“Manager Choi. Please look after the new recruits. I’m going over to JA for a bit.”
Narim stood up from the sofa. Although the sofa was advertised as being ergonomic, she was still stiff after sitting on it for a whole day. She wondered if she was getting old as she remembered that she was completely fine after sleeping for a short time on a hard floor when she was still young.
Narim was reminded of her old days. She smiled while looking at the schedules of various artists on her desk. She had once dreamed of becoming a singer. When she was asked ‘won’t you try to become a singer’ on the streets, she thought that her dream was coming true. However, it was just a scam and she only lost money in the name of various fees and whatnot. Her family went into an uproar, and when her father told her to just find a good man and get married, she became angry and left the house. She came up to Seoul and lived on the streets despite being a woman and looked for workplaces.
After ups and downs, she managed to get a job in a TV station cafeteria. At first, the old ladies there told her that the job wasn’t for a young woman like her and that she would soon give up. However, she endured in order to earn money. She moved into a shabby house in the suburbs with her first salary. After she found a place to rest, she started studying again in order to become a singer. She went to practical music academies to take vocal lessons as well as to learn instruments. It was hard for her to do that alongside her job at the cafeteria, but she firmly believed that it was a necessary step to achieve her dream and endured through it.
She spent a year like that. By then, she had gotten closer to the ladies at the cafeteria. The ladies there cheered for her dream and sometimes cooked some food that was known to be good for the vocal cords. That affection was what supported Narim throughout her endeavour.
However, she always fell short of passing the auditions she took during that year. She won prizes in regional competitions, but that wasn’t enough.
To prove her skills properly, she had to display her skills in a large-scale competition. To do that, she had to aim to get prizes in the Gangbyeon Pop Festival or the College Pop Festival. However, she wasn’t qualified to participate in either of them. She had to belong to a college in order to participate in those two competitions, and colleges were unfamiliar places for her who went straight into society after high school.
Another half a year had passed and Narim had yet to pass an audition. Even new entertainment companies did not accept her. She had thought about how hard it was to release an album under her name. However, she still prepared for her next audition thinking that effort will not betray her. During another audition though, she came across the truth.
-Miss Narim. Your singing is decent. I can tell that you’re a professional, but have a look at the TV. Look at how pretty, innocent and refined those girls are. Their singing is crisp and clear as well. Have you seen Koreana in the 88 Olympics recently? If your voice had that much charm, we wouldn’t care about your looks but… that’s not the case with you. How about a duet rather than a solo artist? I think you’ll do better if your face is hidden a little.
At that moment, it dawned on Narim that her way of thinking that ‘a singer must be good at singing alone’ was wrong. She had taken it too easy. On her way out, she was given an offer for a trot singer, but Narim shook her head. It wasn’t that she felt prejudiced. Even if she was the CEO, she would prefer someone with both the skills and the looks, not just one of the two. If she wanted to move the hearts of the people, she would have to have some overwhelming singing skills, but she did not even when she evaluated herself.
In the 90s, Narim’s dreams had changed. She no longer wished to become a singer herself but someone who managed those singers. It wasn’t that she was projecting her dreams onto other people. She just decided to go with the flow of the era.
If society wanted multitalented people so much, she would give them singers, nay, entertainers that could do anything. Narim did not consider the comments she heard during her auditions as insults. She found a path the moment she realized that successful people in the cultural business were not specialists but generalists.
Now that she had an objective, she started moving towards it. First, she looked for similar cases in other countries. The two top countries at the forefront of cultural business, especially music, were the US and Japan. When she studied cases from those two countries, she found out that the boundaries between different forms of entertainment were getting blurred. She saw that American sports stars and Japanese singers were rising to prominence in other fields such as movies, dramas and commercials in their respective countries. Thinking that cultural trend was something that just repeated itself, Narim predicted that the same thing would happen in Korea as well.
