I’ve been told that I gush too much. When I really love something, I find it hard to hold it in, in fact I tend to pour it out in gallons. It’s worked to my detriment in romance and business and other times when it’s wiser to hide the strength of one’s ardor. But one thing I really enjoy about K-pop is that gushing is not only acceptable, it’s part and parcel of fandom culture. I was born to be a K-pop stan! It’s liberating to say the least that, within the K-pop community, I can gush unrestrained and no one here says I’m stupid, weird, or naive for wearing my heart on my sleeve. I can truly be me here, and I love it.
I recently got to gush about two of my faves while guesting on the Underrated Groups episode of Aussie K-pop Mum TV’s Road to Hagdom. I felt honored to do this, but my biggest fear was not representing my groups well enough. I really hope I did, and if I didn’t, please forgive me. I had pages of notes I intended to touch on, but nerves are the death of poise and articulation. To redeem myself a bit, I’m gonna gush here for as many paragraphs as it takes to pour out everything I feel about IMFACT here in part one (and A.C.E, in part two).
I fell head over heels in love at first sight with IMFACT on April 16th, 2018, the day “The Light” dropped. For a little background, 1theK’s YouTube channel was an early subscription for me, and it was awesome for discovering groups beyond BTS. However, there’s a ton of K-pop that doesn’t get played on 1theK. Thankfully, VAV did have some MVs on 1theK, and VAV was the first lesser-known group I got into. I didn’t stan them right away, but was intrigued enough to dive into their MVs, which led me to finding Genie Music. Genie, it seems, is like 1theK for underdogs. Once my algorithm included Genie, underrated groups popped up regularly in my autoplay. Thus was the case that day in April, when some kick-ass rhythmic claps over a piano bassline made my ears perk-up like a dog hearing the car door open. I remember running from the kitchen to the TV to see the source of this ear candy. Na Ungjae was onscreen looking sooo cool in black nail polish and shades, and by the time Sang and Jeup were through their gorgeous tenor strains in the pre-chorus, I was fully enchanted. I’m not even sure I waited til the end of the MV to text my daughters, “I just heard the best song of 2018! You’ll be hearing it on the drive home from school.”
IMFACT’s whole color is fun and chill, they just always seem to be vibing in their content. They’re exceedingly loveable, in fact (hehe), I don’t know anyone that doesn’t adore them, if not necessarily stan. They’re five super-talented, hilarious, attractive, charming idols, with a catalog of very strong songs. So why do they remain underdogs after 5 yrs on the scene? I believe it’s mostly the fault of their terrible entertainment company.
What’s not to love about IMFACT? First off, Ungjae is a prodigy maknae that composed their 2016 debut release *at 17 years old*, including the title track “Lollipop.” My personal favorite Ungjae-written song is “Tension Up,” a feel good bop from 2017, but he, along with fellow members, has penned the bulk of their songs, including 2020’s “LIE.” Secondly, their ace-in-the-hole is one of the strongest main vocalists in K-pop. Jeup’s voice is like a Monet painting: exuberant, fresh, bursting with energy and color; wild yet controlled. If IMFACT is known beyond their fandom for anything, it’s for Jeup’s singing (and yes, his good looks too). He’s slayed on numerous TV shows such as The Unit, I Can See Your Voice, Immortal Songs, and many more.
Jeup’s not the only incredible voice in the group. IMFACT has a trifecta of tenors rounded out with Taeho and Sang. Taeho’s voice is especially beautiful, as he himself is, both inside and out. He’s the main dancer, and a cover song king. Sang is a singer-songwriter and an accomplished guitarist and actor (please watch his recent drama Wish You!). How a group this vocally strong flies so under the radar is criminal.
They all do their best to get content to their fans, despite getting next to zero promotion from their agency. Jeup clocked hours on Twitch in 2020 charming fans with his singing, gaming, and occasionally hilarious dancing. Even while serving his country, he maintains an engaging presence on Instagram, either posting himself or having his siblings do so on his behalf . Rounding out IMFACT’s quintet is the soft-hearted, motherly rapper and leader Jian. Having encountered these young men in person, I can tell you that Jian and Taeho are two of the sweetest, most gracious idols out there. Jian, especially, connects so sweetly with fans, and feels deeply responsible for the success of his team. It pains me to see Jian hurt that they still continue to struggle for recognition. They’d have more if it weren’t for their terrible management.
Star Empire is notoriously one of the worst agencies in K-pop. They had a long-running, moderately successful girl group, Jewelry, in the early days of the company, but ever since then they’ve squandered popularity (ZE:A), wasted talent (9Muses), and abused and mismanaged their artists (all of them) again and again. They were the subject of a hard-to-watch 2012 documentary called “9 Muses of Star Empire,” and their treatment of the girls in that doc soured many fans from ever supporting Star Empire. They have a frustratingly hands-off approach with IMFACT. I found it refreshing, at first, to see IMFACT self-navigate their artistic direction, as well as have the freedom to be themselves and be candid to a much larger degree than, say, an SM group can be. But I soon realized as a fan that Star Empire isn’t just laissez faire with IMFACT, they flat out don’t care. The members and IF (the fandom) are the only ones promoting IMFACT. Sometimes I think Star Empire just writes checks, and tiny ones at that. I’d be shocked if they’ve made a single executive decision to IMFACT’s benefit in the history of the group.
On a personal note, IMFACT looms large in my family’s brief K-pop history. Our favorite survival show is The Unit: Idol Rebooting Project. We’ve binged it no less than four times in its entirety, and re-watched clips of performances and favorite scenes countless times. The reason we first watched was because we loved IMFACT, and we learned they appeared on it. Ironically, we were fans of both “Feeling” and “Only One” before watching a single episode of The Unit or realizing UNB was the project group from it. Minds were blown when we put all the pieces together that members of both IMFACT and A.C.E had been on The Unit. A.C.E’s Chan, my daughter’s bias, had made it into UNB, and Jeup had nearly made it in. Some of our favorite artists and songs sprung out of our love for The Unit, all thanks to IMFACT.
We also would not have attended KCON Los Angeles if it weren’t for IMFACT. I wavered for weeks over the expense, travel, and good sense of attending a 4 day convention 500 miles away, and I was leaning toward a veto. But once IMFACT was announced, I was all-in. We ended up attending KCON in 2018 and ‘19, having the time of our lives at both, and making memories we wouldn’t have made if it weren’t for IMFACT. They are the first idols my girls ever met, the first for whom I stood hours to get barricade, and the only idols to make this hag feel special by smiling and waving back at me from the stage (thank you Jeup and Taeho!)
Will IMFACT ever make it big? Gosh I sure hope so! I’m reminded of The Little Engine story. IMFACT are the precious cargo that everyone will enjoy if it can just make it over that mountain to the village. Almost every engine that could get them to the summit has either abandoned, mistreated, or snubbed them (yep, that tracks). Right now, IFs are the little blue engine that could, the only one pulling for everyone to get that precious cargo, and we think we can, we think we can! But K-pop isn’t a children’s story, so it sure would be nice if a big engine came along to help push IMFACT to the top. They deserve it, and our village needs them.