Delayed comebacks – don’t you hate them? Why can’t your favourite group come back more often like all those other boring stupid annoying groups that you don’t care about? Never fear, Kpopalypse has the answers!
There’s all sorts of reasons why your spoiled, entitled whiny ass isn’t getting the consistent comebacks that you want out of your favourite k-pop groups. I’m now going to break down for you the main reasons, from my perspective, of why a comeback might get delayed. I’ll be sure to use my usual hyperbolic annoying writing style for maximum fun times (for myself) and irritation (for you), so if you feel threatened by any of the information here you can complain about the way I write instead of focusing on the actual content and potentially learning something that might rustle your cozy worldview of k-pop.
Cynical readers like the ones that inhabit various reactionary circle-jerky holier-than-thou k-pop communities may reasonably ask why I would presume to know about this shit when I don’t live or work in Korea. Of course I’ve worked in the western music business, not the Korean one, but while cultures, preferences and music styles do change, what doesn’t change that much from one country to the next in my personal experience is:
- Business practices
- Controlling a bunch of mental children
As someone who has had the joyous fun thrill-ride of managing artists and their release schedules in the past, I can now share with you the things that might potentially hold up a comeback, how common they are, how fucked the chance of your comeback eventually happening is, and how likely I think these reasons are to apply cross-culturally. Of course, this is still just my opinion so try to restrain yourself from being a complete faggot bitch about this post, if possible.
REASON FOR DELAYED COMEBACKS #1: MAKING STUPID BOXES TAKES TIME
It might seem mundane compared to “our lead singer shot up a bunch of heroin and spent the next six months in hospital” but in the west, the creation of the physical product has historically been by far the most common reason for comeback delays. A big label producing a large pop act that is planned for global superstardom wants to ideally release their music on all formats simultaneously – digital, CD, vinyl etc, to give consumers the most choice and also just because it’s more befitting to the image of a large label to have their shit together in this regard. It can take many months to get the physical side organised however, and this is in the west where packaging is relatively simple and standardised. Korean pop doesn’t really have the love-affair with vinyl so they’re spared the lengthy pressing plant backlogs that currently exist with trying to get anything released in that format, but what Koreans do love dearly is endless fucking over-packaging of everything in “unique” packages, and anyone with a physical collection of k-pop CDs knows exactly just how ostentatious that packaging can get.
All those little details in the photobooks that you love have to be fabricated out of raw materials somehow, and often different parts of a very large package made out of different materials are fabricated in different factories, on different time scales, often even in different countries. The more unique and unusual the packaging is, the more likely that this is true. Factories tend to specialise in working with certain types of materials so the moment you combine different packaging ideas, the more likely you’ll have to source “part x” from somewhere else. When creating a CD product in the west, you’re already working with a plastic process (the disc and jewel case) and a paper/cardboard process (the paper insert or box) and plants designed to cater to this will offer to do it all in one, but if you want to go “outside the process” and have some fancy bullshit like a special gold ribbon around your case or a reflecting metal crystal shard thingy that’s where delays can really start happening. Even if you’re lucky enough to be able to do everything in one factory, your product then becomes an “order” and it has to wait its turn to be created. High priority customers with big orders tend to get put at the front of the queue – if you’re from some nugu agency who wants to press 500 copies of some shit nobody is going to buy, you have to wait your turn behind the next EXO or BTS album, because large runs from repeat clients make the factory more money. The same would probably apply if you’re some “old-gu” agency who haven’t had a comeback in two years, if you’re not a regular customer or you don’t have a “special relationship” with the factory you don’t get priority.
The good news is that physical product issues won’t hold up a comeback forever. Your faves will definitely come back eventually, they just have to wait for the label to be ready with everything because there was a flood in that factory in the third-world country where a bunch of underpaid workers gradually get cancer working with dangerous chemicals while making the little card that goes inside the booklet with the chip in it that you scan with your phone to release the tracking software that links you with your one true k-pop love and tells you via GPS coordinates how far away you are from your bias at all times, but once that’s all sorted out they should be good to go.
