Sunday, September 19, 2010

DBSK Gets Under My Skeeeen

You may have noticed my slow ascent into Korean Pop music over the past half-year, and in no way is this relenting. This is all thanks to my little sister/blogging compadre Nikki @ Pop Reviews Now and her introduction to a little boy band known as Dong Bang Shin Ki (or DBSK, or TVXQ). This five-member group supersedes the "KPop" genre tag, their music features all sorts of different flavors. There is a little something for any audiophile and they've become one of my favorite artists regardless of language.

Dong Bang Shin Ki, in one of the few promotional photographs that doesn't put them in their "acapella line up". From left to right: Junsu, Changmin, Jaejoong, Yoochun and Yunho. The Rising Gods of the East.

If you follow KPop music, you may be aware they are involved in a little lawsuit at the moment. (At this very moment, the potential thousands of fangirls -- and no, that is not an estimation -- who could be reading this are screaming LITTLE?!? at their computer screens.) I've held my tongue on the subject, mostly because I feel that the music blogging world is too often filled with negativity (no matter how much it may help expunge our disgruntlement). 

To be fair, I've tried to hold a rather unbiased opinion on the subject, considering I am somewhat late to the Cassiopeia (their official fanclub name -- no, I'm not kidding and yes, it has a myriad of meanings and relations and I'm not even gonna go there) party, becoming an official fan after the problems have already begun. This changes now, but keep in mind -- I refuse to be a Negative Nelly. In comparison to the majority of DBSK fan(-girls) I've met on Twitter and beyond, I may be quick to spout the catchphrase "Always Keep the Faith" (and am more than willing to fangirl out about Changmin's sexiness -- @melismaticdiva, girls, @melismaticdiva), but I don't want the sorrow that this subject exudes to bring down the mojo of my column. 

With that said, for those of you who are unaware of the situation, let me bring you up to speed. Lest you forget, this post is not just for Cassiopeia (there's that word again, Mel) but for any and all music fans. Who knows, you might just learn something. This is the Cliff Notes Version:

-The group is basically the biggest idol (read: young) celebrity to come out of South Korea in a very, very long time. Their fanclub has gained them Guiness Book of World Record titles (twice). They remain to be the main artist to thank for any artist attempting to crack the second largest music market in the world: Japan. Oh yeah, and they are all still in their early 20's. They also presented us with this complete EPICness.

-Mid-last year, three members (rather conveniently, the three middle voices of the group's five part harmony) of the group decided they were tired of their label backers, SM Entertainment's, allegedly unfair ways (remember, let's be unbiased) and decided to file a lawsuit to escape their contracts. It has been proven that the label uses "slave contracts", rather popular in Asia, signing their artists to work diligently (to put it mildly) for upwards of 10 years or more. DBSK, in particular, were signed in that more category, and considering the cash cows they were for the label, you can kind of understand why the label wanted to keep them in the corral.
-Had all five members decided to jump ship together, there is a possibility that they could have escaped SM's clutches relatively unscathed. However, this did not happen in actuality. Two of the members (including, it should be stated, my personal bias) refused to sue with the other three. Whether they agreed the contract was unfair or not is undetermined.
-The three that sued, otherwise now known as JYJ (Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu), while using a loophole with DBSK's distribution agreement in Japan, have formed a DBSK sub-unit while "waiting" for the other two (commonly referred to as HoMin -- Yunho and Changmin) to come around, and have recently released an EP The..., a live DVD, performed live at the Tokyo Dome and A+Nation, yadda yadda yadda. Meanwhile, HoMin have stated relatively quiet on the subject, only returning to the stage very recently as a part of SM Town, a SM label-wide event that even came stateside this year. Rather tearfully, HoMin performed as a two-piece, and yet introduced themselves as Dong Bang Shin Ki.

This brings us to now, when it was recently announced that Avex, DBSK's Japanese distribution network, is putting a formal halt on all activities for JYJ. Almost concurrently, it was announced that HoMin still have a connection to Avex (further seperating the Godly Five), but the Japanese company is, as always, looking forward to DBSK's return as a five-piece unit. As is the case with these situations, there are always two sides to every story. This one in particular, has five (how appropriate). Read on for the inevitable rant.

Side 1: Avex
They are putting the blame for this halt because JYJ's hired new Korean management team is allegedly tied to the Mafia (there's a Korean Mafia? Who knew!). While when hearing this, it appears it might be in the sub-group's best interest, it does seem a bit suspicious, considering the literal outpouring of JYJ products, merchandise, DVDs and CDs as recently as a few weeks ago. Funny how Avex decides to put a stop to their promotions after they've squeezed dry all possible outlets of income. Their announcement of HoMin continuing business with them is also a slap in the face, and suggests they perhaps are bedfellows with SME, despite the fact that they seemed to be the savior to not just JYJ in their time of need, but potentially the entire group. Their Japanese material is markedly more diverse, and allows all five boys much more creative freedom, not to mention the ridiculous exposure.

