Something that is at the centre of being a K-Pop fan is wishing your favourite groups to be happy, healthy and to have a long career. However, with K-Pop becoming more commercially successful and an increasing number of bands debuting each year, the competitiveness of the industry is increasing rapidly. This may leave you thinking: Is my favourite band member replaceable?
Now, I’m not suggesting that if one day an agency decided that they were just going to get rid of a member for no reason there wouldn’t be uproar within the fandom. My inner fangirl self would even admit that if Minghao (the8) from Seventeen suddenly wasn’t in the line-up I would have A LOT to say about it. Even in a group of 13, each member brings some value. There’s no doubt that we all have our favourite members and to us each one is as important to the band as the other.
But it has been suggested that the “face” of K-Pop is changing and I started thinking about this when I heard about the new NCT comeback.
NCT’s story is what you would call somewhat unusual. When they first debuted in 2016, SM Entertainment introduced the group as having an unlimited number of members from across the globe. At the time, the concept was something that had never been seen before and at first was, admittedly, a bit confusing.
But now that the band has established themselves and has had 3 ‘sub-units’ (NCT U, NCT 127 and NCT Dream) it is clear what SM are trying to do. By not restricting NCT to a certain number of members, the possibilities for creative projects are endless. To a music enthusiast this is exciting, refreshing and ground-breaking. However, although this idea is innovative, it is also slightly worrying as by not having a set line-up of members, there is a risk of the artists being viewed as replaceable. NCT have recently introduced 3 new members; Kun, Lucas and Jungwoo into the mix which currently brings the bands tally up to 18 members (I bet meal times are chaotic!)
If NCT functioned as a typical K-Pop band, the number of members would be extortionate however the organisation of the group allows some members to not appear in every comeback. And as much as my inner optimist sees this concept as new and innovative, the cynic in me questions whether this also helps SM Entertainment prepare for the worst possible scenario. By never having a constant line-up of members, there would be less impact on the group if artists get injured or decide to leave.
The fact that some bands do lose members for various reasons is well known and has even been seen in SM Entertainment’s history with incidents such as EXO losing 3 members due to the claims of mistreatment. However, it could also be something very positive. Since debut NCT have suffered with illnesses and injuries, such as Jaemin’s prolonged absence, but have still managed to welcome the members back into the group once they are better. This has been something that other bands have struggled with, such as EXID and the absence of Solji due to chronic illness. So maybe the concept eases pressure on the band as they can concentrate on healing themselves which leads the band to be stronger and more resilient.
It is also worth noting that NCT are not the only band challenging the norms, as both IOI and WannaOne have been formed as groups with a limited ‘life-span’ from the idol-producing show Produce101. These shows deliberately create bands with a set disband date so the members can continue with their other careers afterward. This has allowed members from other parts of the industry, like acting, as well as idols to challenge themselves musically and then go on to promote with their individual groups. It is clear, however, that NCT have established a very individual concept that has interested audiences since their debut.
Maybe only time will tell if this more relaxed approach to member line-ups works and we’ll find out the answer to the question: Is the ‘super-band’ the future of K-Pop or just a very successful and new concept?