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T-ara case reveals K-pop’s sinister side

Industry experts criticize CEO for mishandling the case, pushing artists to compete against each other

The on-going controversy over bullying rumors involving girl group T-ara is the result of excessive competition among members and their agency’s failure in management, industry critics said.

Young singers from idol groups are under huge pressure to steal attention from other members in order to survive in the entertainment industry, they added.

“They know their groups will be disbanded in a few years and they have to compete with other members in the group to get the public’s attention before the groups break up. They are, in fact, in a survival game to move up to the next level such as pursuing an acting career or becoming a solo artist,” said Lee Dong-yun, professor at Korea National University of Arts.

T-ara’s fans have been expressing frustration after controversial tweets by five members of the group allegedly directed at one member, Hwa-young, raised rumors that she has been bullied by the members. On Monday, T-ara’s agency Core Content Media terminated its contract with Hwa-young, calling her “troublesome” but ironically denied the bullying rumors.

The group’s biggest online fanclub,, shut down operations on Tuesday while some advertisers canceled contracts with T-ara members.

The number of members registered for an internet community “T-Jinyo,” which stands for “We demand the truth from T-ara,” quickly rose to over 290,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. T-Jinyo members collect and share video footage and photos of T-ara members allegedly mistreating Hwa-young and the young singer looking depressed, trying to find evidence to argue against the agency, which has denied the rumors about bullying. An online petition has also been launched, demanding the group be disbanded. The petition states that T-ara has abandoned their responsibility as top stars and are at the center of an escalating social problem -- bullying.
Girls’ Generation
Girls’ Generation

Insiders said there are many other idol groups such as Girls’ Generation, KARA and 4MINUTE that suffer from similar conflicts. Even Yesung of Super Junior said in a recent press conference that 99 percent of the idol groups have internal conflicts among members and that Super Junior also went through a series of fights and arguments.

Meanwhile, professor Lee pinned the blame on Kim Kwang-soo, CEO of T-ara’s agency, saying he completely mishandled the case and neglected the growing internal conflict within the group.

“He might have thought that ditching Hwa-young would save the entire group. He should have embraced all members and tried to resolve the problem in advance,” he said.

T-ara’s case seems to have started from Kim’s misguided notion of pushing the group members to compete against each other.

Previously, Kim said he would adopt a nine-member system that would replace old members in order to maintain the group’s popularity and to survive in a fiercely competitive pop music market. Kim then admitted that some members have changed since their debut, making less effort and becoming arrogant.

Despite the heated criticism, T-ara will release its new single “Sexy Love” and will resume the group’s schedule on Aug. 15 as planned, Kim said.

Other agencies also admitted that young idol stars are under enormous stress.

“The problem is that young singers are not mature enough to recognize just how much stress they are under and how to handle it,” said Ahn Hyo-jin, a publicist for Cube Entertainment. Ahn said the company runs psychotherapy programs every two weeks to prevent singers from misbehaving because of stress.

By Cho Chung-un (
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Korea Herald daum