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Artist Spotlight: Samuel

What happens when you put together Latin roots and K-pop? The answer lies in singer and dancer Samuel Arredondo Kim. Known as Samuel in the K-pop scene, he was born in Los Angeles to a Korean mother and a Mexican father, making him one of the few Latino K-pop stars. He became a huge hit at just 15-years-old, proving that age is really just a number.

When Samuel, now 16-years-old, first made his solo debut last August, he immediately caught my attention as well as the attention of many others. And not just because of his unique cultural background. He possesses certain star qualities and a seemingly inborn talent that distinguishes him from others in the industry. His career began at a very young age when he appeared in commercials for a Volkswagen dealership in Bakersfield. In these videos, we see a young and goofy Samuel, gushing about the cars on screen, constantly flashing a cheeky smile. He even sports an oversized suit and tie and speaks fluent Korean, adding to his more-than-adorable image. His comfort and ease in front of the camera makes it obvious that Samuel was born to be a star.


Also on KultScene: K-pop Unmuted: 2017 Awards — Part 2

At age 11, he moved to Korea to begin his training with Pledis Entertainment. While a trainee, he was in the lineup to become a member of boy group Seventeen and appeared in the live broadcast series, Seventeen TV. In these broadcasts it is not difficult to spot Samuel as he is the youngest of the group and quite visible. He is so small compared to the others, that before watching the video, I questioned whether or not he was a part of the group and whether or not his skills would be up to par. However, when he starts to dance, there is no doubt: it is indeed the young prodigy. In fact, he dances with such skill that he blends in with the rest of the group despite the obvious height difference. Unfortunately, Samuel left Pledis Entertainment and was unable to become a member of Seventeen.

That’s okay though, as it did not stop Samuel from pursuing a career as a K-pop idol. In fact, it was probably for the better as he embarked on a path that would transform him into the Samuel we see today. Shortly after leaving Pledis Entertainment, he signed with Brave Entertainment and became one half of the hip-hop duo 1Punch. They debuted in January 2015 with “Turn Me Back,” the title track of their album, The Anthem. The music video shows Samuel, now a preteen, sporting dreads and an outfit that is highly characteristic of the hip-hop genre. Though his appearance is drastically different, it is still undoubtedly Samuel as only he could possess such advanced dancing skills at such a young age. Although the “Turn Me Back” music video does not adequately show off his full skillset, Samuel is still able to give off a hip (yet adorable) vibe that catches people’s attention.

Not long after their debut, 1Punch disbanded after fellow member One joined YG Entertainment. However, Samuel retained his stage name “Punch” and collaborated with American rapper Silentó in “Spotlight.” This catchy single won them the 26th Seoul Music Award for Global Collaboration, and Samuel later went on tour with Silentó. The fact that he was able to go on tour at his young age proves he has the stamina and qualities of a star and was a good indicator of his future successes.

Samuel’s next big moment came when he joined the survival reality show Produce 101’s second season at the beginning of 2017. He immediately stood out to viewers with his indisputable talent, and even co-choreographed his team’s performances. One of Samuel’s most memorable performances was his performance of Chris Brown’s “With You,” where he displayed incredible footwork and, to the viewers’ pleasant surprise, even lifted his shirt to give a quick peek of his abs. It’s evident through this performance that Samuel has grown and matured so much since he first began his career in Korea. He was such a favorite throughout the show, that people were shocked when he ultimately did not end up making the cut for the 11-member boy group.


Also on KultScene: Best K-pop music videos of 2017

Samuel’s true breakout moment came in August 2017, when he finally made his solo debut with “Sixteen,” the title track of his album.. Just when we thought he couldn’t get better (or cooler), he did. Sixteen was so successful, that the first batch of physical copies sold out, with the title track reaching number one on the iTunes worldwide album charts in Vietnam, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. It’s clear to see why: “Sixteen” is such an irresistibly fun bop that it’s quite impossible to not feel the urge to jam and dance along to it. In the video, we also see an obvious transformation in the young idol’s image. Instead of the adorable persona he once exhibited, viewers find themselves charmed by his cool charisma and attractive visuals. If that wasn’t enough, his vocals and choreography once again improved by tenfold, wowing fans even more.