To add insult to injury, several of the executives of the company have Twitter accounts, and quite bewilderingly, are willing to answer fans and comment on situations at hand. Do we see this happening with American labels? Not likely. Cleary, Avex does not know when to say 'No Comment', even if it will do them serious good. One particular person in this company would often boast about his friendship with JYJ, posting pictures of them backstage, mentioning how he was getting drinks (and getting drunk) with them. I assumed this was a cultural difference and tried to think nothing of it. However, he also went so far as to insult the opposing side (HoMin), despite continually stating he looked forward to the day that DBSK (or Tohoshinki as they are known in Japan) would return as one. Now, in the fallout of this announcement, he has posted sorrowful messages stating he did all he could, and putting more back-handed, bitter blame on JYJ for choosing these others over Avex.

Side 2:JYJ
Let it be known, I am 100% a Changmin fan, but I am also a 100% DBSK fan, so insults hurled at me for being a bit suspicious of JYJ's motives will be laughed at. Never did I fault the three for wanting to be compensated properly for the work they've done -- all five of the members have moved incredible mountains and made fans out of people in countries they've never even set foot in, where a promotional dollar has never even been spent. I'm not the only one who voraciously watches YouTube videos of their appearances (subtitled in English, mind you, by the fans themselves) and have been charmed by them despite not being able to speak their language, see them live, or buy their material in my local FYE.Of course they should be repaid for their hard work. Of course they should be praised. It would be a small token of gratitude for the years they spent working so hard, so young.

That being said, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The fact that JYJ is potentially getting shafted again will certainly make the stumbling blocks ahead of them taller and more annoying. I'm much too charmed by these boys (all five of them) to want to believe they are simply money-hungry and control-driven. I am of the believe, however, that despite being in this business since they were very young, they are incredibly naive to believe that any businessman in this music industry isn't also looking out for number one.  

In their recent statement regarding the Avex situation, they have hurled blame at the company for incidentally "forcing" them to create the The... album, live performances, even appear in other artist's music videos. This is where I stand confused. You are artists and performers. This is what you do. Avex is essentially your boss, your supervisor, and he's giving you work to do. Do you not like performing live? Were you not receiving some money from this? You were certainly gaining exposure from it, and there is no such thing as bad press. Count your blessings that you are continuing to work, that fans continue to support you (voraciously, I might add), despite the fact that a huge lawsuit storm cloud with your creator continues to exist. I find these comments disturbing and ridiculously hard to believe because they basically have no ground. It's like saying, "All I love to do in this world is paint." And when given the opportunity to paint, I turn around and say, "Why did you make me do this?" It makes me suspicious of some kind of rat in terms of who is speaking on behalf of the group -- and if such is the case, once again they are proving they are naive in terms of who to trust.

Adding fuel to the fire, Yoochun has been continually updating his various social networking accounts with fans, including posting pictures of his more recent tattoos. One of which quite clearly states his fellow members in JYJ's names, along with his younger brothers name. Changmin and Yunho's names are pointedly not present. Whether or not this is an intentional message to the "opposition" is irrelevant -- all it serves to do is to rile fans up more. All of this coming from the man who dreamt up the fan's worrystone slogan "Always Keep the Faith". From the man who wrote and composed a song in which he breathily states "We are the One, Eternally" after stating each of the other member's names with the word "My" in front of it, written and produced mere months before this entire debacle started. I'm not here to say he's not aloud to be bitter in this situation, it's just heartbreaking to see.

To this day, I vacillate between being sorrowfully sullen and being more than a little irritated by the words of JYJ's rallying cry song, "W" (again, another reference to Cassiopeia). In it, they state:

The dream of our future
We will board the ladder and go step by step
Waiting for you...
Keep in mind that I love you

Sullen because it speaks of the pain of separation. Irritated because of the condescending use of "waiting for you", as if to say HoMin is obviously wrong like it's a fact.

Side 3: HoMin
You may call it bias to say HoMin are the biggest victims of this entire debacle, but I truly think they are. They aren't without fault themselves. As I said earlier, had the five decided to weather this imminent storm as a group, all or nothing as they so constantly spouted over the years, everything thing written about lawsuit would be different. But, there is no use in using what ifs in this situation, because they didn't leave SM. Instead, in subtle ways, they have time and time again recently with the SM Town concerts, displayed loyalty to the allegedly evil company.

I believe they are the biggest victims (choosing my words carefully -- because all four sides are victims in their own way) because, while JYJ was able to say through press releases, new material and concerts with the fans essentially their side of the story, we are left trying to guess what HoMin's is. It's hard for Cassiopeia to truly decipher what it is HoMin is trying to project by performing new material at the SM Town concerts. It kind of lacks the obvious statements that JYJ used. Are they mouthpieces for SM, puppets not willing to rock the boat and risk the fame and safety net given to them by their label backers? For all we really know, HoMin could go to bed every night in tears over being pulled in two directions. I find it hard to believe that only half the group would be so unhappy with their management that they'd be willing to sue, while the other half would be just fine and dandy about it. Clearly, there was an issue, but three decided it was willing to risk everything for change, and two decided they'd be willing to endure it for the sake of keeping the group together.