Around that time, Narim saw something revolutionary on TV. Seo Taiji & Boys, an iconic figure that brought pop music’s main target audience of 20s and 30s down to the teens. Narim witnessed for herself what kind of power the trendsetters possessed. Although it was an unfamiliar genre of music, their performance, the lyrics of their songs moved the younger generation. Their impact surpassed all imagination. Many people related to TV broadcasting looked down on the consumer power of teens, but they had to change their mind after seeing Seo Taiji & Boys.
Teens consumed an enormous amount of money through the medium that was their parents. When the youths became passionate about something, their parents’ generation started focusing on Seo Taiji as well, and as a result, Seo Taiji had become an icon of culture.
Watching all this happen, Narim realized that by only stealing the hearts of the youths in their teens and twenties would she lead pop culture.
Then, she wondered what she should show to the public.
Narim believed that it had to be people around the consumer’s age. It was obvious that people’s skills got better as they aged, but if they were too old, the youths would not be able to project themselves onto the stars.
Icons were supposed to be the manifestation of what people wished to be. It was about watching someone of their own age that sang and danced well on top of being pretty. Only that would stimulate their desires. In other words, it was about making literal idols.
Narim started looking for investors with her idea and the money she had saved up during the past few years. She was well aware that the first mover would be the winner since everyone was likely to be thinking the same thing.
After visiting all sorts of places, Narim was able to meet a producer of a music program thanks to the help of one of the ladies at the cafeteria, and through him, someone who was working in management business. That was head manager Choi.
From that day onwards, head manager Choi and Narim started looking for aspiring singers that were good-looking. They gathered those that just lacked a little talent in singing and taught them. They ate ramyun in a shabby villa and watched star singers on TV to get their resolve together. Narim didn’t even wish for singing skills on the level of being able to digest live singing. After all, live stages could be handled with lip syncing and pre-recording. Instead, she focused on things other than singing, like someone who’s good at English, or at Japanese, or at cooking, or someone who was humorous. She picked characters that could do things other than just singing.
Eventually, she was able to get them to stand on a public TV stage thanks to some help from a music program producer. At first, the reactions were cold. After all, from the perspective of common sense from back then, the group was just ‘a bunch of kids dancing along some weird music that’s neither rock nor ballad’. However, another entertainment company came out with a band of similar youths.
Two similar girl bands of 5 people.
After seeing that there was a strange rivalry between the group of fans of these two bands, Narim thought that this was an opportunity. With that, she went to the rival entertainment group and suggested to them to bring the rivalry to the surface. As the other party seemed to have the same thought process, the plan was set without a hitch. That entertainment company was none other than Yellow Star, one of the other current big 3.
After that, things started snowballing by themselves. The fans showed an overwhelming amount of action for the artists they liked. They agreed upon a color that represented their artists and wore such colors to the concerts, and it somehow became something like a ceremony for the fans. The girl band from Yellow Star was represented by yellow, while NL company’s girl band went with blue.
The group of fans started growing from just a group of teens and eventually, the word ‘idols’ was used to refer to these bands on TV programs and the group of fans became fandoms in the late 90s. They succeeded, no, did even better than the predecessors in the 80s that led ‘oppa brigades’.
Narim immediately prepared for a followup group. Although she wasn’t able to invest much in her first idol group, the second was different. She held official auditions to pick the youths that were good at both singing and dancing and also looked for other traits as well. This time, she also prepared some humanities classes for them as well. To become a literal ‘idol’, they couldn’t be lacking in any area.
Time passed and in the early 2000s, the 3 big entertainment companies solidified their positions, and the fans reached a point where they could directly support their idols. Now, it was no longer the singers that had name value, but the companies themselves.
Then came the final stage. Narim poured everything she had earned and learned in the past decade into TTO. A five person boy band. She selected not only aspiring singers but also aspiring actors and grouped them together. Then she taught them harshly. She had the aspiring actor focus on singing and the aspiring singer practice acting.
An all-capable entertainer. Coincidentally, TV programs were also shifting from 1-man talk shows to comedic action shows, and TTO became a certified cheque for TV programs with their excellent physical capabilities.