Not long after that, Samuel released his second album, Eye Candy, in November 2017, which didn’t disappoint with its equally catchy songs. His most recent release was his birthday single, “Winter Night,” which he released January 16, one day before his birthday. Although the rhythm is slower than what we are used to from him, it still shows off his awesome vocals, proving that he is capable of a diverse range of musical styles.

As Samuel has already accomplished so much at such a young age, it’s exciting to see what else he will achieve as he continues to grow in his career and all eyes are on him to see what he does next.

Let us know what you think of Samuel in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-Pop Unmuted: 2017 Awards – Part 1

In the 26th episode of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, Tamar Herman, and Gabriel Wilder reflect on the best moments and songs out of Korea in 2017, handing out the awards that they personally deem fit and conversing about some of the hottest topics in K-pop over the 12-month span. This is Part 1 of two year-end episodes.

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of K-pop in 2017’s latest and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-Pop Unmuted: KCON & Produce 101 Releases

In the 22nd episode of of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Alexis Hodoyan, and Tamar Herman discuss what it was like being backstage at KCON 2017 LA and New York, and how Produce 101 is shaping K-pop right now. We also discussed new music, including Henry Lau’s sentimental “That One,” Sunmi’s groundbreaking “Gashina,” and HyunA’s age-defying “Bebe.”

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of K-pop in July and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Weekly K-pop faves: June 5-11

The boy bands cometh! Seriously, though, this past week had the KultScene team falling in love with a lot of new music courtesy of some old, new, and TBD K-pop acts. We enjoyed songs from idol bands FTISLAND and DAY6, and solo songs from two of B.A.P’s members as well as some music from this season of Produce 101. Take a listen and comment below to let us know what song of the week was your fave.

“Open Up” by KNOCK of Produce 101 season 2 (Uploaded June 8)

I think I’ve made my obsession for Produce 101 season 2 pretty clear throughout these lists since the show began. Last week, I chose “Never,” a concept evaluation song from the show, as my fave because it was the one that resonated with me the most. The dance and overall sexy concept, however, definitely went to “Open Up,” but I chose to go with musicality over thirst. So when M! Countdown gave me the opportunity to cheat the system and go for another Broduce song, I took it. KNOCK, the name the team made up for this evaluation, ultimately won on the show and got to perform “Open Up” on M! Countdown. And while, other than hairstyles, they didn’t change mostly anything, it was still a sultry performance. We already know Dongho (aka Baekho of Nu’est) has the sexy thing down, with his velvety smooth vocals. The surprise, however, was Daniel, who hadn’t shined vocally. “Open Up,” to me, sounds like Nu’est’s last album. Dongho singing the chorus is a big part, but musically, it could blend right in. At a time when a lot of boy groups are going the cute route, it’s nice to see the darker concepts are still alive and well.

— Alexis


Also on KultScene: ‘Coming Out! FTISLAND’ Takes Cues From American Reality TV

“Shadow” by Daehyun of B.A.P & “Try My Luck” by Jongup (Released June 8)

After receiving much positive feedback of their solo performances from their ‘Party Baby!’ World Tour this past spring, B.A.P vocalists, Daehyun and Jongup released a collab album for their fans, titled “DaehyunxJongup Project Album – Party Baby”. This special album includes two self written tracks, Daehyun’s “Shadow” and Jongup’s “Try My Luck”.

Daehyun is B.A.P’s first member to release a solo single and to perform it live on music programs (including Show Champion, M Countdown, Music Bank and Inkigayo.) There was a sense of newness seeing him going with a more dance focused track, considering how fans are used to hearing Daehyun belt out his high notes and killer falsettos, which were not the main focus but he still tried incorporating them into this single. “Shadow” has an addictive beat with narrative lyrics. “If I try to touch you, just as a dream I had yesterday, you start to become faint”, a love that is fading, a love that more or less becomes a shadow. Not only did Daehyun steer away from the expectant ballad but by featuring youngest member and rapper, Zelo, he added a distinctive tone to the song.

