From left, BM, Jiwoo, Somin and J.Seph of K-pop quartet KARD / Courtesy of DSP Media
By Dong Sun-hwa
Back in the 1990s, it was not hard to spot mixed-gender groups in the Korean music scene, with acts like Roo’Ra, Koyote, Cool, S#arp and Space A stealing the show with their numerous hits. “Co-ed” groups did have a unique edge in terms of their team composition and sonic styles, but following the tremendous rise of all-male and all-female groups in the late 2000s, the number of acts has plummeted. Today, mixed-gender groups are something of a rarity in the K-pop universe.
KARD, consisting of two male members ― BM and J.Seph ― and two female members ― Somin and Jiwoo ― is one of the few such groups that is hitting the ground running these days. There are some rookie acts like CHECKMATE and Triple Seven (777), but all of them have yet to create a splash.
Mixed-gender group Triple 7 (777) / Courtesy of GH Entertainment
Critics point out that there is one big factor threatening the survival of most of these groups: the difficulty in forming a solid and loyal fan base, which is indispensable to the success of contemporary K-pop stars.
“It is tough for a mixed-gender group to attract more female fans than a boy group, or to garner more male followers than a girl group,” pop music critic Seo Jeong Min-gap told The Korea Times. “Most K-pop management companies also find it more demanding to take care of a co-ed group… Members of a K-pop band usually live together in a dormitory to foster teamwork, but that is not an option for a co-ed act.”
Critic Jung Min-jae agreed, adding that these aforementioned elements make it riskier for the labels to produce a group that includes both males and females. Jung also touched on another conundrum they face when devising strategies to promote their singers.
“The companies should decide which gender of fans to target, but the answer may not be easy to find,” he said. “Although mixed-gender groups can showcase different kinds of charm that make them stand out, they are unlikely to rise to stardom without having a specific target audience.”
Revival of co-ed groups?
K-pop trio SSAK3 / Courtesy of MBC
Last summer, the one-off mixed-gender group, SSAK3, which was formed on MBC’s reality show, “Hangout with Yoo,” sat atop multiple music streaming charts with its retro-tinged hit, “Summer Sea Again.” The success story of SSAK3 ― comprising comedian and the program’s host Yoo Jae-suk, singer Lee Hyo-ri and singer-actor Rain ― led a plethora of people to think that such groups might once again spring up to take over the music industry.
Critic Jung, however, says SSAK3 was merely an “exceptional case.”
“The success of SSAK3 did not imply the revival of mixed-gender groups,” he remarked. “It was a project group created through a popular variety show… The program featured the entire process of its debut and widely promoted its song. The power of a TV show ― not the power of music ― made it almost impossible for SSAK3 to be unsuccessful.”
K-pop group Koyote / Courtesy of KYT Entertainment
Jung also referred to Koyote ― a vocal group made up of Kim Jong-min, Shin Ji and Bbaek Ga, which debuted in 1998 ― to elaborate on his point.
“Koyote also put out a new single titled, ‘Oh my summer,’ last summer, but it hardly received any attention. Given this fact, I think that SSAK3’s victory has little to do with the revival of mixed-gender acts.”
Both Jung and Seo believe that the status quo of the groups will be maintained in the K-pop world at least for a while.
“K-pop record labels are not quite motivated yet to launch mixed-gender groups, because they have not witnessed many successful cases recently,” Seo noted. “As of now, there are no other conspicuous groups, except for KARD. To make it worse, the protracted COVID-19 pandemic is dealing a critical blow to many companies, deterring them from taking on fresh challenges.”
Jung said, “K-pop acts are distinctive from indie bands or hip-hop groups (in that they put greater emphasis on their fan bases.) Co-ed groups may be able to ride high in the future, if they focus on releasing easy-listening songs for the general public, but if they want to become K-pop idol groups, there might be some hurdles.”Internet Explorer Channel Network