Check 1… 2… is this on? Oh, good.
A few years ago I was at the radio station where I work, talking to a reasonably well-known cult celebrity in the western music scene who I’m on good terms with. This individual shall remain nameless to prevent bias and cringeworthy name-dropping (plus don’t we all love “blind items”), but all you need to know about him is that he’s quite controversial and has been in quite a few scandals of his own. He also has the rare distinction of being one of the few people on the planet who is older than Kpopalypse.
I asked him this:
“Do you think that the Internet is a good thing or a bad thing, overall, for artists like yourself?”
His reply was instantaneous.
“Awful. Absolutely terrible. If you think it’s bad now, just wait, it’s going to get a lot worse. So far, we haven’t even scratched the surface.”
In his usual style he didn’t elaborate on this comment specifically, and at the time, I wondered exactly what he meant. He certainly wasn’t just talking about sales – unlike many artists in his shoes, the gradual move toward music piracy, YouTube and streaming hadn’t dented his personal revenue much at all. I pondered the deeper meaning of his statement for a while, and then I promptly forgot about it.
Then the T-ara scandal blew up a few months later. At the time I knew many people personally who were k-pop fans. A few weeks before the scandal I spun “Roly Poly“, “Bo Peep” and other iconic T-ara songs in a club and the vibe in the room was great, at one point I had the entire room doing the Roly Poly hand-dance. To see a bunch of young people who obviously really liked T-ara’s music suddenly drop them like a hot potato over some unconfirmed bad behaviour made me realise that actual music means so little to so many “pop music fans”. To my industry-trained eye, the rumours were obviously false, but that didn’t even matter – if T-ara were guilty of everything that the netizens were accusing them of, it was still the most minor of infractions compared to almost everything that almost every single western artist that I had avidly followed over the years had done. More importantly, none of it changed the great songs that they had before the scandal, or the great songs they had after the scandal. I watched with dismay and puzzlement as the people I knew forgot all about discernment and rationality, and instead let their opinions on music and people be influenced by the Korean equivalent of “Woman’s Day” and “New Idea”. Going online was even worse, people at worst bought straight into the lies hook-line-sinker, or at best peddled a fraudulent “they’re all at fault somehow” position when it was quite obvious that one side of the argument was a complete morally bankrupt fabrication.
A few months after observing this, I went touring. Australia has a large Asian population and all major Australian cities have a sizeable Chinatown district, and I would visit the Chinatowns whenever possible because they were a source of good, cheap food and k-pop related shopping. While wandering through the streets I noticed T-ara’s latest hit song “Sexy Love” being played everywhere, from restaurant sound systems, shopping malls and karaoke bars. This was right at the absolute height of the supposed “hate”, when about the maximum number of people had heard about the laughable rumours that T-ara bullied Hwayoung, but long before most people were catching on to the truth that it was all fabricated. Nobody in this context seemed to care – clearly, the “scandal” wasn’t that big an issue in the real world, compared to what k-pop media and k-pop fans were making it out to be. I guess there were more people who thought like me about it than I had realised.
As one of the lone voices of reason who was in love with T-ara’s great songs, I did my best to try and educate people at the time. I went onto trashy gossip site Netizenbuzz often and dropped comments in support of T-ara, these were all quickly buried in flames and downvoted to oblivion by the hive as the T-ara scandal and the site itself (as a direct result of peddling lies about T-ara for quick clicks) gained steam. However after a while it didn’t seem worth the effort – confirmation bias had well and truly taken hold of k-pop fandoms with regards to T-ara, and it was clear that people were going to believe whatever they wanted to believe, regardless of what was actually true. Suddenly, the celebrity who I had spoken with at the radio station made perfect sense. This is what he was referring to, the power of the Internet to change perception and dull people’s thought processes, allowing biased media to set the agenda inside their own heads – as a controversial artist well-versed in scandal, he knew all too well from first-hand experience what I was finding out through following k-pop.
At the end of 2012 I thought up a new strategy – I decided to start blogging about k-pop. People who didn’t like my comments on Netizenbuzz would often reply with “it’s her site, she can write what she wants”. Of course they were correct, however this also meant that in return I could also write whatever I wanted with impunity, so it was time to write. However I didn’t want to address the T-ara scandal directly, because although it would be easy to write a thorough “T-ara debunk” post and farm up web traffic, it wouldn’t be helpful at tackling the root of the problem, plus it would just have been a repetition of other excellent content that had already been provided by other bloggers. Instead, I decided to expose the deeper issues that were underlying and feeding the T-ara situation, like confirmation bias, the power of media, hidden agendas and Internet peer pressure. This way, if the writing was ever widely read, not only could T-ara potentially have a better time, but all artists of any type who find themselves in an unfair scandal, and all fans of those artists whoever they may be, can face off lies and misinformation with stronger minds and hearts. I didn’t plan for popularity specifically, just to remain true to myself and my purposes for writing – if only a few people were to read my writing and get something positive out of it, it would be worth it – and even if nobody read it, I would at least have an outlet to talk about these things in a zone where I’m not sure anyone else understood. Of course people did understand, and I’m fortunate for every one of my readers who bothers to check out my postings.
To this end, I would like to thank the following:
Anti Kpop-Fangirl – for agreeing to take me on as a writer and giving my writing a benchmark to measure myself against as well as a big readership boost.
Arcadey (back then, “The Prophet”) – one of the only people who saw through the lies about T-ara as quickly as I did, and was equally vocal about it on forums and message boards. Arcadey also used his power at trash site Allkpop for good and posted an intelligent op-ed dissecting the situation long before such analysis was acceptable to the majority.
Asian Junkie – also smelled a rat with super-quick speed, also posted about it with similar acumen (although those old posts are gone now), and also allowed me to pseudo-write for his site, a move which he’ll probably always regret and which I’m forever thankful for in between the times when I’m abusing him.
Anyone who ever read my postings and isn’t a T-ara fan but still understood the underlying message that I believe translates equally to all music groups of any kind and all music fandoms worldwide.
Now that the fake T-ara scandal has been thoroughly debunked to the point where nobody rational would even give it a second thought, I feel a burden has lifted to some small extent. I was never really a T-ara “fan” in the true sense that Koreans use the term. Claiming to be a “fan” in the k-pop sense to me implies uncritical acceptance of all the artist’s content, which is something that I don’t do – the regular featuring of T-ara on my “worst of the year” song lists will attest to that. However the fake scandal’s effect made me react in a fan-like manner as a form of compensation – surely they should get a little love to balance out all the unfair hate? Seeing an obviously unjust situation unfold and one of k-pop’s most reliable hit-making groups become persecuted was certainly a drag, but I’d like to think that I would have done the same for any group under similar circumstances.
However, this doesn’t mean that T-ara will vanish from Kpopalypse. Rest assured that Kpopalypse will continue to have T-ara content as it progresses into new k-pop related (and wildly tangenital) topics, and with this particular hard-fought ideological victory finally on my side I can enjoy T-ara content now more than ever. T-ara’s presence is part of the conceptual continuity fabric of this blog, for they are deeply symbolic, a reminder that sticking to the side of truth and thinking deeply about issues is a long investment but one that pays the largest dividends.
Thank you to all the caonimas, may you learn more trufax, day by day!