In the world of 3rd generation K-pop acts, there’s not a lot that can compare to the confusion brought about by the question, “Why did Lovelyz fail?” By the time Lovelyz debuted, there was so much hype about them being INFINITE’s sister group from Woollim Entertainment, balanced with a lot of backlash brought about by member Jisoo’s sex scandal. But all in all, exciting times!

The promising start

Suffice it to say the group benefited from all the publicity, as their debut single Candy Jelly Love, despite being (subjectively speaking) one of the cringy-est debut songs in K-pop history, peaked at #48 in the Gaon singles chart. The girls continued their journey to a breakthrough with Hi and it didn’t even take long for them to finally get that breakthrough hit with Ah-choo, which sold more than 1.1 million units and pushed the group into the country’s collective consciousness.

As for Jisoo’s scandal, things turned out okay for everyone, especially Jisoo in the end. It started in a rather scandalous fashion, with an issue even Hollywood A-listers may have a difficult time surviving, more thriving. Right after Lovelyz’s debut, an SNS account posted pictures of her and Jisoo, claiming that Jisoo is bisexual and she was her girlfriend. This account went further by stating that Jisoo sexually and physically abused her. Things went wild as after days later, a number of other anonymous accounts made their presences felt, claiming that they (all of them are supposedly women) too were once romantically involved with the soon-to-debut girl group member. Woollim vehemently denied these claims and stood by their talent’s moral uprightness, issuing the standard Korean entertainment company statement that they will look into the matter further and pursue legal action when it is found out that there is malice behind these issues affecting their artist.

Jisoo was rather well-loved in the company and at the height of the scandal, Jisoo tried to resign from the group and the company altogether not once, not twice, but three times, all of which were rejected by Woollim, which continued to push the group while pretty much ignoring that ginormous elephant in the room. Poor girl had to be hospitalized with the emotional stress from the issue taking a toll on her mental and physical well-being.   It wasn’t until the following year, nine months after the initial stages of the scandal broke out and more than a year after the group debuted that it was found out that the “girl” behind the SNS that pioneered it all was not a girl, but a middle-aged man who concocted stories and doctored pictures he nicked from porn sites to besmirch Jisoo.

So, all’s well that ends well, right? It only took three releases for the group to break through the tough K-music market. But somehow, after Ah-Choo, things slowly went awry people wondered if Ah-choo was already Lovelyz’s peak and if that peak happened too soon in the group’s career. 

A sudden but inevitable rivalry

Then, for some reason, a series of unfortunate events unfolded for Woollim’s first girl group. After scoring another hit with Destiny, the group kept releasing songs that are above average at best and bland and boring at worst. WoW!, R U Ready?, Now, We, Twinkle, That Day, Wag-Zak, Lost N Found, Beautiful Days – all released one after another just did not do the group any favors. These songs may be on every Lovelinus’ playlist, but for casual k-pop listeners, any of these songs would not ring any bells. 

Around this time period, Oh My Girl, a group that debuted only five months behind Lovelyz, has also been building their discography with songs like Coloring Book, Secret Garden, Banana Allergy Monkey (featuring the group’s first sub-unit, Oh My Girl Banhana), Remember Me, The Fifth Season (SSFWL), and Bungee (Fall in Love).  The dynamic between these two groups is based on friendly competition, the way Fin.KL and SES, 2NE1 vs Wonder Girls vs SNSD, Beast vs Infinite vs B1A4, and Apink vs GFriend at the height of their “rivalry”. Both adapting the bright, girl-next-door concepts to perfection, check. Both supported by mid-sized entertainment agencies with some degree of success, check. However, what distinguishes the two groups from each other is while both stuck to their core concepts, girly for Lovelyz and dream-like fantasy for OMG, the latter took measures to tweak the songs such that they are distinguishable from each other. 

