Relationship Reading: HyunA and Dawn

Welcome to my dissertation.

The intersections of patriarchal control and misogyny tends to come to explosive, damaging ends in the entertainment industry, perhaps even more so in music. Kpop, or the pop section of Korean music, is no different from other pop music enterprises. What is unique about Kpop, however, is the intricate system it has developed.

Very young people sign to specific music agencies in order to “train” to become a musical idol. An “idol” is different from a simple singer or performer. “Idols” are expected to dance and be entertaining on TV. Singing can often be a minor requirement for entry, especially depending on what company an individual goes to as some seemingly do not train their idols to sing (well), with some exceptions made for those who are designated as the “main” or “lead” vocalist, while others do. Business is business.

In today’s article we will look at a major figure in the Kpop world—HyunA and how her choosing to be in a relationship almost costed her everything.

An overly long biography on HyunA

Debuting under JYP Entertainment under the legendary girl group Wonder Girls in 2006, HyunA at just 15 was being groomed to be the sex symbol she is today. Unlike her other bandmates, HyunA was the only one dressed in short shorts and in a shirt that frequently showed her stomach a bit. In the group’s debut song, “Irony,” HyunA’s rap part features her popping and dancing with her midriff out while typically in said short shorts.

HyunA’s part starts around the 3:12 mark.

Here, the group has a dance break where HyunA is in the center around the 2:10 mark.

Soon after Wonder Girls hit Korea by storm, HyunA was pulled out of the group by her parents due to their concerns with her health as HyunA was having fainting spells and struggling with chronic gastroenteritis.

But less than a year later, HyunA redebuted under a new agency—Cube Entertainment. In 2008 she joined the company’s girl group 4Minute. More hip hop leaning than R&B and “retro,” 4Minute proved itself to be a contender amongst other girl groups at the time. Here, too, however, HyunA was being groomed.

In Kpop, it is unfortunately not unusual for a specific company to fixate on and push out a certain member within their groups. Why so many companies love to compromise and destroy their groups by favoring just one member, I don’t understand, but HyunA was Cube’s chosen one.

When revealing the members of the group, Cube chose HyunA to be first and used her prior fame of being a Wonder Girl as promotion of 4Minute. They even went so far as to unofficially label 4Minute as “the HyunA group” (HyunA, n.d.). 4Minute debuted with their single “Hot Issue” on June 15, 2009. HyunA was 17.

I actually like 4Minute’s music, although I never became a stan lol. I don’t even know their fan name.

HyunA as the main rapper of the group was given several opportunities to showcase her skills by featuring on other people’s songs and appearing on variety shows. Just barely a year after debuting with 4Minute, Cube pushed HyunA as a solo artist in 2010. Her first single, “Change,” hit the digital charts on January 4, 2010 to massive controversy once the accompanying music video dropped on the 14th.

The music video was hit with a “19+ rating by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family for being inappropriate for minors” (HyunA, n.d.). Cube Entertainment said they would re-edit the video to get the restriction off but the broadcasting station SBS suddenly “announced [that] the music video would be restricted for a 15+ audience instead”(HyunA, n.d.). MBC, another Korean broadcasting station, also “announced that it would still be viewable for all audiences” (HyunA, n.d.).

Notice how these much older men are openly ogling at HyunA here. Kpop has this tendency to make their artists constantly perform the suggestive parts of songs on variety shows like this. Check out EXID for another example.

Why these two stations lowered the rating to allow HyunA to promote it is unknown. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that Cube may have allegedly paid them off. By this time, Cube has been in trouble for sexualized content in 4Minute’s music already, specifically due to the suggestive lyrics in “Won’t Give You,” a trend they will continue to do (HyunA, n.d.). In either case, HyunA promoted “Change” until March of that year. She was still 17.

In Korea, they consider a newborn to be 1 years old. Age is very important in Korean society as they have a rather strict social hierarchy surrounding it. A person even a few months older than you is still considered to be older than you and thus deserving of respect in speech and behavior. In the entertainment world, this fluctuating issue with age—your real age, which is often called your “international age,” versus your “Korean age”—has been used to get away with sexualization and predation.

In April of 2011, 4Minute came under fire again for their music video, “Mirror Mirror,” the single for the group’s debut Korean album, 4Minutes Left. The choreography was deemed too sexually explicit as it had a lot of suggestive leg spreading. In one part of the music video during said leg spreading, it awkwardly features HyunA swooping on the floor. She was 18. Cube folded to the media’s pressure and changed the choreography so the group could perform the song on music shows.