With Jongup’s well known admiration for Chris Brown’s music and dancing style, it was no surprise to see him release an R&B track. “Try My Luck” has a beautiful mixture of both hard and soft melodies with a few unexpected transitions (like everytime he starts rapping!) The lyrics are direct and bold, “I know that feeling, I know what you want. Only the two of us can do it, you know how I’m feeling” and along with hiss passionately infused odic voice, it’ll make anyone get weak in the knees. Jongup went from having very few lines in B.A.P’s songs, to now writing his own music and very much slaying at it.

Both “Shadow” and “Try My Luck” allowed Daehyun and Jongup to truly show off their depth, range and versatility as singers, outside of B.A.P. Hopefully there’ll be another project album in the future, this time with more solo tracks and from the other members!

— Tam

“I Smile” by DAY6 (Released June 7)

After six months of non-stop single releases, DAY6 finally dropped their first full album, “Sunrise” comprising of the 12 new tracks they released this year and two remixes of their previous title songs, “Congratulations” and “Letting Go.” Needless to say, given the fact that the album is literally made up of ¾ title track worthy songs, it is such a musical delight to listen to. The title track of the album, “I Smile”, in particular, is such a bittersweet and heart wrenching song disguised beneath its cheery sounding title. I may be wrong about this but this song is one of the band’s more musically complex tracks, with chord shifts occurring so quickly and the song constantly moving in an unexpected direction (that instrumental section!!!) The members definitely killed it with the vocals this time, especially Sungjin, who set the tone for the song right off the bat. The accompanying music video is also beautiful, both aesthetically and in terms of its meaning, and I’m proud to say that the members have really picked up some subtle acting skills since their debut. Overall, this has got to be my favourite DAY6 release of the year and maybe of all time, and I hope with this album people will start waking up to their talents.

— Anna


Also on KultScene: Bang Yongguk Wants You To Know That Everything’s Going To Be All Right

“No Better Days” by FTISLAND (Released June 7)

Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of FTISLAND. So when I heard “Wind” as their 10th anniversary track, paired with a remake of their debut single “Love Sick,” I was a bit disappointed. Then I listened to it in earnest and was excited by the amazing instrumentals at the end. But I don’t want to talk about the title of FTISLAND’s anniversary album. Nope, I’m all about the first track, “No Better Days.” The power of the track is no joke and it’s exactly what I wanted. Powerful drums, soaring vocals– not just from vocalist Hongki but also from Jaejin while the other members provide backup harmonies– this is one of the most dramatic songs on the album. And I love it.

— Tamar

What was your favorite K-pop release of the week? Tell us what you think in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene’s 2017 Artists to Watch

Chungha Sam Kim KARD Jung Seung Hwan

New year, new Kpop. As 2017 begins, we are watching closely for artists both new and old to stand out with better music and performances. And especially following the 2016 Kpocalypse, nothing is entirely predictable. Anything can make your fave popular — a funny variety appearance, a trendy CF, or a “Sha Sha Sha.” So we ask: Who will be the trend in 2017? KultScene’s writers Anna and Kushal break it down across Male, Female, and Coed lines to give you our prediction of 2017’s rising stars.

MALE Artists to Watch in 2017: Jung Seung Hwan, Sam Kim (Antenna Music)

Of K-pop Star fame, these two singers made their much anticipated debuts in 2016 and while their styles of music are different, they both have equal potential to make it big in 2017. Beginning with Sam Kim’s pre-release single in March with “Mama Don’t Worry,” he then made an official debut in April with his full-length EP I Am Sam.

Each of his songs are so musically inspired and creative that they bring a new life and freshness into the K-pop industry and “No Sense” illustrates that completely. The fact that he’s only going to be 19 this year just means that he still has a lot more room to grow as a musician in the future. Most recently, he also released an amazing OST (“Who Are You”) for popular airing drama Goblin and has been gaining a lot of recognition for the soulful track.

