One of the interesting things about following a K-Pop group is both trying to understand and watching other people who speak your language try to understand what the hell is going on in another country in another language, especially given the unfamiliar environment and the reduced availability of media. All these factors can make understanding a situation much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle that is missing most of its pieces.
Recently Zico appeared on a Korean talk show called Radio Star. The show basically provides celebrities with a forum to discuss negative things, like scandals, and it is known for being tough: When the hosts made a guest cry a couple of years ago, the public blamed the guest for it–her behavior was regarded as a bit like agreeing to appear on a show hosted by Howard Stern and then being shocked because it turns out that he’s rather crude.
In Zico’s case, here’s what international fans saw first:
Clips of Zico with no subtitles.
Translations of the Zico–centric bits.
English-language stories about Zico’s appearance.
If that’s what you see and read, you get two impressions of the show:
1. The show was very focused on Zico.
2. Zico was given a horrible time. He was called a rip-off of G-Dragon/Big Bang more than once, and the Thailand incident was repeatedly brought up so that he had to apologize for it once again.
Both of these impressions are, I would argue, completely inaccurate.
If you watch the entire episode (the subtitled version of course didn’t come out until a few days later, because subtitling takes time), you will realize that Zico is actually a bit player in the show–he probably got the least airtime of the four guests, and he spent most of his time supporting Simon Dominic (who, in contrast, was a HUGE focus). While Simon Dominic was clearly made genuinely upset and uncomfortable by the topics discussed (his ex-girlfriend; the “Control” feud), Zico does not ever seem to really lose his composure.
The fact that the Thailand incident was brought up was criticized by the international fans because it happened two years ago–why not let it go? But the thing is, everything they talked about with Zico was old news: Aside from the Thailand incident, he talked about how he got his stage name and how Block B got its name–not exactly new information.
I would argue that Zico’s lack of air time and his focus on old, uninteresting things were completely related.
Think about it: What is Zico’s new scandal? The lawsuit against Stardom.
Back when I was a reporter, I would not have been asking Zico about the freaking Thailand incident: It’s two years old, he hasn’t repeated it, and Block B has had two number-one albums in Korea since then–clearly the Korean public has gotten over it.
But a lawsuit against someone who is still actively trying to be a player in the Korean music industry? A CEO who stole money from the group’s families and committed suicide? Holy smokes, I would be alllll over that!! That’s way more interesting than even the “Control” feud–that scandal didn’t even have a body!
If Zico had said, “I don’t want to talk about that”–well, there goes his air time.
And that’s exactly what I think happened. They had Zico there because Simon Dominic wanted him there, or because he’s seen as kind of controversial, but he wouldn’t talk about the interesting stuff. So the hosts were left with making old jokes and asking him if he shaved his own head. Then they went back to Simon Dominic and made him call his ex-girlfriend–now that was interesting!
* * *
Of course, the Thailand incident was all about incomplete information.
Since I discovered Block B well after the Thailand incident, I experienced kind of the reverse of what everyone else did at the time. I knew there had been a mistranslation. And I saw the incident itself, with an accurate translation:
Now I certainly saw a problem there. (Helpful hint: Do not sit around in a tuxedo, laughing heartily, while discussing a horrible natural disaster. Also don’t say you’re going to go home to walk your dog, eat delicious food, and drink a stiff margarita.) But I had no idea what the mistranslation was–it took me a while to find out that people were told that Zico said he wouldn’t give more than six bucks to disaster relief.
I also came to it knowing that, at the time, Zico wasn’t getting paid–none of them were. Jokes about K-Pop stars being poor make no sense if you assume that K-Pop stars must all be fabulously wealthy. That particular piece of the puzzle was missing for everyone.