Some people have said that Crayon Pop’s Bar Bar Bar blazed a path in an over-saturated girl group environment. I have a different opinion.
They seem to be desperately doing all they can when they wear helmets and do kicking dances, but not everything is black and white. Bar Bar Bar transcended the battle-ridden road among idols. No, one should say that ignore what’s considered to be the best method; if they had agreed to such methods, they would have danced something similar to Dal Shabet’s “Be Ambitious” or have lyrics like Girl’s Day’s “Female President”?
Crayon Pop is a girl group that is totally different from others and is much talked about. Who was the one who formed them? And what were his thoughts?
When I managed to schedule an interview with Crayon Pop’s management, I went to Chrome Entertainment’s office. It is situated in a basement in a building situated near one of the steep slopes in Gangnam. The moment I entered, I could see a row of eye-catching helmets. My mind couldn’t resist creating scenes of them wearing the helmets whenever they had an event. I told a staff who was walking past about my intentions, and he asked me to sit by a table. And at this time, there was already someone there, she was Crayon Pop’s Ellin. She was signing a mountain of CDs. The moment she saw me, she greeted me. Not a moment later, SoYul came by, and she too greeted me immediately, and we exchanged greetings. After about 5 minutes of awkwardness and silence, Representative Hwang finally appeared. He was younger than I expected, and looked just like any normal person.
(This interview was held on 13 August 2013 by fashion magazine, Grazia’s reporter. This interview was held while many controversies were going on, so this article might not answer everyone’s questions. However, people can use this report to understand Crayon Pop’s creation process, and their future plans and direction. Due to there being too much content and doesn’t fit the magazine, so most of the content will be organized in a question and answer format. In the following, • will be the reporter and » will be Representative Hwang Hyun Chang.
• How busy is Crayon Pop now?
» We have schedules almost every 30 minutes. However due to us not having the experience with so many events, we are in a state of chaos. Being on programs, doing interviews, live performances, fan-meetings, filming…even on music shows, there is a camera beside them. We are really busy,
• It seems live performances are the most common amongst your schedule?
» Currently, all the members find it very tiring, so we are reducing our live performance activities.
• But it seems the girls have gone to China and Japan for performances too?
» Many people tell me that we are very popular in the country, so why should we go overseas. However, Crayon Pop originally wasn’t solely aimed at the local market, so no matter how busy we are, we would still go for overseas events.
• So what sort of performances do you mainly do overseas?
» We do mini-concerts. For example, we had five mini-concerts in Japan. It was about 1.5 to 2 hours. This is an activity we have had since Crayon Pop’s rookie days. Also, we currently do not have any contracts with Japanese record companies, so we wish to promote ourselves through word of mouth, such that Japanese record companies would approach us if they are interested. Also, we were invited to the World Beer festival recently. We do have plans for concerts in Beijing and Shanghai at the end of the year.
• I knew the song Bar Bar Bar through a friend who shared it on Facebook. And I just got hooked. Honestly during that time, I wanted to see the producer instead of the members. I wanted to know what sort of thoughts the producer had to create such a concept. First, I would like to ask Representative Hwang, what were you doing prior to Crayon Pop?
» I was working at a photo studio. Such as business advertisements which require photography work. We didn’t do magazines, mainly advertisement photographs of clothes and electronic products.
• So did you originally really like girl groups?
» No, I was oblivious to it in the past. Not only idols, I didn’t even pay attention to the popular songs. But I’m the type of person who can’t help himself once I get engrossed in something. I really liked classical music in the past, so much so that I play classical music in the car. I really like the violin and cello. I went for classical music concerts only.
• So who’s your favorite classical musician?
» Jang Han Na. I can still remember her appearance from her performance. If we are talking about foreign musicians…there can only be one. I like Rostropovich.
• So why did you suddenly open an entertainment company?
» It was due to me seeing something on television one day…
• Who did you see on television…
» I saw T-ara (laughs)
• What was T-ara promoting then?
» Roly Poly. I felt the group had matched the dance and costumes to perfection. Because I wasn’t concerned about idol groups previously, so T-ara gave me a jolt. After this, I said to my friends at the photo studio “Should we try to create a girl group?”