Jung Seung Hwan on the other hand, only made his debut recently in December with his album Voice. He achieved an “all-kill” on Korean music charts with the release of his album, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise for the singer since he had previously topped charts with the covers he sang during his stint on K-pop Star. His naturally emotional voice makes him the perfect choice to sing sorrowful ballads and OSTs, as proven by the successful sound tracks he has been releasing, even before his official debut. In particular, his OST for Oh Haeyoung Again hit the right notes with the Korean public and has achieved a long-staying popularity even with the many other releases of 2016. (I heard the song playing in shops at least 5 times when I was visiting Korea in December.)

Ballads aren’t new in K-pop, but the way these two artists reinvent the genre in their own ways keeps their music interesting and strengthens their individual identities as musicians. Here’s hoping that they’ll discover their well-deserved success in 2017!

FEMALE Artist to Watch in 2017: Kim Chungha (M&H Entertainment)

Originally one of Produce 101’s underdogs, Kim Chungha quickly rose to fame last year as a member of the trendy, nation-produced I.O.I. Among many younger, cuter members, Chungha’s sexier, more charismatic image immediately stood out to I.O.I fans looking for a member with an edgier side. While she rose to fame as a dancer and choreographer, she is by no means a weak vocalist. Chungha has impressed fans left and right with her dancing skills, from improvising “Partition” during her first Produce 101 audition in January to performing on Mnet’s dance show Hit the Stage months ago. The crowning achievement of her tenure as an I.O.I member, however, is the choreography to the group subunit’s song “Whatta Man (Good Man),” which she herself crafted during the summer.

Without a strong company behind her, Chungha’s rise to relevance was largely unprecedented, but definitely welcomed by fans throughout the K-Pop world. While she has enjoyed success as an I.O.I member, many were worried about her future after the group’s upcoming disbandment at the end of January. It was announced at the end of 2016, however, that Chungha would debut as a solo artist under her label M&H Entertainment in the first half of 2017. The decision to give her a solo debut was probably one of the smartest things her label could do, given that 2017 is already going to be flooded with newly successful girl groups and newly debuted girl groups that have yet to find success. The oversaturated nature of the market makes her solo debut something the Korean public and international fan community will quickly embrace — no new members to learn, no new group name to start stanning. In a world of cutesy and energetic girl groups, Chungha’s charisma will likely stand out, giving her another edge in the intensely competitive market of female K-Pop artists. Chungha is definitely multi talented, and her ability to handle multiple skills and concepts puts her immensely ahead in K-Pop game this year.

COED Artist to Watch in 2017: K.A.R.D (DSP Media)

While they haven’t officially debuted, the four members of K.A.R.D have already made huge waves in the K-Pop universe with their pre-debut track “Oh NaNa,” which was released early last month. Voted by KultScene’s contributors as the 5th Best Song of 2016, the track has yet to chart in Korea, but has remained near the top of worldwide K-Pop charts for almost a month. Their music video has also accumulated over 4 million views, and their YouTube channel has over 180,000 subscribers (keep in mind that they have already overtaken their label DSP Media in subscriptions, which is the channel with every single KARA music video ever…).

With the kind of international attention the group is receiving, it isn’t long before they get similar love in Korea. The inclusion of masculine male rappers and infectious female vocals creates the ultimate mix of boy group and girl group fans alike. Instead of competing for the top spot among boy groups or girl groups, they amalgamate what makes each type of group work in a co-ed unit that stands out. While rising groups like Cosmic Girls and fellow DSP artist APRIL are trying to stand out in the girl group world this year, and new boy groups like VARSITY and Top Secret look for success on the other side, K.A.R.D has relatively no competition. They have entered a niche of K-Pop that hasn’t been touched in years, and with the kind of visuals, talents, and musical quality with which they’ve started, it’s only a matter of time before they become a force to reckon with in the K-Pop world.

Additional content courtesy of Anna Cheang. 

Who do you think will be Kpop’s rising star this year? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

The I.O.I Debacle: K-Pop’s Newest Conundrum

I.O.I DIA Gugudan

2016 has been a year of many changes for K-pop fans everywhere, particularly in the increasing size of groups. 12-member Cosmic Girls (WSJN), 42 quadrillion-member NCT, and most notably in the Korean spotlight, 11-member I.O.I from popular idol survival show “Produce 101,” which aired from January to April of this year.

