good. Even the ballads are good — standard and sentimental and just a day's dip into normal emotion.
I have no explanation, really. I bolded the "T-ara Pure" link below, maybe the most crucial of my attempts to figure it out, though I really just came up with adjectives, and not that many, piggy-backing on my first-quarter roundup. T-ara are kinda normal, I guess — I never made it to watching the variety shows to find hints of who they are as people. There's Hyomin's high pitch and Jiyeon's engaging disengagement, and Soyeon's determination — now a loaded word. Normal singers and dancers, taking what the world throws at them, until the world REALLY began throwing hard, and in response they froze. You can click the T-ara tag for any time T-ara comes up in my posts or in the comments. And here are links to what I consider the more significant of my T-ara and T-ara-related posts on lj, from the beginning to right now. I do, especially, think my Pazz & Jop ballot is a crackerjack bit of writing, my best attempt to sum up the pathology T-ara was subjected to starting mid-year.
Near year's end T-ara issued an apology to their fans, vowing to work harder, "work" being their only solution to the madness, even though it was just that, work, that did nothing for them when the storm hit.
January 7, 2011: Problematic Korean Video Friday over at Poptimists: T-ara YA YA YA.
T-ara as American Indians on a Pacific Island, potential cannibals and torturers — this is way problematic — kidnap a cute boy, each then secretly coming on to him. "I still think the main story here is of girls/young women playfully taking aggressive sexual initiative, which I'm inclined to think of as a Good Thing. I wonder if the girlishness of it all allows for a license that the T-aras wouldn't have if they were dressed more womanly in the video — and I wonder if the 'native' imagery sets up the girlishness."
January 7, 2012: Returning home with an empty heart....
On Wikipedia I looked up Soyeon and discovered aching sentimental promo copy, possibly self-penned, that so far had escaped the Wikipedia police.
"Her hardships didn't end there, though, as her grandmother and uncle — both avid supporters of her dream to become a star — met with a health crisis that eventually led to their deaths a year later."Me, defending T-ara's 2011 ambitiousness: "Here's an analogy: I prefer the early Beatles' music to the later more self-consciously ambitious stuff, but I think the Beatles would have been false to simply keep going along the lines that they'd set up at the start; what began as a jolt of sound and passion would have grown stale, would have become a limitation, a refusal to explore the possibilities of music that they'd opened up."
January 30, 2012: On Average, I Sleep For 2 Hours [laughs].
Embedded a disturbing interview with Qri that had no idea it was disturbing. "Tiara Cutie and Pretty" said the screen. Me: "My own attitude, which is that these performers and these audiences often know things and can do things that I wish I knew and could do, is complicated by the fact that performers often are mistreated and audiences can indeed be vulnerable and gullible. But then, blues performers were often exploited, and the social attitudes they displayed and conveyed not always admirable, but journalists and scholars don't use this as an excuse to dismiss the blues and to deride the intelligence of its audience."
February 27, 2012: Expert Ranks Girl Group Idols Who Have The Best Vocal Talent.
Hyomin at number 2 for being "most representative of T-ara's cuteness-that-sounds-like-strength."
March 9, 2012: Wan For The Win.
"Regarding Jiyeon's affectlessness, which some YouTube commenters blamed more on her not giving a shit than on her exhaustion: well, could be either, but may be neither. Leading the disco dance in the 'Roly-Poly' club scene, Jiyeon managed to be effervescent and riveting without once cracking a smile, and that was obviously an aesthetic choice, hers or the video director's or the choreographer's — one she maintained through the early live performances."
March 15, 2012: Hwayoung Triumphant.
A look back at early February, the first show after Hwayoung's wardrobe malfunction, "here she is decidedly unabashed and unsubdued, even more flamboyant and glowing and in joy than before."
April 9, 2012: Flogged Beast Beats Best (Top Singles, First Quarter 2012).
"I fear that T-ara are the idol act that will translate least well to America. There's no adult or even teen audience for bubblegum here. T-ara's brand of strength-in-cuteness and cuteness-in-strength — Hyomin may exemplify this best, 'cause she's not making round eyes and pouting but is really laying into it — wouldn't even be comprehended as strength, or comprehended at all. 'Bubblegum' isn't even the right word.
"From the fan chants, I'm deducing that in Korea young men and teen boys and girls are the core of T-ara's audience, and these are exactly the audiences who wouldn't touch 'em with a ten-foot pole in America."
April 25, 2012: This Day Is Finally Bored (Google Translate Awarded Poetry Prize).
"Today alone, I do not like the math"June 4, 2012: Girl's Day's Oh! My God.
Trevor: "For all the criticism about appropriation in the 'Yayaya' video, that exoticism does serve the image I'm talking about. The video is pretty much the perfect encapsulation of one aspect of T-ara's sound, and even before I saw the video, and was simply in love with the song, I felt that intuitively: here are a group of strange, alien creatures who are going to overpower you."
