April 3rd, 2010 (06:37 pm)
current mood: grumpy
current song: DBSK "Holding Back The Tears" (literally for a minute there...)
This is a day Cat Rokkit does not believe.
I love Dong Bang Shin Ki. Let me repeat this: I love Dong Bang Shin Ki. I was thinking yesterday about when I first stumbled upon them. It was in a comment on one of the JE communities, something about "What is a DBSK/DBSG/THSK/TVXQ anyway?" I thought "That's weird, all those names for one group. Whatev..." and continued on my merry way. But I kept thinking about it, how strange it is for one group to have so many names and stupid ones at that. I mean, this is from a person who was heavily into JE for a while. So I looked them up and found that they were Korean but also performed in Japanese. I still wasn't interested because at the time I had yet to discover how very much I loved Korean culture. This surprises me in retrospect. The homefront is heavily Korean. I mean, there are a lot of neighborhoods around me where every business in every strip mall has signs written in English and in Hangul. Even the sushi/Japanese restaurants are Korean-owned. And despite the matsuri every spring, there are virtually no Japanese living here. New York? Plenty of Japanese. Tennessee? Plenty of Japanese. The homefront? The wife of the rector at my childhood church was the only actually Japanese person I'd ever met until high school (and that girl was only half-Japanese). But this is veering off topic. It wasn't until the writers' strike started that I first dipped my littlest toe into Korean entertainment. There were no new scripted shows (and one can only watch reruns of "The Swan" so many times before brain matter begins to leak from one's ears), and we'd just gotten super cable with the AZN Network (I MISS YOU!!!) and only the Korean dramas were subbed. This is where I first met "Coffee Prince", the greatest drama love of my life. I loved the soundtrack and wanted to know EVERYTHING I possibly could about "Coffee Prince". This led me to Popseoul, which was the only big blog for kpop gossip in English at the time. I was like "Oh, DBSWhatever, we meet again!" They were all over the site. "Balloons" had come out not too long ago (it was still the theme of their official website) and they were soon to begin preparing for "Purple Line". This was probably fall of 2007. I remember closely watching all the promotional information about "Purple Line", searching for as many of their MVs as possible. I watched "O" first and then "Balloons" and could not even begin to comprehend this sexy beast/sweet puppy dichotomy that was making my ovaries hurt so good. I fell in fucking love with Dong Bang Shin Ki. This past year, though, I had made a conscious effort to cool off on kpop fandom since I really, really, really need to fucking finish my degree before I shoot myself in the face and extra distractions on the computer are not helpful. I stopped downloading my beloved Asian Pop Addict podcast, stopped visiting their community (because I could spend for.ev.er fucking around there), stopped downloading new music, stopped watching dramas even! Now I wish I hadn't, if only to bask in the naivety of this past winter when it seemed like they'd be back any minute.
But this is the other side of love, isn't it? The side with which I'm most familiar, the side where the hurt lies. Ugh, that sounds too dramatic. I knew, as with every Korean male citizen, there would come the compulsory military service and there would have be a break-up of some sort because of it. I've known this since the Chinese kid in my high school band showed me his H.O.T cassette and explained that they had to break up to fulfill the military requirement (which is not exactly true since H.O.T broke up over financial issues with SM Entertainment - oh, the parallels, the parallels). But I had assumed that this would be far into the future since men in the entertainment industry usually wait as loooong as possible, til they're 29 or 30 years old. This meant I had at least five more years before anything like that would happen. And I also assumed that in the course of however long they waited to take a hiatus for military service I would find myself still supporting DBSK but in far less invested manner. This isn't like the Jaebum thing. That was like a band-aid ripped off my skin. It was sudden and stung but because of the suddenness it hadn't been hanging like a spectre for a year. And 2pm, though reduced in my eyes, continued beautifully and Jay pops up now and again on YouTube and whatnot. I had only been listening to 2pm for maybe a month, six weeks tops, when the scandal went down. It made me sad and angry but didn't resonate the same way this does. This is three and a half years worth of sentimental feelings. What is this I don't even. I feel childish, getting upset over some pop group, but this is also the thing that had eventually brought me back to the person I thought I'd lost. Childish, yes, but something I hold so dearly.
Despite the pity party above, I am still convinced that this cannot possibly be the end. Right? This can't be it, can it? Because have you seen how much money DBSK generates? They went up against JE, a company notorious for its stay-out-of-my-sandbox approach to business, and more than held their own. Really, have you seen their sales record? Success like theirs was unheard of before. Is any record label in Japan or Korea going to pass on something so profitable? Can I get a big HELL TO THE NO? Unless you're Papa SM and you see no need whatsoever to keep the talent happy. I know I've touched on this before, but seriously what is his damage? This is not the first time his company has lost its biggest cash cow over little things like abysmal compensation, 140 hour work weeks, unreasonable control over the personal finances of the artist, y'know, the yoozh. This is at least the third (fourth if you count Han Geng). This is a serious WTF, Papa SM.
That being said, this is the asian entertainment industry, a vortex where the words 'collusion' and 'racketeering' are never used and always implied. It's like the McCarthy era over there with all the blackballing and badtouch!executives and hush-hush underhandedness. Do I think this sort of thing never happens in the Western music industry? No. But I am pretty sure the Russian mob wasn't running, I dunno, Cash Money Records. (Bad joke: Why would they need the Russians when the label owners are gangbangers themselves? PLAY ME OFF, KEYBOARD CAT!!!) And on top of that, it's the Korean and Japanese legal systems. Let's just say that there's a reason why Japanese police work so hard to get suspects to confess - trial proceedings can drag out in a way that would make any Court TV reporter wet himself. Korea is pretty much the same, if I'm not mistaken. Remember how SM kept stalling for time about handing over their documents to the court? Like, the due date came and SM was like "BUT THOSE ARE SEEEKRIT!!" so they got an extension and SM was like "Whut? Oh, you wanted them TODAY? Well, we don't have anything ready. Try again later."