Everyone was strongly against it. They said that even experienced management companies find it hard. What do you know about this trade? Just stay in your place. (laughs) At that time, my stubborn pride was stirred up. Everyone was advising me “What can you do just with yourself?”. I was totally disgruntled, and felt I wanted to create my own brand and make it big.
• But this isn’t an easy job, right?
» If I knew the structure of entertainment companies back then, I wouldn’t have begun. While I was in this business, there were many times when I questioned myself “Did I do the right choice entering this business?” For one, I do not know anyone who worked in entertainment companies, and secondly, no one could give me information or advice. I just bit my tongue and charged forward.
• That’s rather reckless.
» Before I entered the business, I thought that I just needed to create a group and bring them to the television studio for filming. I didn’t even think of not being able to get there. I was crushed. It totally deviated from my original blueprints. Also because of this, the first album depleted all the money. After this, I was enlightened. “So the entertainment world is such a place!”
But because of this, I was able to use a third person view to analyse Crayon Pop. I think it’s the same for anyone. If I did the same as the masses, no one would notice such a group. With thoughts like “We can’t keep this going”, “We might as well show our hand”, we created the “track suit” concept.
• Sorry, let’s move forward in time. Usually there are auditions to choose members, how were the present members found?
» I had my own standards. I wanted to find normal people who would look good no matter what sort of clothes are given. I don’t want kids with strong personalities. Also, if they were taller than 165cm, regardless of their singing abilities or beauty, I would not accept them. So there were many who came for the audition who came out saying “What the heck is this place”…
It’s because for these people, most of them were trained under the big corporations. They had been trained to go the sexy route, so to get them to do something else would be impossible. Also, those that just give the image of being too cute doesn’t work either. I want kids with the girl-next-door look, such that people would not find it tiresome after awhile; they are likable, and is irresistible on first look.
Of course, the people around me were worried. They felt that the members’ individual charms had to be strong, saying such a choice would be too plain. But to me, compared to the individual charm, the first thing is let the group’s flavor be the forefront. Because I personally feel that when people like a group, they themselves will focus on the individual member later.
• So who was the first member?
» It was SoYul. After that it was ChoA…? She’s Way’s twin right? At that time, their parents were strongly against it. They were very worried that both their daughters were entering a career that was like a gamble. Also, Way had a pretty good job prior to this. Way had a secretarial job at a shopping mall. You know that both of them are high school drop-outs, right? ChoA was auditioning after getting into Seoul Fine Arts university by taking the GED. I spent a lot of effort persuading their parents.
• Geummi is the oldest among the members, right?
» Meeting her was pretty interesting. While I was working at the photo studio, one of our customers told me that she knew of a younger sister who wanted to be a singer, and asked if I was interested as I was thinking of creating a girl group. However, she told me that the younger sister was currently working and was a hair consultant at a hair clinic.
I said we should meet first. Her dancing was really not bad. Because she could only practice dancing a bit every day after work, she was definitely no master. But looking at her passion, and I felt she had the ability to learn anything fast, I asked her if she wanted to charge forward together.
• What about Ellin?
» One of our staff members who is no longer here. He was in charge of dance choreography. And Ellin was someone he knew. You can say she parachuted in? (laughs) However, during that time, many in the company were against it. Because Ellin had never learned dancing, and had no basics. She also didn’t have any personal specialties. Also, her looks didn’t seem to match Crayon Pop’s feel.
• But compared to the other members, she seems to have a face that matches the majority of girl groups.
» Yes, that is right. But regardless of that, I hate such opposition. Ellin didn’t do anything wrong, so I hated how she was getting opposed.
• Representative’s personality seems to be like that. The moment people around you oppose you, it stirs up your fighting spirit, and makes you want to do it more.
» Yes. I’m indeed a bit like that. (laughs) But this might backfire too. I later told Ellin, “I have received a lot of opposition now. If you do not work hard, I will become a laughing stock. I’m gambling my pride on you. You must work hard.” And after this, she really practiced very hard.