June 12, 2012: T-ara Pure.
"[Gene Wilder] recalled an old Charlie Chaplin clip where the tramp, famished, was standing behind a burly man holding a baby. The baby was eating a partially peeled banana. Whenever the burly man looked away, Charlie would bob his head forward and take a bite, pulling his head back when the man's gaze turned towards the baby. So you had a funny scene, an accidental dance, Charlie's head bobbing back and forth at the banana while the burly man looked to and fro. But what Wilder observed was that Charlie's motion was absolutely pure: no mugging for the camera, no wiggling eyebrows. The humor was in the idea, in what was happening, and Charlie didn't need to juice it up with funny faces to inform you that what you were seeing was funny. To me, this describes the sound of T-ara: it's often cute, but the singing is pure."
July 8, 2012: Preview of T-ara posts to come.
"Words that rhyme, words that repeat, raps that fit sing-song, any rapper can sing, oeuvre interspersed with drip-drip ballads that are inexplicably good, Qri???, Jiyeon never emotes, they make it all sound easy."
July 30, 2012: Mother Of God, Is This The End Of T-ara?
"people are willing to call something 'bullying' when the information given is way too sparse to justify that characterization... public opinion here is itself acting like a mob of bullies, people without restraint willing to call Jiyeon and crew bitches and bullies and doing so with near unanimity"
A couple days later: "The word 'bullying' is such a gravitational force that thousands upon thousands are drawn to it: the story of four people picking on another, ostracizing her, victimizing her. For all I know this has to do with people's feelings about Jiyeon too, the roles she's played and so forth, people willing to think of her as a bitch. I don't know, haven't spent much time following that aspect of the group. But I'd say that the engine here is the bullying story itself, something in the culture (which culture? Korea's? the industrialized world's?) — that is, the bullying story doesn't arise from rumors about T-ara; rather, the appeal of the story is what inspires people to create the rumors, to let their imaginations go, the story affixing itself to T-ara in this instance. Ambiguous incidents in the past are 'discovered' and given only one possible interpretation. None of which necessarily means that Hwayoung wasn't ostracized or bullied, just that the story of her being ostracized and bullied precedes anyone's discovery of evidence for it, the story rather than the evidence being the driver here."
The day after that: "The main story here is the pathology of the fans, the way that once they'd constructed (mostly out of thin air) the narrative of Jiyeon et al. bullying Hwayoung, they took this as permission to congregate en masse and call people bitches and bullies and to disseminate whatever destructive, defamatory material they wanted, all under the aegis of supporting poor victimized Hwayoung — except it's not quite as one-dimensional as that. Interesting memes and subthemes and countercurrents develop. I wonder how the sentimentality towards Hwayoung in her victimization is going to fit with the fact of Eunjung losing her endorsement deals. I suspect the latter will make sentimentalists uneasy. And the public doesn't speak with a single voice, given that one of the memes that's emerging is the phrase 'witch hunt.' Maybe some actual collective wisdom will develop; I hope the 'wisdom' doesn't simply shift the venom away from T-ara and onto Kim Kwang-soo. He shouldn't be the fall guy, even though he himself should be fired, or should be forced aside, if no one is in position to simply get rid of him."
August 6, 2012: "It just like you want me to choose between my dad & mom, who I want to die first!"
"My impulse is to look for someone to get mad at for breaking that fan's heart. But of course that's the same sort of impulse that fired up the Netizens to act in the blind, destructive ways that helped caused the heartbreak in the first place, imagining in their warm, twisted, sentimental hearts that they were protecting the victimized in doing so. Hate and hurt all wrapped up in a blanket of sentimentality."
August 9, 2012: Day By Day drops from 5 to 10, Davichi jumps to 2.
"Recent TV Daily piece... contains this provocative sentence: 'Whether or not the bullying incidents were true, netizens continue to state that they do not want to see the drama that features those who were involved in such controversy.' This predictably got responses along the lines of 'netizens need to get a life,' which earned the retorts, 'people who post comments about netizens needing to get a life also need to get a life.' No reported opinions on livejournalers who post about people posting about other people who post about netizens needing a life."
August 13, 2012: 티아라 파이팅!!! (T-ara Fighting!!!)
"On July 25th, if I'd logged on and seen the T-ara tweets, and a soothsaying friend had told me, 'This is about to erupt into a scandal; can you predict what it'll be?' I'd have guessed, 'The scandal will be idol singers pushing each other or being pushed beyond their endurance.' This is partly because it fits the tweets, but also because the story of being pushed too hard was already abroad on the Net, in relation to all of K-pop but particularly to T-ara.... I don't know if T-ara are overworked or not, actually, or if Hwayoung was trying to fend off excessive work. But I think you have to notice the way the tweets incorporate the language of the Korean work ethic."