Coloring Book is, fast-paced as a song and, as expected, has a very colorful music video featuring the girls splashing paint on each other in a room floating in the sky (watch the music video if you don’t believe this description). Secret Garden is a wistful ballad with the trademark OMG music video featuring fantastic animals suspended in mid-air. Banana Allergy Monkey is the group’s attempt at the Orange Caramel market, so you get the picture of how silly the song and music video are.   Remember Me caught the attention of music reactors for its unusual format as it doesn’t seem to have a chorus. SSFWL harkens to the wistfulness of Secret Garden, while Bungee is as playful as the group’s previous releases like Coloring Book, Liar Liar, and their debut song Cupid. Meanwhile, all Lovelyz releases were the same mid-tempo songs about young love with music videos that utilize a pastel blush haze filter. When all of a group’s videos feature everything in sky blue, cyan, peach, seafoam green, and baby pink, things get pretty boring quickly. 

When the golden crown turned out to be plastic? 

And then, Queendom happened, which furthered the weird relationship between Lovelyz and Oh My Girl. Queendom was that show that fans saw will elevate the profiles of all participating groups, not just the winner and both OMG and Lovelyz joined the fun. Hosted by Mnet, check. Groups to receive the notorious Mnet evil edit, check, lots of special performances and stages, check. And when a challenge was given to the groups to interpret each other’s songs, the two groups happened to get assigned to each other. 

But while Oh My Girl bravely faced the assignment and promised to perform Lovelyz’s Destiny, Lovelyz backed out, citing that OMG’s girl next door concept is too close to theirs, so it would not present them with a real challenge as they wish to display other sides of themselves in the competition. Since they won a previous challenge that allowed them to choose another song from any group (even those performed by groups outside the competition), they respectfully declined the chance to interpret an OMG song and instead opted to do their version of Brown Eyed GirlsSixth Sense

This did not sit well with people. AT ALL. 

  1. The arrogance! How rude it was for Lovelyz to ride a high horse and claim their superiority over a group they are basically on the same level with by refusing to sing that other group’s song. Who do they think they are? Isn’t that the group that debuted with a bisexual member? 
  2. Why are they biting the hand that feeds them? The group basically relied on the bright and girly concept throughout their careers so far, so what makes them think that they’re already way above that concept? That’s some ungrateful behavior, thinking the sweet and innocent concept of Oh My Girl is so beneath them.
  3. Brown Eyes Girls? Sixth Sense? Are they typing their hand on career suicide? Do these girls think they can successfully embody the fierceness of Narsha and Gain? Is Lovelyz’s rapper as good as Miryo? Can their vocalists even be half as good as JeA? How are they supposed to be that representative fierce unapologetic girls of K-pop when Woollim has imprisoned them in a world of pastels, rainbows, and unicorns? 

Lovelyz’s defenders were quick to point out that:

  1. They are not arrogant. On the contrary, they opt to not sing Oh My Girl’s song because they know precisely that when it comes to executing the bright and sweet image, their “rival” group is way better and that they will pale in comparison. Besides, this is a contest and if there’s an option that presents them with a better chance of surviving, then who are they to refuse?
  2. Queendom can be a vehicle for the group to present itself in a different light. That the girls have gotten stuck in their perfect girly dreamworld throughout their careers so far has also earned them a fair share of haters and people who find them just plain boring, so why shouldn’t they use Queendom as a platform to showcase their versatility and ability to execute concepts that may allow them to flourish as confident artists?
  3. They are not trying to copy BEG. They should be presenting a stronger image for Lovelyz but still infuse their performance with that distinct Lovelyz brand of girl-next-door dreaminess. 

Oh, if only it were that easy. Alas, the stars may have permanently misaligned when it comes to the group in their participation in Queendom. Lovelyz’s performance of Sixth Sense was watered down to ensure its airing on Mnet. It was said that there were some portions of their original stage that was too risque to be even aired on the Korean cable TV. So, it was Mnet that actually tweaked some portions of the performance, which in turn resulted in what looks like Lovelyz not really getting into the concept and presenting a half-hearted performance instead. 

Thus, it seemed that because of factor(s) beyond their control (Mnet “sabotaging” their performance), haters claimed that their points 2 and 3 became justified. Lovelyz just couldn’t hack a fierce concept and would have been better had they just stuck to their girly concept. People concluded that they got a bit too ambitious in executing a fierce concept, they were in way over their heads when they thought they could wing a BEG stage just like that (NOBODY, not even legendary groups like SNSD, 2NE1, or Wonder Girls can execute a BEG concept properly), and that they bit more they could chew.

