Pop girl groups have dominated the music industry in South Korea for several decades. Blackpink, composed of Jisoo, Jenny, Lisa, and Rosè, broke onto the scene in 2016 with “Whistle”–their first number-one hit–followed by “Boombayah” and “Playing With Fire”. In June of 2017 they released “As If It’s Your Last”. The video for it reached 11 million views in the first 17 hours of its release; breaking records and further cementing them as a formidable group that was anything but a “rookie” group.
On June 15th 2018, after nearly a solid month of teasers, they dropped their debut EP, Square Up. Their video for “DDU-DU DDU-DU” broke records once again by garnering an astounding 50 million views within 2 days of its release. But we’re only seeing what their management group wants us to. Behind the scenes of k-pop there’s a much darker side full of jealousy, hatred, sabotage, and self-destruction.
White: Melody of Death is a 2011 South Korean horror film by Kim Gok and Kim Sun that follows the group Pink Dolls–a rookie girl group consisting of Je-ni (the main vocalist), A-rang (the youngest/prettiest), Shin-Ji (main dancer/lead rapper), and Eun-ju (the former backup dancer and now the leader/oldest member of the group). After losing a show-case their manager, whom they lovingly refer to as Boss, lets them know they’re moving into a new studio-space with hopes of recording a hit that will boost their ranking. Eun-ju finds a VHS tape while cleaning called “White”.
Upon watching, she realizes it’s a MV for an unreleased song. Their manager decides to re-work it and make it their next single. They perform the song and become an overnight success. But as the song only has one primary singer, the Pink Dolls must follow suit. Naturally, this incites the girls to turn on each other. The inherent evil of “White” permeates the group resulting in increasingly disturbing occurrences, leading to a visceral finale. What the film does best is utilize filmic horror conventions as a means of addressing the near-unobtainable standards that have been set for women–especially in the South Korean entertainment industry. The members of Pink Dolls all represent essential roles in a girl group, but these skills cover personal flaws. Je-ni is the raw talent, but she’s incredibly doubtful of her own skillset which causes her to lash out at others. A-rang is the youngest which leads to a complete dependance on cosmetics and corrective surgery to maintain her youth. Shin-ji is the best dancer but has no singing talent whatsoever–thus leaving her as the rapper. Lastly, Eun-ju is not only the oldest and most experienced but also the most deceptively ambitious.
Their success to American audiences probably seems exaggerated or unrealistic, but the idol industry in South Korea has no true U.S. equivalent. Music labels are owned by entertainment groups–meaning every aspect from clothing, cosmetics, product placements, and all social media is solely handled/filtered by the company. Idols have very little control of their identity and public image, which isn’t necessarily a negative in all cases. Korean pop requires almost a complete stylistic rebranding with every major release in order to keep the image fresh and to understand which versions of the members trend respectively. The artists themselves aren’t jaded, they know exactly what kind of sacrifices needed to become successful in their industry.
The nature of competition is well represented in White, as idols start out as “rookies” and are essentially groomed until a group is developed, and even when fully established, members can be modified. The process isn’t glamorous, and it makes the idea of attaining/maintaining success as the only option. As it’s such a commodity, even a completely stylized group can be one hit wonders. Which is why the importance of showcases are that constantly pit groups against each other
This is essentially what ends up happening to the other members of Pink Dolls. Much like the curse in this White, this cycle also doesn’t stop in real life. The most successful group can be one-up’d overnight and forgotten about immediately. The most compelling aspect of “White” is that after the total destruction of the group, the song remains. The evil was created out of human ambition and cyclically will continue as there will never be a time where ambition isn’t prevalent. We are responsible, and our evil will exist longer than we ever will.