Fifty Fifty's shattered Barbie Dream moment

Fifty Fifty's shattered Barbie Dream moment
Fifty Fifty when they spoke with Notes on K-pop last year.

On Sunday, for 10 minutes or so, I thought that Fifty Fifty had won a Grammy. This would make the act, whose "Cupid" went viral on TikTok last year and took off with roaring success, the first K-pop artist to ever win one thanks to featuring on the Barbie soundtrack.

But then a friend mentioned that unlike for other collaborative albums, like a singer featuring on another artist's album, the soundtrack category doesn't reward all the artists, only the producers according to the Grammys. "Award to the principal artist(s) and/or 'in studio' producer(s) of a majority of the tracks on the album.  In the absence of both, award to the one or two individuals proactively responsible for the concept and musical direction of the album and for the selection of artists, songs and producers, as applicable. Award also goes to appropriately credited music supervisor(s)." So while Fifty Fifty's "Barbie Dream" is featured on a Grammy-award movie soundtrack, Fifty Fifty itself/herself/themselves (more on that below) and Kaliii did not technically win a Grammy.

The song was sadly missing from the movie and got next to no promo, which is a real pity.

Fifty Fifty, if you haven't kept up, is not currently a girl group: last year, shortly before the planned filming, and likely promotion, of a "Barbie Dreams" music video, the four members of Fifty Fifty sued their company, alleging a variety of issues ranging from lack of pay to outright abuses.

The song never made it into the movie, presumably because of all the drama. You have to assume that every party involved is regretting whatever decisions led to Fifty Fifty missing out on being included in one of the biggest film events in ages. (In a year full of, rather silly in my opinion, hand-wringing about if K-pop is caput because the Grammys didn't give any Korean act a nod, but that's another day's newsletter.)

It was hard to keep up just what exactly was going on last year around Fifty Fifty. Their management agency, Attrakt, was brawling it out with partner production company The Givers over a variety of issues, including copyright ownership for "Cupid." Mudslinging PR, and defamation suits, ensued. In the midst of it all, all four members of Fifty Fifty filed for contract termination, and more public opinion was sought.

It was pretty messy, to be frank. The members were maligned, The Givers were maligned, Attrakt was maligned. But, ultimately, Attrakt won in the court of public opinion, with the sentiment in South Korea largely seeming to be that the Fifty Fifty members got too greedy too fast and should have had some respect for the company that brought them together, regardless with claims of severe health issues resulting from overwork met with suspicion due to the timing of them.

There was, however, the allegations that The Givers conspired with the Fifty Fifty members to essentially ruin Attrakt. At one point Warner Music Korea was alleged to be poaching the rising group. It was, to put it bluntly, a fucking mess of pointed fingers back and forth as to who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

Member, and "Cupid" co-writerwriter, Keena ultimately dropped her case, and remains at Attrakt, as the sole remaining member of Fifty Fifty when Attrakt dropped the others. A new lineup is reported to be announced this year.

One thing that probably most people didn't pick up on was that the ruling conservative party in Korea even presented the idea of a law protecting small and medium sized agencies from talent who may take advantage of them. Implying that in all of this, it was the members of Fifty Fifty who were in the wrong here, for asking for what appears to be their fair share of pay, and good work conditions.

Regardless of the how it went down, prioritizing any sort of company over talent feels like a really slippery slope in an industry still grappling with a wide array of abuses coming as artists from the biggest to the smallest firms are fighting for their rights.

One of the very first pieces I wrote for this newsletter was about how Hollywood's talent in the Golden Age changed things up for the industry to progress.

Omega X, K-pop contracts & Hollywood’s Golden Age
Or, How artists fighting for their own rights can make things better for everyone in the long run

Last week, I went to a K-pop Jazz Night at the AAPI-oriented Brooklyn venue, The Red Pavilion, so was really racking my brain on how to relate Fifty Fifty's dispute to the Jazz Age. (I'm still thinking on it, and may return to this because of the obvious connection between the 1920s and 2020s, don't worry!) But if the Jazz Age opened up a period of festivity in the US following WWI, it also was just the final hurrah before the storm of WWII and the great depression.

A lot of people have claimed that we're living through K-pop's golden age. I don't know if that's true, if it's passed, or if it has yet to arrive. I always say I'm not a prophet, and K-pop is part of a cultural wave (literally known as the Korean Wave, or hallyu), so we could be at a rise or an ebb, or a crash.

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What am I working on

Absolutely nothing!!!!! Just kidding. I have a series of interviews coming out this and next month for NME, so please stay tuned.

What I'm listening to

Kind of a weird inclusion since this isn't necessarily a rec on my part, but it feels like everyone under the sun has told me recently that they love Evenne's Un:SEEN album. I have listened to it, enjoy each listen, but something's not sticking in my brain once it ends. I'm still listening, trying to figure out what I'm missing, and waiting for that magic moment to click.

When I've not been trying to figure that one out, I spent the past week listening to Bias NYC's anniversary playlist. Bias is a K-pop-themed party held regularly in NYC. I've never actually gone, because I am lame, but I love what they're doing and support immensely from my couch. I'll make it to a party eventually, I promise!!!

What I'm watching

I didn't expect to fall for Amazon Prime's Marry My Husband, but this show is so good? I don't even care so much about the romance, as much as the ride of it all. I have many, many questions about her wardrobe choices, though...

What I'm reading

When does being vulnerable online hurt you by Steffi Cao - Steffi writes here about vulnerability online, but tbh it resonated simply because at a certain point of being very online it stopped being engaging and entertaining. When I left Twitter suddenly one day last year in response to Elon Musk spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories, I thought I’d miss it. But something has settled in me in an unexpected way. I still miss out on the joys of it and the memes, but I don't think it hit me until recently that I haven’t enjoyed online interactions en masse in many years, which is sad because I have spent much of my life online forming communities.

For the Notes on K-pop bookclub, we recently read Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It by Kaitlyn Tiffany. I learned a lot from it, and it left me thinking a lot about how fans are treated as consumers and that's part of the reason we have these fan communities entrenched in culture nowadays. But ultimately don't know if I agree with the entire thesis as presented in the title versus what's said in the text. Maybe the last decade, though...

If you'd like to sign up for the Notes on K-pop bookclub, please do! We try to meet once a month, often on Weds nights.