I only believe in one thing—that a person’s ability will slowly grow. So to what level these kids will grow up to, no one knows, that’s why I shouldn’t reject them hastily. With that, she has grown a lot as we moved forward.
• So after the first album’s failure, due to not being able to get on music shows, you began guerrilla performances, produced a web comic, and even Crayon Pop TV, what were your thoughts as the producer?
» At that time, creativity wasn’t the basis for those activities. It just matches our company’s nature. To be more accurate, it matches the members and my nature. Even now, we also say it this way, if the song after Bar Bar Bar is a flop, we will treat it as a wonderful journey, shake hands and say how we have enjoyed each other’s company, and tear up the contract.
We will then carry on with our lives individually. We wouldn’t begrudge anybody else. Because no matter what, we have had these memories, “Let’s create happy memories together!”. We only have such a wish. And such a nature can be seen on the stage. Regardless of what others say, we should do it without regrets.
• Is it because this isn’t a big company, so you can do so?
» Yes. My principle is that the members have to like it before doing it. The costumes have to be something they want to wear. For example, track suits were the members’ own idea. I think by doing so, their expression on stage will be even better, and they can enjoy the stage. If the company forces stuff on them, then it can be awkward and burdensome to the members. So for the music or lyrics, or even the MV’s concept, were done together with the members in a meeting. And because of this, the members can happily enjoy it regardless of what they are doing.
• It seems your training system is very different from other companies.
» Yes, it is quite different. In a big company, there usually is a 3-5 year trainee life. But that doesn’t guarantee success either. But it seems everyone uses such a structured model to operate. Like for Crayon Pop’s Way, she went for recordings the day after she joined. She was on stage about a week after.
Of course, Way made many mistakes on stage. She was personally very worried. She asked me what she should do. I just told her, “Just smile. Enjoy it while smiling. That’s what you should be doing. Only then will the audience watching you become happy too”.
• To not be too concerned about the precision of the dance steps, that relaxed mood definitely can be seen on Crayon Pop’s stage, especially Bing Bing’s delinquent girls concept period.
» That time, a message I sent to one of the managers on Kakao Talk is floating on the internet. The manager had asked me what to do on stage, and wanted me to respond with instructions. I just replied “Chew gum”. “No matter what, it would have been better than previously. If there’s any problems, I would handle it. However, do not chew during the rehearsal, only chew while live” (laughs)
And we really did it. The PD was very unhappy with that initially, and the camera directors were quite unsure what to do. But because of that, the realtime search terms ranking rose, and people were praising me asking me how did I think of that.
• This is also the nature of the company right?
» From the standpoint of the members, they were in a scenario where they couldn’t even be on a music program and had managed to obtain the opportunity to be on stage. So in such a scenario, we had to spread our concept, and to be honest, it was very limited. If we didn’t stand out through our costumes, it had to be on our expressions. So if the members want to do something out of line, it isn’t really something the company agrees or disagrees.
Because, generally speaking, if the members want to do anything, they will need to get management to discuss it with the PD. This is the role of management. And after all the compromises and cuts, the original flavor is usually lost. Among all the management executives, do they not know? That’s impossible. Everyone knows that. But there are no guarantees. To put it simply, we are investors.
And because of that, our company doesn’t accept any investments. This is all from my own finances. Because for me to accept external investments, there will be instances like “Will wearing helmets work? I’ve been in investing for so long, and you tell me to let them wear helmets? Stop joking! Ya! Just get the kids to strip!”. If I were more direct, even if we were so poor that we had to go on the streets to distribute fliers, we would carry on doing what we want to do.
And we managed to endure it to now. It was really hard. (laughs)
• So while preparing for Dancing Queen, you had a reorganization of the staff members, was it due to your stance?
» That’s why, such as stylists, dance choreographer, all of them have their own styles, and they have their own responsibilities, so normally they can only give suggestions within a very limited scope.
Secondly, our Crayon Pop doesn’t have an ideal group. So regardless of style or songs, they have to be specially tailored to Crayon Pop. So we do not accept any songs written for current girl groups. We want it tailored from the beginning.