And eventually, Narim went beyond TV shows and tried her idols out in dramas as well. The directors of those dramas objected saying that they could not allow mere singers to be casted in their piece, but they were not able to block the idol’s participation. After all, dramas weren’t made for free. The people working in the broadcast industry were aware of how frightening an idol fandom could be. Their blind faith towards their idols meant that they would watch the show and an increase in view rate meant that the ad revenue would go up as well. The TV broadcasters did not miss that.
Narim had meetings with the director of the drama to persuade them and at the same time, instructed the idol to do properly. Everything would go down the drain if they screwed up here.
Fortunately, that boy, who had once aspired to become an actor, did surprisingly well. He was complimented for being better than most new actors. It was to be expected. He was trained and prepared for it. Moreover, he already had experience smiling in front of hundreds of thousands of people and knew from which angle his face would look the best.
When the producer of the drama that derogated the boy as a ‘mere singer’ called her in a warm voice, Narim felt that she was a step closer to her dream.
After that was the world of idols. Although screen actors were still infallible, Narim was sure that it was a matter of time before that changed as well.
* * *
The JA building during the weekday was a lone shining star. Inside the cafe on the first floor lounge were some employees who seemed to have some work left, drinking some coffee over a conversation. There was still around half an hour left until the meeting time.
‘Should I get some dinner before I go?’
Maru thought about getting some Gukbap outside, but decided to have something light at the cafe since there was the possibility that Junmin would treat him to dinner. He ordered a cup of americano and a bun before grabbing a seat. A woman wearing round glasses entered the building. She seemed to be in her late 30s and was wearing a semi-formal suit.
“Two cups of milk tea for takeout.”
She finished her order and turned around. Two office ladies who were conversing with each other bumped into the lady wearing glasses. It seemed that they weren’t paying attention to the front. The paper cup in one of the office ladies’ hands became crumpled and coffee flew everywhere. Neither party frowned as the coffee wasn’t that hot.
“Excuse me, please watch where you’re going.”
It was natural for the party with more people to have the louder voice. Maru stared at the two office ladies that were complaining despite the fact that they were clearly the ones that were wrong. These kinds of people were everywhere where the offender packaged themself as the victim.
“Excuse me, but I was watching where I was going. You’re the ones who bumped into me.”
“Stop lying. It’s because you suddenly stopped and turned around that we bumped into you.”
“Oh, it’s my fault?” The lady with the glasses put her hand above her chest and spoke.
“Isn’t that obvious? Rather than that, how are you going to compensate for my clothes?”
The office lady showed her shirt. The one with the glasses groaned in a low voice. The cafe staff tried to mediate between the two but the two office ladies clearly didn’t seem to have any intentions on relenting.
Right at that time, another staff member spoke out that Maru’s order was ready.
“Uhm, excuse me, coming through,” Maru spoke to the three ladies blocking the counter. The woman wearing the glasses apologized and moved out of his way, but the two office ladies did not.
“Kid. Find another way. Don’t you see what’s happening here?” Hearing those words, Maru smiled bitterly. This woman was so entitled.
“Uhm ahjumeoni, I saw what was going on, and it was clearly you two that weren’t watching where you were going. I can understand that you’re trying to get some laundry fees but don’t block other people’s way.”
“Wh, what? Did you just call me ahjumma?”
“No, I didn’t. I clearly called you ahjumeoni.”
“You damned kid!”
Just as one of the two office ladies approached Maru with a hand raised,
“What’s going on here?”
A voice could be heard behind Maru. It was Junmin, wearing his trademark Beret and holding a notepad. The office ladies, who had nothing to do with JA productions, seemed to have recognized the owner of the building and ran away.
Maru shrugged his shoulders while smiling at Junmin.
 A music genre that is believed to stem from the English foxtrot. It was popular in the 70s~80s. Though, it's been receiving the spotlight recently as well.
 A more polite form of ahjumma which is explained below.
 Ahjumma is used to refer to middle-aged women, and younger women find the term offensive. These two terms are in the glossary already so go check it out!
Phew... 2000 words without a SINGLE conversation...
Two wild Karens have appeared!