September 2, 2012: Sexy-Hexy.
"Hook of electro robocandy. Emerging from the static and fuzz of the dancers as they awaken their electronic legs, this hook is the great musical moment of the year. Thoroughly catchy, as if to announce 'We're here, we're alive again. Take that! We just knock 'em out and knock 'em down.' Of course, I'm sure it was recorded pre-controversy, no statement in mind."
September 5, 2012: i dremt i dremt (T-ara compared to cats).
Jiyeon: When I move my arms, they seem as if they're not my arms but someone else's. When I move my legs, they seem as if they're not my legs but someone else's.
Psychiatrist: How long have you felt this way?
September 13, 2012: T-ara numbers.
"I'd say the uproar caused 'Day By Day' to be only the fifth biggest hit of the summer rather than the third, so not that serious an impact; on that basis I was willing to believe that the Netizen spasm had been less influential than I'd feared. Now I'm veering half back to pessimism; T-ara have definitely taken a substantial hit. But they're still big. This is nothing like what was done to the Dixie Chicks."
October 3, 2012: Cocking Ear To Detect '75 (Top Singles And Albums Through The Third Quarter Of 2012).
"I was listening to Pere Ubu's 'Heart Of Darkness' the other day and tried to imagine what it would sound like with Jiyeon singing; had the fantasy that people thirty-seven years ago who were like what I was like thirty-seven years ago might be able to speak across time and say something more helpful to Jiyeon than what the world around her is currently offering."
October 28, 2012: Look out, kid, they keep it all hid.
"What some of the fans don't understand is that Hwayoung's not going to get up and tell the world, 'Here are the ways they treated me unfairly; and this is what Jiyeon did and what Eunjung said, and this is where I felt cast aside,' or anything like that. It'd be like trying to hurt each other further. And the remaining members of T-ara aren't going to say, 'This is what happened,' because to do so would be to compound the original horrible insinuations of Kim Kwang Soo when he fired Hwayoung and implied that it was owing to her continual mistreatment of staff."
November 10, 2012: Jewelry, Miss $, Hwayoung absent.
"Though live Hwayoung goes short of breath, she still has the presence of a first-rate rapper. And that's missing in the new recording. I'm guessing it's new member Areum. She — or whoever — is clear and gentle, which worked okay on 'Sexy Love' but here it's just weak. The vinegar and venom Hwayoung added to 'Day By Day' were very necessary. Kept the song from floating away. Miss her."
January 25, 2013: "You’ve loved me and I’ve only given you disappointment. Please stop now." They don’t stop. (Pazz & Jop Ballot 2012, Slight Return.) (Slight rewrite of my Pazz & Jop ballot, which I'd originally posted on December 29, 2012.)
"Over here in America, in the wake of Psy's 'Gangnam Style' hitting worldwide, there were articles about how well the Korean Wave markets itself internationally, how for better or worse its system of production delivers: performers starting in their teens as trainees and worked as if they're prodigies and athletes, long hours and strict diets 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 Core Contents Media's CEO screwing up daily as he keeps replacing one shifting reason and rationale with another for the firing of Hwayoung, no one believing him and none of the young women in T-ara able to step forward and take charge and counter him, to figuratively grab the mouthpiece and speak for themselves; no one in authority anywhere willing to tell the mob to stand down, no one being responsible, no one a genuine leader.
"So the story here is what welled up in the youth. Thousands joined a Website called 'We demand the truth about T-ara,' but what's there to discover? 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... '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."
April 29, 2013: You know nothing, for God's sake.
"Soyeon and Hyomin are the ones who've defined the T-ara high pitch most, Soyeon the reliable workhorse with Hyomin bringing the pitch even higher in a way that was simultaneously more tenuous and more emphatic, her adventure being the tension between waver and force. Meanwhile, Jiyeon was a gorgeous negative presence — clear, pale, breathy, uninflected — and Eunjung was called in whenever there was need for emotional pangs and highlights. She's been underutilized the last couple of years, and with Hwayoung gone I'd hoped Eunjung would get back to rapping. Instead guest guy Taewoon from labelmate Speed does a strong but not at all T-ara-esque rap, making me miss Hwayoung. Areum is new, young, full-voiced, and wholesome, but like the other three her distinctiveness gets flattened [in this track] by the surrounding pounding dance."
[Back in late 2010/early 2011 I was writing up my year-end lists and commentary, and put Artist Of The Year aside — I knew it was E.via, no question, but I wanted to do her justice, and never got around to it until June. So June has become my month for Artist Of The Year for the previous year, even though there was no doubt on January 1, 2012 that CL was my artist of 2011, and on January 1, 2013 that T-ara collectively were my Artist Of The Year for 2012. And this year, June became July.]
*Well, this is prior to their recent Japan excursion.