I am the type that micro-manages the creation with the composer, such as how the A part should be done, which part should have a catchy melody, the lyrics shouldn’t be beating about the bush, etc. When I listen to the music, I do not focus on the lyrics. This is because the lyrics being deep doesn’t mean it will get number one, right?
For example for Bar Bar Bar, I honestly wanted it to just go Bar Bar Bar from the beginning to the end, but it was impossible. I am still a bit regretful on that…(laugh) Also, our members do not particularly think if their looks stand out or not, or if they can sing well. Everyone knows their own standard, so we can only win using out image concept.
This also isn’t something anyone taught us. This was something we learnt after our 1st album. And because of that, we threw away the concept of a girl group.
• That is not about trying to be a girl group, but being a group of interesting kids?
» It might have to do with my previous work in advertising. I feel that “identity” is very important. Other girl groups too, their “identity” is also their “concept”. But for us, our “concept” changes bit by bit, but our “identity” has never changed.
• Then what is Crayon Pop’s “identity”?
» Happiness. The market for happiness will never topple. Have you seen religion topple? Religion will never be destroyed. Even if it will take a long time, but I strongly feel that people will accept it.
• The track suits and kicking choreography that were added in Dancing Queen, were those added as a finishing move after the 1st album’s failure? It seems like it had your input into it?
» Kicking isn’t something girl groups can do easily. But also because of them wearing tracksuits was it possible. The television PDs felt it was rather interesting, because they were receiving the same type of visuals everyday.
Let’s use me as an example. I do not really watch music shows, even now. Because most of the singers are very similar, and taking Dancing Queen’s rehearsal as an example, we received applause from the entire stage. Even the camera directors and other singers and their managers said the song was great, and were asking which group we were. Of course there were people who were unhappy, saying “is the stage a joke?”, “how can you go on stage wearing track suits and do kicks?”
And if we were shaken by those words, we would have gone for a more lady like image for the next track. But when we first wore the track suits, we did it with the determination that we wouldn’t take it off in the next 5 years. So even if people around us say anything, we would ignore it, and that is how it has been.
• But even with all the kudos given, it was still hard to get on programs, what did you think the reason was?
» If we want to talk about that, we would spend a few hours (It was during the Ilbe controversy period?). No, there wasn’t such a problem then. Firstly, there are many rookie comebacks. If I were the PD, I might not invite Crayon Pop on the show.
There are about 20 groups every week, and there are many groups from big companies. For groups like us Crayon Pop, there are so many to choose from, so we created Crayon Pop TV. We felt that just sighing at the corner was pointless. We decided let’s just try it out, it might be useful.
• The guerrilla performances also began around then, right?
» Yes, our guerrilla performances wasn’t done to create a topic of discussion. It was purely a decision that standing idle was of no help. We thought that if we went out, maybe more people will know us, so we went on the subways—Myeong-dong, Sillim stations, and performed on the streets.
That created the uncle fans , which is the current “Pop-Jhussi”. They are our elite members. They have watched these kids on the tarmac fighting with their own eyes. Some of them even have thoughts like “these kids are working so hard to survive, what am I doing?” Everyone have thoughts of helping them, and have till this day.
Even now, once our schedule is over, we would organize a hand-shake meeting. Even if we were rushing to the next events. This is our cardinal rule. Crayon pop TV will keep going on. Even if we become very famous, we would still hold hand-shake meetings, and guerrilla performances. Because this is our Crayon Pop “identity”.
• Next, I would like to ask about Bar Bar Bar. How was the concept thought of?
» This is related to Composer Kim Yoo Min’s personality. His personality doesn’t differ much from mine. He edits it many times. Even if the recording was done, he would edit it again. This song was originally written for a boy group. The composer was playing it with his friend on the guitar. I had coincidentally heard it, and asked for it.
And yet again, many were against it. And this stirred me up again. I believed in my ears. I felt that we could do a good job with this. We re-arranged the entire piece. I also enforced a not more than 3 minute rule. You might ask me why? I want to give those who hear it a sense of longing.