Notice how in the early live performances of the song the camera tries to cut away from the leg spreading.
Aforementioned awkwardness starts at around 2:20.
In later performances of the song, the group remains standing, taking out the leg gestures entirely.

In June of that year, HyunA made a comeback with her first EP, Bubble Pop! The music video to the title track of the same name became massively popular not only in Korea but online. “Bubble Pop!” quickly trended on YouTube, reaching over 100 million views by August of that year. At the time, HyunA was the first female Korean solo artist to reach such a milestone (HyunA, n.d.).

Although Koreans and people around the world were loving “Bubble Pop!”, the Korean law were once again coming down on HyunA. Promotions had to be cut abruptly because the Korea Communications Commission thought that the choreography and outfits were too suggestive in both the music video and live performances (HyunA, n.d.). In both, you see a 19-year-old HyunA in very short shorts shaking her butt, in shirts and tops that showed midriff, and dancing/posing in a way that accentuated her breasts.

A popular live performance on Music Core shows a tanned HyunA in red short shorts with a shirt that exposed her shoulders. In the thumbnail, however, it features a HyunA pulling up said shirt to expose her midriff, which she did do a few times while dancing but never to the extent or as frequently as the thumbnail may lead you to believe. HyunA the sex symbol was emerging.

In late November of that year, it was announced that HyunA and then labelmate and member of Beast Hyunseung would debut as a co-ed group called Trouble Maker. The duo officially made their debut appearance at the 2011 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA). As usual, the performance came under fire due to the suggestive choreography which Cube changed midway through promotion. What was perhaps equally controversial was the real kiss the two often had on stage. Idols are often trained to not only sell sex to fans, but the fantasy that they are their partner. Thus, companies prohibit their talent from dating. If you are found out to be dating, it is not unusual to have your contract terminated if you do not comply in breaking up. Fans also have a history of turning extremely hostile to said celebrities involved, even if the idols in question are pushing 30 and/or getting married.

The kiss was a staple of Trouble Maker performances.
I always found the live performances of this song super awkward but notice the audience’s reaction to this particular popular live performance.

With HyunA being pushed more and more as this sex symbol, it is interesting that Cube took this route with Trouble Maker, because when HyunA revealed she was dating much later on, their reaction was very angry. (Sidenote, it was likely somewhere in between here that HyunA was on a show, and when asked about what concept she wanted to portray, she said “cute.” Very different from the trajectory of her image thus far.) In either case, HyunA was continuing to gain national and even international attention as she made an appearance in Psy’s globally acclaimed hit song “Gangnam Style” in 2012. She went on to feature more prominently in his “Oppa Is Just My Style,” somewhat of a female spoof of “Gangnam Style.” Later that year HyunA went on to release “Ice Cream” for her second EP Melting, which “became the then-fastest Korean music video to reach 20 million views” on YouTube (HyunA, n.d.). Psy was also there.

HyunA appears at the 2:10 mark.

With another Trouble Maker comeback and the release of “Red” for her third EP A Talk, sexy HyunA was now complete at age 22. Selling this sexualized yet seductive, cool, and tough image was what was making Cube bank and HyunA massively popular in Korea. Cube was synonymous with HyunA and vice versa. She was the company’s cash cow. Nothing or no one else mattered…which is why 4Minute was disbanded.

I think “Red” rivals “Bubble Pop!” in terms of being HyunA’s most popular song and one many associate very strongly with her sound and image.

The exact details are fuzzy, but many are of the opinion that Cube and its shareholders did not see 4Minute as a whole to be viable anymore despite the group doing rather well as a unit at the time. Ultimately, Cube decided that HyunA was a better investment than the group she had been a part of since the beginning. Therefore, out of the 5 members, only HyunA was reported to have resigned.

Of the articles I’ve scanned, I haven’t seen the authors make a distinction between a contract that details group activities versus solo ones. In other words, everyone has an individual contract to a company (e.g., Cube Entertainment), so whether or not a group continues to promote as a group depends on how many members resign or have pending contracts with said company. HyunA resigning with Cube meant that she would continue to work with Cube, not necessarily 4Minute, if that makes sense.

Because of this, I’m more inclined to believe what most fans believe which is that Cube gave everyone else the boot because favoritism within Kpop is very blatant lmao. More often than not, someone is favored over the rest within a group no matter how popular and financially successful the group is as a group. 4Minute is just another victim of capitalist greed.

Jiyoon, a now ex-member of 4Minute, talked about 4Minute’s disbandment, “Even before we started thinking about the individual paths we wanted to take, our contracts ended and it was pretty chaotic. Honestly, it felt like we were finding out about our disbandment through the reports. We weren’t thinking about disbanding and when we saw the reports of disbandment, we thought, ‘Ah, so that’s what happened,’ and calmly started tidying things up,” she said.