For those of you who never watched the show, I’ll give you a quick summary [Spoiler alert!]. Mnet, one of the biggest entertainment networks in Korea, assembled a lineup of 101 female trainees from over 45 different companies to create the ultimate idol survival show. The girls were first ranked by skill level into levels A, B, C, D, or F classes. From there and on, the girls were organized into different units and tasked with performing with different songs, all while being subject to public vote.

In the end, the eleven trainees with the highest number of votes would debut as members of a temporary girl group under YMC Entertainment that would disband after one year of promotions. And this group was eventually called I.O.I, with members Somi (JYP), Nayoung (Pledis), Mina (Jellyfish), Sejeong (Jellyfish), Doyeon (Fantagio), Yoojung (Fantagio), Yeonjung (Starship), Chungha (M&H), Sohye (Redline), Chaeyeon (MBK), and Jieqiong (Pledis). Mnet made a few of the results very notable through editing and show structure — specifically, Somi placing first and being awarded the “center” position (as maknae, or youngest member, of the show’s entire 101-girl lineup), Sohye’s rise to fourth despite originally being an F trainee, and Yeonjung just making it by snagging 11th place.

Somi Sohye Yeonjung Produce 101 I.O.I

As a result, I.O.I started with incredible popularity, as all of the group’s members got tons of exposure from the show. Their first mini album “Chrysalis” sold approximately 60,000 copies and counting, demonstrating their fandom power only a month or two into their existence. And they’re not only notable in their number of fans — the group has also snagged many CFs and endorsement deals as well, showing that their popularity permeates the public itself. And while all of this is sweet and dandy, the group has also become incredibly controversial, opening up many ethical/philosophical/“is this even possible?”/“WTF?” K-pop questions for fans to ponder.


Also on KultScene: The Best K-Pop Girls of June

To begin, the group itself is entirely an experiment, because it was crafted exclusively by public vote. And considering how visual-oriented entertainment culture can be, this group has weaknesses when it comes to raw talent. Among the entire 11-member lineup, the only strong vocals are Sejeong and Yeonjung, forcing the group to pursue more rap-friendly, easy-singing songs instead of those that use stronger vocals to captivate the listener. And while all members definitely have their talents and charms as amazing and talented performers (some examples: Somi is a visual-singing-dance triple threat, Yoojung brings incredible stage presence, and Chungha is a truly gifted dancer), the group has essentially become about visuals and “pretty likeable qualities” instead of any sort of musical accomplishment. The question must be asked: is this the best way to form a girl group? Does opening up member selection to vote dilute the talent, and/or place excessive limits on the way the members use (or don’t use) their talents?

With the way I.O.I looks, I would argue that it does. The group’s image boasts talented performers, but doesn’t let them show off raw singing or dancing talent for the members that do possess those abilities. It puts incredible limits on the group’s musical abilities, and, depending on who you are, it can make the performance less exciting to watch. I don’t know about you, but I watched Yeonjung’s high notes in her “Into the New World” performance literally one hundred times before I.O.I’s debut. I was hoping for more of that in I.O.I’s repertoire, but Yeonjung’s high note in “Dream Girls” is much less impactful. With the vocal caliber, song quality, and immense size of the group, that kind of stuff seems to be less of a priority for the producers.

Yeonjung Produce 101 I.O.I

Going off of that, the next larger K-pop question comes to mind — does a group as big as 11 members really work? In the case of groups like Super Junior, EXO, Seventeen, and more, the answer seems to be yes. But for a girl group like I.O.I, it isn’t. This group isn’t an innovative performance-oriented group like Super Junior; they’re not a dance-heavy pop group like EXO; they aren’t a unit-centric, talent-based group like Seventeen. Instead, they’re just a girl group with likeable and talented members that should all get a sizable amount of the spotlight. But instead, each member is left only one or two lines in the entire song, and barely anyone gets to shine at all. While I.O.I might be popularizing a larger group model for girl groups, they’re demonstrating that it doesn’t work well in terms of music and performance.

