T-ara recharges with new attitude

October 24, 2013

Popular girl group plans to hold showcase and concert in China

From left, Hyomin, Qri, Boram, Soyeon, Jiyeon and Eunjung pose in front of a banner with the cover image of their latest album “Again, T-ara” in a café in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, Monday.  / Courtesy of Core Contents Media

From left, Hyomin, Qri, Boram, Soyeon, Jiyeon and Eunjung pose in front of a banner with the cover image of their latest album, “Again, T-ara” in a café in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, Monday.
(Courtesy of Core Contents Media)

By Kim Ji-soo

In the tough apprentice-system of K-pop, girl group T-ara hit the ground running.

The song “Bo Beep Bo Beep” from the 2009 debut studio album was a huge hit. Dressed in cute feline costumes the six members presented what became known as the “cat dance,” presenting themselves as a picture of spiffy 21st-century disco girls. The group followed it up with “Lovey Dovey,” and “Roly-Poly” in 2011.

Then, their faces hit the ground as allegations of internal bullying, the departure of members and a few ensuing missteps placed them out of the fans’ eyes. Now the six 20-something girls— Eunjung, Soyeon, Qri, Boram, Jiyeon and Hyomin — are back with a new song “No. 9” and a new frame of mind.

“Before, we took it for granted that we would top the chart, and be loved by fans. We now know that we were lucky to be given those opportunities, “ said group member Eunjung.

“At that time, we were a group of young girls who took interviews or performances for granted, as part of our routine schedule. We might have become snobby, but now I know that each and every stage of our success was due to our fans,” said Soyeon, another member.

The group sing — and dance — about a woman who has gone through ups and downs in love and life in “No. 9,” the lead-off track from the mini-album “Again, T-ara.”

The song has all the elements that brought them freshmen success — an addictive but sad melody and a retro feel, yet it has catchy dance moves that don’t drag the song down. The moves, created by choreographer Yama & Hotchicks who were responsible for the “Bo Beep Bo Beep dance,” is like candy in a bag of plain chips.

“We call it ‘trying to get the water out of the ear’ because we’re moving our arms a lot and gesturing near our ears, “ said Soyeon.

It’s a proven formula that has worked for the group affiliated with Core Contents Media, and one that the members went back to as they seek yet another chance with their fans.

“The best part about our music is that it is both trendy yet appeal to a wide range of music fans. It’s not a difficult music,” said Soyeon.

It’s the three member of Eunjung, Hyomin and Soyeon who did much of the talking about the past year while Boram, Qri and Jiyeon sat quietly as they nodded in a cafe in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul. The cafe is run by Eunjung’s mother. The youngest member Jiyeon is nursing a leg injury.

“I always seem to hurt my leg when we come out with a new song or album,” said Jiyeon.

Because Korean pop groups train and mostly live together, there is always a family-like bond among members. In the case of T-ara, the reports of bullying emerged when members began exchanging messages on SNS “the will or lack thereof” of Hwayoung in July 2012. Back then, the group comprised of eight members including Hwayoung and Areum. Fans who had expected an explanation turned a cold shoulder to the group when its agency announced that she was leaving, even after Hwayoung and all the members issued an official apology.

In May this year, they ventured to the U.S. market, meeting up with American singer Chris Brown and others in May, without much success, and fans in Korea lashed out at them for performing in swimsuits. The group was also ordered by a court to pay back 400 million won in modeling fees to woman’s apparel maker Chatelaine. In July, Areum left the group to pursue a solo career.

The group members also suffered from harsh comments on the Internet. The members this May belatedly said that there was fight within the group but the case with Hwayoung was blown out of porportion and said they should have addressed it better. All of it has toughened them to take a mature view toward the comments.

“Not everything that people write about us are hurtful; some are helpful,” said Boram.

The group filled the void of performances in Korea with overseas performances and appeared at “hallyu” or Korean wave concerts. They knew that they were being shunned, so they bade their time.

“We had never taken a one-year break from the domestic stage, so we were tense and nervous,” said Eunjung.

“I was worried in the first week, so we didn’t set high hopes. But our song keeps doing better,” said Hyomin.

“We worried a lot about whether music fans would still like us. Returning to the stage was a bit scary and worrisome as we knew there were people who didn’t like us,” said Soyeon.

So far, the public reception has been warm. The song “No. 9” remains on the weekly music charts. In a bid to show they were back as the “super rookie” group T-ara, the members held an autograph event on Oct. 19, to which some 700 to 800 fans showed up. The members also want to hold free snack events for fans or hold singer-fan meeting camps. If and when they do make it back to the top of the charts, what do they plan to do for fans?

“A free hug” said Boram, which the six members nodded to emphatically.

Even as they put their priority on reestablishing themselves in Korea, T-ara will in parallel seek foreign exposure. The venture into the American market is expected to be set for another time, it seems.

“The American music industry was so different, everything was impromptu, like spur of the moment, maybe because it was hip-hop music. But the artist had a lot of freedom and things never seemed rehearsed. But we didn’t really feel that our presence was too small or anything,” said Hyomin.

The group will hold a showcase in November in Guangzhou and also a concert in December.

“We realized that even though we haven’t really performed in many foreign countries, fans there were aware and liked what T-ara does because of the content we have been producing,” said Hyomin.

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