Mamamoo demonstrate how to make a successful K-pop debut in 2014
Much ado has been made recently about the state of the idol industry. It seems that everyone and their grandmother has something to say online about girl groups and their talents (or lack thereof). With Soshi failing to live up to their glorious past, 2NE1’s future in trouble after revelations about Park Bom’s possible attempted drug smuggling and newer groups like AOA, Stellar and now Fiestar being criticised for their sexually provocative videos and performances, the future for female idols looks uncertain.
But no fear, Mamamoo are here – aiming to forge a new path for themselves in an unforgiving industry. Taking a different approach and pulling every string at their disposal, their label, WA Entertainment, is doing everything they can to create a successful girl group with more of an air of credibility. But will it work?
Their attempts are taking place amidst a sea-change in the wider Korean music industry where idols have been increasingly losing out in the digital singles chart to non-idol artists. Korean music consumers are choosing more and more to forgo the idol music in favour of RnB performers, ballad singers and mainstream hip hop artists.
Idols are also facing the brunt of a large backlash against their perceived lack of skills. MBC recently announced that it was cracking down on lipsyncing on its flagship music show Music Core and hardly a day goes by without netizens commenting on how bad so-and-so idol is at singing. As public interest declines, idols rely more and more on their fandoms. This has a larger impact on female groups who often lack the fandom required to support them financially without wider popularity.
All this begs the question: in this current climate why would anyone try to debut a new female idol group?
Well, to be fair, it’s not like there are no female artists doing well in Korea at the moment. Everything IU touches turns to gold, 15& are finally getting some chart recognition, SISTAR continue to do with well with both their group and solo projects and, up until Bom’s recent drug scandal, 2NE1 were receiving a lot of positive attention from the music-buying public.
Groups like Girl’s Day and AOA seem to be managing to use the outrage machine to build up careers that outspan the few weeks their ‘sexy’ costumes and dance moves get them in the headlines (proving exactly why that kind of approach is so popular in the first place) but more and more it’s the non-idol and the slightly unconventional idols finding the most success. It’s the ones with the power vocals, the ones who write or co-write their own songs and the ones who collaborate with non-idol artists who are consistently doing well in the charts right now.
In this environment, Mamamoo have everything going for them. Their company WA Entertainment is headed up by Kim Dohoon, a veritable powerhouse composer having written hits for CNBLUE, Sistar, K.Will, IU, Ailee, Wheesung and many more. As a result of this, despite being a fairly small company, they have some serious connections and before even officially debuting the group had charted twice in Gaon’s top 20 with two collaborations with successful artists – the first with Bumkey and the second with Wheesung and K.Will. The group flaunted their connections once again in the music video for their official debut, Mr Ambiguous, directed by Wheesung, with appearances once again from the director himself, Bumkey and K.Will and well as CNBLUE’s Jonghyun, Gummi and a rather hilarious turn from Baek Jiyoung (or is that Baek Z young?).
They also have the talents to back it up with at least three powerhouse vocals and a pretty-good-for-an-idol rapper all wrapped in a delightfully retro package. And their dance skills aren’t too shabby either. All this combines into a whole lot of stage presence for such a new group and they have consistently produced good live performances so far.
On the music side of things the group also have everything going for them with contributions from CEO Kim Dohoon, labelmates Geeks (who have already been involved with quite a few hit singles), and the vastly underrated Esna (who co-wrote Junggigo and Soyou’s Some as well as having her own music career), veteran lyricist Kim Eana and Wheesung. This backing from people with dozens of hit singles between them has so far paid off. Their debut single is currently sitting at number 19 on the digital chart which is quite impressive for new female idols and their album debuted at number 24. For a girl group not from a major label, this all adds up to a pretty impressive start.
It’s impossible to ever be certain of the future of any new artist, no matter how bright it may appear, but this debut is one of the savviest and most zeitgeist-y I’ve seen in a long while. With great vocals, catchy melodies, links to more ‘reputable’ non-idol artists and consistent live performances, Mamamoo seem to have everything a lot of Korean music consumers feel are missing from the current selection of girl groups. If they manages to fulfil the potential they’ve shown so far, they could well have a long and successful career ahead of them.