REASON FOR DELAYED COMEBACKS #2: NO PAY, NO PLAY
Another big delay-causer in the world of music is finances. A k-pop comeback has several different components, each of which require renumeration. People who do stuff related to enabling a comeback like to be paid for their time and efforts, and in the absence of payment, things often don’t get done. An audio engineer can create the perfect mix but he might not want to hand over those nicely mixed and mastered audio files until he gets paid. A photographer may take astounding photos of your new girl group but she’s not going to turn over the photos until you turn over money into her bank account. There’s dozens of steps along the way to preparing a comeback, and all of those people need to be renumerated in some form, or a comeback can be indefinitely delayed until the people involved come to terms.
The absence of payment doesn’t mean that the person who is doing the paying is broke or unable to pay, although that’s one possibility. Sometimes the payer feels like they shouldn’t have to pay. Imagine that you’re paying someone to do something related to a k-pop comeback, and for whatever reason the comeback ends up being of substandard quality. There’s countless things that could potentially go wrong if the people you’ve agreed to pay don’t do their job properly. Maybe the tribal lycra spacesuits don’t zip up all the way properly and come undone during the vigorous dance routines, or maybe the dance routines that you asked the choreographer to design for your group look like A-Force’s “Wonder Woman”:
Would you pay for a comeback of this quality? Maybe you would, or maybe you’d refuse to pay everybody involved, or maybe you’d just “forget” to pay them. Sometimes people just aren’t that good at keeping track of finances and forget about things, music business people are great about “forgetting” money when they owe it. I know a certain album that waited several years to be released because someone simply forgot to give someone else some money to hand over a taped recording – the amount in question was $50.
All sorts of k-pop related stuff dies in the ass all the time because people don’t pay in a timely manner for whatever reason – it’s definitely the main reason for k-pop concert cancellations. Just one example close to home – an Australian k-pop concert “K-pop Heart” died swiftly when the deadbeat company aus2one who were organising it breached their contract with Pledis Entertainment (i.e probably didn’t front up with the performance fee and/or payment for flights and accommodation in the required timeframe) who then pulled their artists from the lineup. The organiser Naureen Gana then declared bankruptcy and fled to Korea while her company was legally dissolved, leaving hundreds of fans with unrefunded tickets. Shit like that happens constantly with exported k-pop projects all around the world, so you can imagine how much similar situations are happening inside Korea with regard to comebacks and various related activities, especially with queues of easily-fleeced fangirls and fanboys struggling to become idols. As Sarah Wolfgang said, “I think the biggest misconception that a lot of people have when entering the industry might be that things will progress smoothly”. She didn’t elaborate – but in my opinion she didn’t need to.
REASON FOR DELAYED COMEBACKS #3: MEMBER ISSUES
We all know about high-profile member issues like bully victim Kris fucking off to Canada and leaving SM in the lurch with EXO’s “Wolf” comeback for months, and Hwayoung’s comeback-delaying bullying of all the CCM staff behind the scenes, but versions of these sort of dramas exist in every group, it’s just not always public. When T-ara’s scandal was hot, After School were one of the first groups in line to pipe up and say “gosh we never bully each other ever ever ever oh my gosh no“, then they proceeded to not have comebacks for years on end and then Kahi eventually admitted that they can’t fucking stand each other. f(x) are notorious for their slow comeback schedule, and they’re also notorious for having a couple of caonimas in the group, Sulli and Krystal, neither of whom give very many fucks about anything so one comeback per year is probably all they can stand as a group (even post-Sulli notice how it’s really just Luna and Amber getting all the comebacks lately).
There’s definitely a correlation between comeback levels and “christ that member is a cuntfaced bitch” levels, because bitches who don’t give any fucks while greatly admired by Kpopalypse from the safety of professional distance are actually high-maintenance to work with closely, and dealing with them tends to slow everything else down as they gradually manage to make the entire universe revolve around them instead of the creative output. However that doesn’t mean you can assume that any group not coming back is doing so because they have a caonima member in them, or that every leader in a k-pop group is the R. Lee Emery style drill sargeant that Kahi was.