To hammer the final nail to Lovelyz’s coffin, Oh My Girl performed one of their signature songs,  Destiny, to resounding success, eventually becoming one of Queendom Season 1’s most watched and iconic stages. What Oh My Girl did was turn the cosmic but still girly Destiny ala Lovelyz into a cosmic but eerie, historical, etheral, and full on dramatic Destiny ala Oh My Girl. Lovelyz’s song was, in real estate terminology, “flipped” in such a drastic manner that if you are just a casual music fan who has never heard of the original Lovelyz version, you’d think that the song is really some traditional folk song performed by women in hanboks in the 19th century. It even prompted AOA’s Seolhyun to react while watching the performance with, “Is that song really sad,” alluding to Lovelyz’s rather bright approach to an actual sad song, if we’re just talking about the lyrics. 

And in all their barefoot glory, Oh My Girl has upset Lovelyz again. But to be fair to Lovelyz, they loved OMG’s version of their song, threw tons of praise to the performance, and said they felt “honored” and “appreciated” OMG’s version a lot.  But then, the haters brought up the earlier point again, saying that actually, both groups can “flip” each other’s songs successfully, so it raises the question of why Lovelyz had to be so rude to OMG by refusing to remake their song and opted to do an overly ambitious Brown Eyed Girls remake, which ended up with the group falling flat on their faces. Had they been humbler, they might have given Remember Me or Closer the Lovelyz treatment, just like Oh My Girl giving Destiny the Windy Day treatment. 

The challenge ended up with Oh My Girl getting first place and Lovelyz getting 4th place, only a few points ahead of Park Bom and last place (G)-IDLE. Bu that didn’t end there. The amount of Lovelyz hater went on full throttle as “fans” of the show demanded that the arrogant group be given 6th place. The hate Lovelyz got became shocking when a petition was sent to the Blue House demanding for their disbandment. You might think, “What? Over a concept mistake? Isn’t this an overreaction?”” Well, you’re not alone in thinking that.

The petition did not fall through as there were less than 200,000 people who signed the petition, but suffice it to say the group’s disbandment may not really have been the primary objective of the original petitioners. Obviously, the seed of the idea that the group was hated was already planted in the public’s consciousness, so much so that when something bad does happen to the group afterwards, people would instantly react that they’re not really surprised. It’s pretty much the origin story of every public figure that’s hated/cancelled for the flimsiest of reasons.

The “what were they thinking” comeback and Mijoo’s popularity explosion

 With the unexplained hate the group somehow collected during and immediately after the airing of Queendom (the group ended up 4th overall, but it’s not like the contestants that ranked after them, namely AOA and Park Bom, had Blue House petitions demanding for their banishment from the Korean music industry), the company may have deemed that the group should lie low for a bit andf let the public “hate” subsude befire they stage a comeback. Thus, the group was not able to capitalize on the hype the show provided, which in hindsight they should have, because despite that Sixth Sense enable and the suceeding events, they still ended up 4th, which was higher than two other acts and may mean that there were still more people rooting for them than those wanting them to disband or disappear from the music biz altogether. 

As the winner of the show, MAMAMOO hit the ground running by staging a comeback days after the show’s last episode. Runners-up Oh My Girl staged a Japanese comeback in January the next year and waited only for close to five months to stage their comeback, and what a comeback indeed as they finally got their breakthrough hit with Nonstop. Lovelyz sat out most of 2020 maybe because of the increased hate and the pandemic and only came back on September with Obliviate from the EP Unforgettable

While any Lovelyz comeback was welcome to Lovelinus and even to casual K-pop fans by this time, what confused the fandom was a concept change for the group. The music video and of Obliviate and the concept photos of the Unforgettable EP showing a more sophisticated, darker,  and mature image reminiscent of latter CLC and Cosmic Girls. Before you say, “Isn’t it time for the group to mature in their concept,” here’s my reply to you “Wasn’t the group severely criticized because of their overly ambitious transition to a darker concept in Queendom?” 

