“Since there are five people, the transformation is clearer and the response is also good. HYBE, please make the right decision. Is the agency even doing its job? Are you upset because there are a lot who support 5 members?”
This is part of the opinions posted on LE SSERAFIM feed of the HYBE fan community Weverse on May 23rd. It shows an aspect of the “LE SSERAFIM’s black hole” that HYBE seems to have missed. Kim Ga-ram (17), a member of the new girl group LE SSERAFIM of its affiliated label Source Music, suspended her activities on May 20th due to controversy over school violence. The group continues its activities with only five people appearing on music shows. However, SNS and Weverse updates such as photos, videos, and schedule information have all been suspended. The first girl group that HYBE worked hard on, with Chairman Bang Si-hyuk participating in the production himself, faced a severe crisis 18 days after its debut.
Controversy over Kim Ga-ram’s school violence was raised even before her debut. After Kim Ga-ram’s face was revealed on April 5th, a post exposing her was posted immediately on an online community, but her debut (on May 2nd) still proceeded as scheduled. Eventually, on May 19th, the situation ended up in an uncontrollable phase when victim A released a document showing the results of the School Violence Countermeasure Committee through her law representatives. Source Music has declared and apologized for Kim Ga-ram’s suspension of activities, but maintains its position that Kim Ga-ram is also a victim of school violence. The agency argued that the conflict was caused by A taking photo of a friend who was changing her clothes at school and posting it on social media.
The victim appealed earlier, saying, “After I was pointed out as the author of the disclosure article that came out after Kim Ga-ram’s debut was confirmed, I started to suffer from a second offense.” She also said, “If Kim Ga-ram continues to act as a victim, our side will also consider releasing the full text of the School Violence Committee’s results and the messages containing their abusive language sent to call out the victim.” On May 23rd, a representative at Daeryun, a law firm representing A, said, “We are discussing a solution with HYBE, so we have no further position to reveal yet.” It remains to be seen how the conflicting claims of both sides can be resolved.
An unusual fandom, “Please make it a 5-member group”
But this may not be the ‘real problem’ of HYBE. Rather, the response from LE SSERAFIM fandom, which has just begun to form, is unusual. Whatever the group does, the “Kim Ga-ram issue” is receiving all the spotlight. On LE SSERAFIM’s Weverse community, where about 280,000 people have subscribed, dozens of posts are uploaded every day, asking for “a five-member LE SSERAFIM” and protesting against HYBE’s response. In particular, there are many complaints from “experienced members” fans such as Sakura and Kim Chae-won. This is because their idols are suffering damage. There are still some opinions that the fandom should protect all members in trouble, but it is a minority.
K-pop is a genre where the fandom plays a big role. New groups grow on the passion and consumption of their fans. Fans are enthusiastic about producing second and third-round content, never reluctant to promote their favorite artists. However, their extraordinary sense of ownership sometimes acts as scary pressure. In addition to presenting their opinions on music and visuals, they are also interested in input budgets and management methods. Some fans are boycotting BTS‘s 9th-anniversary album “Proof,” which is scheduled to be released next month, after it was revealed that singer Jung Bobby, who is on trial for illegal filming and assault on women, joined the album production process.
As such, HYBE’s solution regarding LE SSERAFIM is bound to be complicated. In the management contract relationship, the agency is obligated to solve and protect the artist if there is a problem. Furthermore, Kim Ga-ram is still a minor, so a more cautious approach is needed. In the end, there are not many cards that HYBE can use other than “holding out” and “silence.” According to the industry insider, HYBE is not currently considering replacing any group members or switching to a five-member group.
A complacent response leads to a bigger controversy
Some are criticizing that HYBE has intentionally raised this controversy. Earlier, there were opinions that the revealing concept of LE SSERAFIM was not suitable for a group with so many underage members. However, HYBE and Source Music did not respond to this. In addition, as it was confirmed that the bullied victim had already sent her evidence of school violence to HYBE on the 20th of last month, before Kim Ga-ram’s debut, the company said it was busy preparing the album, burying a problem that should have been solved first.
An industry insider said, “The agency’s repeated attitude of not accepting criticism seems to have accumulated complaints from fandom,” adding, “Fans these days are especially sensitive to school violence, gender issues, and sexual violence crimes, so they should be really careful.” The insider also added, “It will be difficult to find a sharp response beyond what HYBE is doing now.”