Music quality is another area where I.O.I suffers incredibly. And this is the fault of none other than their label, YMC Entertainment. The first song they released as a group, “Crush,” wasn’t entirely bad in the eyes of netizens and fans alike. The music video, however, created a lot of noise — why were they all in mismatched outfits, singing and dancing without coordination in a room that resembles the worst of K-pop’s “box music video” era? Obviously, it seems that the “Crush” music video was a quick production for fans to enjoy. But the enjoyment was limited, especially when editing and/or other management problems led to Yeonjung’s criticism for allegedly trying too hard to steal the spotlight from other members. The deletion and re-release of the video, consequently with less Yeonjung, demonstrated that the whole affair was sloppy and unprofessional from the start.

Their actual debut song “Dream Girls” was just as messy and controversial. The song combined many different styles, tempos, and rhythms, and in my honest opinion, not very well. While it is catchy, the song was very sloppy and fragmented, with main vocals getting very few lines, raps coming out of nowhere, and the center member’s mysterious absence from the front-and-center region of the stage during important parts of the song. While the song was very different in sound, the music video showed many similarities to that of Girls’ Generation’s debut song “Into the New World.” While a plagiarism suit never precipitated from the scandal, fans were left very angry. Why couldn’t a better and more unique music video have been made to complement such unique girls? Many fans were also angry about Somi’s position in the song, which, essentially wasn’t center like she was voted to be. While many argue that Somi doesn’t have to be center the whole time (and that is a legitimate argument), she was barely in the center at all. It seems like, in order for her to be the center, Chaeyeon’s “We are the Dream Girls” line at the beginning of the chorus should have gone to Somi, and some other lines could have been switched around to find a place for Chaeyeon. After all, Chaeyeon’s place at the front-and-center of the song’s tagline is essentially what the center position is for. Fan’s argued that Somi was voted to be center, so she should have been there and Chaeyeon should not have. This point actually kills two birds with one stone: demonstration of the group being mismanaged, and further evidence to show that groups probably shouldn’t be decided by vote.

Dream Girls I.O.I

To be completely honest, hearing that the group would be promoting under YMC was very surprising when it was first announced. The label doesn’t exactly have brand value, since their only real sustained claim-to-fame is Ailee. And while Ailee is very successful and incredibly talented, putting the group under YMC was bound to create problems. There have been several reports of mismanagement, whether it be scary managers or arriving late to events, and the label is essentially the only one to blame for these dilemmas. Trusting this slightly unknown label with some of K-pop’s future stars might have been the wrong decision.

Putting all of these scandals and problems aside, the biggest controversies remain. First of all, as far as I know, there has never before been a group of girls signed to one label with each girl simultaneously being signed to a completely different label. The only other remotely similar example of this anomaly is Gain of Brown Eyed Girls, who was signed to Nega Network for group promotions, while signing with LOEN and other labels for solo promotions (this was before the entire group, including Gain’s solo brand, switched over to Mystic Entertainment’s APOP sub label, of course). I.O.I’s label conflict creates a lot of problems, some of which most likely led to I.O.I’s unfortunate inability to perform on any music shows other than “M! Countdown” and “Music Bank (they were even edited out of the SBS Dream Concert 2016 broadcast).”

The dual label problem gets even larger (and even ethically confusing) when members are withdrawn from one group to be part of another. All of this begins with Chaeyeon, Heehyun, and Ng Sze Kai, who were all members of groups during their participation in “Produce 101.” Chaeyeon and Heehyun were members of MBK Entertainment’s DIA, but “temporarily withdrew” in order to participate in the show as trainees, while Ng Sze Kai (more commonly known as Shin) did the same as a member of Hong Kong girl group As One. While Heehyun and Shin didn’t make the I.O.I. lineup, Chaeyeon was voted in to join the group. It was expected by fans and netizens that Chaeyeon would remain “temporarily withdrawn” from DIA until I.O.I’s disbandment next year. It’s become pretty obvious, however, that this isn’t happening. Once “Dream Girls” promotions began to wind down, Chaeyeon was pulled from the lineup of I.O.I’s upcoming subunit lineup to promote with DIA. While she isn’t an actively promoting member of I.O.I at the moment, she’s still a member of both groups at the same time, under completely different labels. It goes even further with Jellyfish girls Sejeong and Mina, who were pulled from the subunit lineup to join their home label’s first girl group Gu9udan. Even Yeonjung was pulled from the lineup to go back to Starship Entertainment. While Starship originally said she was being pulled “to work on skills other than singing,” it’s probable that she’s coming out with her own project sometime soon, considering the label just opened a new Instagram account for a project called “Y Teen” set for release this month.