Seriously, why would you go ahead with a move that was a leading cause of people hating on you the last time? Moreover, there was no transition from the last comeback to this current dark visual concept. Beautiful Days, the last song they released prior to their Queendom participation did introduce us to a more mature spound and less cutesy lyrics and rhythms, but it was still given the pastel Lovelyz treatment – from the art direction of the Once Upon a Time EP to the Beautiful Days treatment. Were we meant to understand that the Sixth Sense stage was the transition Woollim provided for everyone to accept the impending graduation of Lovelyz to a mature concept? Why did it feel like Woollim got selective amnesia with what that “attempt” at a concept change result in? Truly, a headscratch moment in K-pop history. 

From Kei and Friends to Mijoo and Friends?  

From the moment Lovelyz debuted, that member who just somehow was effortlessly popular and set herself a bit separate from the other members was Kei. In the now-infamous MLBPARK annual poll of 2016, Kei found herself ranked 2nd for the Bullpen Goddess (Bulldess), beaten only by Olympic skating goddess Kim Yuna. The annual poll is a poll that asks the most basic question for men: Who is the ideal woman for you. Apparently, only after a year since the group debuted, Kei already got the attention of Korean men since she is basically the living ideal girl for them. Kei is small, thin, is an aegyo machine, cute, possess a milky white complexion, has an adorable eye smile, obedient, young, innocent, virginal, neotenic and unquestionably of pure Northeast Asian ancestry. Her amazing vocal talents and entertainment personality charms should also work for her. 

All was well and status quo in the Lovelyz world until circa 2018, when Mijoo broke free from her own shadow and somehow came undone. For their Sanctuary comeback in late 2018, Mijoo would catch the attention of photographers and fans stationed in TV station entrances and parking lots, as the arriving groups would usually form their lines, greet the public and pose for “firing squad” photos of them in a single file, bowing and waving at the shutterbugs. Then, out of the blue, after the prerequisite single file photo, Mijoo, usually wearing some attention-grabbing wide-brimmed hat and eyeglasses would break out of the line and strike poses like she’s in a magazine photoshoot. At the starter, you can see the members having a laugh at it, but then, even casual onlookers can sense that maybe there’s a tinge of “oh, here she goes again” when Mijoo suddenly breaks into her fashion model persona. Alas, soon enough, you can see in the viral videos and YouTube compilations that the fotogs and the fans were already anticipating her arrival and her ensuing antics such much that they wait for her to be alone or come in last so that they can take pictures of her and her alone. 

Mijoo used this newfound attention to her benefit, allowing her to get numerous variety show appearances. As with what has happened to Momoland’s Joo-E and Seventeen’s Seungkwan, Mijoo carved for herself a very lucrative career on TV as one of the most sought-after a variety show personalities. Alas, casual fans who knew her post-2018 would be surprised to know that she is an idol, much more a member of an actively promoting girl group. Her individual popularity may have caused a noticeable increase in Lovelyz’s profile, but it would be foolish to say that this popularity surge did not affect the other members at all, especially when the group started to be known as “Mijoo and friends.”

Alas, the proverbial excrement hit the fan when all except one member of the group opted to not renew their contracts with Woollim Entertainment. All seven members who have since signed with other entertainment companies have stated that they are still amenable to working with Woollim in the future as members of Lovelyz, but with Mijoo’s often-packed calendar and the fact that only Sujeong (FKA Baby Soul) is still with Woollim, realistically speaking, it would take tremendous effort for Lovelyz to stage activities as a group. To think that it took five years for Girls’ Generation to return as a complete group when you are only dealing with 13 entities (8 individuals + SM Entertainment + Tiffany’s Korean agency + Tiffany’s international agency + Sooyoung’s agency + Seohyun’s agency)! The efforts it would take to get a consensus out of sixteen entities (eight individuals plus eight agencies that represent them individually) can only be described as collosal. But there’s comfort in knowing that there isn’t a lot of bad blood among the girls. Here’s hoping it won’t take so long for Lovelinus’ wishes of a full group comeback to come true.     

Featured Image: Lovelyz Official Twitter