Some people said that if it didn’t hit 3 minutes, the song’s main body will be messy and bodiless. I felt it wasn’t a big deal. Even till the end, I insisted on it not being more than 3 minutes. My second request was the lyrics. I didn’t want there to be too many single words in the lyrics. For the chorus and bridge, I didn’t put in too much thought. The main point was to have a lot of repetitive and catchy melodies. For example, there is a lot of “jumping” in the lyrics.
• What was the members’ reaction?
» They were rather skeptical. (laughs) After recording the song, they all felt it was catchy, but they felt it lacked something. But at that time, the song was almost going to market, and we were almost finishing up the contract with the recording company. So I said, why don’t we have a public show case of it. Because if you just listen to the song, you might feel like switching it off halfway. No matter what, this song feels like you should watch it with the video.
After I said to show case the song, the recording company called me and said, “To show case the song publicly before it has gone on the market, is that acceptable?” At that time, I lied saying, “This version will be different from the released version” (laughs). I did tell them honestly later. Anyway, that day’s fancams resulted in a lot of discussion. If the song had been released first, there might not have been today’s Bar Bar Bar.
• When did you feel that Bar Bar Bar became viral?
» When we were shooting up the music charts. It was really something that we didn’t prepare for as the rankings kept going up. Honestly, I even thought up a document to be #1 on Melon, such as a blue print? That document is still on the computer, but before trying it out, the good reactions to it had exploded.
• What were the contents of that document?
» It was a bit like doing road shows like an election campaign. Such as going to the school fields and perform for 3 minutes during lunch time. And perform when students get off school, and to go around the whole country performing. But because the monsoon came, we couldn’t do that. And shortly after that, Bar Bar Bar’s ranking started shooting up the music charts. And around the time when we entered the top 10, I had a chat with the members.
That time, Way said, “Representative, if we carry on climbing up, what should we do?”, and I was thinking the same. It was hard to bear, and the kids and I were finding it a bit scary. Because if the momentum kept up, it wasn’t impossible to reach the top. No, even if we got second, it would have exceeded our expectations by a lot.
Not long after, when we entered the top 5, we even thought of escaping overseas, even now. Originally, it was for fun, but when we suddenly felt like we were going to make it, it felt like we should suppress it.
• Is it because you were afraid that after becoming a top star, it would become hard to perform happily on stage?
» Not long again, Crayon Pop TV’s Season 2, Episode 3 came out. Some of the messages said, “The members seem to be very aware of how others see them”, “Representative, you seem to have cut off a lot content”. And I really did so. You can see it in the video, such as their choice of words are more careful now.
• This is related to the Ilbe controversy, right?
» I never had any special attitude to Ilbe. Even while writing the apology statement. But I was still sentenced and sent to the gallows. But I really do not know anything about the left or right wing, and have any concern for it at all. I have no one around me to analyse the preferences of the masses, and no one to tell me how to promote. So who should I seek advice from? So, I could only go on the net to obtain information, and to promote us.
But among our country’s social websites, there are only a few discussion boards that specialize in discussing female groups, right? I only expressed my thanks to those who helped promote Crayon Pop, and just based on this, I was labeled as a “Ilbe bug”. From my standpoint, I cannot understand it at all. I also feel maligned, so I’m currently using the law to settle things.
From my stand point, I am grooming our members, so I am promoting them everywhere. The motive to using the site is different. I’m different from those who use Ilbe happily. I am a corporate’s CEO, and my situation was at the bottom of the valley, of course I needed to promote everywhere. I couldn’t care less what the site was about. I am concerned with the kids’ life, and have no time to think about other stuff.
• So although you have gotten immense popularity from Bar Bar Bar, but it can’t stop others from thinking how far Crayon Pop can go to? Because one of idols’ main activities is variety, and honestly, the charms of the members have not been showcased for the masses yet.
» I have said on a interview on Chosun that “Crayon Pop will not appear on variety shows”, or a similar explosive statement. (laughs) If you want to ask me why, it isn’t because of arrogance, but it’s because our kids do not have the ability to appear on variety. But we do have the ability to do variety and comedy on the dance stage.
