At last summer’s KCON LA, two of the panels that excited me the most were “The Struggles of Being a K-pop Fan” and “Underrated K-pop Groups.” As it happens, these two topics have frustratingly collided for me this week, as I struggle with the possibility of one of my ult biases leaving an underrated K-pop group. When a high-profile group loses a member, or a member of a Big 3 group takes a leave of absence, their massive fanbase demands a supply of timely and accurate information about it. Can you imagine a member of a popular group disappearing from the scene completely and their company not releasing a statement? It just wouldn’t happen. But it happens with underrated groups, and you usually won’t read about it on Soompi. It doesn’t trend on Twitter, no flags are flown at half mast, so to speak. It’s actually unlikely to even register a blip outside of a handful of ardent stans. And the companies of many underrated groups don’t even seem to care if these small yet diehard fanbases even know what’s happening at all.
Case in point is Seven O’Clock, an underrated K-pop group that has struggled to gain popularity since their phenomenal debut. I adore them, and my bias in the group is Jeonggyu… or maybe was Jeonggyu. I cringe even typing that, but my confusion stems from the lack of communications from their company. Is he leaving the group or is he on health leave? There’s contradictory messaging being put out, and members being added for unknown reasons. They added Andy last winter and the company never even mentioned it! Do you think BigHit could add a member to BTS and not release a single statement about it? I’ll pause while you laugh your ass off about that. But that is exactly the circumstances of 7OC gaining Andy. He just appeared in the group one day! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I adore Andy, but really, how much do you disregard a fanbase if you will add a member to the group and not say one. Single. Word about it?
7OC is one of my favorite groups, and while they haven’t released a ton of music or been in the scene for very long, I love everything they’ve put out and everything about them. They’re one of my ults, and Jeonggyu is one of my ult biases. So a couple of days ago it was announced that Jeonggyu is supposedly leaving the group. They announced two new members and stated the group will be moving forward as a team of 5, so that sounded very much like Jeonggyu was out. I cried. ROSe–the fandom–has already been worried about Hyun, who’s been missing from official content for months with no statement from the company at all. But as much as I Iove Hyun, Jeonggyu is my bias and has been since the day I stanned, so the thought of his departure immediately broke my heart.
When one of your ult biases leaves K-pop, it’s honestly heartbreaking. For real. It seems silly to say, but the reality is that we become emotionally attached to our biases, we just do. Yet like any other job, people occasionally quit K-pop. And losing them hurts. Sometimes you’re not sure if you will ever hear from or see your bias again, and may not even know if they are physically or mentally OK. It often feels like their goodbye post, if they post one, is crafted by a PR team to specifically give as little information to fans as possible. We’re left sad and wondering why this person is leaving a career to which they’ve given their blood, sweat, and tears for so many years. And I promise you, any person that has debuted in a K-pop group is a person that’s handed their life over to being an idol. I imagine these decisions aren’t made lightly or quickly, but brief tweets and cryptic Instagrams make these departures frustratingly surreal. It’s like Thanos has snapped his fingers and poof, that person no longer exists.
A member leaving K-pop is different than a K-pop group disbanding. While it’s heartrending when a group disbands, at least there’s hope that the members aren’t necessarily leaving the industry. Sure, they might be leaving K-pop, but more often than not, they transition to somewhere else in the scene. They might become solo artists, or move on to acting, TV hosting, or creating personal content in some other form for their fans. These are individuals that have devoted their lives to being idols, and if they’re still young enough to keep at it, they’re unlikely to leave the limelight just because their group disbands. If you’re devoted, you can continue to support your bias wherever their path takes them in the entertainment industry. But what about when your bias leaves the entertainment industry altogether, for good. For whatever reason. It sucks.
So I’ve spent the last year biasing Jeonggyu, wishing and waiting for 7OC to come to the U.S. so I can see him in person. They were here once last winter, but the announcement of their free LA concert was made, literally, 102 minutes before the start of the concert. THANK YOU Forest Network!!! Great communication there, really awesome. And further evidence that many companies of underrated K-pop groups seriously lack in communicating with fans. I live six hours away from LA by car, 2 hours by plane, so there was no chance we were seeing that free concert. And I may have missed my only opportunity to see Jeonggyu perform live with 7OC… or did I?
Less than a week after Forest cryptically implied Jeonggyu was out of 7OC, they are now saying he might be back. Maybe? An updated official statement from the company claims he’s taking a rest “for health reasons.” This is at least more information than Hyun stans have gotten from the company, so I guess I should feel lucky? I mean, if this company is to be believed, at least I know that Jeonggyu is (probably) OK, and maybe will even return to 7OC in the future? But seriously, could they play with ROSe’s hearts any more than this? This simply wouldn’t happen if 7OC had a fanbase of 16 million, they wouldn’t jerk us around like this. And when companies pull this crap with fans, they risk alienating and losing the small but loyal following the group has worked so hard to build in the first place.
I’m replaying in my head all the changes to underrated groups that have taken place in the short two years I’ve been a K-pop fan, because what’s happening with 7OC isn’t unique. There’ve been mysterious and head-spinning lineup changes to 24K, B.I.G, Nature, ONF, and probably several others that I don’t know of for the very reasons I’m writing about: no information. And please don’t misunderstand me, I fully support a member leaving for their own benefit if it’s what they need to do, or members being added if it benefits the group. But the obfuscation and opacity around these changes is indefensible. The companies simply don’t seem to care, and I’m not just talking about the fans. What about the members themselves and the bonds they form with each other? These out-of-nowhere line-up changes reek of ivory tower decision-making, and I can only imagine the effect it has on team morale. Ultimately, it is as though the members and their bonds with each other and with the fans don’t even matter because the group is so unknown that no one should care anyway. Guess what? WE CARE!