When asked how she felt towards her fans during that time, Jeon Jiyoon commented, “I felt so bad because it happened so suddenly and there were no talks of disbandment. What really makes me feel apologetic is that while we were promoting as 4Minute, we didn’t have any kind of content that our fans would have really liked.”

Some of the former members of 4Minute gave interviews also confirming this fan theory because why would she say all of this? Additionally, all the members unfollowed HyunA on Instagram after their termination.
Source: Channel Korea

HyunA continued to promote as a solo artist amidst the chaos and controversy until April of 2017 when it was announced that she would be in another co-ed group called “Triple H” with labelmate Pentagon members Hui and E’Dawn. During the group’s second round of promotions, fans thought the interactions between HyunA and E’Dawn were rather flirtatious. Rumors swirled and swirled. Cube tried to do damage control, denying the rumors until August 2, 2018, when HyunA and E’Dawn admitted to have dated for 2 years at that point.

Don’t you love how Kpop has been copying and pasting black music since its inception? It was far worse and more blatant in the 90s if you could believe it.
This was the performance that made people go, “Oh, so it’s like that, huh? 😏”

Like most Kpop agencies, Cube handled this by “cancelling all previously planned performances for Triple H, on-air appearances and fan events including a fan meet-up that was scheduled on the next day” (HyunA, n.d.). Fans were allegedly torn by the announcement. Some celebrated HyunA and E’Dawn’s bravery for coming out as a couple while others responded more typically such as some demanding that E’Dawn get kicked from Pentagon.

Regardless of how fans and causal onlookers felt, Cube announced in mid-September of that year that they would terminate both HyunA and E’Dawn’s contracts. Likely due to the backlash, which included stocks dropping by 7%, Cube walked this back and said they were in discussion with both artists. But ultimately on October 15th, both HyunA and E’Dawn left Cube Entertainment, their contracts having been terminated.

Hello, this is Cube Entertainment.

It has been decided that Cube Entertainment artists HyunA and E’Dawn will withdraw from the company.

We put our number one priority in managing our artists with mutual trust and faith between the agency and the artist.

After much discussion and consideration, we have decided that we could not regain the trust of the two artists, HyunA and E’Dawn.

We would like to thank the fans who have supported the two artists up until now.

Cube’s statement around mid-September. How overly dramatic.
Source: Koreaboo
HyunA posted this video of her meeting with E’Dawn a day after it was announced that she was released from Cube Entertainment. We love a petty queen!

Both revealed to have signed to P Nation, Psy’s independent label, on January 27th, 2019. The two of them released singles in early November of that year during a Mercury retrograde. As a result, it wasn’t really surprising that HyunA experienced a bunch of health problems during promotions, causing her to take a hiatus. After dropping the “E’” to his stage name, Dawn kept promoting and released his first EP, Dawndididawn, under the label on October 9, 2020. HyunA finally came back on January 28, 2021, with her seventh EP, I’m Not Cool, with a title track of the same name. The couple decided to release an EP together titled 1+1=1 with the single “Ping Pong” on September 9, 2021.

Now, many of you may be wondering why I felt the need to give this massive biography on HyunA and why I brought up how I think she was groomed to have the sexy image she has now. I did both to emphasize why this relationship is seen as a controversy, one so big that it resulted in the company that grew rich and powerful from HyunA’s labor to drop her like a brick and effectively ruin another young artist’s career that was just getting started.

The music industry, no matter where it is, thrives on having young people they can twist and shape into whatever they want so they can make money off of them. In the case of many female artists, they are pushed to be overtly sexual in some way. Not everyone is a HyunA but it is not unusual to have music companies make their young female talent sell sex to an audience that is usually made up of older men who are much older than said artist, but then turn around and catch an attitude when she exercises her sexuality herself, such as falling in love and entering into a relationship with someone.

When a female artist is the one drawing the lines and setting the boundaries, companies react like Cube and try to throw her away for “rebelling.” If HyunA denied the rumors and broke up with E’Dawn like she was supposed to, she would have still likely had a contract with Cube. But she didn’t, and now she and Dawn have been trying to navigate an industry that likes to pretend that idols don’t date for the sake of money and keeping up a certain image. I think it’s important to understand what kind of environment HyunA and Dawn are coming from and are currently in before getting into this reading. But in either case, let us actually get into the reading now lol.

In this article I will mostly be referring to Dawn by his real name, Hyojong, only because I found trying to keep E’Dawn and Dawn straight confusing lol.


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