The other common member issue in k-pop groups is the one that’s been making the news a lot lately with idols – health, particularly mental health. Giving your entire life over to music for a number of years can be stressful no matter which part of the music industry globally you reside in, and many people who do this tend to have all their eggs in one basket – they don’t necessarily have much of a backup plan if things fail, so their entire hopes and dreams are hanging on “making it”, which will only happen for very few, less than 0.1%. Kpop has an extra layer of pressure, on top of the general competitiveness of the music industry as a whole, you’re also competing with the people within your own agency and your own group, the same people you eat, sleep, dance, shit and fap with every single day. Even though you’re constantly with other people, on a “relating to others” level you’re genuinely isolated because there’s nobody you can trust who is also on your level and going through the same experience – the mere fact that those around you are going through that experience means that you can’t trust them by default. Just ask 4Minute about that one. On top of that there’s all the judgement from outside, both positive and negative, on top of the pile. It takes a very strong person to be able to survive all that with their sanity intact and many members of k-pop groups, being young teens and twenty-somethings with little life experience, are simply not that mentally strong, and that’s where health issues like anxiety, bulimia/anorexia, substance addiction and a whole host of others arise. The choice for the company is then to either turf out the member who can’t hack it, or stick by them and delay the comeback until they get their shit together. The second option is a gamble, as mental health issues can take many months or even years to deal with. It’s little wonder that agencies running newer groups would rather give the weakest-link member the flick at least temporarily, before fans get too heavily emotionally invested in them, just so they can get on with things. When your favourite member gets booted out of a group you should be happy because firstly they’re now not part of the soul-killing shit machine anymore and now have some slim hope of recovery, and secondly they’ve probably been removed to expedite the group’s next activities.
REASON FOR DELAYED COMEBACKS #4: MARKETING COMMON-SENSE
In the west, “normal” album release schedule for a fairly active group is an album every two years. If you get any releases coming at you from western groups sooner than that, you’re being spoiled rotten. In k-pop, if you’re an artist and you dare to wait two years between tweeting the colour of your urine everybody thinks you’ve died or your agency is bankrupt, which is odd because the release patterns of k-pop groups are quite reliable and predictable for the most part:
- Brand new groups get more frequent comebacks than older well-established groups, so the new group has more chance to build an audience. A long-established favourite group doesn’t need constant comebacks, their audience and brand power will both stick with them.
- Groups that have long hiatuses are more likely to come back with multiple feature tracks at once or in very quick succession to make the return more memorable.
- Certain groups tend to have releases planned at certain times. For instance Sistar coming back once per year, usually in summer.
- Idols who can sustain the agency financially through extracurricular activities don’t need comebacks at all.
I discussed this a bit more in QRIMOLE, but basically the more you see your favourite idol endorse products, the more money they make but also the less music they need to produce. Not only do idols slow down their musical output when they are going really badly health-wise, they also slow down when they are being really successful. If your idol is well known, generally happy and constantly in advertising work, expect that new comeback to take a while. The most prolific idols tend to be the ones in the middle – the ones who haven’t quite made it yet and need to constantly push to get themselves out there over the competing groups, but also have enough stamina in them that they haven’t quite burned themselves out completely. Once you’ve got some financial stability, you can “coast” a bit on your own collecting money and your agency can then devote more energy to its next up and coming project. This is what people mean when they say that the idol business takes a few years before it actually gets glamorous – until you get to that “coasting” level you’re just working like fuck on comeback after comeback, each of which means many months of gruelling fitness and dance training and eating lots of crappy salads.
So in summary:
- in the music business organising shit takes a long time, so be patient, you spoiled little fuckhead
- plus everyone’s a deadbeat robber baron
- and a cunt in general
- but you should be grateful if your fave doesn’t come back much, it probably means they don’t have to
- also if your bias gets booted out of their group you should do the rational thing – celebrate their freedom from the soul-crushing idol machine instead of demanding that they strap themselves back into the torture chair some more
If nothing else, remember that if you’re an actual music fan first and can hold back your biased-fuckhead impulses there’s a good chance some other group will just get lumped with the same shitty song your bias was going to do. Until next time, caonimas!