This brings me to two points that continue to puzzle me. First - what the fuck are Changmin and Yunho thinking? All five members were getting the same raw deal, so why did CM and YH not jump ship along with JaeChunSu? Initially, I thought it might have to do with their drama engagements ("Heading to the Ground" and "Paradise Meadow") since, who the fuck knows, maybe both are under contract with SM for their dramas. But then JaeChunSu were also busy with other projects as well. One could argue that Xiah!zart and "Melody and Harmony" and "Heaven's Postman" might not fit with the timeline of the lawsuit, as in Xiah!zart came about after the suit (and could have been booked outside of SM), "M&H" was an obligation through Avex (and would therefore be independent of SM), and "Heaven's Postman" was filmed prior to the suit against SM (meaning his obligation in terms of promotion would still stand). But does all of that actually make sense? Would Min and Yunho really stay because of drama contracts? I just don't get it. With Yunho, I kinda see it. He seems like a total bottom bitch who'd let you walk aaaaaall over him and he'd roll over and beg for more (y'know, because he's respectful), but Min? Choikang Changmin? Sassmouth McShimjones? Perish the very thought! He just doesn't seem like someone who would put up with that sort of bs, like he'd take it only for so long before calling foul. And his professor parents struck me as unwilling to see their beloved son exploited like that. His mom dislikes Jae for the way he smacks Min (oh, the one-touch love, how I miss thisssss) so frequently in promotional footage. So again, why was he not in the lawsuit club? THIS IS NOT MAKING SENSE.
Second - Seriously, SM, what the fuck? No, seriously. Why do you risk the massive investment of time and money (not to mention what Barack Obama knows as 'good-will capital') on the desire to maintain absolute control? How is it that this makes your company more profitable, this repeated alienation of the artists you manage? I can understand (from a business perspective) how running things with a dictatorial flair keeps it simple - what Papa SM says is what goes. It also allows management to ensure that performers have as little room to protest as possible. This isn't necessarily bad if the company has the best interests of all parties at heart (which, in the real world, happens never) since, well, you know what aaaaartists can be like. At the same time, how is it beneficial in the long run to be combative and abusive toward your performers? I suppose it hasn't stopped the kids from lining up at Papa SM's door to get a taste of it, but then again there is the time/money investment to think of. It took DBSK, what, five years to achieve a level of success that equals a steady stream of Oricon #1s and Tokyo Dome sell-outs. And those #1s didn't start until 2008, about two and a half years after their Japanese debut. With the millions and millions of dollars they bring to the company, why not shoot them a couple extra bucks now and then if it keeps them working hard for you? Because this 'revenue is reinvested in new trainees' crap is just that - crap. Of course that costs money, but SM traditionally keeps every single cent. The contract DBSK had was so far beyond unfair that, once it was revealed publicly, fans (and maybe legal peeps, I can never be certain since I don't understand enough Korean to read original sources) called it a human rights violation. Like, in a serious way. When H.O.T split over their similar lack of pay, Papa SM was all "Who are you to complain? I pay for everything, even gasoline". See, I don't buy that. Those expenses are covered by the profit DBSK generates. And even if all of this were somehow okay and reasonable, it still mystifies me how SM felt compelled to control how the boys wanted to invest the meagre amount of money doled out to them. For reals? I mean, for really reals?? "Oh, but they might somehow shill for the company in which they invest," cries Papa SM. Suck it up, jerk. You pay them pretty much nothing, especially when one considers how many hours of work they put in 51 weeks a year. You have them under contract for what will essentially amount to all of their high-profit, "relevant" years. Most of them put in so much time training or whatever else you make your performers do that they have little education on which to rely when the golden years pass. Jae and Micky didn't even graduate high school. How the hell will they be able to support themselves, let alone a wife and kids, once they hit 31 and leave the military? Why can't you throw them a fucking bone, SM? For example, Mariah Carey is crazy. We all know this. She was a major pain to her old record label so they dropped her. Did she just float along into obscurity? Insert 'hells no' here. Another label snatched her up because she's a huge star who would undoubtedly make more money. Lo and behold, homegirl pops back up, has a handful more hits and makes herself and her label a shit ton of money. I know you love your business model, Papa SM, if your yearly presentations at the Harvard Business School (major WTF) are any indication but here's a time when you need to reevaluate. I know you were all proud of yourself when you forced the E.L.F. fangirls to accept the late addition of #13 to the Super Junior roster, but this might be the end of your good-will capital. As in, I don't know how much longer you're likely to have packed open-call auditions. As in, the last SNSD single ("Oh!") tanked hard. As in, you are wasting the investment you made in DBSK on petty crap when you could be making money hand over fist well into the next five years.
I'm going to continue to hope. I'm willing to wait for Dong Bang Shin Ki. Because I fell in love with them almost four years ago and not a day goes by I don't find myself humming one of their songs. So get your shit together and fix this mess. Just because I'm willing to wait doesn't mean the 800,000 other fangirls will be so patient.
Wow. Grumpasaurus Rex right here.