Sejeong Mina I.O.I Gugudan

The dual group membership concept creates many problems in this setting. To bring back another K-pop example, an instance that resembles the current I.O.I situation is Yeonkyung of MBK Entertainment, who was at one point a member of both The SeeYa and F-ve Dolls. We didn’t get to see many of the consequences of this arrangement, however, because both groups went inactive not too long after that announcement. Besides, both groups were under the same label, so the conflict is much less prevalent and plans can be made in accordance with both groups. Japanese record labels do this all the time — the main dancers of BABYMETAL were actually simultaneously part of another girl group under the same label (although they’ve recently withdrawn from the other group), and AKB48 constantly has concurrent members between itself and its many sister groups. The major difference is that, once again, they are all under the same management.

In Chaeyeon’s case, she finished “Dream Girls” promotions with only a few weeks before diving into DIA promotions, leaving her practically no time to rest. According to recent reports, she is even being considered for a drama, which is just astounding, if you ask me. She debuted only months ago and she is already a member of not one, but two girl groups, on top of acting in a drama?! Too much in too little time — her health must be seriously suffering. The same can be said of Sejeong and Mina, who joined Gu9udan promotions very soon after I.O.I took a break.

And there’s another conflict: neither of these groups’ releases has been successful. DIA’s “On the Road” barely managed to chart in the top fifty, and while Gu9udan’s physical sales are good (the Jellyfish trio from “Produce 101” has a pretty formidable fanbase), their track “Wonderland” keeps on falling only days after release, with negative reactions from many fans and netizens alike. The rushed nature of these releases is most likely in part responsible for their lackluster quality, crammed to coincide exactly with the time during which I.O.I goes into subunit mode.

I.O.I Subunit


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So the questions must be asked: should one girl be in two groups at the same time? Does this become even more concerning when the girl is under two different record labels simultaneously? Not to mention the consequences — I.O.I’s subunit is missing both of its main vocals. While these positions are likely to be filled by Somi and Chungha, neither of these two has the vocal prowess and technical skill possessed by Sejeong and Yeonjung. And what about health? Not only are Chaeyeon, Sejeong, Mina, and Yeonjung being thrown between labels and groups, but the I.O.I members won’t get that much time to rest before subunit promotions begin, as it is.

And there’s also probably the biggest, most frustrating conflict of all for many Korean fans — if they voted and supported their fave through “Produce 101,” isn’t it only fair that their home label not pull them out of the group while they’re still claiming their year-long prize? Is that unfair to the fans who voted for them, or should fans simply remain supportive as their idol moves between groups and promotion cycles? In theory, I personally think there’s nothing wrong with one person being part of two groups. But when the concept is carried out the way it is in this situation, I disapprove, simply because of how music releases, promotion cycles, and most of all, the members themselves are being treated.

The dilemmas are endless; I.O.I truly is a K-pop conundrum. Despite my intense criticism, I am a huge I.O.I fan in all honesty. My critique is not for the group members themselves. It’s instead for whoever thought a publicly voted girl group would reach some sort of perfect “Ideal of Idol” (what the actual I.O.I acronym stands for). It’s for whoever is managing them, whether it be YMC or the home label they’re debuting under. It’s for whoever put these eleven talented, beautiful, and amazing girls in the crossfire of a label jurisdiction war. With only three more releases from I.O.I coming our way, and whether they’re in units or not, my only hope is that some of our many K-pop dilemmas are resolved before their untimely disbandment.

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