Inside the Loonaverse: Four different ways LOONA could redefine the modern Kpop girl group.
Though a bustling, energetic and roughly 28 year-old genre, Kpop has had its share of many ups and downs. An over abundance of boy bands in the early-to-mid 2000s led to a relative dearth of their female counterparts. The early 2010s saw both a steep decline in album sales and then a sharp resurgence thanks largely in part to the debut of yet another inescapable male act from SM Entertainment named Exo and most recently, the year 2014 saw dozens of glittering headliners undergo earth-shaking scandals and a controversial “sexy craze” that launched some well-known careers and in retrospect, may have forever tainted others. Through it all, Kpop has been able to continue its quest for continental dominance and glory due to its ability to give the people at home and abroad what they want time after time: exciting new idols to obsess over.
2016 saw the arrival of YG Entertainment’s trendy foursome Blackpink, Mnet’s surprisingly triumphant and sadly temporary project girl group I.O.I, recurrent chart toppers Bolbbagan4, the rise of Source Music’s Gfriend and of course, JYP Entertainment’s flagship ensemble Twice but there was another pack of young hopefuls beginning their journey. On October 7th, 2016 Blockberry Creative (a subsidiary of Polaris Entertainment which is home to Pop/R&B girl group Ladies’ Code) signaled the arrival of their newest set called LOONA with the reveal of their first member (or “first girl”) former idol survival reality show “Mix Nine” contestant Heejin’s solo single “ViViD”.
Following nearly two full years of teasing, tens of millions of views on YouTube, features in Rolling Stone Magazine and vigorous endorsements from “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” season eight star Kim Chi, LOONA is set to finally take the stage as a large-scale, 12 membered act on August 7th, 2018 with lead single “FavOriTe” and the way we think of Korean pop girl groups may never be the same again.
- Blockberry has the midas touch: Polaris Entertainment launched their foremost brand Ladies’ Code in 2013 with the critically and fan-acclaimed “Bad Girl”. The track grew its buzz through its unique, brass-driven composition and soulful vocals that came amidst the waves of EDM and more uncategorizable forays that were standard in Hallyu at the time. Polaris continues to show their flare for ear and eye-catching productions through offshoot label Blockberry Creative with selections from Loona’s pre-debut discography such as Jinsoul’s futuristic “Singing In The Rain”, Kim Lip’s arguable cult classic “Eclipse” or Olivia Hye’s piercing “Egoist” whose jarring breakdown felt both out of place and eerily necessary to communicate the girl’s determination to rid herself of the need for a past love’s presence and validation, as indicated by the lyrics. With this in mind, as well as Blockberry’s dedication to meticulously crafting an entire multilayered universe for the members and their fans, it isn’t difficult to believe that their next musical chapters won’t go above and beyond to match the label’s grand (and often mystifying) visions.
2. They offer a muscular opponent for Kpop’s “Big 3”:
For the last two decades, Kpop has been ruled with an iron fist by its three most successful record labels SME, JYPE and YGE much to the chagrin of smaller, less connected and thus less powerful labels. There have been numerous idols who have gone on to have lengthy and lucrative careers under middle class companies such as Cube, Starship or Pledis Entertainment but the upper-echelons of Gayo are usually met through the high-quality and highly refined training programs and promotional budgets that naturally come with corporate conglomerates. Enter again, Blockberry Creative. Netizens began to speculate on Blockberry’s true influence after recognizing the gloss of LOONA and their subunits’ respective videos, songwriting credits and wardrobes which tend to be completely uncharacteristic of a 2 year old establishment with only one other artist on their roster. A Curious fan nicknamed “Kpopalypse” did a bit of research and found that Blockberry has strong ties to the government through its parent group Polaris Entertainment which itself is a subsidiary of the Ilkwang Group who manufactures various items for the military. With a background of these proportions, it seems that the Big 3 may have finally found their match. An (assumed) bulit-in and unlimited government-affiliated income stream would provide access to platforms that their peers could usually only dream of if not under the aforementioned 3. LOONA may be rookies but their potential might is already staggering.
3. They expertly blend and subvert the narrow scripts Kpop gives its female talents to work with:
A unique facet of the world of LOONA is the many subunits it holds within. 1/3, Odd Eye Circle and yyxy are their current configurations but with 12 girls there is an infinite amount of units that can be created. Why this plays a significant role in LOONA’s artistic arsenal is because of Kpop and Kpop fans’ appetite for restricting its female idols to strict, oftentimes performative categories, both as musicians and as people. Frequently cited as “infantile” (even when the idols involved are actual children), weak and/or lacking “complexity” (even though complexity cannot be measured on outward appearances alone nor does being “soft” or identifying as feminine signify a lack of merit or intellect), girl groups are actively maligned for taking on “cute” concepts or themes. Dark, hip-hop, girl crush or “badass” concepts are praised as being the de facto empowerment to the cute concept’s (alleged) inherent disenfranchisement. Instead of choosing to align solely with one image or the other, LOONA, chiefly through its subunits, proves that you can be both. You can be both vulnerable and fierce when the situation demands ferocity. You can be both a hearty adversary in the ring and display a quiet, modest strength in your everyday life. Through its subunits, LOONA reminds us that Kpop’s true power isn’t in its brawn but in its ability to adapt. Its ability to be both.
4. Their partnership with Live Nation could spell promise for girl group advancement outside of Asia:
On May 3rd, 2018 Blockberry Creative announced that they would be collaborating with US event-promoters Livenation for LOONA’s upcoming international showcases and concerts. Alongside being a startling feat for a group without a debut album to their name, this sets a precedent for Kpop girl groups. As early as 2010, idols began holding fan meets and concerts in the US with the later half of the decade seeing numerous headlining cross-country tours from various artists but once again, the genre’s women suffered. As of now, only 3 girl groups have had tour dates in America; the Wonder Girls, 2NE1 and Apink. Why so few? According to kpop fans and even industry experts female idols are ailing from “wanning popularity” at home and overseas. Even North America’s premier South Korean pop culture convention KCON tends to reserve a rather large portion of its lineups on both East and West coasts for male idols. Like with any other subject, sometimes myths can become so powerful that they begin to feel and even look like reality but you won’t always be able to find fire where there’s smoke. Girl groups are not necessarily less popular nor fundamentally less grand than the boys, they are fundamentally less cared for by the supposedly neutral industry and media that surrounds and employs them. In an interview with Forbes Magazine and Billboard’s Tamar Herman titled “Where Are The Kpop Girl Groups In America In 2017?”, Crystal Anderson, a scholar at Longwood University who specializes in Cultural Studies, observed that “There’s the kind of images of women that female artists have to negotiate in terms of: Are they too sexy? Are they too cute? Are they one or the other? Are they both? Can they be neither? Can they be something else?” or more plainly rendered by Herman “Kpop girl groups are a lot harder to sell than male acts to local audiences”. Are they harder to sell or are they not actively being sold? What exactly makes them inherently harder to sell? What does it mean to “sell” and what does that look like? Do we interrogate the often sordid nature of “selling” and find ways to close the lingering (and enormous) gender gap in Kpop or do we simply let the nature of “selling” take its inevitably unbalanced course? Are international Kpop fans truly as uninterested in female artists (which in of itself would be cause for concern) or are experts, promoters, scholars, conventions and publications mistaking their own lack of interest and investment in Kpop girl groups (perhaps stemming from unconscious bias) for a global lack of interest and investment? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, Livenation and Blockberry Creative have made a resolute commitment to sending LOONA across the globe, opening doors for the members, their fervent fans and if proven lucrative, quite possibly Hallyu’s entire fairer half.