Currently, the masses have the anticipation that our kids will be very funny if they appear on variety. But in actuality, we do not have that capability yet, and might have a detrimental effect. You might only be able to expect daily humor from us. (laughs) And sorry for being direct, I feel that a group should become popular because of the group.
If a member only garners attention for the group, doesn’t this imply that the group itself doesn’t have enough substance or recognition? And Crayon Pop’s substance and recognition should come from the dance stage.
• Not long ago, you signed a contract with Sony Music. May I ask what are your blue print plans like for the future?
» This should be public knowledge by the time the magazine is published, so I shall tell you. In the future, regardless of it being Korea or overseas, Crayon Pop plans to hold concerts, but honestly, our concerts’ production value isn’t high. You have seen the previous concert, right? Honestly, it was quite terrible.
But even so, the fans really like it. So for a music critic, it might be better not for you to come. Also, we plan to have free concerts; even if it were a concert held at the Tokyo Dome where you can have 55,000 people, it would be free.
• (Shocked) How can you do that?
» This is possible. Look for sponsors, sell merchandise. In Japan, there is an anti-Hallyu wave. Many feel that groups that do not get popular in Korea go there, and suck their money before running off. Who would like that? I thought of that under those considerations.
In Korea, didn’t Psy have about a free concert for a 100,000 strong audience at City Hall? This has never happened in Japan. The concept of free doesn’t exist in that country. In Japan, people still depend on album sales, and the management of copyright. Instead of saying it’s a result of culture, one might say it’s due to the closed system the music production entities have created. And even so, who would hate something free in this world?
• No, even so, you need to have income. Only then can the company and the group carry on operating, right? Just depending on sponsors and merchandise, can this work?
» What I want is the DB (database) of the audience who come for the free concert. I am not blindly holding a free concert. They will have to join our fansite as members to be able to watch it free.
I do plan to collect membership fees in the future. If this DB builds up, we can easily promote to our audience before an album release. The moment it’s released, it could be sold out. For the clothes we wear during the concert, it shouldn’t be hard to find sponsors. I have thought hard about it for very long. The initial audience numbers have to be large enough, before carrying it out.
Also sponsors may not be concerned if the audience paid for it. To them, all they want is a large turn out, that is what I believe.
• Will it be free in Korea too?
» I just said it, honestly, I think we aren’t the performing type of group, so to collect money is a joke. And our group’s goal is happiness. Can happiness be bought? This is unacceptable.
Also, if we only have a fee for Japan, and not for Korea, isn’t that despicable?
Although I do not know how the contracts are like for other companies, but because we do not have such things, that results in a lot of freedom. Without income, no money can be made is simple. We do not have the pressure to optimize for profit either.
I will definitely make it succeed. I hope this interview will be evidence for it. To summarize, performances will be free, merchandise is optional. Aren’t churches like that? Going to church for healing is free, donations are optional, but the church will never be destroyed.
• Are you religious?
» I go to church. (laughs)
• It seems you have prepared Crayon Pop’s new song. For Bar Bar Bar to be so popular, I’m curious if you have prepared anything special for the next piece?
» We didn’t expect Bar Bar Bar to become so popular, and had prepared the new song prior.
For the new song, from the view point of Bar Bar Bar, it does seem it came out a bit too early. Some have said that Bar Bar Bar is the peak, but we are confident with the new song. From our stand point, Bar Bar Bar is just a prelude. We had planned to do something even better after this, but of course that might not happen. (laughs)
• Then I shall ask the last question. How was Crayon Pop’s name thought up?
» The original name was Hurricane Pop. (laughs) “Pop” represents it being for the masses, and will create storms anywhere. But when we were having activities in Japan, they just happened to have tsunamis, so we decided not to use that name.
So we thought of using another name instead. We later changed it to “Crayon”. The members felt it was too cheesy. (laughs) Maybe it was too cute. I convinced them saying “although the name is very cute, we can just not be too cute, right?”
I personally like the name “Hurricane Pop” a lot. So if I were to make another group, that will be their name.