K-pop's "I love mess" era is now a way of life

K-pop's "I love mess" era is now a way of life
two masked individuals sitting on a couch, one with his hands on his face in exasperation, while someone jumps up in the air behind them

There was a press conference yesterday held yet again to air the grievances of an aggrieved party by one of South Korea's biggest entertainment agencies, a repeat occurrence.

If you assumed that this was Min Hee-jin holding a third press conference against Hybe, you'd be wrong: this was the representatives of EXO-CBX, making a variety of new allegations about SM Entertainment's mistreatment since Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin first aired their concerns last year and joined INB100. This came on the heels of an FTC investigation about Kakao, a distributor, favoring its subsidiaries, which now includes SM. There's now a variety of back and forths, and rumors of a delayed EXO winter album.

The same day, Belift Lab sued Min Hee-jin for defamation. Belift also released a video attempting to show that ILLIT is a new type of girl group, and not copying NewJeans as Min Hee-jin had previously alleged, or any other girl groups.

That may seem dramatic, but over the past month, week, and even 24 hour period, things have unfolded in such a way that it feels like we're dealing with a new K-pop paradigm where everything goes.

K-pop was once seen by many, fans and media, especially western media, as a glossy, hype-polished industry where not a hair was out of place. That's still true on stage, but off-stage... Well, I wouldn't be surprised if some crises PR reps are getting really nice vacations this year with all their bonuses.

PSA: Scroll down to the "What I'm working on" section for an important update.

K-pop is in its “follow the money” era
More than any year, or even month, than I can remember, K-pop fans are following the money around the industry closely in Spring 2024. While there have definitely been other periods of interest for fans to pay attention to financial issues (like a company’s hostile takeover) and/or scandals related

Companies, creatives, and idols are fighting battles in the legal courts and the court of public opinion. Stars appear to be picking sides, and fans are too. At the same time, some idols are getting political, and others are taking on stalkers invading their privacy despite the industry's typical allowance of them (and also talking about stigma regarding depression). There are rumors, and denials, of orgies, and creatives are going at it. And, and, and, and the list goes on.

I honestly feel like I missed half the stories that inspired this Note, and I most certainly under-explained half of the things I mentioned. Sorry about that, there's just a lot happening, and that seems to be the way of life now.

I estimated at the end of last year that 2024 would be the make-or-break year following the chaos of 2023. But now it feels like maybe the chaos has become the norm in K-pop: every other day in in 2024, it seems we're waking up to a new world, literally for those of us sleeping during South Korea's daytime hours. (Maybe aespa leaving Kwangya was too on the nose.)

I thought last year K-pop was living the Marie Kondo "I love mess" meme, but somehow 2024 is even more disorienting in the influx of news and overwhelming intensity of everything. Everyone, everywhere, is doing everything in K-pop in 2024.

Two screenshots from Everything Everywhere All at Once featuring Ke Huy Quan saying "When I choose to see the good side of things, I'm not being naive." then, "It is strategic and necessary."
How I feel still enjoying K-pop amid all the chaos I also really enjoy reporting on

I honestly don't know if I could break down everything I just wrote. It's an intense feeling of disorientation and drama almost 24/7 nowadays. It's the feeling of the rug coming out from under you, and perhaps never going back to the way it was. Some of these things will have only small ripples, but a few - like the mudslinging going on between Hybe, Belift Lab, and ADOR, plus to some degree their artists, and SM and CBX going at almost a year to the day of their initial issues.

Fans are commenting on the legal dramas overtaking the entertainment they consume. Commentators are getting overwhelmed and exhausted. The bickering amid power players continue with little to show for it aside from more drama, while idols, even rookie ones, seem to be increasingly less restrained by many former industry standards. While certainly not a bad thing, it's different and new, and I for one am curious what this means moving forward for the industry standards.

Are we in the middle of moment where the behind-the-scenes power players fight themselves into oblivion, and idols take the reign? I'm not sure things are going to shift that much (though honestly wouldn't be surprised if idols at the very least unionize at this point), but as everyone seems to be asking the question if K-pop is still growing I can't help but wonder if it's grown too fast for the entities within it to grow with it.

All revolutions need change, and all revelations take time. I'm not sure what we're witnessing, but it feels momentous.

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Excited Marie Kondo GIF "I'm so excited because I love mess"

What I'm working on

A little update for Notes on K-pop... I'm feeling extraordinarily like a failure professionally lately, so I think I'm going to be taking the summer a bit differently for Notes on K-pop. I need to spend some time on non-newsletter work, because, to be frank, I feel like I've accomplished absolutely nothing professionally in 2024. I have to focus a bit more on pitching and writing stories for outlets, and regaining my momentum a bit outside of this very precious Notes on K-pop sapce.

I apologize, because I feel like I've constantly been flaky about this newsletter, and I appreciate you all as readers. I'm going to still be writing a bit occasionally, but I'm going to not be aiming for newsy weekly reads (which I've been lackluster at at best, I again apologize). Instead, I'm going to focus on interviews and discography deep dives, the latter of which will be available only to paid subscribers. Depending on news, I'll probably offer up a few takes, but please don't worry if I don't cover something breaking and/or dramatic af.

Also, I recently began working with the Notes on K-pop fellows, so please keep an eye out for some interesting, fresh-eyed pieces from them sometime this summer.

What I'm listening to

For all the drama that's been enveloping everything K-pop lately, it feels like the music of 2024 has been pretty good, despite my early year misgivings.

I honestly have been so overwhelmed by the messiness of K-pop lately that I feel like my enjoyment of the music has been waylaid a bit, but ARTMS's <Dall>, Kep1er's Kep1going On (which coincides with the news that the group will continue on despite initially being a temporary group, though sadly sans two members), and DPR Ian's 3-track Saint are absolute joys of albums that I want to keep absorbing with repeated listens. Please enjoy these songs, which I currently have on repeat.

Also, INFINITE are back with fan song "Flower." It's not necessarily my favorite single from them, but it does feel very post-Sweetune-pre-military-Infinite. So it's quite lovely and special in that way.

Anddd even more also... Welcome back 우리 worldwide handsome Jin!! Cannot believe the BTS enlistment era is approaching its end, it feels like life has been so full of BTS.

What I'm reading

A little shoutout... I don't usually do this, but if you can, may I kindly suggest you donate to Asian Junkie because they've been doing us all a service by rounding up the news (and memery) in a palatable way that just isn't happening on most outlets.

Should write a newsletter about this, but Hybe is launching a platform for fan creators to monetize their work.

HYBE accelerates transition into platform company - KED Global
HYBE Co. is accelerating its push to transform into a platform company as it prepares to launch a new digital fan community platform. This platform will allow

Patrick St. Michel has a quick, witty take on the power of ASMRZ and their viral "Good night ojosama" (aka "잘자요 아가씨"). "Forget The Show…they should perform this at The United Nations, to remind everyone how connected we all are. Listen above."

Also appreciated Allie from Kosi Coso's reading of the NewJeans MV for "How Sweet." I'm not sure when the MV was filmed and its relation to the Hybe/ADOR drama, but it's an engaging read.

How sweet is freedom
Decoding the latest NewJeans’ drop