They recieve insults for performing DBSK's group material at the SM concerts, and I suppose some of the rage is warrented. However, considering they "sided" with the label that owns the rights to this material (and the group name -- and no, this is not a special case -- just about any label claims the same rights, regardless of country), I'm not suprised. Just as JYJ is "waiting" for HoMin to come to their side, I believe HoMin are the true ones left waiting.

No one knows the true level of treatment and contract items spelled out in a day-to-day schedule of an SM artist except for an SM artist. If Changmin's somewhat recent statements regarding his recent depression and loneliness are any indicator, no one in this group is happy about the current standings, and yet all five put on brave faces to the fans as if nothing is wrong.

Side 5: DBSK
To say this was mishandled would be a supreme understatement. All the media world has received have been various eloquently produced press statements pointing blame at someone else, instead of anyone (literally anyone) standing up and taking some blame. And everyone is a little bit to blame. Everyone. No one is immune. There is no 100% victim here. Considering this group was often noted to be so hardworking, and so well connected with each other, the fact that this group-splintering debate happened is still kind of mind-boggling.  What's resulted has been pain, jealousy and bitterness, not just within the group, not just within it's backers, but within the millions of fans worldwide.

Side 6: SM Entertainment
Clearly, there is something wrong with the contracts in this company if this problem continues to rear its head (and it has). SM has been accused of a lot of things, and my American spirit tells me that everyone is innocent until truly proven guilty. To play Devil's Advocate, they are the group who formed DBSK. Without them, those five boys would still be regular Joe's in their various hometowns. Who knows what would have become of them. It was SM who gave them their name, Rising Gods of the East, and it was SM who helped them achieve that reality, no matter the potentially hazardous roads it took to get them there.
This business is a strange one. It's not like other businesses where you create a product and throw it out there to be consumed. The music business goes beyond this. Yes, there are the products available for consumption -- the CDs and the DVDs and the merchandise (Asia has to be the Kings of this). But unlike food factories or toy factories, all of these products contain little pieces of the performers attached to it. Not to mention the fact that these boys have been working toward this goal of global domination since they were children, even before they knew their fate as DBSK as trainees at SM's groundswell talent pool teaching them to dance, to sing, to speak eloquently, to harmonize together, to dress the right way, smile the right way, appear non-threatening to the potential millions with money in their grasp. 

It sounds jaded to present it this way, but such is life in the music industry. To say it's all about being passionate and talented (as DBSK is) would be a lie. There are plenty of artists all around the world who are plenty passionate, plenty talented, but they haven't had #1 singles, they haven't had socks sold with their cartoon likeness, they don't have posters printed with their faces that are eagerly being purchased and hastily attached to walls of girl's bedrooms the world over. It takes talent and passion, yes, but it also takes luck, and DBSK clearly had a lot of it. 

It also takes money, which SM also had. Go down to your local high school and pluck out five good lucking guys that can kind of sing okay. Make them into a boy band and see how far you get. This isn't Glee, people. As a fan, you'd think I'd be quick to say F-You, SM, and I have, but credit needs to go where credit is due, and that doesn't just stop at the Dong Bang boys themselves.

What I'm trying to say is, it's a mixture of emotions. Sad, hopeful, depressed, repressed, frustrated, tired and just plain indifference. Hence the fact that I wanted to stay as far away from the drama and as head-first into what made DBSK so important to my ears: their music. I'd like to be able to click my heels and have everything go back to normal, as it should be, but then I'd be the one being naive. We can only hope that all parties involved can own up to the madness and come to some kind of agreement. They owe it to themselves not to let something so special, lightning in a bottle so to speak, slip out of their grasp. 

With that said, I leave you with this, as it is always relevant. And believe it or not, that single was released a little over a year ago.


Unknown said...

I like pop music but that is wayyy to pop for's like bubble gum pop and I just can't listen to that.

Mel said...

Nina - Everyone's entitled to their own, and arguably, the songs I linked are very poppy. However, they kind of stand out for being one of the sole harmony groups in Korea that can sing acapella. KPop tends to be quite bubblegummy in most cases...might just not be your thing. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello! I stumbled upon your blog on one of my numerous google searches of DBSK (always looking for a great read about my favorite band!). I just wanted to say that your take on the whole lawsuit situation was one of the most logical, well thought out, and unbiased summaries that I have read...and I have read a lot of them! It is so refreshing to hear from a fellow fan that actually takes an objective view on the matter... thanks for writing this!

Mel said...

Hi Anon - I really appreciate your comment. I think we can all agree this subject is difficult for all of us, no matter how long you've liked the group. It's very hard to put your own emotions aside when it comes to an artist you are proud of and respect, so I appreciate you noticed that I tried to be as objective as possible. :)

::Cassie Hug::

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