In 2009, MBLAQ and Beast both debuted. MBLAQ was the clear winner –it was the group that Rain had put together; his pet project. Beast, on the other hand, was a group of “rejects” from JYP and YG and failed solo acts.
Fast forward to 2014 and the tables are completely turned. With the announcement that Lee Joon is likely leaving the group, rumors that Thunder (Cheondung) will also not renew his contract with J. Tune Camp, and Beast’s highly anticipated comeback, it’s clear to all that Beast ended up on top. Does that mean that MBLAQ has failed as idols? Perhaps so, but perhaps not also.
What Went Wrong With MBLAQ?
Many things, and nothing. The group has had popular songs, but won few awards. Only Y and This Is War won awards on music shows, while those two and Mona Lisa are the only songs by the quintet to ever be nominated for MAMA awards. Moreover, not a single MBLAQ song achieved number one on Korean charts, although multiple of their albums did gain that distinction.
Lee Joon, Thunder, and G.O have gained recognition for acting, and G.O has gained a lot of attention for his vocal and producing skills. Mir has also become renowned for his rapping skills. MBLAQ members are popular on variety shows and have featured on numerous songs. But as idols, not a single member of the group or a song has made a huge impact. People know the members’ names, but the group has never hit the top tier of idols.
In a world where catchy dance songs are king, MBLAQ’s R&B style hasn’t led to major success. Not a single one of MBLAQ’s Korean songs ever placed above fifth on Korean or international music charts. Several Korean songs charted at number two on the Japanese Oricon chart (Your Luv and Baby U), but otherwise, MBLAQ’s songs have never had that “hit” factor.
MBLAQ is well-known, and many people think that means that the group is successful. But a boy band that doesn’t gain recognition for its music is not necessarily ideal or something worth continuing. Lee Joon and Thunder’s desire not to renew their term with the group may be a result of the overall failure of MBLAQ as a musical act.
Also on KPOPme: Let’s Discuss: YG’s Luck With Damage Control
Who Is To Blame? Management?
The group is a very clear case of not having one single entity organizing it. MBLAQ did pretty well before Rain entered the army at the end of 2011. Rain’s popularity had been transferred to MBLAQ since debut, and the five members are artistically talented enough to stand on their own feet. But there was always the fact that the group was the five-member version of Rain, with his style influencing the group.
Right before Rain entered the army, MBLAQ’s style changed. Stylistically similar songs like Cry, Stay, Y, Oh Yeah, etc. became Mona Lisa, Hello My Ex, It’s War, Run, etc.
Rain hasn’t touched the band since entering the army; when he came back, Rain went to Cube Entertainment. J. Tune Camp has managed every MBLAQ activity since the end of 2011. Rain’s name is still attached to the group, but his magic touch is gone.
Furthermore, J. Tune Camp’s parent company, J. Tune Entertainment, merged with JYP in 2009. But J. Tune Camp was left alone, showing that there are some issues with internal management at the company. Without the backing of a stable company, the guys had a lot of activities, but never really focused on being singers. Promotions as MBLAQ have come in spurts, with individual members focusing more on their individual promotions than as members of an idol group.
Five years is a good amount of time to test the waters before some of the members decided that a “career change” may be a better option, and that looks like where we are right now.
Or Maybe We Should Blame The Timing?
With more and more new idol groups every day, the group didn’t really stand a chance. At the time of debut, MBLAQ was heralded as a manly, powerful group that would be well-received in a crowd of girl groups (2009 saw the popular debuts of 2NE1, f(x), Secret, After School, T-ara, and 4Minute, and the super success of Girls’ Generation, Kara, and Wonder Girls). It was the second coming of Rain, and the only prominent rival was Beast, the “reject” group.
But then K-Pop exploded in 2010 with boy groups. INFINITE, Teen Top, DMTN, Led Apple, JYJ, ZE:A, F.CUZ, CNBLUE, and The Boss. By 2011, rookie groups began popping up left and right, male and female, making older idol groups passé.
Also on KPOPme: 6 Songs Non-K-Pop Fans Can Like
Or, Maybe, Nothing?
MBLAQ was supposed to be the next “nation’s idol.” However, the group never had a hit song, because of constant comebacks and the debuts of the next-big-thing. The members are talented, as a group and on their own and they’re well recognized. Their songs have done well, but MBLAQ as a whole hasn’t. There’s no one real reason –company, members, timing, chance –that made MBLAQ an idol group without a single number one hit.
But the members have been going for five years, waiting for that one hit, and it hasn’t happened. Fans are reeling from scandals, but perhaps it is time to accept that K-Pop groups do not last forever. Accepting that is key, and sometimes idols need to transition from idol-dom to celebrity-ship.
MBLAQ and its members are many things –talented, funny, handsome, etc. But they are not one thing: Korea’s top idol group. After five years, it is time for both the group and its fans to recognize that, and MBLAQ’s potential disbandment (or continuing on as a trio/quartet, depending on different rumors) should be applauded.
Idol groups always end; even long-lived groups like Big Bang, Super Junior, and Girls’ Generation won’t last forever. If MBLAQ isn’t as successful as it could be, isn’t it better for the members to realize that now, before they are too old to regret being a second tier idol group? It’s been fun, but maybe it’s a time for a change.